The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: death

“My Mother’s Miniature” by Isa L. Jenkins

My Mother’s Miniature
By Isa L. Jenkins
From Godey’s Magazine, July, 1853, pg. 61

Faint picture, far more dear to me
Than all the treasures earth can give,
Since she, my all, hath ceased to be,
For whom it was my life to live.

Here I behold that faded cheek,
That calm, smooth brow and flowing hair,
The lips that spoke in tones so meek,
And breathed to heaven their fervent prayer.

Oh, she who ceaseless vigils kept
Above my path in faded years,
And o’er my waywardness hath wept,
Now soars beyond this vale of tears.

Yes, she who sought my heart to mould
For brighter climes and purer skies,
Now dwells where countless suns hath rolled,
Unmarked by years or centuries.

Yon moon, whose track the milky way,
Whose light still glimmers on the wave,
Through months hath cast its mellow ray
Upon her lone and dreary grave.

Thou sweet memento of the past,
A priceless treasure now thou art;
Through years to come, while life shall last,
I’ll keep and wear thee next my heart.

Is Park Benjamin Guilty of Plagiarism?

In the Poems of Park Benjamin, editor Merle M. Hoover points out an incident in 1839 in which the Brother Jonathan accused Benjamin of plagiarizing Charles Dance’s “Song of the Grave Digger.”  Hoover suggests that this was precipitated by the fact that Benjamin left Brother Jonathan to establish the New World, a rival journal. This petty enmity seemed to be both a stressful and positive happenstance for Benjamin, for his poems were scrutinized thereafter under the pretense of plagiarism, but he was also provided advertisement for his works—surrounded by scandal (16). 

Benjamin’s poem, “The Old Sexton,” is the poem up for debate. I’ll place both poems back to back and you can judge whether or not it sounds as if Benjamin plagiarized Dance’s work. Hoover insists that this accusation is “unfounded;” however, I disagree to an extent (16). Benjamin’s poem (published in 1840) sounds reminiscent of Dance’s poem (published in 1830), not only because of the blatant copying of the phrase “I gather them in,” but also because of the cadence of both works. Furthermore, the subject matter is the same, and there are words such as “spade,” which echo in both poems. These seem to be loose claims, I’m sure; however, neither does Hoover offer adequate points to articulate his stance. Simply put, they’re far too similar, and Benjamin may be guilty. 

The Old Sexton
Park Benjamin

Nigh to a grave, that was newly made,          
Leaned a sexton old on his earth-worn spade:          
His work was done, and he paused to wait    
The funeral train through the open gate:   
A relic of by-gone days was he,           
And his locks were white as the foamy sea—  
And these words came from his lips so thin, 
“I gather them in! I gather them in!”   
“I gather them in! for, man and boy,  
Year after year of grief and joy                
I’ve builded the houses that lie around        
In every nook of this burial ground.   
Mother and daughter, father and son,          
Come to my solitude, one by one—     
But come they strangers or come they kin, 
I gather them in! I gather them in!”     
“Many are with me, but still I’m alone!         
I’m king of the dead—and I make my throne           
On a monument slab of marble cold, 
And my sceptre of rule is the spade I hold.           
Come they from cottage or come they from hall—    
Mankind are my subjects—all, all, all! 
Let them loiter in pleasure or toilfully spin— 
I gather them in! I gather them in!”     
“I gather them in—and their final rest,         
Is here, down here in the Earth’s dark breast”—        
And the sexton ceased—for the funeral train 
Wound mutely over that solemn plain:          
And I said to my heart—when time is told,     
A mightier voice than that sexton’s old                
Will sound o’er the last trump’s dreadful din—         
“I gather them in! I gather them in!”

Song of the Grave Digger
Charles Dance

Poor mortals imagine they stand on the ground,
Supported by all that is solid and sound;
‘Tis a plank, and beneath it my work’s to be found—
I gather them in,
I gather them in.
The child, strong and healthy, careers on the heath—
Not thinking, not caring, scarce knowing of death;
In an instant he draws his last innocent breath:
I gather him in,
I gather him in.
The youth, in the vortex of folly and crime,
Advised to repent—answers, “Not in my prime” ;
He would, if he knew he had run out his time:
I gather him in, 
I gather him in. 
Says Fifty, “poor Sixty is breaking space;
He must long for the health that he sees in my face.”
Self-deceiver! he dreams not he’s first in the race:
I gather him in,
I gather him in.
“Huzza,” says the dotard, “I’m turned of four score,
And now I shall live to a hundred or more”;
At nightfall his coffin is brought to the door:
I gather him in,
I gather him in.
The drunkard exclaims, “Fill my cup to the brim,
In water life sinks, but in brandy ‘twill swim”’
He dies as he speaks, and I make sure of him:
I gather him in,
I gather him in.
The rich man observes his poor neighbor look old,
And hugs himself on his resources of gold;
A lackey all lace, says, “a knell must be tolled.”
I gather him in,
I gather him in.
E’en while he was speaking, the moralist elf
Was digging, unthinking, a pit for himself;
His spade and his mattock are laid on the shelf;
They’ve gathered him in,
They’ve gathered him in.

“Never” by William Winter

By William Winter
From The Poems of William Winter, pg. 140

THE sere leaves rustle in the moaning blast,
The dreary rain is pattering on the roof,
Sad bless, far off, toll through the twilight hours—
And I shall never see thy face again!

The shadows deepen, but there comes no dawn;
And through the dark I hear the rustling robe
Of the grim angel that has veiled my eyes—
Never to see thy glorious face again!

“Two Days” by Thomas Dunn English

By Thomas Dunn English.
From the Southern Literary Messenger, July, 1857, pg. 21.


Her skin is white as cold moonlight,
The lids her blue eyes cover;
And beats her heart with throb and start,
With a tremulous thrill as a maiden’s will,
Before her own true lover.
She cannot speak, but on her cheek
The tear-drop downward starting,
Too well reveals how much she feels,
In that sad hour of parting.

Her skin is white as cold moonlight,
The lids her blue eyes cover;
Her arms are wound his neck around,
With languid sighs she reads his eyes,
The fond eyes of her lover.
Look thou elsewhere. This mournful pair,
Who show for love such fitness,
Should have no spies with soulless eyes,
But heaven alone for witness.



Her skin is white as cold moonlight,
The lids her blue eyes cover;
No more her heart will throb and start
With a natural start devoid of art,
When meeting her true lover.
She cannot speak, nor on her cheek
Henceforth will tear-drops glisten;
Nor ever again, to wooing strain
Her willing spirit listen.

Shade skin so white, hide hair so bright,
Those blue eyes gently cover—
Shield her ever from earth’s alarms;
Enshroud her charms and cross her arms,
Then sprinkle blossoms over,
Nail down the lid—the guests are bid
To see these nuptials sombre;
And gently take, lest she awake,
My darling to her slumber.

On the Burial of Henry William Herbert

This day commemorates the 160th anniversary of Henry William Herbert’s death. Embittered by life’s unabated plague of sorrow and loss, Herbert succumbed to his demons and took his own life by gunshot to the heart. Although his death may be one of the more shocking aspects of Herbert’s life, he should, rather, be recalled for his prolific career and generous spirit.

In lieu of attempting to write my own memorial of Herbert, I, here, place two accounts of his funeral. Keeping in mind the fact that he’d committed suicide, this posed a great problem within the religious community as there was debate of whether Herbert would (or would not) have a proper funeral, and how it should be carried out if so. You can read more below.

From the Evening Post, May 20, 1858, Pg. 2
BURIAL OF HENRY WM. HERBERT.—The remains of Henry Wm. Herbert, accompanied by a few friends, were conveyed to Newark yesterday afternoon. When the procession arrived in Newark at five o’clock, a large number of persons had assembled at his house.
   The coffin—which was of plain mahogany, although Mr. Herbert had expressed his desire to be buried in a coffin of oak—bore a silver plate with the simple inscription,

Aged 51 Years.

   The words of “England” and “Infelicissimus” was omitted.
   The countenance of the deceased was not at all changed; his eyes were gently closed, his expression composed. He wore a white shirt with a black neckcloth and standing collar.
   After the body had remained for some moments, in one of the central rooms of the house, and had been viewed by those present, the Rev. John Shackleford, rector of the Episcopal “House of Prayer” at Newark, the same clergyman who married Herbert to his last wife, state that the church to which he belonged forbade him to perform the funeral service in a case like the present one. Mr. Herbert was aware of this fact, and did not expect the service would be read over him. When Mr. Shackleford had concluded, the body was borne through the back door and the gate by which the grounds of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, adjoining “the Cedars,” are entered, and where Herbert parted with his wife, and had intended to die. Mrs. Herbert was not present at the funeral. In accordance with his request, he was buried in Mr. l’Anson’s[?] lot. His black and tan terrier “Vixen,” which he said was his only and last comfort, is in possessiion[sic] of Mr. Kinney, of the Newark Advertiser. His library is claimed by Thomas Picton, as the property of his wife. Much of the furniture has been removed from the house by his creditors.


From the Commercial Advertiser, June 07, 1858, Pg. 2

    It will be remembered that the burial of Henry Wm. Herbert, the author, who committed suicide in this city, took place in the cemetery near Newark, N. J., without any religious exercises. The Rev. Mr. Shackleford refused to read the Episcopal burial service, and advised, with the consent and approval of the deceased’s most intimate friends, that the burial should take place in silence. The Rev. Mr. H. B. Sherman, of Belleville, offered to conduct religions exercises on the occasion but his services were declined. Since then, a number of gentlemen in Newark—among them, Messrs. Cortlandt Parker. O. H. Halsted, Jr., J. A. Pennington, J. Southard, F. W. Ricord, ad others equally well known—have subscribed for a handsomely bound copy of Mr. Herbert’s most elaborate work “The Horse of America,” and have presented it to the Rev. Mr. Sherman as a testimonial of their regard and especially of their admiration of his conduct at the funeral of the late Henry W. Herbert, in his willingness to perform some Christian ceremony over the grave of the deceased. In a long letter acknowledging the receipt of this testimonial, published in the Newark Advertiser of Saturday evening, Mr. Sherman says:—
   The case was this: What was mortal of Henry William Herbert—the gifted and unfortunate individual who, in an evil hour, under a peculiar pressure of adversities which drove him to a desperation neighboring upon phrenzy, had rushed unbidden into the presence of his Maker—was brought hither for interment. An uncertainty as to the clerical attendance contemplated in the primary arrangement, induced an application for my services, to which, in its alternate reference, I yielded a ready and unscrupulous consent. As a general indication of duty in such behalf, I wanted no further knowledge than the fact that a member of the human family had been gathered to his rest, and that my presence as a Christian minister was invoked to consign the mortal remains of a fellow being to their earthly resting place with appropriate religious services. It was a solemn occasioned and [?] but a religious service could meet it properly.
   As to the material issue of my acceding to the request of the living in behalf of the dead, whether saint or sinner in any degree or sense, there could be no vibration of my purpose in that regard. If my action were not interventive nor in trespass upon the official rights of others, the matter of proceeding when occasion opened, was to be taken as the legitimate issue rather than as an adopted line: It was a thing of course. The single and sole item to be entertained as an admissible question, related to the manner of the religious service—what office should be performed.
   I needed not the prohibitory conditions of the Rubric under which the Protestant Episcopal Church in which it is my lot to minister has prescribed for restrictive uses a peculiar “Office for the Burial of the Dead,” to stay me from employing that. My sense of the relative fitness of things (to say nothing of my feeling of loyalty to the Church’s dictum) would have sufficed to determine my judgment against the propriety of its use. From several of its leading features, as well as from the prevailing complexion which it wears, I could no otherwise consider than that the peculiar “office” set forth in the Ritual of the Protestant Episcopal Church as a [?] and specific provision, was inappropriate to the present case, manifestly inapplicable and inadmissible, and therefore removed from the account. I entertained neither the design nor the desire to use it.
   Nevertheless, (for the question thus unmet, reverted from the fenced field of ecclesiastical regulation, to that broader domain which the conditions of Christian society have mapped, and upon practical recognition of which, the current action of the ministry and the everyday working of the church proceed,) I could no otherwise determine than I already had, that a fitting religious service should be performed. In the free and legitimate exercise of that ministry which I hold in trust for the benefit of others, and under the ample provisions which are supplied by the nature of things, to further it—nay, I may add, under the reigning sense of that great thing. Duty, which presses upon the entire surface of the pastoral mission, constraining him who holds it to seek occasions for its profitable exercise, and especially to embrace them when they come, I was prepared (if the way were open for it, and the conditions of the occasion warranted) to officiate at the funeral of Mr. Herbert in a religious service, which, while it could not affect the dead, might compass its purpose as intended to benefit the living.
   Thus far the door of a golden opportunity (in some notable respects such as is offered rarely to the Christian ministry) was plainly opened. The three prime requisites for my appropriating the occasion to a Christian use and purpose, were thus supplied:
   (1) The place where the funeral services were to have been performed was within the canonical limits of my parish.
   (2) A numerous assemblage of people, with hearts softened and tempered to the reception of a salutary impression from religious services, was in reverent attendance.
   (3) At the desire of other friends of the deceased, and the instance of one to whom, in the pathetic language of his last request, he had appealed as to his next and “last friend,” for a final addition to remembered kindnesses in the provision for his decent burial—under these circumstances I had come to “The Cedars,” and stood in the alternate lot assigned me, ready to fulfil the desire of those who bade me, and the prevailing wish of many, if no other of my order should be present to supply the expected services.
   At this point my position was relieved; and thenceforth my connection with the matter ceased. What the final issue was, some of you who were present know—for information of the rest, it is briefly told.
   Under the guidance of a blind and overmuch devotion to that absorbing and fond conceit of ritual strictness which “strains at gnats and swallows camels;” and which, in its exceeding zeal to “tithe, mint, anise and cummin,” forgets “the weightier matters of the law:” a course of action was adopted and pursued which has awakened only sorrow and a feeling of indignation in this community[sic].
   It is painful to recall the harrowing details: and, but for the necessity of completeness to this recital. I would not linger upon their contemplation. The event was thus, as determined by others and another, whose account herein is not to me.
   No utterance of prayer to the great God “in whose hand is our life and whose are all our ways,” who “keepeth our soul from death, and our feet from falling,” and who is “nigh unto all them that call upon him,” always and everywhere; no “word in season” with its religious lessons to the living in improvement of the ripe occasion; nor any of the customary notes which mark the burial of the dead, invade the chill precinct of the dishonoring and ominous silence, amid which, under the very rooftree of his abode amongst us, what was mortal of a human being was subjected to the administrative ban of ecclesiastical reprobation, and “buried with the bural[sic] of an ass[see: Jeremiah 22:19].”
   There is one matter, which, in conclusion, I desire should be very definitely understood. It is this:—From the responsibility under which the final issue in the case proceeded, I stood distinctly apart; and it is a matter in which neither my name nor presence stand involved. The burden of blame-worthiness (if any be) must rest elsewhere.
   I am glad to know, from the indications in your letter, that my position relative to the interment of Mr. Herbert has been in the main understood. I am likewise glad to be assured that (in the absence of authoritative directions) the constitutional provisions which grow out of the nature of things under the shaping combination of circumstances, and the great rubric of human feeling, and the plain canons of common sense, and appreciated and recognized as a sufficient guidance to the Christian minister in the varied exercise of his office.
   With a renewal of my grateful acknowledgments to those whom you represent,
                              I remain, my dear sir,
                                 Yours very truly,
                                      HENRY B. SHERMAN.