The Writings of Carl Schurz/On the Death of a Child


As a near friend of this grief-stricken family, I am called upon to add a few words to this mournful ceremony, and I feel impelled to do so as a friend, too, of the dear little boy whose lifeless body lies in this coffin. For he felt me to be his friend and he called me so. There was in his bright and healthy days between us something of that comradeship that may exist between the old and the young. Many a time we had to sit side by side when I was a guest at the family table, and we had our little jests, and teasings, and romps, and merriments together, the charming memory of which I hope never in my life to lose.

According to the ancient saying, those who are beloved by the gods die young. And this dear little boy certainly could be counted among those beloved. He was the late child of a most happy union. His birth was to his parents like the breaking of a fresh morning in the advanced day. Upon his cradle nature and fortune seemed to shower their choicest favors. That cradle stood in the lap of the purest and most beautiful family life. All that surrounded him was love and concord and goodness. When he first opened his eyes their unconscious glance fell upon this spot, than which there is upon the face of the earth scarcely one more radiant with rich beauty. But more than that. He was to be one of the heirs of his father's and his mother's fair fame and noble deeds. It was like a smiling fancy of fortune that, while he was still a baby in his mother's arms, he should participate in the consummation of his father's greatest achievement. And in their days of adversity his parents found no sweeter comfort than in this baby s bright eyes. Surely, this child was one of the beloved of the gods.

He could hardly stand upon his little feet when he quickly grew up into a distinct individuality. Of singularly delicate, almost feminine comeliness of shape, he soon developed in himself something like a real character, far away from the common. His infant mind seemed to work in channels entirely its own. He had a habit of self-contemplation and self-criticism, looking at his own being and doings as those of a third person, which sometimes broke out in startling utterances. His likes and dislikes of persons and things seemed to spring from other than the ordinary motives governing those so young, and in his conduct there appeared something like a determined and conscious will-power entirely different from the freakishness common among little children. And with all this his whole being bore the charm of an extraordinary—I might say a strange loveliness. There was something in this boy that made older persons not only glad but proud to receive from him signs of friendship, and those who watched his way, as almost everybody did who saw him frequently, would often wonderingly ask themselves what such a development would bring forth, being sure that it would be something very, very extraordinary.

And now this lovely being is gone, never to come back, and we look into the dreary void he left behind him—gone like a sunbeam that made nature smile and gladdened the human heart, and then disappeared behind a cloud. A few minutes ago his father put into my hand some lines written by Emerson which seem to be meant for him:

O child of Paradise,
Boy who made dear his father's home,
In whose deep eyes
Men read the welfare of the times to come,
I am too much bereft.
The world dishonored thou hast left.
O truth's and nature's costly lie!
O trusted broken prophecy!
O richest fortune sourly crossed!
Born for the future, to the future lost!

What such a loss is to father and mother and brother and sister only those can measure whose own lives have been darkened by similar bereavements. They know that there is no consolation in words. We can offer nothing better to our dear friends upon whom this cruel blow has fallen, than the earnest wish that they will summon all their fortitude to confront the inevitable; that they will remember the dear ones still left to them, and also those high aims of human endeavor which make life still worth living; that their great sorrow, which is now so sharp and seemingly unbearable, will be mellowed by time and the healing force of work and of duties done; and that they may then find a new happiness in the thought that the memory of having possessed such a child is in itself a great and imperishable possession. And if they can find any comfort in the devotion of true friendship, that surely does not now nor will it ever fail them.

  1. Remarks at the funeral of Henry Hilgard Villard, June 13, 1890.