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The Death of Infants

Ostendunt Terris hunc tantum Fata, neque ultra
Esse sinunt
. ——–

It has been observ’d Sir William Petty in his Political Arithmetick, that one half of Mankind, which are born into this World, die, before they arrive to the age of Sixteen, and that an half of the remaining part never measure out the short Term of Thirty Years. That this Observation is pretty just, every inquisitive Person may be satisfied by comparing the several Bills of Mortality, published in Europe, for some Years past; even a cursory View of any common Burial-place may, in a great measure evidence the Truth of it.

Many Arguments, to prove a Future State, have been drawn from the unequal Lot of good and bad Men upon Earth, but no one seems to carry a greater Degree of Probability in it, than the foregoing Observation. — , To see Virtue languish and repine, to see Vice prosperous and triumphant, to see a Dives faring deliciously every Day, and rioting in all the Excess of Luxury and Wantonness; to see a Lazarus poor, hungry, naked, and full of Sores, lying at his Door, and denied even the Crumbs that fall from his Table, the Portion of his Dogs, which Dogs are more charitable, more human than their Master: Such a View, I confess, raises in us a violent Presumption that there is another State of Retribution, where the Just and the Unjust will be equally punished or rewarded by an impartial Judge. On the other hand, when we reflect on the vast Numbers of Infants, that just struggle into Life, then weep and die, and at the same time consider, that it can be in no wise consistent with the Justice and Wisdom of an infinite Being, to create to no end, we may very reasonably conclude, that those animated Machines, those Men in miniature, who know no Difference between Good and Evil, who are incapable of any good Offices towards their Fellow-Creatures, or of serving their Maker, were made for good and wise Designs and Purposes, which Purposes, and Designs transcend all the Limits of our Ideas and all our present Capacities to conceive. Should an able and expert Artificer employ all his Time and his Skill in contriving and framing an exquisite Piece of Clock-work, which, when he had brought it to the utmost Perfection Wit and Art were capable of, and just set it a-going, he should suddenly dash it to pieces; would not every wise Man naturally infer, that his intense Application had disturb’d his Brain and impair’d his Reason?

Let us now contemplate the Body of an Infant, that curious Engine of Divine Workmanship. What a rich and artful Structure of Flesh upon the solid and well compacted Foundation of Bones! What curious Joints and Hinges, on which the Limbs are moved to and fro! What an inconceivable Variety of Nerves, Veins, Arteries, Fibres and little invisible parts are found in every Member! What various Fluids, Blood and Juices run thro’ and agitate the innumerable slender Tubes, the hollow Strings and Strainers of the Body! What millions of folding Doors are fixed within, to stop those red or transparent Rivulets in their course, either to prevent their Return backwards, or else as a Means to swell the Muscles and move the Limbs! What endless contrivances to secure Life, to nourish Nature, and to propagate the same to future Animals! Can we now imagine after such a Survey, that so wise, so good and merciful a Creator should produce Myriads of such exquisite Machines to no other End or Purpose, but to be deposited in the dark Chambers of the Grave, where each of the Dead lie in their cold Mansions, in Beds of Darkness and Dust. The Shadows of a long Evening are stretch’d over them, the Curtains of a deep Midnight are drawn around them, The Worm lies under them, and the Worm covers them. No! the Notion of Annihilation has in it something so shocking and absurd, Reason should despise it; rather let us believe, that when they drop this earthly Vehicle they assume an Aetherial one, and become the Inhabitants of some more glorious Region. May they not help to people that infinite Number of Starry and Planetary Worlds that roll above us: may they not become our better Genii, our Guardian Angels, watch round our Bed and our Couch, direct our wandring Paths thro’ the Maze and Labyrinth of Life, and at length conduct us safe, even us, who were the Instruments of their passing thro’ this Valley of Sorrow and Death, to a Land of Peace and the Mountains of Paradise? — But these are things that belong to the Provinces of Light and immortality, and lie far beyond our mortal Ken. —

I was led into this Train of thinking by the Death of a desireable Child, whose Beauty is now turning a pace into Corruption, and all the Loveliness of its Countenance fled for ever. Death sits heavy upon it, and the Sprightliness and Vigour of Life is perished in every Feature and in every Limb. If the foregoing Reflections should urge any one forward in the Paths of Vertue, or yield any Consolation to those in the like Circumstances, and help to divert the Stream of their Sorow into a better Channel, I shall hope my Thoughts have been employ’d to good Purpose. When Nature gave us Tears, she gave us leave to weep. A long Separation from those who are so near a-kin to us in Flesh and Blood, will touch the Heart in a painful Place, and awaken the tenderest Springs of Sorrow. The Sluices must be allowed to be held open a little; Nature seems to demand it as a Debt to Love. When Lazarus died, Jesus groaned and wept.

I shall only add by way of Conclusion an Epitaph upon an Infant: It is taken from a Tombstone in a little obscure Village in England, that seems to have very little Title to any thing so elegantly poetical, which renders it the more remarkable.

Read this and weep — but not for me;
Lament thy longer Misery:
My Life was short, my Grief the less;
Blame not my Hast to Happiness!

The Pennsylvania Gazette, June 20, 1734