On this day in 1834, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge died. Frances Rolleston mentioned Coleridge several times in her letters. We learn that when Frances bought that first volume of William Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner was included. She read the Rime constantly "with ever increasing delight," and thought it eclipsed all the ballads as poetry. This is significant, since it was Wordsworth who was ever her favorite poet.
In a later letter, Frances recommends Coleridge's "exquisite poem," Lesson to Fathers," to a young mother. This was in response to her young son's remark, "If he was not to have gunpowder, why did they give him a cannon?" Frances complimented the boy as "a great philosopher" and suggested the poem because it agreed with the old proverb, "never say A, if you don't mean to say B."
Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on Coleridge.
Between March 17 and 25, 1863, FR wrote several letters to her friend A. B. Wood, all of which focused on the death of friends and loved ones. The letters give a good view of how evangelical Christians view death. Here are a few excerpts:
"Think of the harmonies of heaven, which I believe our friend is hearing how, as the sound of a waterfall always there, always ready when the attention is called to it, accompanying the glorious vision and exquisite new words,--while our Lord in person will be there."
"O do not doubt it, do not think of her in the dark grave, the temporary hiding-place of the dissolving body, but there beyond that blue sky and brightening sunlight of spring."
"Death came by sin, and sadly we all feel it, not the sin of the individual but of the fallen race,--the redeemed race, of whom our blessed Lord took flesh, the flesh in and by which to suffer; wonderful mystery! but magnificent in its awfulness to us."
"How sweet are His [Christ's] recorded words to us! How increasingly sweet will be those we have yet to hear through a happy eternity; and your dear friend is now hearing them!"
"In her last illness she said with wonderful earnestness, 'Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,' and, at that moment she was with Him. She seemed to pass through the gate of death, but it was life to her."
"They see Him as He is, oh far more glorious than our brightest imaginings; they will hear Him speak, and say higher and more glorious things than our weak earthly natures could endure or comprehend. To know more of Him will be our employment, we shall need no others; to 'see Him as He is' will sufficiently employ all our faculties."
November 22, 1963 the world grieved over the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy; the Christian world grieved over the death of Clive Staples Lewis.
November 22, 1863 the United States was in the deadly grip of the Civil War. In England, Frances Rolleston was finally shrugging off serious sickness.
What comfort was there for those grieving JFK's death? Could it be counted as anything other than a tragedy by all who loved him?
What comfort was there for those grieving CS Lewis's death? They had the assurance of enjoying eternity with him. "Therefore comfort one another with these words," Paul the Apostle wrote, following his description of the Lord's return.
Where did FR turn for comfort in her sickness?
She wrote to a friend, "I am daily better, in spite of the pouring rain all day, and stormy wind all night, which when I was worse I knew nothing of; nor, indeed, of any thing but the comforts of the Word of God, hourly sought in your most valuable large-print Testament,—do you remember it? Little did I think how valuable it would be on a bed of sickness."
For those like FR who are assured of the state of their souls, death or its near approach heightens awareness of the One who walks through the valley with them, and comforts those left behind.
June 28, 1850
"You and I know that a few words are often the best. So I say no more to-day."
FR penned these words to Bessie Roby, sister of Caroline Dent. Both these young women had become dear to FR, so it was a shock when she read Cary's letter with bad news.
The day before Cary's letter arrived, FR had been reading in the Liverpool Mercury all the sad details of the wreck of the steamer Orion, never a thought that some of her own dear acquaintances were on board.
The Orion was carrying 38 crew and 170 passengers (accounts differ) when it hit rocks near the lighthouse at Portpatrick Harbour and sank in minutes. Bessie and her daughter were among the rescued, but Mr. Roby, Bessie's husband, drowned along with 40 others.
FR's consolation, and her first thought upon reading the news was, "Thank God he was a Christian!"
Bessie Roby's account of the Orion wreck and of John Roby's life can be read here, beginning on page 71. Reports of the wreck can be read here.
Sunday, June 12, 1864
This morning FR passed from this life. The following record is in the words of Caroline Dent, who sat with her during the last hours.
"About half-past six, an expression of majesty and peace settled on her face, that no words can describe. It seemed something superhuman. I could not but feel, that however youthful her resurrection body might be, that majestic look would identify it. It was her own noble face, but transformed into something nobler than I had ever conceived as belonging to earth. It lasted about ten minutes, and then, with the faintest of breaths, she passed away to enter on the eternal keeping of Sabbath, in the presence of her Lord. As the light of Sunday morning, breaking over the mountains, streamed in at the window, we felt how in harmony with her faith in our resurrection, because of His, was it, that her spirit should rise from mortality on that day."
FR had a strong love of infants all her life, and all that love seemed now (at age 74) to be focused on little Lewie, the child of the pastor of the little chapel FR attended. She took it upon herself to educate the little one, giving an hour a day to this endeavor. But Lewie died suddenly, and FR was deeply shaken.
"I have wept myself almost blind, since sudden death on Sunday last removed 'the delight of my eyes.' . . . I cannot recover the daily blank of the dear babe I was educating—as it proved—for heaven. I weep daily . . . ."
The previous July, seven months before, she had written, "The Dallows have a little got over their troubles, though the baby is very weakly, and I think too sweet tempered to live." And in September, "Mrs. Dallow's baby was given over last week with inflammation of the lungs, but is now recovered, though still miserably delicate, and too good to live." FR was well familiar with the expression "The good die young."
FR desired to be buried beside the Dallow baby, but before she died, the Dallows lost another baby and then Mr. Dallow himself was taken. There was plenty of grief to go around.