Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jane Pierce's Letter to her Dead Son

Thanks to Greg over at the History Buff Wanna-Be for this tip. He recently wrote a post on the death of Benny Pierce and Jane Pierce's subsequent depression. At the end of his post, he links a letter from the New Hampshire Historical Society - one of the letters that Jane Pierce wrote to her dead son while in the White House. I thought I'd post some of this letter here as the NHHS has been so kind as to transcibe the letter on their website (you can also view an image of the original):
My precious child - I must write to you, altho' you are never to see it or know it - How I long to see you and say something to you as if you were as you always have been (until these last three dreadful weeks) near me. Oh! How precious do those days now seem, my darling boy - and how I should have praised [sic] the days passed with you had I suspected they might be so short - Dear, dear child - I cannot bear to think of that agonizing [sic] time, when I had just seen you all alive to what was passing around and near me, but not near enough - oh had you but been within reach of your dear father - in a moment changed my dear boy bright form into a lifeless one insensible to your parents' agony - But you spirit yourself, my dear one - was not your redeeming savior ready to receive you? Your sweet little brother? Your dear Uncle Lawrence? - but you are beyond my knowledge at once - Ah, I trust in joy, but I would fain have kept you here - I know not how to go on without you - you were my comfort dear - far more than you thought. I was thinking how pleasantly we should go on together when we found ourselves at home again - and I would do everything to make you love me and have confidence in me and bring you along gently and sweetly - Oh! You were indeed "a part of mine and of your father's heart". When I have told you dear boy how much you depended on me, and felt that you could not do without me - I did not say too how much I depended on you and oh! My precious boy how gladly would I recall all that was unreasonable - or hasty - or mistaken in my conduct toward you. I see surely and I did frequently see afterward that I had wronged you - and would have gladly acknowledged it only that I feared it might weaken your confidence in me and perhaps on that account not be as well for you - and now I am at home again dear boy. Oh what anguish was mine on returning without you, and feeling that it must still be so, while I live - to see your little bed that you loved so much - and which I look at many times in the day, and at night feel as if I must see it shape [?] out again and the clothes turned down for you - and unconsciously look in the morning for it and you - and listen for your bright cheerful voice your blithe "good morrow" - and oh! to look around and see your books and everything so connected with you - your dear self - and now on this Sabbath which you loved so much as you said often how I have marked for you each hour with its wonted occupation - and oh to think of you kneeling by me at our evening prayer tonight, dear child - has not the Savior made you His as we so often asked. But now I must kneel alone and beg for strength and support under this crushing sorrow, that the blessed Savior would comfort the heart of your pain stricken Mother - and help me better to bear the burden of your loss which has brought desolation such as I have never (with all my former griefs) known.

This letter shows the heart-wrenching grief of Jane Pierce at the loss of her young son (she'd already lost two other boys) and helps our picture of her in the White House as we can better understand why she, in depths of despair, choose to do very little. Today she would undoubtably be under some kind of hospital care (and let's be honest, most of us, having lost three sons, would be in much the same condition)!

Greg also has some other recent posts on presidental topics, so take some time to wander on over to his site!

1 comment:

Steve Ross said...

My goodness. I had always read how inconsolable she had become after that train wreck killed Benny, but that letter really drives it home. Being a parent myself, I can't imagine being able to break out in tears for the rest of my life any time anything reminded me of my little one not being around anymore. The sudden loss without warning and the manner in which it happened must have been unimaginably hard to bear.

Oddly enough, when I mentioned this state of Jane during the Pierce administration years to the curators at the Pierce Manse in Concord NH, they became angry; saying that all of that was blown way out of proportion to make her look like she had gone mad. But even if she HAD gone mad, who would blame her?