An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy

Letter XXIV

April 10, 17--

[p. 161] After the account I gave you in my last, can you wonder, Madme at my being less pleased with the profession I was engaged in, than I was when young and [p. 162] inexperience presented to my view only the pleasing side of it; or that I grew tired of a country where I was subject to such continual alarms? A learned friend of mine frequently made use of the Latin phrase Experientia docet. Expereince teaches, I think, he told me was the Enlglish of it. And I am sure it has taught me, that there is no state of life but what has its inconveniencies as well as its conveniencies; and the odds are, that the latter are more abundant than the former. But let me no longer detain you from my story.

Being always expected at Colonel Butler's when I was not at the theatre, and that family having just heard of the irot, they were much alarmed for my safety. I consequently, received a very pressing letter the next morning, requesting that I would immediately come to them at their countryhouse, where they at that time were .But I was so much indisposed, from the terrors I had lately experienced, that I begged to be excused till the day following.

As my mother had usually so little of my company, she was pleased with my refusal to go to Colonel Butler's, and proposed great satisfaction from my spending the day with her. In the afternoon I sent my servant, Mrs. O'Bryen, of whom I have made honourable mention before, to inquire after our good friend Doctor Walker, who was ill of a [p. 163] fever. About seven o'clock she returned, with a countenance full as expressive of horror as his could be, "who drew Priam's curtains in the dead of night, and would have told him half his Troy was burnt." She had no sonner entered the room, than she began to exclaim in a most doleful tone, "Oh Madame, Oh Madame!" which was all she was able to utter; and it was some time before we could get an explanation from her. At length she informed us, that the poor doctor had died, during the last night, and that they were already going to bury him. She added, that as they were about to shroud the body, the orifices which had been made in his arms, on bleeding him before his decease, had bled afresh.

As it was now so late in the evening; as the house we had lately removed to was full two miles from the doctor's residence; as my mother had been confined some months by the rheumatism; and as I was so much indisposed; it was impossible for either my mother or myself to reach the place of his abode time enough to prevent his premature interment; which, but for these reasons, we certainly should have done .We likewise found that Mrs. Walker had been prevailed on by the earnest entreaties of her sister, to leave the house, and retire with her to Dunleary. My mother, thererfore, ordered the servant to take a coach, and if the corpse [p. 164] was interred, to have it taken up at all events, cost what it would.

You can give the common people of Ireland no greater treat than a wake. Our maid consequently had many companions before she reached the house; especially as she made no secret of her errand. When they arrived, they learned that the body had been interred immediately after her departure, lest the disorder he died of, which was thought to be epidemic, should prove contagious. They were further informed, that as Mrs Walker was of the sect of Anabaptists, it had been deposited, by her order, in their buying ground, which was situated at the extremity of the city.

The people who accompanied our servant having come out with an intention of spending the night in their favourite amusement, they now resolved to go to seek the sexton, and carry my mother's commands into execution: but, as it was so late, they could not find his house. They, however, as no obstructions can retard the Irish in any favourite pursuit, clambered over the gate, men, women, and children, and thus entered the receptable of the dead. Whilst they sat round the grave, O'Bryen heard or thought he heard, a groan; which made them expect with great impatience the return of daylight.

[p. 165] As soon as Aurora made her appearance, some labourers, who had just come to their work, acquainted them where the sexton lived; and he was prevailed on, though not without some difficulty, to comply with their request. Accordingly, the canonized bones of the doctor, which had, a few hours before "been hearsed in death, revisited the glmpses of the moon." Upon opening the coffin (I shudder whilst I relate the horrid scene) they found the body now totally deprived of life, but observed that the late inhabitant of it had endeavoured to "burst his cearments," and leave the dreadful mansion in which he was confined. He had actually turned upon his side; and as my servant had reported, his arms had bled afresh. The coffin was carried to the house of the sexton, where multitudes, excited by curiosity, flocked from all parts, to see this memorable instance of fruitless precaution. The family, however, hearing of the circumstances, the body was ordered to be reinterred, and the affair was hushed up.

Are you casuist enough to tell me how it happens, that we are generally disappointed in the grand expectations of our lives; and find our favorite wishes crossed? Never was there a more singular confirmation of this fact, thantin the case of the doctor. The fear of being buried alive seems to have engrossed all his thoughts. The apprehensions which arose in [p. 166] his mind, both on his own account and that of others, furnished him with an inexhaustible fund for conversation, and gave frequent employment to his pen. The presentiment which had taken possession of him was not to be suppressed. But alas! how unavailing, from a combination of preventive circumstances, did it prove! -- Let it serve as a document to us, not to fix our hearts, with too much anxiety, on any object that lies within the reach of the accidents of life, or to indulge too great apprehensions of any dreaded evil.

I was greatly affected at the melancholy accident which had just happened, but my mother was almost distracted at being obliged to break a promise she had so solemnly made, and which would have proved so consonant to the wishes of her old friend. Having, at the time I first mentioned this promise, given you my sentiments on the observance of it, I shall only add here, that a breach of a solemn engagement is always attended with regret, as my mother now found to her cost.

I have often wondred that humanitiy, exclusive of affection, does not prevent those who have regard for persons during their lives, from leaving them in their last moments, through a false tenderness, to the care of nurses and servants, who are usually insensible to every claim but those of their own ease or interest. Too susceptible of pain, from beholding the expiring pains of a beloved object, [p. 167] they hasten from it. Whereas that ought to be the strongest motive for their stay, as these would stimuate them to unremitted assiduity in administering every needful assistance whilst life remains, and to a due attention to the body till its interment. The most pleasurable reflection I now am sensible of, is, that the three persons I loved and esteemed most expired in my arms. These were, my dear Miss Conway, my mother, and a worthy and much-regretted friend, many of the incidents of whose life you will find hereafter interwoven with my own.

A tear that obtrudes itself on the recollection of scenes, which have already caused me so many, dims my sight; -- others follow, and trickle in quick succession down my cheek. The subject awakens all my sensibility. -- And surely, a heart more susceptible of all the tender feelings never throbbed in a female bosom. -- The soft effusion overwhelms me. -- I must lay down my pen.

G. A. B.

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