Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Wonder Child

Dr. John Brown (1810-1882), physician and essayist (1810-1882), son of John Brown of Edinburgh the Biblical commentator (1784-1858) and great-grandson of John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787), wrote among other works an essay about the young child prodigy Marjorie Fleming (1803-1811), who died at the age of eight of meningitis. She kept a diary for the last eighteen months of her life which, along with her poems, provides a written testimonial to that which all who knew her could affirm: she knew life above and beyond her years. She was raised a Presbyterian, and records faithfully when she left off her prayers, and other thoughts that one might find in a diary. She knew her history lessons as well as current events and versified them in the most delightful, entertaining way. Sir Walter Scott was said to have considered her his "pet" and described her as "the most extraordinary creature" he had ever known. Mark Twain wrote his own essay about her and called her "the world's child," describing her as "thunderstorm and sunshine." Robert Louis Stevenson called her "one of the greatest works of God." Though largely forgotten today, her life (though brief) and writings touched so many. The day before she died -- it was the Christian Sabbath -- she sat up in bed and read Robert Burns' Stanzas on the Prospect of Death, which Dr. Brown describes as "the publican's prayer in paraphrase." So young to be pondering such verses and yet the very next day she went to be with her Maker.

Why am I loth to leave this earthly scene?
Have I so found it full of pleasing charms?
Some drops of joy with draughts of ill between-
Some gleams of sunshine 'mid renewing storms,
Is it departing pangs my soul alarms?
Or death's unlovely, dreary, dark abode?
For guilt, for guilt, my terrors are in arms:
I tremble to approach an angry God,
And justly smart beneath His sin-avenging rod.

Fain would I say, "Forgive my foul offence,"
Fain promise never more to disobey;
But, should my Author health again dispense,
Again I might desert fair virtue's way;
Again in folly's part might go astray;
Again exalt the brute and sink the man;
Then how should I for heavenly mercy pray
Who act so counter heavenly mercy's plan?
Who sin so oft have mourn'd, yet to temptation ran?

O Thou, great Governor of all below!
If I may dare a lifted eye to Thee,
Thy nod can make the tempest cease to blow,
Or still the tumult of the raging sea:
With that controlling pow'r assist ev'n me,
Those headlong furious passions to confine,
For all unfit I feel my pow'rs to be,
To rule their torrent in th' allowed line;
O, aid me with Thy help, Omnipotence Divine!

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