As the daughter of a fairly well-to-do merchant family living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY received the typical education for a girl at the time while her brother had a tutor to prepare him for entrance to Harvard. To make up for her perceived educational deficiency she read widely on her own from books in her father’s library. At age eighteen she married John Stevens; it was considered a good match.
When her father became interested in the new theology of Universalism Judith met the English preacher John Murray who visited Gloucester in 1774. She struck up a correspondence with him that continued through the Revolutionary War. Eventually she and her family broke with the Congregational church and established a new religious society called the Independent Church of Christ choosing Murray as their pastor.
Finding himself so burdened by debt because of the war and trade embargoes John Stevens, Judith’s husband, was forced to leave the country for the West Indies in 1786. He died soon thereafter and John Murray asked Judith to marry him. At age thirty-nine she became pregnant; sadly, the child was stillborn and Judith herself nearly died. Here is the poem she composed expressing her sorrow. In 1791, at the age of forty-one, she became pregnant again and was delivered of a healthy girl, Julia Maria.
LINES, Occasioned by the Death of an Infant.
Soft—tread with care, my darling baby sleeps,
And innocence its spotless vigils keeps.
Around my cradled boy the loves attend,
And, clad in smiles, the dimpling graces bend:
While his fair Angel’s talk, so late assign’d,
Assumes the charge of the immortal mind.
Hail guardian spirit! Watch with tender care,
And for each opening scene my child prepare;
Shield him from vice—to virtue stimulate,
Around his every step assiduous wait:
Not one weak moment thou thy post resign,
Implant the gen’rous wish—the glow divine;
Warn if thou canst—or, ‘gainst the bursting storm,
His little frame with growing firmness arm;
Teach him to suffer—teach him to enjoy,
And all thy heavenly influence employ.
Attendant spirits, hear my ardent prayer,
In paths of rectitude my infant rear;
Trust me, his mother shall her efforts join,
To shield, and guide, her utmost powers combine.
‘Twas thus I plann’d my future hours to spend,
With my soft hopes maternal joys to blend;
But agonized nature trembling sighs!
And my young sufferer in the struggle dies:
As the green bud though hid from outward view,
On its own stem invigorated grew,
Yet ere its opening leaves could look abroad,
The howling blast its latent life destroy’d:
So shrieking terrour all destructive rose,
Each moment fruitful of increasing woes,
And ere my tongue could mark his natal day,
(With eager haste great nature’s dues to pay)
Its native skies the gentle spirit sought,
And clos’d a life with early evil fraught.
For me, the clay cold tenement I press’d,
And sorrow’s keenest shafts tranfix’d my breast;
Dear pledge of love—all tremulous I cry’d—
Fair hope, full many a week thou hast supply’d;
To give thee life, I would endure again—
And every pang without regret sustain!
But icy death thy pretty features moulds,
And to no mortal gaze thy worth unfolds.
Thy funeral knell with melancholy sound,
Borne on the heavy gale—diffusing round
A dirgeful gloom—proclaims I must obey,
And bears thy beauteous image far away;
To the absorbing grave I must resign,
All of my first born child that e’er was mine!
And though no solemn train of mourners bend,
Or on thy hearse with tearful woe attend,
Too insignificant thy being view’d,
To be but by thy father’s steps pursu’d;
Yet thy pale corse the hand of beauty grac’d,
When on thy urn the new pluck’d flow’rs she plac’d,
The purple blow when her soft hand enwreath’d,
And o’er my dead the sigh of pity breath’d.
And still to shade and deck thy early tomb,
Fancy’s rich foliage shall forever bloom,
Embowering trees in stately order rise,
While fragrant sweets the damask rose supplies;
The drooping lily too shall lowly bend,
And none but genial showers shall e’er descend,
Say white rob’d Cherub—whither dost thou stray,
Mid what celestial walk pursue thy way;
To some sequester’d bower hast thou repair’d,
Where thy young hopes may be to knowledge rear’d;
Where the untutor’d, the infantile mind,
With sacred joy the path of truth may find;
Where guardian Angels wait the glad employ,
The latent seeds of evil to destroy;
Where wisdom blending, innocence entwines.
With infant sweetness; where improvement shines;
Where all thy little powers thou mayst expand;
Where unassuming, thou mayst understand[.]
Those laws, by which the Great First Cause directs,
And from eventual ruin man protects.
Go on my Son—thy radiant path pursue,
In paradise I trust thy face to view,
To mark thy progress my Celestial makes,
That virtue, which my soul to transport wakes;
And, my sweet boy, prepare the flowery wreath,
For yet a little, and thy air I breathe;
Misfortunes frequent, will reduce this clay,
Will bear the animating spark away:
And sure thy gentle spirit will descend,
With some blest choir my parting soul attend,
My dying requiem studious to compose,
To lead me where each sacred pleasure flows.
While here—alas—thou mock’d my ardent grasp,
For in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d:
But there, I shall enjoy the dear embrace,
Amid the infant host my cherub trace.
Nor smile ye censurers that I thus lament,
A being scarce into existence sent;
What said the rock of ages—while he wore
This mortal coil—and all our sorrows bore:
“Regard those innocents—their worth reverse,
“Their Angels in the court of God appear;
“Immortal denizens of Heav’n they are,
“And in that kingdom radiant honours share.”
August decisions—and my heart believes,
With humble joy this truth receives;
Nor fears to err, when in the Just One’s path,
Howe’er mysterious may be its faith,
For God himself descends, with light divine,
And an eternal day shall yet be mine.
The poem can be found HERE. For more information about Judith Murray’s life check this SITE.