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The Destruction of the Hopes of Man
A Discourse Delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church, Sabbath Morning, May 9, 1841, Being the Funeral Sabbath Set Apart in Memory of
GENERAL WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON,
BY THE REV. THOMAS SMYTH, D. D.,
In Compliance with the Resolution Adopted at a Public Meeting of the Citizens of Charleston, S. C.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE HOPES OF MAN.
CHRISTIAN FRIENDS AND BRETHREN: We are invited this day by the public voice of our fellow citizens of every religious persuasion, to the contemplation of that melancholy event which has clothed our nation in mourning. Death is in itself considered, and in all possible circumstances, the most solemn and august event which can transpire in the history of any individual man. In it as in some imfathomable abyss the hopes and the fears, the joys and the sorrows, the anticipations and regrets, the matured plans and the projected schemes-of man -are all engulphed. The eye that shone becomes dim; the hand of industry is relaxed; the arm of strength is paralyzed; the tongue of eloquence becomes mute; and that frame which moved in energy and beauty, lies prostrate in the dust. The inexorable judge, the indomitable adversary, the ruthless destroyer, death-reigns and triumphs over the ruins of a depopulated world. No tears can soften-no pity melt-no sympathy affect-no wealth bribe this grim and ghostly tyrant. We all nevertheless love life. We all dread death. And all therefore are susceptible of unutterable emotions when called upon to behold a fellow being in convulsive struggles with this last enemy. Hard and inhuman must be that heart which can calmly witness its agonies or reflect upon its nature, and not be solemnized by, death.
But while this is the characteristic influence of death, yet when it is made to visit a sound individual who is elevated above his fellows by the greater enjoyment of earthly fortune or of sublunary glory, that, which in all cases is impressive, is under such circumstances, actually overwhelming. We stand abashed as if struck by the lightning's flash, or by the sudden bolt of heaven. All that the imagination could lend of enchantment to the fancied greatness of such eminent personages; and that inviolability which we had attached to their favoured station, we see crushed as the moth and broken by the spell of this great magician. And although in this land of equal rights and privileges there are no titled nobility-no ancestral splendour-nor any transmitted insignia of aristocratic greatness-yet are there the self-created destruction of a people's
choice, and that nobility which is conferred by eminent talents, when consecrated to the public welfare. When therefore any individual-any statesman, legislator or judge-who has won his way by public service to the enjoyment of public favour, and who has received at the hands of a free people, some elevated appointment as the proof of their heartfelt gratitude-when such an one is made the mark of this great enemy and falls beneath his irresistible stroke-it is peculiarly proper and becoming in that people to give expression to their grief for the departed and their sympathy with the living.
Funeral honors have been paid to the dead, among all nations and in all ages of the world. The Egyptians embalmed, the Greeks buried, the Romans burnt; but however ancient their forms, all agreed in some manifestation of their honourable estimation of the dead while they terminated their mournful ceremonies, with songs and shouts of victory, as if he whose death they celebrated had now secured the prize and attained the summit of felicity. Orations also were by some appointed orator, delivered to the people who were thus taught to emulate their glory and willingly to sacrifice their lives upon the altar of the public weal. Similar also were the funeral solemnities observed by the ancient Jews. Mourners followed the bier, upon which was borne the corpse of the deceased wrapped in folds of linen, who poured forth the anguish of their hearts in lamentable wails. Eulogists and musicians also were in attendance, who deepened the sympathetic feelings of the occasion by a rehearsal of the virtues of the departed. Men who were distinguished for their rank and who at the same time exhibited a claim to the favour of the people, for their virtues and their good deeds, were honoured with the attendance of vast multitudes to witness the solemnities of their interment.*
Most appropriate therefore and consonant to the general feelings of humanity, is the civic appointment of this day for the special commemoration of an event which has deprived the nation of its presiding head. For while he whose death we deplore was personally unknown to almost all of us, and it was impossible for us to unite in the solemnities of his burial; yet inasmuch, as he was the common head and representative of this extended commonwealth, and legally entrusted with its executive supremacy-therefore should every member of this confederated family testify his respect for the Father of his
*See Gen. 50:7-14; I Sam. 25:1; II Chron. 32:33; I K. 14:13, and John's Archaology, § 205.