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The Only Son Post by :dimpleart Category :Essays Author :Lydia H. Sigourney Date :November 2011 Read :2297

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The Only Son

How deep and full of anxiety is the love that centres upon an only child, none but parents who have watched over such an one can realise. "We trusted our all to one frail bark," says a touching epitaph, "and the wreck was total."

Those who have neither brother nor sister, and feel the whole tenderness of parental affection centring in themselves, should strive to render in proportion to what they receive. The care and solicitude that might have been divided among other claimants is reserved for them alone. No common measure of obedience and gratitude, and love, seems to be required of them. Any failure in filial duty is, in them, an aggravated offence. It should be the study of their whole life to appreciate, if they cannot repay, the wealth of love of which they are the sole heirs.

Perhaps there has never been an instance, where this sweet indebtedness of the heart was more beautifully and perfectly reciprocated, than in the life of Joshua Rowley Gilpin. He was the only son of the Rev. J. Gilpin, of Wrockwardine, in the county of Salop, England, and born January 30th, 1788. During infancy, when the texture of character slowly, yet surely discovers itself, he displayed a mild, loving disposition, with no propensity to anger when what he desired was withheld. The sole care of his education was assumed by his parents, who found it a source of perpetually increasing delight.

His first infantine taste was for drawing. To imitate the forms of animals, and other objects with which he was daily conversant, gave him much pleasure. His friends discovered in these rude attempts, accuracy of execution, and progressive improvement. A dissected alphabet was among his toys, and a desire to furnish his little drawings with appropriate letters induced him to make himself master of it. Now a new field of pleasure opened to his mind, and from the amusements of the pencil he turned to the powers and combination of the letters; and at the age when many children are unacquainted with their names, he was forming them into phrases and short sentences. These were sometimes playful, and sometimes of such a devotional cast, that his watchful and affectionate parents cheered themselves with the hope that his tender spirit was even then forming an acquaintance with things divine. So docile, so industrious, so gentle was the young pupil, that they had never occasion to resort to punishment, or even to address to him an expression of displeasure.

As the higher branches of knowledge unfolded themselves, he devoted to them a studious and willing attention. He was ever cheerfully ready for any necessary exercise, and inclined rather to exceed than to fall short of his allotted task. He complained of no difficulty, he solicited no aid: the stated labours of each day he considered a reasonable service, and constantly and sweetly submitted his own will to that of his parents.

In the prosecution of the different sciences, his lovely and placid disposition was continually displaying itself. The rudiments of the Latin tongue, with which he very early became familiar, he wished to teach to the young servant woman who attended him from his infancy. By many fair words he persuaded her to become his scholar. He told her of the great pleasure there was in knowledge, and left no method untried to gain and fix her attention. If he thought her not sufficiently engaged in the pursuit, he would set before her the honourable distinction of surpassing in intellectual attainments, all the other young women of her acquaintance. He made for her use an abridgment of his Latin grammar, to which he added a brief vocabulary, and was never without a few slips of paper in his pocket, on which was some noun regularly declined, or some verb conjugated, for his humble friend and pupil. If the services of the day had failed to afford her sufficient time for his lessons, he redoubled his assiduity when she conducted him to his chamber at night, and was never contented without hearing her repeat the Lord's Prayer in Greek. This perseverance showed not only the kindness of his heart, but his love for those parts of learning which childish students are prone to think tedious, or are desirous to curtail and escape.

While busily pursuing classic studies, he saw one day a treatise on arithmetic, and immediately went to work on that untried ground. Such satisfaction did he find in it, that he begged to be allowed the same exercise whenever he should be at a loss for amusement. For three weeks it formed a part of his evening employment, or as he expressed it, his "entertainment," and during that brief period, he proceeded to the extraction of the square and cube root, with ease and pleasure. His father thought it best to withdraw him at that time from the science of numbers, lest it should interfere with his progress in the languages. Still, he would occasionally surprise him with abstruse numerical calculation, and, when permitted regularly to pursue mathematics, found in the difficult problems of Euclid an intense delight. He would willingly have devoted days and nights to them, and no youth was ever more intent on the perusal of a fairy tale or romance, than he to solve and demonstrate those propositions in their regular order.

Under the tuition of his father, he went through the text-books and authors used in the established seminaries, and probably with a less interrupted attention than if he had been a member of their classes. His memory was durably retentive, and whatever passage he could not perfectly repeat, he could readily turn to, whether in the writings of the poets, the historians, or the divines. His accuracy was admirable; he would never pass over a sentence till he had obtained a satisfactory view of its meaning, or lay aside a book without forming a critical acquaintance with its style and scope of sentiment. Earnest and untiring industry was one of the essential elements of his great proficiency; employment was to him the life of life, and whatsoever his hand found to do, was done with a whole-souled energy. His love of order was equal to his diligence. From early childhood, he discovered in all his little undertakings an attention to method, and a desire to finish what he began. These dispositions gathered strength as he became more fully acquainted with the importance of time. To each employment or recreation he assigned its proper place and season, filling each day with an agreeable and salutary variety, so as to be free on one side from listlessness and apathy, and on the other, from perplexity and haste. Highly gratifying was his improvement to his faithful parental teachers, and this species of intercourse heightened and gave a peculiar feature to their mutual love. Still, their attention was not confined to his intellectual attainments. It was their constant prayer and endeavour, that he might be enabled to blend with these the "wisdom that cometh from above." Anxious that he should not be unprepared for the honourable discharge of duty in the present life, they were far more solicitous to train him up as a candidate for glory in that which is to come.

Avoiding the danger of over-pressing or satiating him with theological doctrines which transcend the comprehension of childhood, they commenced their religious instructions with the greatest simplicity and caution. They put on no appearance of formality or austerity.

"We will show you, my dear son," said the father, with a smiling countenance, "a way that will lead you from earth to heaven."

The gentle pupil listened with an earnest attention. His tender mind was solemnized, yet filled with joyful and grateful hope. At his first introduction to the house of God, he was filled with reverential awe, and ever afterwards, when attending its sacred services, his deportment evinced the most unaffected decorum, humility, and piety. The greatest care was taken that the observance of the Sabbath at home, as well as in church, should be accounted a sweet and holy privilege.

"On that day," says his father, "we gave a more unlimited indulgence to our affectionate and devotional feelings. We conversed together as parts of the same Christian family, we rejoiced over each other as heirs of the same glorious promises. Some interesting passage of Scripture, or some choice piece of divinity, generally furnished the matter of our discourse, and while we endeavoured to obtain a clear, comprehensive view of the subject before us, it seemed as if a blessed light sometimes broke in upon us, removing our doubts, exalting our conceptions, and cheering our hearts. Then, with one consent, we have laid aside the book, that we might uninterruptedly admire the beauties of the opening prospect. Thus solacing ourselves with a view of our future enjoyments, and the place of our final destination, we have solemnly renewed our vows, resolving for the joy that was set before us, to endure the Cross, despising the shame, in humble imitation of our adorable Master. In such a frame of mind we found it possible to speak of probable sufferings, or painful separations, with the utmost composure. With such a termination of our course in sight, we could cheerfully leave all the casualties of that course to the Divine disposal; fully persuaded that whatever evil might befall us on the way, an abundant compensation for all awaited us on our arrival at home."

As he advanced in boyhood, his love of study and sedentary habits became so strong that it was feared he might not take sufficient exercise for the preservation of health. The friends of the family, therefore, urgently advised that he might be placed in a public school, hoping that the influence of companions of his own age would allure him to athletic sports.

In this counsel his parents acquiesced, but finding the idea of separation insupportably painful, they removed, and took a temporary residence near the Seminary of which he became a member. Here, every thing was novel, and his enthusiastic mental picture of what a school must be, was considerably darkened by discovering so much indolence and irregularity, where he supposed all would be order, intelligence, and progress. His academic exercises were performed with entire ease, so thorough and extensive had been his home culture; and though there were many in the different classes who were his seniors in age, he rapidly rose to the first and highest place. Of this post he had not been ambitious, and he occupied it with such modesty and affability, so as to conciliate his school-fellows, between whom and himself there was still such diversity of habit and feeling, as to repress all familiarity of intercourse. But with his instructors, a true and reciprocal friendship was established. Especially did the head master distinguish the talents of the young student with the strongest marks of esteem, designating him as the "pride of his school, and the pride of his heart."

The return of this excellent family to their beloved village, formed a delightful scene. An affectionate flock thronged to welcome their Pastor, while the youth on whose account they had for a time left their endeared habitation, gazed with unutterable joy on the trees, the cottages, the cliffs that varied the spot of his nativity, on every room in the parsonage, every plant in the garden, every vine that clasped the walls, and on the far blue hills, behind which he had watched from infancy the glories of the setting sun. To the congratulations of his friends, some of which alluded to the brilliancy of his prospects as a distinguished scholar, he replied with ineffable sweetness,

"No possible change in my situation can make any addition to my present happiness."

The love of home was one of the strongest features in his character. The vanities and gayeties of London had no power to diminish or modify it. After passing two months there, at the age of sixteen, he came to his retired abode with the same delight, the same unassuming manners and simplicity of taste. On entering the secluded vale where their humble rural habitation was situated, he expressed his feelings in a few extempore Latin verses, which at the request of his mother, were thus translated,


"Lives there a youth, who far from home,
Through novel scenes exults to roam?
Then let the restless vagrant go,
And idly pass from show to show;
While in my native village bless'd,
Delighted still, and still at rest,
Without disturbance or alloy,
Life's purest pleasures I enjoy."


While thus bearing in his bosom the elements of happiness, true piety, active goodness, and love to all creatures, and while diligently preparing for the sacred profession to which he was destined, a sudden attack of pulmonary disease, attended with hemorrhage, alarmed those to whom he was dear. But the consequent debility readily yielded to medical treatment, and a journey and residence of several weeks amid the pure atmosphere and rural scenery of Wales, combining with uncommon salubrity of weather, seemed to restore the gentle invalid to his usual state of health.

He was able again to resume his course of academic studies, and after the midsummer vacation, which he spent in a pleasant journey with his beloved parents, was summoned to sustain an examination as a candidate for two vacant exhibitions. When he took his seat before the collegiate tutors, clergy, magistrates, and a concourse of assembled visitors, a degree of that diffidence was observable, which is so often the concomitant of genius. But in every exercise and test of knowledge, he was so self-possessed, so prompt, so perfect, that there was an unanimous burst of approbation and applause. His parents were loaded with congratulations for possessing the treasure of such a son, and a paper signed by all present was addressed to the manager of the Funds, requesting that the sum allotted to a successful candidate might be doubled on account of his extraordinary attainments. With entire meekness he bore this full tide of honour, manifesting no satisfaction in hearing his own praises, and after his return home, never made the most distant allusion to this flattering event in the life of a young student. He was now entered a fellow-commoner at Christ Church College, Oxford, with the intention of not taking his residence there till the commencement of the ensuing term.

He most assiduously devoted himself to his studies, rising early and finding the day too short for his active mind. Knowledge was dear to him for its own sake, and not for the flattering distinctions accorded to it among men: for while advancing in scholastic acquirements, he was evidently an humble peaceful student in the school of Christ. His parents were comforted amid the painful prospect of separation, with the hope that from his early and growing piety, his temperance and modesty, his untiring diligence, and a certain firmness of mind, of which he had given indisputable evidence, he would in time of temptation choose the good, and refuse the evil.

In the meantime, his birth-day arrived, the last that he was to spend on earth. It had ever been their household custom to mark it, not by sumptuous entertainments or the invitation of guests, but by expressions of affection among themselves, and the most fervent ascriptions of praise to God, for the gift he had accorded and preserved. But it seems that their sacred anniversary had been discovered and was cherished by others. While interchanging their sweet and secluded memorials of love, a letter arrived addressed to the young student, containing a large number of banknotes, "as a joint token of the affection of a few friends, who desired permission to repeat the same expression of their regard on each return of his natal day, until he should have taken his first degree at the University."

This unexpected mark of the high esteem in which he was held, was received by him with strong indications of astonishment and gratitude. As the time drew near for his departure to Oxford, his parents could scarcely be restrained from uttering the impassioned words, "Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee, for where thou goest I will go, where thou lodgest I will lodge;" not knowing that it was the appointment of God, that only the cold hand of death should divide them.

Spring approached, and the wound in his lungs, which it had been hoped was permanently healed, burst forth afresh. Aggravated by the influenza, then an epidemic, it soon took the form of an incurable malady. With entire submission he met this sudden change in his state and prospects. No murmuring word was uttered, no trace of anxiety visible on his countenance. Neither loss of appetite nor decay of strength could impair his settled composure of mind. So admirable was the mixture of meekness and manliness in his deportment, that it was difficult to say whether patience or fortitude most predominated.

Constantly advancing in the knowledge of divine things, he withdrew himself from every pursuit that might divert his thoughts from the great end of his being, the entrance to a higher state of existence. The poets and orators of Greece and Rome, in which his proficiency had been so great, were meekly exchanged for works of experimental religion; and he sat daily at the feet of some master in Israel, from whose teachings he hoped to gain heavenly wisdom. By the advice of physicians, the scene was changed for a short time; but wherever they journeyed he was still making his solitary passage through the valley of the shadow of death. As the last hope of success, the waters of Bristol were proposed; and though he at first mildly resisted it, from an inward conviction that the trouble would be in vain, yet unwilling to crush the expectations of his beloved parents, he yielded to their wishes. On all similar occasions he had required quite a package of books; now he requested only an English Bible and a Greek Testament.

Notwithstanding every precaution of medical skill and care, consumption was accomplishing its fatal work. The parents and their only child, though convinced of what the result must be, still shrank back from harrowing up each other's feelings, by full conversation on the subject that most occupied their thoughts.

"As it was with Elijah and his attached successor," writes the sorrowing father, "at their approaching separation, so it was with us. They maintained towards each other a delicate reserve, as they proceeded from Bethel to Jericho, and from Jericho to Jordan; the one not daring to glory in his expected ascension, nor the other to express his mournful forebodings, lest they might mutually agitate the other, or disturb the order of the holy solemnity. But as the awful moment drew near and he was about to be gone, Elijah rose above the weakness of humanity, and openly asserted the purpose of Heaven. Thus the dear invalid, when made certain by some invisible token that his hour was at hand, thought it unsuitable to our common character to leave this world without giving glory to God."

With entire tranquillity and the utmost tenderness, he introduced the subject of his departure, spoke of his trust in his Redeemer, his gratitude for the goodness and mercy that had followed him throughout the whole of his earthly pilgrimage, and the joy he felt in having his own will perfectly bowed to the will of God. Even then, the last messenger was waiting for him. He accepted the anxious attentions of his agonized parents with ineffable sweetness, regarding them with a thoughtful benignity, not wholly restraining his feelings, nor yet allowing them a free indulgence.

It was in the autumn of 1806, at the age of eighteen, that his last day on earth closed. He lay as in calm and beautiful repose, seeming to have opened a communication with the celestial world, and fully resigned himself to intercourse with its unseen inhabitants. Kneeling around his couch in trembling expectation, were those whose sole earthly hopes had been bound up in him. There was a short and solemn pause, a few soft moans, and then, without the slightest change of posture, he peacefully breathed out his soul into the bosom of his Father and his God.


(The end)
Lydia H. Sigourney's essay: Only Son

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