Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

husband's health. But as his attacks, though severe, were short, and the intervals considerable, her anxieties were relieved, and her cares repaid by seeing him return, with renewed activity, to those pursuits, no less of public utility than private emolument, to which his life has been zealously devoted. Her chief enjoyment seemed to consist in making others share the blessings with which she was herself surrounded. Her house became the seat of an elegant hospitality, where abundance reigned without profusion, and a refined society, without the frivolities of fashion. As a hostess, indeed, perhaps none was ever more agreeable and popular. But she felt herself called upon to act a higher and nobler part in society. The virtues of an enlightened piety and seeking charity were always predominant with her. Through the whole circle in which she moved, was felt the genial influence of her example and exertions. To the chosen few who enjoyed her intimacy, she gave a thousand proofs of the warmth, the truth, the delicacy of her attachment. But she widened the sphere of her affections, and became “the general friend,” the mediator, the counsellor, of all within her reach. Was a work of piety or benevolence in contemplation ? Her hand and tongue were always the foremost to advance it. In the chamber of the mourner, at the bed of the sick, in the cabin of the destitute, who was always seen the first? From whose looks and sympathies did the afflicted always draw the sweetest comfort ? In short, the strictness with which she discharged her religious and moral duties was almost unexampled. But all this cost her heart no troublesome effort. Her piety began spontaneously with love and reverence for her Creator, and ended in good works towards his creatures. Much of her time was appropriated to reading, generally books of a serious character, though occasionally relieved by those of a lighter class. Although she considered the grave and sober duties of religion and humanity as preëminent, she was not insensible to or averse from the innocent amusements and recreations of life. She happily blended them, both being always made the sources or instruments of moral and intellectual enjoyment. A sound judgment, and a correct taste, equally distinguished her. Whilst she discriminated judiciously between the comparative merits of the moral objects of her benevolence and care, she relished physical beauties in a high degree; whether it was the sublime aspect of a richly variegated sky; or the less exalted scenery of the lofty mountain or tremendous cataract; or the beautiful tree, shrub, or flower of the forest or the valley-all were

considered by her as designed by the Creator, for the rational enjoyment or admiration of his creatures. A portion of her time was agreeably spent in directing and superintending the cultivation of flowers and plants. There is scarcely a spot in Mansion Square, that does not bear testimony of her taste and attention. Extending the same principle to the works of art, she exercised her taste in, and derived great pleasure from them also. Her house was filled with elegant specimens of the best masters in painting, sculpture, engraving, &c.

Much of a woman's character is developed in her treatment of her servants. Morning and evening she summoned the whole corps, and joined with them in prayer and other devout exercises. Besides providing for them liberally, she allowed them all reasonable opportunities for innocent relaxation and enjoyment, consistent with their condition.

To speak of the conduct and character of a wife when the husband is survivor, must always be a matter of much delicacy. But this much we must say, that a union for upwards of thirty years, in unabated attachment and uninterrupted harmony, between two individuals of unusual energy of character and vivacity of disposition, proves something more than negative merit on both sides. Her gentleness, be it remembered, was not a constitutional passiveness of temper. It was the result of a combination of amiability, good sense, self-discipline, and patience. If ever, on topics of particular interest, there was about her a momentary appearance of abruptness or harshness of manner or expression, it was not characterized by rudeness or want of courtesy; it was the manifest effect of a sternness of principle, and far from being offensive, it increased respect, without diminishing esteem. Mr. Hawley, in his funeral discourse upon the occasion of her death, justly observes, "her uniform candor and sincerity, her decision of character, her principles of independence and integrity, uncompromising with the least approach to vice or immorality, formed a combination of virtues seldom found in the same individual.”

As a mother, Mrs.Van Ness accomplished a task which may well be reckoned arduous—to bring up, without spoiling, an only and adored child, one in whom the respected author above referred to, truly and emphatically remarked, “her parents lived." In the year 1820, the daughter, Ann Elbertina Van Ness, returned from Philadelphia, whither she had been sent to finish her education, and shortly afterwards she was allowed to engage herself to Arthur Middleton, Jr. Esq., (now secretary of legation at the court of Mad. rid,) of South Carolina, eldest son of Governor Middleton, and grandson of one of the signers of the declaration of American independence; to whom she was married, in 1822.

Henceforth, Mrs. Van Ness was destined to see less of her daughter. After a few months, accompanied by her husband, she visited his friends in Carolina. Shortly after her return to Washington, in giving birth to a daughter, she fell a victim to a malignant fever, which had already proved fatal to many other ladies of the district, in a similar situation, and with her infant of a day old, was consigned to the cold mansions of the grave.

From this shock Mrs. Van Ness never recovered. Of the beautiful and charming young woman just referred to, we might say, if we obeyed our impulses, more than the occasion may appear to warrant; yet something must be said, though it be only to justify the absorbing love of such a mother, and to account, perhaps, more rationally, for the extraordinary influence on the mother, produced by the loss of a daughter. Mrs. Middleton was, we repeat, an only child, "steeped to the very lips” in flattery and blandishments, which on her pure soul “ne'er left a spot or stain behind.” She was a pattern of gentleness and truth; and her face was really the mirror of the mind within.

"On her smooth forehead, you might see expressed,
The even calmness of her gentle breast.”

Her attractions, talents, and accomplishments served but to lend a grace to the noble qualities of her heart. Although she was the centre of a circle composed of the gay, the refined, and exalted in rank, both foreign and American, the radii of her virtues and feelings extended in all directions to the humble objects of want. Her heart and her hand were equally open to them. The confidence she inspired, was instantaneous. But what rivetted the esteem and admiration of her friends, was that generous and feeling soul which “looked through her eyes and spoke in every action.”

After the death of her daughter, Mrs. Van Ness bade adieu to the gayeties of life, in which she had till then been a partaker; but her sorrow, though profound, had nothing in it complaining or repining. It touched one more from the gentle equanimity with which she bore it. If ever a momentary gloom enveloped her, it was promptly dispelled by the reflection that cheerfulness is among the Christian duties. "I feel,” she often said, “ that this trial will be good for me. My thoughts will now turn still oftener to my Maker, my husband, my friends, and my fellow creatures."

Indeed, affliction seemed to add fresh vigor to her virtues. She became, if possible, a still more devoted wise; and presently was blessed with the restoration of her husband's health. To her sonin-law, she transferred the fondness she had shewn to her own child; and to all her friends, and every object of benevolence and charity, her attention and devotedness greatly increased. Her's was a heart that prosperity could never harden, nor adversity rob of its energy in her laudable pursuits.

And now it was that she specially devoted herself with redoubled zeal to what had long been one of the dear objects of her affection. THE WASHINGTON City ORPHAN ASYLUM. This valuable institution, Mrs. Van Ness, with the aid of several benevolent ladies in Washington, had originated many years before. Mrs. Madison, a name dear to its citizens, was first directress during the presidency of her husband—a station which, after her departure, Mrs. Van Ness held with but little interruption, (and that earnestly solicited on her part,) to the day of her death. Her donations to this interesting charity were munificent; her personal attentions unreriitting. She became as a mother to all its children, who have been generally advantageously provided for, and many respectably connected in life at the proper age; and when a classic monument (built in imitation of the beautiful temple whose ruins still adorn the site of modern Tivoli) was erected to the memory of her daughter, Mrs. Van Ness, perhaps thinking it rather ostentatious, determined to hallow it by associations more affecting than any that could spring from the most finished works of art. Beside the grave of her child she, aided as before remarked, raised up a spacious asylum building for the destitute orphan, cheering as it were, the darkness of the tomb with a light which will shine throughout ages. For a succession of years she was never more assiduously and agreeably employed than in carrying into full effect, by her own personal exertions, and the other means in her power, (always seconded by a wealthy, liberal, and sympathizing husband,) the design of this eleemosynary establishment, which had several years ago been incorporated by an act of congress, and afterwards handsomely endowed by them. But owing to a constitutional delicacy, frequently aggravated by fatigue in laborious duties of humanity, her health had long been infirm. She had repeated attacks of fever, which at length admonished her and her friends, that her earthly career was drawing to a close.

On the 9th of September, 1832, after a painful and protracted illness, aged fifty years and four months, she was called from the stage on which she had acted so well the part allotted her. We must draw the curtain over the closing scene; remarking only that after having taken an affectionate leave of all about her, and having in a most emphatic and impressive manner bestowed her dying blessing on her husband, who was kneeling and weeping at her bed side, and whom she addressed, (laying her hand upon his head,) in these words, “Heaven bless you, my dear husband, never mind me," she expired. To the last moment of consciousness, she expressed her faith and resignation to her God and Saviour.

The departure of her pure spirit cast a gloom around. Many a tear was shed upon her bier. Few hearts, if any, remained untouched by the bereavement. The sense of it may, in some degree, be appreciated by the general attendance at her funeral of all classes of that extensive community, which never withheld from her while living its respect and acknowledgment for her public as well as private virtues; by the proceedings of a public meeting of the citizens of Washington, and those of various societies, upon the distressing occasion; by the almost unprecedented tributes of public sympathy and private grief recorded in many public prints, in the form of obituary notices, at a distance, where she was known only by character, as well as at her own door; and, lastly, by the numerous letters of condolence and sympathy addressed to her bereaved husband.

She was laid by the side of her daughter and grandchild in the family vault, beneath the monument already alluded to, on Mausoleum Square, which daily echoes to the innocent and grateful voices of the orphans to whom she had proved a parent and protectress; and who, with streaming eyes, amidst the immense surrounding multitude, performed the melancholy task of singing an appropriate hymn to her departed spirit.

After her death, the board of managers procured and placed in the Asylum, at their own individual expense, a full length portrait of her, by King, from an original painting by Alexander. It represents her in a sitting posture, with three little girls claiming her maternal kindness and protection; one of whom reclines its head on her lap, with tears trickling down its checks; the others regarding, with invoking interest, the benignity of the countenance above. The painter has done the subject so much justice, that it is difficult to behold it without the tribute of a tear.

« AnteriorContinuar »