The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Lydia H. Sigourney/I have seen an End of all Perfection

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I have seen a man in the glory of his days, and in the pride of his strength. He was built like the strong oak, that strikes its root deep in the earth—like the tall cedar, that lifts its head above the trees of the forest. He feared no danger—he felt no sickness—he wondered why any should groan or sigh at pain. His mind was vigorous like his body; he was perplexed at no intricacy, he was daunted at no obstacle. Into hidden things he searched, and what was crooked he made plain. He went forth boldly upon the face of the mighty deep. He surveyed the nations of the earth. He measured the distances of the stars, and called them by their names. He gloried in the extent of his knowledge, in the vigour of his understanding, and strove to search even into what the Almighty had concealed. And when I looked upon him, I said with the poet, “what a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!”

I returned—but his look was no more lofty, nor his step proud. His broken frame was like some ruined tower. His hairs were white and scattered, and his eye gazed vacantly upon the passers by. The vigour of his intellect was wasted, and of all that he had gained by study, nothing remained. He feared when there was no danger, and where was no sorrow he wept. His decaying memory had become treacherous. It showed him only broken images of the glory that had departed. His house was to him like a strange land, and his friends were counted as enemies. He thought him self strong and healthful, while his feet tottered on the verge of the grave. He said of his son, “he is my brother;” of his daughter, “I know her not.” He even inquired what was his own name. And as I gazed mournfully upon him, one who supported his feeble frame, and ministered to his many wants, said to me, “Let thine heart receive instruction, for thou hast seen an end of all perfection!”

I have seen a beautiful female, treading the first stages of youth, and entering joyfully into the pleasures of life. The glance of her eye was variable and sweet, and on her cheek trembled something like the first blush of the morning. Her lips moved, and there was melody, and when she floated in the dance, her light form, like the aspen, seemed to move with every breeze.

I returned—she was not in the dance. I sought her among her gay companions, but I found her not. Her eye sparkled not there—the music of her voice was silent. She rejoiced on earth no more. I saw a train—sable and slow-paced. Sadly they bore towards an open grave what once was animated and beautiful. As they drew near, they paused, and a voice broke the solemn silence: “Man that is born of a woman, is of few days and full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower, he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.” Then they let down into the deep, dark pit, that maiden whose lips but a few days since were like the half-blown rosebud. I shuddered at the sound of clods falling upon the hollow coffin. Then I heard a voice saying, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” They covered her with the damp soil, and the uprooted turf of the valley, and turned again to their own homes. But one mourner lingered to cast himself upon the tomb. And as he wept he said, “There is no beauty, nor grace, nor loveliness, but what vanisheth like the morning dew. I have seen an end of all perfection!”

I saw an infant, with a ruddy brow, and a form like polished ivory. Its motions were graceful, and its merry laughter made other hearts glad. Sometimes it wept,—and again it rejoiced,—when none knew why. But whether its cheek dimpled with smiles, or its blue eyes shone more brilliant through tears, it was beautiful. It was beautiful because it was innocent. And care-worn and sinful men admired, when they beheld it. It was like the first blossom which some cherished plant has put forth, whose cup sparkles with a dew-drop, and whose head reclines upon the parent stem.

Again I looked. It had become a child. The lamp of reason had beamed into its mind. It was simple, and single-hearted, and a follower of the truth. It loved every little bird that sang in the trees, and every fresh blossom. Its heart danced with joy as it looked around on this good and pleasant world. It stood like a lamb before its teachers—it bowed its ear to instruction—it walked in the way of knowledge. It was not proud, nor stubborn, nor envious, and it had never heard of the vices and vanities of the world. And when I looked upon it, I remembered our Saviour’s words, “Except ye become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”

I saw a man, whom the world calls honourable. Many waited for his smile. They pointed to the fields that were his, and talked of the silver and gold which he had gathered. They praised the stateliness of his domes, and extolled the honour of his family. But the secret language of his heart was, “By my wisdom have I gotten all this.” So he returned no thanks to God, neither did he fear or serve him. As I passed along, I heard the complaints of the labourers, who had reaped his fields—and the cries of the poor, whose covering he had taken away. The sound of feasting and revelry was in his mansion, and the unfed beggar came tottering from his door. But he considered not that the cries of the oppressed were continually entering into the ears of the Most High. And when I knew that this man was the docile child whom I had loved, the beautiful infant on whom I had gazed with delight, I said in my bitterness, “Now, have I seen an end of all perfection!” And I laid my mouth in the dust.