Tribute to Jenny Dow Harvey, [May], 1904

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Dear Friends, In the presence of a sorrow such as this, in the consciousness that a rare spirit has gone from us while it was still full of sweetness and growth, in the piercing grief that a young mother has left her little children, it takes all of our steadiness and courage to face the mystery of justice -- to divine the path wherein lies fortitude and resignation.

It is hard to even associate death with the eager, flame-like spirit of our dearly beloved, and yet she made the only possible preparation for it, -- that of free and joyous right-living. The minds of all of us here are crowded with sweet memories of her; let us draw together through them and comfort each other as best we may.

Almost exactly fifteen year ago I first saw her when she came to offer her services in connection with the House which we were planning. In the midst of my preoccupation I was conscious that I had had no right to hope for such quality and charm as this eager young girl was offering. There was something of such exquisite enthusiasm, of desire to know the life of the poor in order to serve them without reservation, of a touching humility in regard to her own powers with a certain proud consciousness that they were too fine to be wasted, such an impatience to know of the larger experience, that she carried with her the very aroma of the Spirit of Youth, to whom the world is wide and for whom all things are possible.

During the next three years we saw her almost daily in relation with the little children of humble people. Her varied gifts, her willingness and her ability to become as a little child [page 2] among them, her abandon to their interests, her merriment over the discovery made one day quite accidentally that the children all thought she was a little girl in a white apron and had never dreamed that she was a "grown up lady", all combined to produce the most successful following I have ever known of [Fröbel's] command "To live with the children".

One recalls those days, with a choking in the throat, as a passing of something which was as touching, as ephemeral, as exquisite as youth itself. This ephemeral quality of her life, the need of shielding and guarding so precious and delicate a thing, her parents felt keenly in those days of her first contact with rougher things. Her father was often a conspirator in innocent plots by which she might be supplied with little comforts, a smoothing of the rude path which she had marked out for herself. Her first scorn when she found this out would inevitably be followed by such a quick compunction, such a sweet rehearsal of the many acts of tenderness and solicitude which had surrounded her from babyhood, such a keen appreciation of the bond between parent and child ending always with a quizzical but perfectly loyal acceptance of it. Her mother, to whom I would fain say a word of comfort, must have her memory filled with evidences of an unusual understanding and closeness of bond between the husband so lately gone and the daughter who so quickly has followed.

We can all recall those busy days of preparation which came after the kindergarten days; the frank and joyous acceptance of the highest gift which life can offer to women. It seems to me that I have never seen a more simple, high-bred acceptance of life's joys, [page 3] a more confident going forward to meet them, than was revealed in the establishment of that first dear home.  It was to many of us a revelation of time old experiences which are lifted up to their highest possibility, and lived out with ardor and inspiration.

Of the later years filled with duties and the cares of a devoted wife and mother, it is impossible to speak. She traveled the happy road which has been trodden by the willing feet of many women, but I am confident that I speak for most of us within this room when I say that we have never seen more absolute welcome to life's obligations, a more exquisite comradeship between parents and children, a more complete devotion and even gratitude to all that a household of little children implies. The most persistent image of her which has come into my mind during the last sad weeks has been that of a young mother playing a game with an imperious boy of three, not in the abstracted half-hearted manner with which most adults play with children, but with a vividness and [gaiety] almost equal to his own, and yet the game was a mere vehicle for the exquisite affection and appeal with which she enveloped him, dropping it at length in sheer despair because it became overweighted with her love and devotion, and she must seek a more direct expression. The words die upon our lips when we would speak of him who stood by her side through those sweetly burdened years, whose devotion and affection never failed her, and whom she in turn, adored.

And yet, although her life was so rich in all the noblest affections, she did not become wholly absorbed in them. She had from girlhood an insatiable hunger of mind which constantly fed itself with high thoughts and good books. We can all recall the keen relish with which she read aloud the pages which had brought her [page 4] solace or inspiration. Some times she would offer sweet apology because the reading was so long, and regret that the books she found satisfying were always "so thick". I remember old discussions in which I pitted Marcus Aurelius against her beloved Emerson, her early enthusiasm over "Robert Elsmere", her delight in the suggestiveness of Frederick Harrison's "Meanings of History", with her wonder over the stupidity of the rest of us, her quick finding of the best book lying upon one's table, and her instinct for the kernel of its message. She had above all the open mind, the untrammeled, searching, ample spirit.

"This was my lady's birth,
God gave her charm and mirth
And laid His whole sweet earth
Between her hands."

She was what Dr. Hale calls "the once born", who carried from her childhood a sense of harmony with Life, of the joyousness and righteousness of it all; she was not of dual nature, and yet she was no shallow optimist who thinks that all things work together for good without our sincere and unceasing effort. She was quick to be touched by the misery and the grotesqueness of life, and never failed in her gallant effort to make things better. With something of the noble simplicity an naiveté of a fine child she was undismayed by the most complicated situations, and in her enthusiasm for the best educational methods, her belief in the reality of social force, she brought to bear not only a clear mind, but that charm and ardor which often attain results when colder methods fail.

She preserved always the tenderness and spontaneity of her heart and her outer behavior but revealed the inner life. She kept [page 5] to the end her animation, her elasticity. She was ever a reminder, an earnest of all that is most touching and exquisite.

"Nor did knowledge of adversity
Rob her of any faith in happiness,
But rather cleared her inner eye to see
How many simple ways there are to bless."

In this life of blessing and serving, death was crowded out of her thoughts save as she feared it for those she loved -- in the words of one of her own sages, "The free man thinks of nothing so little as of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not of death, but of life. That love of action which would put death out of sight is to be counted good, as a holy and healthy thing, necessary to the life of men, serving to knit them together and to advance them in the right."

And yet we know, now that death has set his seal upon her, that too, in time, must seem gracious and right. We will remember at last that the paramount interest of life, all that makes it lofty and worthy, all that lifts it above the commonplace, lies in the sense of mystery that constantly surrounds it, in the consciousness that each day as it dawns upon us may bring the end either to ourselves or to our best beloved. A great artist in a noble parable has portrayed the experience of a man who, after long searching, discovered the [draft] of immortal life the drinking of which would put him beyond the reach of death and enable him to live on from one generation into another. Before he drinks that which will put him out of the brotherhood of mortals, he looks about him to take final account of the relation between life and death, of the part which the consciousness of death plays in the drama of the world. He discovers, all at once, that life has suddenly grown sordid and shallow when death is taken out of it, that the consciousness of the unknown [page 6] is all that can give life a meaning and make it in any sense worth living. At last, quite voluntarily and with a prayer that he too may share the great human experience, he spills the contents of his long sought for cup upon the ground, and gladly comes into the destiny which envelops us all, into that expectation of death which is indeed not a tragedy but a blessing, the incomparable gift of the Infinite to the mortal.

To you, who have lost a devoted wife, a dear daughter, a sister, a friend, I can only remind you that nothing can really console the heart save the effort we make to fulfill the duties of the heart, and at last we must turn for comfort to her dear children, to the little brother who is "new-born among us now". Therefore, at this moment let us quote, not from poems of sorrow, but from that exquisite Birth Song of Swinburne's:

"If death and birth be one,
And set with rise of sun,
Some word might come with thee
From over the still sea
Crossed by the crossing sails of death and birth,
Word of some sweet new thing
Fit for such lips to bring,
Some word of love, some afterthought of earth.
If love be strong as death,
By what so natural breath
As thine, could this be said?
By what so lovely way
Could love send word to say
She lives, and is not dead?"