The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
Three or four years after the birth of her daughter, Christina had had one more child. She had never been strong since she married, and had a presentiment that she should not survive this last confinement. She accordingly wrote the following letter, which was to be given, as she endorsed upon it, to her sons when Ernest was sixteen years old. It reached him on his mother's death many years later, for it was the baby who died now, and not Christina. It was found among papers which she had repeatedly and carefully arranged, with the seal already broken. This, I am afraid, shows that Christina had read it and thought it too creditable to be destroyed when the occasion that had called it forth had gone by. It is as follows -
"BATTERSBY, March 15th, 1841.
"My Two Dear Boys,--When this is put into your hands will you try to bring to mind the mother whom you lost in your childhood, and whom, I fear, you will almost have forgotten? You, Ernest, will remember her best, for you are past five years old, and the many, many times that she has taught you your prayers and hymns and sums and told you stories, and our happy Sunday evenings will not quite have passed from your mind, and you, Joey, though only four, will perhaps recollect some of these things. My dear, dear boys, for the sake of that mother who loved you very dearly--and for the sake of your own happiness for ever and ever--attend to and try to remember, and from time to time read over again the last words she can ever speak to you. When I think about leaving you all, two things press heavily upon me: one, your father's sorrow (for you, my darlings, after missing me a little while, will soon forget your loss), the other, the everlasting welfare of my children. I know how long and deep the former will be, and I know that he will look to his children to be almost his only earthly comfort. You know (for I am certain that it will have been so), how he has devoted his life to you and taught you and laboured to lead you to all that is right and good. Oh, then, be sure that you are his comforts. Let him find you obedient, affectionate and attentive to his wishes, upright, self-denying and diligent; let him never blush for or grieve over the sins and follies of those who owe him such a debt of gratitude, and whose first duty it is to study his happiness. You have both of you a name which must not be disgraced, a father and a grandfather of whom to show yourselves worthy; your respectability and well-doing in life rest mainly with yourselves, but far, far beyond earthly respectability and well-doing, and compared with which they are as nothing, your eternal happiness rests with yourselves. You know your duty, but snares and temptations from without beset you, and the nearer you approach to manhood the more strongly will you feel this. With God's help, with God's word, and with humble hearts you will stand in spite of everything, but should you leave off seeking in earnest for the first, and applying to the second, should you learn to trust in yourselves, or to the advice and example of too many around you, you will, you must fall. Oh, 'let God be true and every man a liar.' He says you cannot serve Him and Mammon. He says that strait is the gate that leads to eternal life. Many there are who seek to widen it; they will tell you that such and such self-indulgences are but venial offences--that this and that worldly compliance is excusable and even necessary. The thing cannot be; for in a hundred and a hundred places He tells you so--look to your Bibles and seek there whether such counsel is true--and if not, oh, 'halt not between two opinions,' if God is the Lord follow Him; only be strong and of a good courage, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. Remember, there is not in the Bible one law for the rich, and one for the poor--one for the educated and one for the ignorant. To all there is but one thing needful. All are to be living to God and their fellow-creatures, and not to themselves. All must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness--must deny themselves, be pure and chaste and charitable in the fullest and widest sense--all, 'forgetting those things that are behind,' must 'press forward towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God.'
"And now I will add but two things more. Be true through life to each other, love as only brothers should do, strengthen, warn, encourage one another, and let who will be against you, let each feel that in his brother he has a firm and faithful friend who will be so to the end; and, oh! be kind and watchful over your dear sister; without mother or sisters she will doubly need her brothers' love and tenderness and confidence. I am certain she will seek them, and will love you and try to make you happy; be sure then that you do not fail her, and remember, that were she to lose her father and remain unmarried, she would doubly need protectors. To you, then, I especially commend her. Oh! my three darling children, be true to each other, your Father, and your God. May He guide and bless you, and grant that in a better and happier world I and mine may meet again.--Your most affectionate mother,
From enquiries I have made, I have satisfied myself that most mothers write letters like this shortly before their confinements, and that fifty per cent. keep them afterwards, as Christina did.