A Reflection of Christmas Past
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Far to the north in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reflected on the day, and Christmas days past. The season had held no joy for him for the past three years — not because of the war, but the tragic death of his wife Fanny in the summer of 1861. She was the love of his life, and they were splendidly happy, but on July 9, 1861, while sealing a letter with paraffin, Fanny dropped the match on her summer dress, which burst into flames. Henry heard her screams and ran to help. He immediately tried to extinguish the flames with a small rug, and when that failed, he threw his arms around Fanny to smother the flames, causing him to sustain serious burns on his face, arms, and hands. His heroic act did not suffice, and Fanny died the next morning of her injuries. Longfellow was unable to even attend the funeral. Photographs of Longfellow taken or made after the fire usually show him with a full beard, since he was no longer able to shave properly due to the burns and scarring.
The coming of the holiday season in the Longfellow house became a time of grieving for his wife while trying to provide a happy time for the children left at home. It was during Christmas 1862 that he wrote in his journal, “A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” He had also suffered another disappointment when his oldest son, Charles Appleton “Charley” Longfellow, quietly left their Cambridge, Mass. home, and enlisted in the Union Army much against the wishes of his father.
In mid-March, Longfellow had received word from Charles, saying, “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave, but I cannot any longer.” The determined young man continued, “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.” He was 17 years old and went to Capt. W. H. McCartney, who was in charge of Battery A of the 1st Mass. Artillery, asking to be allowed to enlist. McCartney knew the boy and knew he did not have his father’s permission, so he contacted the senior Longfellow to see if he could obtain it on his behalf. Longfellow conceded and acceded to the request.
It was only a few months later that Charley came down with typhoid fever and malaria and was sent home to recover, not rejoining his unit until August 15, 1863. Following the Gettysburg battle, which Charley had fortunately missed, the conflict made its way into Virginia, and it was at the Battle of New Hope Church, in Orange, VA., part of the Mine Run Campaign, that the young Lt. Longfellow sustained injuries, which seriously disabled him. He was hit in the shoulder and the ricocheting bullet took out some portions of several vertebrae. It was reported that he missed being paralyzed by less than one inch. Longfellow traveled to where his injured son was hospitalized and brought him home to Cambridge to recover.
The following spring, Longfellow's lifelong friend Nathaniel Hawthorne passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. These had been difficult times for the poet; but sometimes it is only through great adversity that the promise of hope makes itself felt most strongly. Longfellow began to write:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of 'peace on earth, good will to men.’
I thought how as that day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th' unbroken song
Of 'peace on earth, good will to men.’
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song”
Of 'peace on earth, good will to men.'
It appeared for a time that Longfellow, in his heartache, had lost hope. Christmas was not joyful nor peaceful for him and the promise of hope had diminished. The inspiration of this Christmas song assures us that through this time of great despair he did find serenity, tranquility, and solace. The Civil War brought wounds to the heart and minds of the American people and they needed hope to prevail in this long journey. In his plight for peace and joy, Longfellow, penned these words that touched the heart of a war torn nation giving them hope in God.
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
The poem was put to music by Jean Baptiste Calkin in 1872, and became the familiar carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” by James S. Robinson; Free Republic Browse
Thought: My dear friend in Christ, please do not lose hope. When we have confidence (believe) in Christ we obtain great hope and peace. Though troubles may come and perhaps you will struggle in times of deep despair, remember, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.” Trusting God with all things will give you the hope you so long for and the peace you desire. Romans 15:13 ~ Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.