The Happy Death of Children

I'm reading Mozart's Women by Jane Glover, and came across this letter by his father Leopold, describing his daughter's fight with intestinal typhoid: "Whover could have listened to the conversations which we three, my wife, myself and my daughter, had on several evenings, during which we convinced her of the vanity of this world and the happy death of children, would not have heard it without tears." Maria Anna survived, living to be 79-- but at least five other Mozart children died in infancy. Has anyone done any research on the theology taught to chldren during an era of high mortality? In our age, a child's first experience with death is often that of an elderly relative, but in the 18th century it seems more of them would be exposed to the loss of playmates and their younger brothers and sisters. How much of what the parents told them, about littlest angels and tender souls too good to live, was passed on for the parent's comfort and how much to comfort a frightened child? "If I should die before I wake..."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Child mortality is a hard topic. Parents want their children to outlive them. I deal with several cases where the client/child has a weakened immune system and the next illness could be their last. Some of these children have old souls and actually make the parents face their possible death as they already have.
Some of my cases are "mystery illnesses" and I remember one parent telling me that if the possible genetic syndrome meant a short life span she was giving to give her young daughter a "traveling and knowledgable great time".
Having faced deathly illnesses twice// I'm not afraid=
i see it as another realm to explore. Morbid, but realistic, Dee Ann

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

I think this is the meaning of Joseph and Mary at the foot of the cross. Ladies' choice as to whether that image is literal, archetype or metaphor, but that's why they're there, to embrace every parent who's had to watch a child die.

Shannon M said...

I can't really answer this question directly with any knowledge. But I do know that in the late 19th century, it was not at all uncommon to take memento mori photographs of dead children being either held or gazed at by their surviving siblings. You can probably find examples on some website or other.

There was a rather peculiar cult of childhood innocence thing in the Victorian era, that led to Lewis Carroll's nude photographs of Alice Liddell and some of Julia Margaret Cameron's oddly eroticized images of children. I think that the cult of innocence must also have extended to dead children--who were even more innocent, pure and beautiful now that they were dead.