Monday, October 29, 2018

Dr. Heman Humphrey to Captain John Brown, November 20, 1859

Pittsfield, Mass., Nov. 20, 1859.
Mr. John Brown.

My Poor Wounded And Doomed Kinsman, — I should have written you before now if I had known what to say. That we all deeply feel for you in your present extraordinary circumstances you will not doubt. Most gladly would we fly to your relief, if the sentence under which you lie had not put you entirely beyond the reach of hope. All we can do is to pray for you. This we can do; and I am sure that prayer is offered without ceasing for you, that you may be prepared for that death from which I am persuaded nothing short of a miracle would save you. Oh, that we had known the amazing infatuation which was urging you on to certain destruction before it was too late! We should have felt bound to have laid hold upon and retained you by violence, if nothing short would have availed. You will not allow us to interpose the plea of insanity in your behalf; you insist that you were never more sane in your life, — and indeed, there was so much “method in your madness,” that such a plea would be of no avail. I do not intend to use the word madness reproachfully. I am bound to believe that you were as conscientious as Saul of Tarsus was in going to Damascus; and I am sure it was in an infinitely better cause. But what you intended was an impossibility; and all your friends are amazed that you did not see it. They can never believe that if you had been John Brown of better days, — if you had been in your right mind, — you would ever have plunged headlong, as you did, into the lion's den, where you were certain to be devoured. Oh, that you would have been held back! But, alas! these are unavailing regrets; it is too late; it is done. The sentence is passed.

You have come almost to the foot of the scaffold, and I presume you have no hope of escape. All that remains is to prepare for the closing scene of the awful tragedy. Are you prepared? You have long been a professor of religion. I take it for granted that you will now anxiously examine yourself whether you are in the faith; whether you are a true child of God, and prepared to die and go to the judgment. I do not believe you had murder in your heart. Your object, as you say, was to liberate the slaves. You wanted to do it without killing anybody. It is astonishing you did not consider that it could not be done without wading in blood. The time has not come. It is not the right way, and never will be. It is right to pray, “O Lord, how long?” but not to run before and take the avenging sword into our own hands. You have nothing more to do in this world. You have done with the Border Ruffians, who hunted for your precious life. It becomes you prayerfully to inquire how far you will be answerable at the bar of God for the blood which was shed at Harper's Ferry, and for the fate of those who are to die with you. I judge you not; but there is One that judgeth, with whom is mercy and plentiful forgiveness to all who truly repent and savingly believe on him whose blood cleanseth from all sin. There is a great deal more danger that we shall think too little of our sins than too much. The time is now so short that it becomes you to spend it mostly in prayer and meditation over your Bible. Oh, how precious is every hour! I am sure you will welcome any pious friend who may visit you in prison; and I hope there is some godly minister who may come to you with his warmest sympathies and prayers. May God sustain you, my dying friend! Vain is the help of man.

Christ can stand by you and carry you through. Other help there is none. Oh, that there was a possibility that your life might be spared! But, no! there is nothing to hang a hope on. Farewell, my wounded and condemned friend. We shall not meet again in this world. Should I outlive you, it will not be long. I have passed my fourscore years. We trust that many of our kindred have gone to heaven. Oh, may we be prepared to meet, and to meet them there, washed in the Redeemer's blood!

From your affectionate and deeply affected kinsman,
H. Humphrey.

SOURCES: Franklin B. Sanborn, The Life and Letters of John Brown, p. 602-3

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