That The Youth’s Companion regularly published obituaries may strike modern readers as morbid or sadistic. At the time, however, death wasn’t the taboo topic it became in the twentieth century. In fact, pieces like “A Little Girl Who was Burned to Death” reminded readers that death could come to anyone, of any age. The piece might act as a warning to be careful around fire (one subscriber to Robert Merry’s Museum burned to death at age 14, when her dress caught fire). But the real focus is on showing the readers an example of someone “dying well”: that is, dying “in the exercise of a triumphant faith.” Minerva’s mental disability and the pain of her burns don’t keep her from repenting and from admonishing those around her to repent. Presented not only with the details of the death process, but with a role model for repentance, readers were readier for the end of this life—and presumably could make themselves ready for the life to come after.
[Obituary] “A Little Girl Who was Burned to Death” (reprinted from the Sabbath School Treasury; from Youth’s Companion, January 11, 1832; pp. 134-135)

Minerva Walden, died on Saturday, the 19th of March, 1831, in the exercise of a triumphant faith. The circumstances of her death were as follows.

She was a hired girl in the family of Mr. N—m, of this place; and on Saturday, the 12th of March last, as she was raising a kettle over the fire in the kitchen, her cotton dress took fire, and in her fright, she ran about the room and fanned the flame, so that when her cries brought assistance, she was all in a blaze. The fire was extinguished with all possible haste, but not until she was burned beyond hope of recovery. The fire had penetrated all parts of her body, and she stood pale and trembling in the near prospect of death. After her wounds were dressed, she was led to a bed, crying out “I am dying, I shall die,” &c.

In order to calm her agitated mind, and fit her for reflection, Mrs. N. told her she would not probably die immediately, and urged her to improve the time allotted her, in preparing for death. Minerva’s mind had been impaired by disease when she was quite young, and she had appeared incapable of understanding the truths of the Bible. All that had been said to her on this subject produced but little effect. But this dreadful accident seemed to rouse all her intellect, and fix it upon the concerns of eternity. Light from heaven broke in on her benighted mind, and she evinced genuine and deep conviction of sin. The distress of her mind seemed to equal that of her body. She tried to pray for herself, and asked

p. 135

Mr. N. to pray for her. She expressed a strong desire to see her father’s family, who lived about three miles distant. When her mother and brothers came, she took them by the hand, and said to her mother, “You are a Christian, and are going to heaven. I wish to be a Christian, and go there to. Will you read a chapter in the Bible, and pray with me?” Being asked if she remembered anything she had heard read in the Bible, (for she could not read), she repeated much that was read about Joseph at morning prayers, together with passages which she had heard at other times. She said to her brothers who were present, “I have been very wicked, and so have you; but don’t be so any more.” She was quite drowsy most of the time, but while she could be kept awake, the way of salvation was opened to her, and she was urged to immediate submission to Christ. In the morning, Mrs. N. asked her if she thought she had repented. She said she did not. Just at this time, a neighbor called to see the poor sufferer,—a pious man who had been awaked very early in the morning, by his intensity of feeling for immortal souls. He was requested to pray for her, which he did, and Minerva followed. After praying for herself, she prayed earnestly for two aged and impenitent men who were present, and repeated the verse, with great proprity,

“Behold the aged sinner goes,

Laden with guilt and heavy woe,

Down to the regions of the dead,

With endless curses on his head.”

One of these men seemed much affected, even to tears, (though unaccustomed to weep), and reported abroad what he had seen and heard. After she had closed her prayer, she looked up at Mrs. N. with a countenance expressive of peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and said, “O Mrs. N., you cannot think how happy I do feel.” Being asked if she loved Christ now, she replied, “Yes, I do,” and manifested her love by conversing with and praying for all the impenitent who came into her room. And the clearness of her views, and the correctness with which she expressed them, perfectly astonished all her acquaintance. To her father, who came to visit her the day after she was burned, she said, “Father, will you pray for me?” He replied, “I cannot.” “Well,” said she, “will you pray for me and the rest of the family, when you get home?” She urged her request until he promised that he would. On the same day, Mr. Y., the minister, called to see her, and asked her if she loved Christ. She replied, “Yes, I was brought in religion this morning.” He prayed with her; and after his prayer, she called her mother to her bedside, and said, “Mother, I wonder if you feel as happy as I do.” Thus, like the martyrs at the stake, she could rejoice and praise God under the most intense bodily suffering. Her confidence in God appeared firm while she was able to converse, though she was not encouraged by those about her. She would often express a desire to be released from her sufferings, until she was told that it was wrong to be impatient. She then said, “I feel willing to lie here and suffer as long as God pleases.” After the third day, she could converse but little. Some of her last words were, “I have talked with them all, now I have done.” She was at times in great bodily distress until Friday; after which, she lay perfectly stupid until Saturday, when she expired at 3 o’clock, P. M., just one week after she was burned. Her death-bed exhortations and prayers have proved directly instrumental in four or five hopeful conversions; and eternity alone will reveal the full extent of their influence. Thus does God choose “the foolish things of the world to confound the mighty.” And nfow let me entreat all who read this sketch, to prepare for a sudden death. You, like M., may be called to die with a week’s warning. Say not that you, like her, can prepare for eternity on your death-bed. She mourned that she had not begun to love Christ sooner, and urged all who came within the sound of her voice, not to do as she had done, but to become a Christian immediately. You know not that a week will be given you on your death-bed. “Now is the accepted time, and now is the day of salvation.” Say not that you are poor and ignorant, and therefore cannot repent. She was poor, and had not learned even to read; yet she could, and I hope she did repent and believe in Christ. Make no excuse, but “flee,” without delay, “from the wrath to come,” to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world[.]

North Adams, Oct. 23, 1831.

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