Benjamin Silliman's letter of condolence to Edward Hitchcock upon the death of his first child may seem cold comfort to us today, but both men were followers of Calvinism: life is only a prelude to the afterlife, a better place where all are rewarded or punished according to how we live our lives. In Silliman's view, an early death saves the child from the possibility of sin and condemnation. In this sense, they are more fortunate than we are.
I most cordially and feelingly condole with you on the late afflicted bereavement in your family. I know indeed, from early experience every pang you have suffered, & hope you may sooner recover from the shock than I did from my first loss of this kind–that of my eldest son. You will present my respectful condolence to Mrs. Hitchcock, whose suffering will of course, embrace all that belongs to yours with the addition of what a mother only can know.
But perhaps we are selfish in mourning so deeply for those that are 'bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,' for it is the irreversible order of providence, that we must lament or be lamented, & the only condition of protracted life, is the chance of new surround for the death of those whom we love.
The death of infants & of very young children is always attended (in my view) with so much consolation, that I can look upon the calm, sweet expression of their little bodies sleeping in death (not excepting even my own children) with a degree of pleasure which has little alloy. For I consider the declarations of our Saviour, as deciding the point that his sacrifice will cancel their original taint, and neither scripture nor reason will justify us in believing that there will hereafter be a penal retribution awarded to any thing but actual transgression.
The death of half of mankind within the age to which I allude [childhood}, I consider as evincive of the mercy of God to our fallen world, in removing so large a part of its population, before they have become, in any responsible sense, moral agents. I am very sorry that your anxiety should have been increased by unskilful medical practice, but I have followed to the grave four of my own little flock, whom the skill of the wisest and most devoted physicians could not save.