Mrs. Sigourney, “The Execution,” Ladies' Magazine and Literary Gazette, January 1833

MRS. SIGOURNEY, “The Execution,” Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette, January 1833

Mrs. Sigourney’s description of a man about to be put to death is gripping and dramatic.  While the criminal faces his execution with “Proud Guilt,” the speaker wonders how he can “drain the forfeit cup of life” without calling on Jesus for forgiveness.   Shifting between crowd shots and close-ups of the condemned criminal, Mrs. Sigourney confidently takes us into the minds of both the appalled onlookers and the “sullen” unrepentant felon. Tension builds around a series of intensifying but unsuccessful appeals. At the center of the spectacle of crime and punishment, the drama of one man’s spiritual destiny is placed before the reader.

Boston Public Library, Rare Books & Manuscripts

Recitation: "The Execution"

MRS. SIGOURNEY, “The Execution,” Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette, January 1833

 By Mrs. Sigourney

There’s silence mid yon gathering throng—why move they on so slow,
With neither sign or sound of mirth, to break the pause of woe?
And why upon yon guarded man is bent each gazing eye?
Where do his measured footsteps tend?—he cometh forth to die.

No sickness bows his hardy form, or checks the flowing breath,
But justice sternly riseth up to do the work of death.
Still boasts his cheek its changeless hue, his eye its moody fire,
Proud Guilt!—unbind thy massy chain, and let the soul respire.

He standeth on the scaffold’s verge, the holy priest is near,
Yet no contrition marks his brow, no sorrow wrings the tear;—
Oh! canst thou bear with cold disdain, the pang of mortal strife,
And thus in mad defiance drain the forfeit cup of life.

Look round upon thy native earth,—the glorious and the fair,—
Cliff—thicket, and resounding stream—thy boyhood sported there,
Think of thy sire that aged man, with white locks scattered thin,
And call those blest affections back, that melt the ice of sin.

Bethink thee of thy cradle-hours, and of a mother’s prayer,
Who nightly laid her cheek to thine, with guardian angel’s care,
And for her sake propitiate Him who shields the sinner’s head,
And take repentance to thy heart, ere thou art of the dead.

There’s but a moment.—To his ear reveal thy hidden pain,
Give passage to one suppliant tear, one prayer,—in vain—in vain:—
Oh! look to Him whose mercy heard the dying felon’s sigh,
Say “Jesus save me!”—who can tell but he will hear the cry?

A shuddering horror shakes the crowd, young eyes are veiled in dread,
Affrighted childhood wails aloud, and veterans bow the head,—
For guilt, unhumbled, unannealed, hath felt th’ avenger’s rod,
And gone, with falsehood’s sullen front, to dare the glance of God.


Ladies’ Magazine and Literary Gazette, January 1833