Colorado College Tutt Library

Sarah Gibbes diary partial transcription

Ms 0206, Sarah Gibbes, collection of poems and diary, circa 1780
Partial transcription by Elizabeth Culbertson of the U.S. Air Force Academy, May 2002, with
notes by Elizabeth Culbertson and Jessy Randall following.

We take no Note of Time. But from its loss. To give it then a tongue. Is wise in Man. [1]
Life like a vision passes soon away
Today victorious, our full honours blow;
Tomorrow death [unplumes?] and lays us low!


--Sarah Gibbes

Ode to Adversity
If on this roof high heav'n should send
Thy hand corrective fair,
Submissive teach my soul to bend,
But keep her from despair.
Fate's useful word must sure be just,
Then let me kiss the rod,
Nor worn with woe, at all distrust
The goodness of my God.
The hand who form'd my inmost thoughts,
Must needs be great and wise;
And he who best perceives my faults,
The fittest to chastise.
Then, till life's latest sands are run
O teach me, Power divine,
To cry, My God, Thy will be done
Whate'er becomes of mine.

Sarah Gibbes

A Soliloquy written in a Connery Church Yard By the Reverend Mr Moore of Cornwall

Struck with religious awe, and solemn dread.
I view these gloomy mansions of the dead.
Around me tombs in much disorder rise,
And in mute language teach me to be wise.
Time was these ashes liv'd-a time must be
When others thus may stand-and look at me;
Alarming thought! no wonder 'tis we dread,
O'er these uncomfortable vaults to tread,
Where blended lie the aged and the young,
The rich and poor an undistinguish'd throng:
Death conquers all, and time's subduing hand
Nor tombs, nor marble statues can withstand.
Mark yonder ashes in confusion spread!
Compare earth's living tenants with her dead!
How striking the resemblance,
Yet how just!
Once life and soul informed
This mass of dust,
Around these bones now broken and decayed
The streams of life in various channels played
Perhaps that skull so horrible to view
Was some fair maids, ye Belles as fair as you;
These hollow sockets two bright orbs contained
Where the loves sported, and in triumph reign'd.
There glow'd the lips, these white as Parian [2] stone
The teeth disposed in beauteous order shone.
This is life's goal-no farther can we view,
Beyond it, all is wonderful and new:
O deign some courteous ghost! to let us know
What we must shortly be and you are now!
Sometimes you warn us of approaching fate,
Why hide the knowledge of your present state,
With joy behold us tremblingly explore
The unknown gulph, that you can fear no more
The grave has eloquence its lectures teach
In silence louder than divines can preach.
Hear what it says, ye sons of folly hear,
He speaks to you, Oh! give it then an ear,
He bids you lay all vanity aside,
Oh; what a lecture this for human pride.

Whose tomb is this; it says 'tis Mira's tomb!
Scratch'd from the world in beauty's faintest bloom,
Attend ye fair, ye thoughtless, and ye gay!
For Mira died upon her nuptial day,
The Grave cold Bridegroom clasped her in his arms,
And the worm rioted upon her charms.

Here Old Avaro lies,
Once he was rich, the world esteemed him wise,
Schemes unaccomplish'd labor'd in his mind.
And all his thoughts were to the world confined,
Death came unlook'd for from his grasping hand,
Down dropped the bags and mortgages of lands,
There low in dust the vain Hortensio lies
Whose splendour once we view'd with envious eyes:
Titles and arms his pompous marble grace,
With a long hist'ry of his noble race:
Still after Death his vanity survives,
And on his tomb all of Hortensio lives,
Around me as turn my wandering eyes
Unnumber'd graves in awful prospects rise,
Whose stones say only when their owners dy'd,
If young, or aged, and to whom ally'd.
On others pompous epitaphs are spread.
In mem'ry of the virtues of the dead,
Vain waste of praise! since flatt'ring or sincere.
The judgement day alone will make appear.
How silent is this little spot of ground!
How melancholy looks each object round!
Here man dissolv'd in shatter'd rain lies
So fast asleep-as if no more to rise;
'Tis strange to think how these dead bones can live,
Leap into form, and with new heat revive!
Or how this trodden earth to life shall wake,
Know its old place, its former figure take!
But whence these fears? When the last trumpet sounds
Thro' heav'n;s expanse to earth's remotest bounds,
The dead shall quit these tenements of clay,
And view again the long extinguish'd day:
It must be so-the same Almighty power
From dust who form'd us, can from dust restore.
Charm'd with this pleasing hope
I safely trust
Jehovah's pow'r to raise me from the dust,
On his unfailing promises rely,
And all the horrors of the grave defy
--Feb 22, 1782

Epitaph design'd for My ever Dear and Beloved, Daughter.-Mary Middleton-who quitted this transitory Life. Nov 29 Wednesday
Aged 17 years 8 months 8 days and a half
Leaving an infant daughter Six hours old

We candid few, who tread this sacred ground……
To pensive meditation's awful round.
Regard this spot, nor check the starting tear…….
A Child, whose merits claim it well, lies here,
[3] One who had scarce the joys of this life try'd…..
She found them fading, closed her eyes and dy'd……
Farewell, bright pattern of unblemish'd youth
Of mildest merit, modesty, and truth!
Death snatch'd thy sweetness in the genial hour,
Just when the stem put forth its infant flower…….
Still blooms the flower: as oft we see……
Fair branches budding from the lifeless tree
August 10, 1776 S. Gibbes

The Complaint

Peace and content are from my bosom fled,
Those dear companions of my younger days
Through pleasing paths where sportive fancy led,
Their influence beam'd with constant mildest rays.-

Calm and serene were my hours of rest
Sweet were my slumbers, and my thoughts compos'd:
No grief corroding did invade my breast
Nor anxious cares my happiness oppos'd.

Each welcome day in chearful mirth was spent-
No baneful passion harbour'd in my mind
I grateful own'd the gift that fortune lent
Nor envy'd those for higher ranks design'd…

Ah! happy days! alone by mem'ry known,
Which brings to view the joys I once possessed;
Joys, which forever far from me are flown
For Mary's Death! Has rob'd my soul of rest.
Yes it is past! The dear delusion's o'er!
Lost to the world in some recluse abode,
I'll secret mourn the cause of my woe.

[written at the bottom of the page, with "Resignation" and "The Consolation" immediately following]

Gracious God. grant me O! grant me Consolation; and resignation to thy divine will

October 5, 1782 S. G.

Long have I viewed, long have I thought,
And held, with trembling hand, the bitter draught;
T'was now just to my lips apply'd.
Nature shrunk back, and all my courage dy'd,
But now resolv'd and firm I'll be
Since, Lord, 'tis mingled and held up by thee,
I'll trust the great physician's skill;
I know what he prescribes can ne'er be ill:
To each disease, he knows what's fit,
I own him wise, and good, and do submit:
I now no longer grieve or pine,
Since 'tis thy pleasure, Lord, it shall be mine,
Thy med'cine puts me to great smart
Thou'st wounded me in my most tender part:
But 'tis with a design to care;
I must and will thy sovereign touch endure:
What I much prized below is gone
But yet I still will pray,
Thy will be done."
Since 'tis thy sentence I should part
With the most precious treasure of my heart
I freely that and more resign;
My heart itself, and it's delights is thine;
My little all I give to thee
Thou gav'st a greater gift, Thy Son for me!
He left from bliss and joys above,
Himself he emptied of all good but love:
For me he did forsake
More good than he from me can ever take
A mortal life, for a divine
He took, and did at last even that resigned
Take all, great God! I will not grieve,
But still will wish that I had still to give;
I hear thy voice, thou bidd'st me quit
My paradise, I bow, and do submit:
I will not murmur at thy word,
Nor beg thy angel to sheath up his sword.
October 5, 1782 S Gibbes…

The Consolation

When anxious thoughts oppress the mind,
What charm relief affords?
None we in mirth or musick fine,
Or pompous flow of words.

Broad laughter may, awhile, be clad
In happiness' array;
But soon the heart that's truly sad
Sees folly fleet away.

The charm of soft harmonious sounds,
May give a transient ease;
But this relief has narrow bounds,
And ceases soon to please.

To crowed rooms, where slander keeps
Her universal court;
Envy and discord never sleep;
Each neighbor's woe to sport!

Can heart felt sorrow here be lost,
And happiness be found:
No:--on detraction's whirlpool lost,
Calm helpless peace is drown'd.

Since musick, mirth, with scandal fail,
And all the senses cloy;
Let me, divinest friendship hail,
The source of lasting joy.

Thy steady beams, like Sol's bright rays
Awe permanent and clear;
Not as the lawless meteor blaze,
That vanishes in air.

A friend sincere will kindly treat
Each woe that racks the mind
The sympathetick tear will beat,
Where friendship's band's conjoin'd.

Dividing this the load of grief,
Life's ceaseless care is less;
Her soothing converse yields relief,
Her pity can redress.

The flame of love too fiercely warms;
His vot'ries all refine;
Like light'ning his destruction beams
Oft burn as well as shine,

Since then, though life, no greater bliss,
On strictest search we find;
Hear me, ye powers, continue this;
A friend of virtuous mind.
Oct 8, 1782 S. G….

Address'd to an Amiable Daughter

Now Anna while the morn of youth,
Still beams unclouded and serene;
May fancy, tenderness, and truth,
Attend you through life's [chequer'd] scene
And when the ev'ning of your time,
Will all those op'ning charms entomb,
They'll lead you to the blissful clime
Where youth and beauty ever bloom.
June 1783 Sarah Gibbes

Reflections on viewing a Skeleton
This silent preacher speaks within,
Proclaims mortality to man,
Thou like this emblem shalt be seen,
When thou hast measur'd out thy span.
Here was fix'd the dimpled cheek;
And from the sallow, naked brown
The curling locks below the neck,
Fall light, and negligently down,
Gay friend, here hang the list'ning ear,
That oft drank in the voice's sound;
Her the loquacious tongue-and there
The nose-and that distorted round.
See here, the socket's empty space
Looks frightful to the seeing eye
And spreads pale horror o'er the face
Of ev'ry mortal stander by.
Here the double iv'ry stood,
That ground the meat for life's support,
How ghastly now its look and rude
Like some old ruin'd batter'd fort.
This part once fortified the brain,
The seat of sense for everyone,
From whence might flow the raptur'd strain,
Now where's the soul of reason flown!
Be witty, mortals, as you please
All empty knowledge center here:
Thy scull will sometime be like this,
Not worth a stupid sexton's care.
Again he calls that life away,
And man becomes a senseless thing
Soon mingles with his mother clay,
When once the soul has taken away.
Suppose the scull once were a crown,
And govern'd nations here below,
'Tis now not from a beggar's known,
The laurel's wither'd from the brow;
On this might some fam'd beauty be,
The beaux's delight, the ranter's toast;
That beauty now no more you see,
The rose is fled, the lilly lost.
One cannot tell, except one knew,
Perhaps, some quibbling lawyer this,
Where's all the titles once he drew,
And deeds without parenthesis.
Or shepherd this in ages past,
That watch'd the bleating flock with care,
In summer's heat, and cold repast,
And worship'd God in open air.
All must pass the dreary road,
And from friends secluded be,
Beneath the musky dark abode,
And where no mortal eye can see.
S. Gibbes

Peaceful Retreat.
Thoughts on viewing the Graves in the enclosure in the Orchard on John's Island

Here rest the silent, unmolested dead.
Sleeping secure within their narrow cell;
But where the souls from this vain world are fled,
No wandering man on earth can ever tell.

How direful is the rigid state of Man!
How like a traveler (till life is fled)
He eager wanders through his short lived span,
And ne'er arrives at rest until he's dead.

The he securely rests from all his pain:
His virtues, honor, with his body lie;
Say then, ye living are not glories vain?
Since wreaths of honor like to man must die.

While now of life this little view I take,
And see the vanity of falling tears;
The late ideas such impressions make,
That memory a lasting trophy bears.

Then: cease ye tears, let memory bear its sway.
Thy Force alone, religion, Death disarms,
Breaks all his Darts, and every Viper charms,
Soften'd by Thee, the grisly form appears
No more the horrid object of our Fears.

We undismay'd this awful Power obey,
That guides us through the safe, tho' gloomy Way
Which lead to Life, and to the blest abode
Whose ravish'd Minds enjoy, what have they own'd, a God.

S. Gibbes

Information on Sarah Gibbes

Source: Alice Hawkins Quinn. Descendants of Robert Gibbes (1644-1715), Colonial Governor of South Carolina. Prescott, Arizona: Published by the Author, 1987.

Sarah Gibbes was born Sarah Reeve in 1746. Her parents were Dr. John Ambrose Reeve and Ann Barnwell. In 1764, she married Robert Gibbes, a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner. (He was also her step-brother: Ann Barnwell was married four times, and the fourth marriage was to John Gibbes. Robert was his son from a previous marriage.) Robert Gibbes had previously been married to Ann Stanyarne, who died in 1763; Robert and Ann had a daughter, Mary Gibbes, who was born in 1758. Robert and Sarah lived on "Peaceful Retreat," the Gibbes plantation at Stono Landing on John's Island, near Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina. They had ten children.

Mary Gibbes, step-daughter of Sarah Gibbes, married Thomas Middleton in 1774. She died in 1775, age 17, soon after giving birth to a daughter of her own, also called Mary. It seems likely that this death motivated Sarah to start writing poetry, since the date of Mary's death is the earliest recorded date in the diary, and many of Sarah's poems are about that death.

Robert Gibbes died in 1794, and Sarah Gibbes died in 1825. They were buried in the family graveyard on John's Island.

Information on the diary and transcription

There is little information available on the history of the diary itself. According to library records, Beryl Ritchie, of Colorado Springs, gave it to Colorado College. The gift was probably made some time between 1933 and 1954, when a dentist named Beryl Ritchie (sometimes spelled Ritchey) is listed in the Colorado Springs city directories. We don't know how Ritchie came to possess the diary. It was first cataloged in 1983.

Initially, we wondered if Sarah Gibbes were the author of the poems in the diary, mainly because of a note before one of the poems: "The following lines were composed and sung with a sweet Voice, by a Lady to her Husband, a few Minutes before she died." This made it seem as though Gibbes couldn't possibly have written the poem, yet she had signed and dated it. We think now that perhaps she was simply imagining a scenario for the poem. We do not know whether she wrote all the poetry in the diary, but we believe that everything she signed and dated (about three-quarters of the text) is hers.

Elizabeth Culberton chose a variety of pieces to transcribe: several poems that Gibbes signed and dated, a couple that she did not, and some of her brief comments and prayers. She did not transcribe any of the death or birth information. The poems in the diary are not chronological, and there are very few corrections. It may be that Gibbes wrote drafts elsewhere and then copied her final versions into the diary.

For the most part, we have preserved Gibbes's spelling and punctuation, including ellipses; we occasionally joined together hyphenated words. Our main editorial change is the layout of the poems: Gibbes's lines were often longer than the width of the page, so she would carry them down. We have set up the lines as we believe Gibbes intended them. Bracketed words with question marks are our best guesses.


(1) This first line is from Edward Young's The Complaint, and the Consolation; or Night Thoughts, first published ca. 1742. (Section I, line 55). We were was unable to find the next three lines anywhere in Edward Young's work, so it is possible that they are original. Since the diary contains poems titled "The Complaint," and "The Consolation," we thought Gibbes might have copied them from Young, but did not find any other text matches.

We discovered that a 1797 edition of that work had been illustrated by William Blake, which was noteworthy because under these lines in the diary is affixed a picture in the style of Blake. The picture depicts Time or Death as an old man, with a beard and sickle, and is similar, but not identical, to one in part 24 of the 1797 publication. The picture in the diary has ragged edges and appears to have been ripped from a publication. The old man with the sickle is standing atop a pile of broken blocks, or bricks. It is unclear whether these bricks were drawn in by Sarah Gibbes or are original to the print. An odd coincidence: according to Alice Hawkins Quinn's Descendents of Robert Gibbes, "The old Gibbes house was burned, but a mound of broken bricks marked the site." Whether or not Sarah Gibbes was still living when the house was marked by these stones isn't clear, but she may have been; the house it refers to may be the one that the British bombarded during the invasion of Prevost in 1779, which Quinn discusses:

"This beautiful house and grounds attracted the attention of the British during the invasion of Prevost and there is a long story of how her servants advised her the British were coming and she ordered the children dressed, assisted her husband, who was afflicted with gout, to get into his rolling chair and awaited the coming of the British. The officers took immediate possession of the house, leaving the premises to their men and extending no protection against pillage. The soldiers roved at their pleasure about the plantation, helping themselves to whatever they chose; breaking into the wine, drinking to intoxication and seizing and carrying off the Negroes. When the plantation was bombarded, Mrs. Gibbes and the children set off to an adjoining plantation."

(2) A stone of coarse grain and strongly crystal line, Parian marble was used by ancient Greek sculptors and architects

(3) The following two lines are crossed out lightly in the diary, and Gibbes has drawn an index finger pointing to "Farewell, bright pattern…" to show that the reader is to pick it up there.

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