02 October 2012

The Athens plague of 1835, continued.

Bettina as a young girl. 

In the previous entry, Konstantinos Schinas had to tell his wife's parents about her long and serious illness in Athens in the hot summer of 1835. Now in this final letter written two weeks later (25 August/5 September), he tells them about her death.

* * * * * * 

I wrote to you the 18th via the Austrian Embassy and I didn’t sense the horrible, the uncurable catastrophe ahead for me and you.
In the morning of the 24 at 1 ½ o’clock my angel, your only daughter closed her beautiful eyes -- pious, patient, loving Bettina after a sickbed of 38 days while she was thinking only of her saviour and her parents, her glance turned to heaven, repeating for more than an hour “Forgive me everything, everything”.

Alas, dear parents! Everybody without exception shared the dolour of this unexpected disaster, friends, Christina, Stephan and all helpers still are inconsolable; all of our relatives and siblings who will get this horrible message very soon will be weeping bitterly for a long time over this irreplacable enormous loss, but they will eventually find relief from their pain.  Only you dear precious parents, and me the  husband of the most excellent creature, will no instance, no time ever deliver from this pain. I have loved this invaluable angel more than 10 years, not in confidence to gain possession of her, but with a hope not impossible to realize.

Finally there was the time to make long-nourished wishes true, I travelled to Ancona, alas, a year ago to bring the beautiful bride home, but no, to her grave. The subject of my adoration, 10 years desired, my lover, my wife, my guardian angel was allowed to me less than 10 months, now she is the Lord’s bride. She is in heaven and we unfortunates -- on this earth of mourning, in this deceiving joyless world. I will love her till my grave, but now hopeless on earth; only one hope is left to be reunited with her in one grave and in another world. Until the Lord helps me to this fortune I will continue living with her, try to guess her will and fulfill it faithfully and painstakingly according to my powers and so find little and poor comfort. I’ll do my timing all of the year related to her. My holidays will be the days meaningful to her or us, her birthday, her day of baptism, her confirmation, the day we first met, the day I first declared myself to her, the day of our separation in Berlin, the reunion in Ancona, our wedding day. The days when she led a serious conversation with me, gave me a fruitful advice, spoke to me a holy word will be my days of devotion. The correspondence with you will be part of these sweet duties, parents of my angel who is resting in God. 

Alas! I swear by her who adored you, who thought of you with burning desire till the end of her life, who had no wish but fulfilling your will completely, by the only and beloved daughter who is now watching us from above, to consider myself forever as your son, her orphaned husband, the most lamentable of all men, and will keep up the correspondence with you as faithful and reliable as your beloved passed away daughter did. There will not be the diversity like before, because why should you further be interested in Greece, which now keeps only the mortal remains, but no longer the beautiful soul of the precious child. But it will be of greatest interest for you, because for years I will be able to tell about the magnificent, the devotional, the loving, the brilliant I keep of her. And you too will always want to communicate about her to me. That is what I ask and confidentially expect of you in her blessed name, to continue your parental love for me, who will never stop to be connected with your daughter, as well as the regular correspondence like with her. Alas! Should there be little comfort thinkable, Bettina must always be considered as being alive with us, her death may not alter inner relations, everything must stay like she never stopped to be with us.

I realize that I did not yet continue the account of the cruel disease which I gave you only till the 18 of the month.

I told you in my last letter she was getting better, only suffering the so called bed-sore which had started healing,  there was no anxiety for her life anymore but a long convalescence to be expected; but this unfortunate abscess obviously had undermined all her life powers. The physicians (Dr. Röser and Ipitis) decided for a China decoction as a restorative agent, because out of exhaustion she developed a lethargy (meanwhile also Dr. Rösler became ill). The result were severe convulsions in the middle of the night; Ipitis helped again with calmatives, but a night or 2 later there were alarming palpitations; I didn’t know about this but was informed by the Bavarian nurse, like the doctor, 16 hours later (which was Friday, Aug 21, 6-7 o’clock in the evening). That evening the doctor did nothing about it. 

The following day (Saturday) he arrived only at half past 9 and ordered digitalis, finally at 6 in the afternoon he ordered a Spanish fly at her neck and another medicine, to stop the awful enlargement of her heart by diversion. These drugs arrived after 1 ½ hours from the king’s pharmacy which is rather far away. They were applied and seemed to show effects in the beginning (specially the Spanish fly); but this was a delusion, human help was too late anyway. After 8, her breathing started to get very hard, she couldn’t speak though she was obviously fully aware; at 11 her death struggle began, at 1 ½ after midnight the angel passed away repeating many times the words "Everything, everything, everything."

Madame Hill, who lives quite far away was informed immediately and she came right away with an older Englishwoman and with our Bavarian (or Wurttembergian) nurse Babett Wimmersberger washed the beautiful corpse, put her back on the bed where she had died and left.

The angel’s face was so lovely, so moving, so heavenly like I never saw one before, not only in the first hours after she had passed away but also the whole Monday (24) through until past midnight. Her beautiful eyes were closed like asleep, her mouth not fully closed so the pearls of her fair teeth could gleam; one could imagine she wants to speak or smile chastely and lovely like she often did. Only after midnight, i. e. after 24 hours decay began, a little blood and water flew out of her mouth, and in the morning (Tuesday) an odour was sensible, the eyes were not disfigured but the half moons under them a little distorted, the mouth and the beautiful front remained unaltered. The odour intensified but stayed tolerable.

The procession was to leave the house at 7 ½ in the morning and head for the church of St. Irene. Many friends who wanted to accompany the one in eternity came earlier and wanted to see her; the day before many had come to see her and admired the holy calm of her angel’s face; but the day of the funeral I did not give permission to see her anymore because on the occasion of speaking to me about the funeral of Minister Brockhausen Bettina once told me no unintentionally “ horrbile to see such a distorted corpse and to keep in mind such a displeasing impression, specially if the deceased is dear and precious to us. When I die, II would never want to be a subject of disgust. My body must only be seen as long as it is looking human.” On the occasion of the death of a little, in Greece born child of v. Lesuire she repeated this remark.

That is why I let nobody in and when the Greek clergy arrived I took only one priest into the room to read a short prayer after which I put the one in eternal immediately into the very beautiful coffin which was closed directly.

The procession then went to the church, Hill wearing his robe followed the Greek clergy. Inside the church (of Saint Irene) only the Greek priests (7 of them) said the prayers, then the procession set off again to the cemetery which is at least half an hour outside the city. On the way the odour increased because it was one of the hottest days (but also the last very hot one); the coffin was carried by 8 strong, very beautiful and very well dressed young men who rotated often.

Arriving, the coffin was put down in front of the grave, the Greek clergy said the last prayer, then Mr. Hill said the prayers of the Anglican Church with dignity and emotion and so the angel was buried in the earth. Her body now lies quietly beyond the temple of Jupiter and her beautiful soul has reached the  superior destination which she was longing for.
 Bettina, age 5.

Previous entries for  Bettina Schinas:
Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2012

Ruth Steffen: Leben in Griechenland 1834–1835. Bettina Schinas, geb. von Savigny. Briefe und Berichte an ihre Eltern in Berlin. Verlag Cay Lienau, Münster 2002.   ISBN 3-934017-00-2.

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