"O, angel, sweet angel," runs this popular late-19th-century song, "I pray you, Let the beautiful gates ajar, Only a little, I pray you, Let the beautiful gates ajar." Published in 1874, the song, inspired by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' 1868 bestseller "The Gates Ajar" pleads for the gates of heaven to open enough to allow a glimpse of departed loved ones. Selling hundreds of thousands of copies before the end of the century, the novel, first published shortly after the end of the Civil War, consoled grieving families by envisioning a heaven not much different from life on earth, where families would eventually be reunited. So popular was the novel that manufacturers created everything from clothing to cigars, patent medicine, and, of course, sheet music, in its honor. More than just a response to the book's popularity, however, this song, written by R. A. Eastburn and Helen Botswick for music publisher S. Bainard & Company, struck a chord with Victorian sensibilities. Singing music together at home not only entertained the family but also tied it together with chords of domestic harmony. This song promised family unity even after death.
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