« PreviousContinue »
and long for the sweet alternation again to recur.
Still worse if the trees thicken into a dense plantation, and we travel ore under a canopy of dark foliage, where the intertwining branches and matted fronds of the pine suffer no sheen of glimmering light to glance down on our path.
The unbroken serenity of Egyptian sky tires sooner perhaps than the cold and leaden hue of our own autumnal firmament, though November days in England are proverbial for causing people to make the most of their social and private grievances and bring their years to an untimely end.
During our longestsummerdays, when we look at the sun still shining between eight and nine o'clock, it almost seems as though he were staying up too late, and now that it was time for the animal creation to go to rest he had better make haste to dip below the horizon and let the night come on.
Well may Lord Dufferin's cock think it was time to leave off crowing and jump into the sea, when they had sailed into such high latitudes that there was neither break-of-day nor sunrise for him loudly to declare.
"There shall be no night there," tells us plainer almost than any thing else in revelation of the great change to be undergone in man's condition. At present it would be a sad deprivation to be robbed of those dark peaceful hours, when
"Night, sable goddess, from her clwn throne
Many of us may be far too fond ot adding the night unto the day, as the muse of Tom Moore advises; but the nrost rakish of mortals find that a repetition of such a practice does not convene either to their comfort or convenience; for if dame Nature is maltreated, she will invariably, sooner or later, retaliate upon those who slight her prerogative.
I hardly know whether many of us would like to be deprived of our long winter evenings, when, as the day draws to a close so much earlier, we seem to have more time at our own more immediate disposal, and give ourselves up more freely to social communion.
"Shade* of evening close not o'er ni"
is a line which very few would like to see literally fulfilled; for when it is getting dusk, many people put up the shutters with considerable alacrity, as. though they were rather pleased than otherwise that the more convivial time was approaching.
i Many are the kinds and gradations of sunshine and shadow: the light vapors that float around the earth—fog and mist and thunder-cloud; the heavier vapors that distemper the atmosphere of the mind—doubts and fears and brooding melancholy ; these serve to hide the sun
| shine from the world and darken the heart of man. But they are moving all: the mists disperse and the clouds float away, and mother Earth looks more beauteous
[ than ever, again irradiate with light; and who has not seen the child's face look
\ twice as pretty after an April shower of tears, or known an elder spirit on which the beauty of holiness seemed reflected after passing through a dark vale of sorrow? . Varied indeed are the intensities of shadows on the earth : the light volatile film which scarcely has the power to refract a ray of sunshine; those heavy masses of vapor, properly called cumuli, which, resting apparently on the ground, rise like alpine heights half way to the zenith; the dark, purple-hued, tempestladen clouds, which lie brooding oh the horizon, while the sultry air and the deep mutter of the distant artillery of heaven tell of the coming storm: all these are constantly throwing their light or dark shadows over the earth and changing its aspect.
Again, there is a deeper gloom when this revolving globe turns the spot of earth we stand upon away from the fece of the sun altogether, and night settles down upon us. And then a sister world will occasionally intervene between Apollo and ourselves, and throw a sudden chill over us, as though she were a bit jealous of his benevolent smile, and would fain induce him to treat us more coldly. The lights and shadows playing upon the world, in a measure have their counterparts in life's history, and man's days upon the earth are almost as varied as an April sky. Rarely does a day pass over but that some faint shadows darken our path—bright anticipations are dashed down, sunny hopes are turned into desponding forebodings of evil, or joys reVert to grief. And, perhaps as unexpectedly, light breaks in upon us when the day is dark and dreary: "Heaviness may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning." We are too apt to note well all the evil that befalls us, and to make the most of our daily trials, without dwelling sufficiently on the many lifts we get to help us on our way.
If we live in a valley, and our windows look out upon some mountain height, and a fearsome shadow darkens that conical peak, we are just as sure of its being by and by again lighted up with sunshine, as we are that the day will break on the morrow morn. The mists, we know, will roll away; the-cloud that overhangs it now will all dissolve in gentle rain, or pass away and be no more seen; and the trembling light will dart from crag to crag, burnishing the rocks with gold, and giving them all the fresh beauty of a new creation.
So is it with ourselves, in a great measure, if we are only circumspect enough to look calmly at the recurring shadows and sunshine darkening and illuming any portion of our lives.
We are not presuming to doubt that there are peculiar visitations of affliction which almost bar out the light of hope, when in the morning the stricken soul would cry out in.the depth of its anguish, "Would God it were evening!" and in the evening, "Would God it were morning!" Now we are speaking of mortal fife in its general tenor, when it neither rises to ecstatic heights of sublimated joy, nor grovels in the deepest slough of human misery.
Perhaps you have been a fisherman-: if so, you must have noted many a time, how a sudden gleam athwart the pool haa magically glorified the little landscape you were just beginning to put down as a very humdrum sort of place; and, instead of making up your mind—as you were about to do—never to come that way again, you think of asking an artist friend to make an original drawing of the pretty spot for your drawing-room scrap-book. Or in whipping-up a trout-stream, where the purling waves ripple over many a mineral gem, softly rounded by the gentlest of lapidaries, you have been arrested in your interesting sport and fairly com
pelled to lay down your rod for a time, while a bright flash of sunlight, darting between two heavy clouds, has intensified the beauty of the babbling brook, and the rocks and woods on either side, and the glade of turf seen through some drooping willows,—so wondrously different has the picture looked in that sudden blaze of sunshine, after seeing it so long in the sober light of a cloudy sky.
Perhaps you have been a watcher in the chamber of sickness, and, after the long hours of darkness and anxiety, have hailed with joy the first gray light of dawn, which, were the heart ever so cast down, always brought a gleam of hope along with it, and seemed to revive you as with a sweet breath of Oriental perfume. When a dull leaden-coloured sky canopies the earth from horizon to horizon, we are quick to notice the narrowest rent in a cloud through which the missing sun may smile upon us once again; and, after a gloomy distrust has darkened our mind for a season, we are just as eager to snatch at straw-like occurrences, which, if they themselves can not buoy us up, give us hope to hold on a little longer till
1 some strong hand is stretched out to save. 'Tis indeed a glorious sight to witness
! the return of animation to a dying spirit, •
! such as seems all at once to vitalize the prostrate frame, and put a liquid brilliance
'in the filmy eye; and, though the change be but transitory, and "the still cold hand of death" soon becalms that beauteous form into all the stern stolidity of marble, yet it whispers to us of a life to come. Poilok, one would think, must have wit
.j nessed such a scene, to have drawn so delicate a picture:
"The Angel of the Covenant Was come, and, faithful to his promise, stood Prepared to walk with her through death's dark vale;
i And now her eyes grew bright, and brighter still,— Too bright for ours to look upon, suffused With many tears, and closed without a cloud.
( They set, as sets the morning star, which goes
, Not down behind the darkened west, nor hides Obscured among the tempests of the sky,
; But melts away into the light of heaven."
Perhaps you are often in a gloomy mood 'with yourself and all your surroundings, 'l and feel a kind of savage joy in debarring yourself at such times of all agreeable diI version, virtually saying, "I will be miserI able, and uobody shall binder me." And yet, by and by, when somebody has given you a good-humoured fillip, and the mist which so obfuscated your geniality has been blown away, you feel half ashamed of your misanthropical turn, and are glad to do some kindly act of benevolence to balance your account with society, and, as it were, bring your good nature up to par.
Perhaps a diseased constitution has at times shown you every thing as through a smoked glass, and shorn your sun of happiness of its brightest rays, causing a total eclipse of all your vivacity much oftener than was agreeable. And then, when a thorough clearance has been effected, either by an active courseof medicine, or by the longed-for change of air and scenery, what a new man you feel, and how heartily you despise all your former melancholy forebodings, wondering what on earth could have put such strange fancies into your head! Wait a little while, till some of the channels, through which your spleen and melancholy were drawn away, begin again to be choked up, and you find your cheerful spirits oozing away, and a gathering cloud, dark with anticipated ills, brooding over you like the wings of an evil spirit.
Perhaps you have been a Philosopher, and have groped for Truth among the mazy abstractions of the metaphysical and psychological schoolmen, and amid dry analyses of thought have waded so deep, that at last you have floundered helplessly into the sea of transcendentalism. If so, you have lived in the murky atmosphere of fallacious speculations, and ought to be thankful for a ray of common sense to bring you back again to the more tangible realities of time, and the more palpable verities of life. Perhaps you have lived in the world of scientific research,— have bent over the microscopic lens, and traced one minute organism into another till the infinitesimal declension of organic matter seems brought to its extremest limit; have worked, in the sweat of your brow, in the laboratory of the alchymist, where, if you have not labored in the fond delusion of hitting upon the philosopher's stone, you have at least become better acquainted with various products of mother earth; have looked with inquisitive eye through the long-drawn tele: • • tube at distant suns, till you almost
longed to be a wandering star, to roam from system to system of this vast universe, and, thinking nought of time and space, spend the eternity of your being in ceaseless discoveries of fresh marks of j His wisdom, might, and goodness, who planned and formed the glorious whole; have, in fact, ascended and descended into the mysterious ways of Providence as far as the limited line of man's intellect has permitted us to go:
"Probed earth's deep secret cells of mystic store. Scaled the last spheres that bar creation's door, And peered into the dark dread void beyond."
And through all your profound researches into science, and ambitious flights of thought, have you ever had your sky perfectly clear, with no lowering cloud to darken the prospect? Have you ever worked on continuously, for days and weeks and months, without a portentous gloom descending, as it were, to sully your brightest ideas, and smear the fairest pictures of your imagination f Even a Turner has a difficulty in painting a landscape in harmony, without a cloud in the sky. Better do they succeed who, like Rembrandt, delight in deep shadows; for they have no difficulty in finding scenes to their taste, and need not travel fur to look at men or things under a cloud.
Find the employment which can be pursued regularly, without let or hindrance from overshadowing cares, and you will not lack disciples eager to follow you in your avocation. But it is not fair to underrate the value of a cool shadow, though we do prefer sunshine in a general way.
How often what has been looked upon as evil, and which seemed to cling to us tenaciously, like a cursed thing, has in the end proved the greatest blessing to us! It is not common for people, after they have been grievously disappointed, or have suffered some heavy loss, to set i themselves to work to ascertain any trifling amount of benefit they may have derived from circumstances which they at first thought were all against them. And yet, after any great blow has fallen upon us, much time in general does not elapse before we begin to perceive that we had better not bewail our misfortune too deeply, lest we should discover that after all there was not so much cause 1'or nnseemly lamentation, and that our troubles would melt away before a scrutinous examination. It is apt to make one feel Email to find out either that we have been setting great store on what in the end proves utterly valueless, or that we have been shrinking, in rather a cowardly manner, from what is powerless to harm. If we were to make a rule to wait pa- j tiently for a certain definite period,— say, if you like, for a year and a day,—! before we give vent to any murmurings | over our crosses and vexations, many a' trial that we thought would overshadow all our lives with its baneful influences •would, in that period, be found set up as a beacon light, to signalize the unexpected good our seeming calamity had revealed to us, and to cheer our hearts when we fall into another "slough of despond." Shadows that do not seem at all to throw a grateful shade over our lives often warn us of coming storms, and, like the dark little petrel to the mariner, tell us there is dirty weather coming on. And when we are thus prepared, by an overhanging cloud, for a storm of misfortune that is about to break npon us, we are far less likely to be upset in the squall, or swamped in the heavy sea rolling so fearfully around us. It is very frequently the case that when calamities fall upon us, they do not come singly, but there is. as it were, a shower of them; and any occurrence that will serve in some way to break their weight | at first, when they threaten our unpro-' tected heads, must be hailed as a gentle" messenger, though it may come in an! unwelcome form, and be "as black as a Tulgy" or one of Mother Carey's chickens. As a good soaking from a thunderstorm often does a person no harm, but perhaps in some way is rather beneficial than otherwise to their health, so when an apparent misfortune does fall rather heavily upon us, it does not consequent-' ly follow that, after all, we shall be really any the worse for it He is a crusty' personage who grumbles at every mishap that occurs, as though it would bring him in sorrow to an untimely end; and I am given to think that the majority of those who let puny troubles worry them inadequately are strange, just at present, to real affliction of a grave character. There is a chastening of the spirit
under the heavy hand of Providence, which at length often produces such a subdued tone of mind, that resignation becomes a resident virtue in a character perhaps once proud and haughty; and this is one reason why the wise man said: "It is better to go into the house of mourning than the house of mirth."
Many must have noticed the radical change of character produced by a severe illness, or other personal affliction, upon any one whose proud spirit and haughty relf-reliant confidence seemed to hold itself, in conscious strength, as quite superior to the ordinary class of mortals, and in no way to be subdued by the ills of life to which they so readily succumb.
Look in upon such a character, and converse with him after he has been "shaken over the grave," or brought into the ^closest communion with those who have suffered long, and left their places vacant; and tell me if the shadow under which he has passed has not, in blanching his cheek, and drawing that leaden line of sorrow round his eyes, also left him marked with more graceful beauty, having given to him the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit
It ,is hardly fair, I think, to call old .age the shady time of life, as though there were little or no sunshine and happiness for persons bordering upon threescore-and-ten.
Little children often seem so buoyantly happy, that we are almost led for the moment to set them down as free from care; but how short-lived is their joy! We pass by them again in a few moments, and a cloud is hanging over them, for verily the little things are all' in tears.
In the prime of manhood, when the passions are strongest, and the physical and intellectual vigor at their height, there is the battle of life to fight; and if keen enjoyment is realized in all the full exhuberance of health and strength, troubles also then will fall thick, and, perhaps with a heavy strain as well on the heart-strings, will try what mental tension we can long endure. In later years, when the unruly part of our physical nature interferes less with the mental energies, there is often a calm placidity of temper and an unruffled equanimity, that we may look for in vain in the heyday of life. It is something like the Indian summer in America, which is welcomed, indeed, after the burning sun and devastating storms of their hot months.
In looking back upon some aged men whose acquaintance I have made, there seems around a few of them to be a halo of mild tranquility, such as we do not see realized • in any other stage of life. Let us sit again under the eaves of that quiet cottage, so cosily nestled in the valley, and so pretty, with its spiring firtrees, and the rustic wooden bridge thrown over the brooklet that girdles those roundly-swelling knolls of grass which form most of the little homestead. We sit there with the old cottager,—who might say with Barzilai, "thy servant is this day fourscore years old,"—because the overhanging thatch, and the flowers luxuriantly creeping above our heads, pleasantly shield us from the glare of the -ii!i. And a smile plays pleasingly over the old man's face—so venerable with its fringe of whitened locks—as he reverts to olden times, and tells us youngsters all about his hives of bees, and the woods which once encroached upon their pretty domain, and the birds which formerly used to sing there, but have now deserted the valley altogether; and other reminiscences of days when he was young.
When these recollections of his early prime brighten up his countenance, there seems such a happy smile of placid content there, that one might almost be led to envy him his years, they teem with such a store of pleasing memories. Children are playing around the cottage; and one beautiful cherub boy—that only wanted a pair of tiny wings, to make him as sweet an angel as ever Rubens painted— told us he came from London, but was not in any hurry to go back again; and his fat, good-tempered face, dimpled with smiles, showed us that fresh air, exercise in the patches of fields around the house, and the plain cottage-fare, agreed with him remarkably well. It hardly seems fair, contrasting these two pictures of youth and age, to allow that the old man j has any chance with the child, in looking j at the bright and dark side of their daily life. Nay, some may say, if you are j treating of sunshine and shadow, why, travel further for similes t here are quite ,
enough before us in the old man and the child.
But stay, friend; for one who is sitting beside me, on the same bench as the octogenarian, came here when a child, and used to play about on the same sunny slopes as the little darling that was prattling to us just now; and love for the cozy spot brought him to see it once again, after several years' absence. The veteran cottager scarcely seems older now than he did ten years ago; and in those days the children, often envied the old man, and thought, if they could do as he did, they should often be so much happier and more contented.
In the first place he had no lessons to learn, and could go out and in when he liked, without asking leave; and hi the hot weather he could drink when he was thirsty, which they were not always allowed to do; and if it was very cold, he sat by the fire as long as he liked; nor, indeed, had he to get up early in the morning when he was called, unless he pleased, and it was quite convenient to do so.
These, which seem such slight advantages in favor of the old man, were certainly thought much of by the children; and we must look at his advantages from their point of view, if we are to try adequately to estimate their several sources of joy and sorrow. Surely he had no merry, ringing laugh like theirs, as they gambolled about in their childish games, and chased the butterflies from flower to flower! But then he rarely had to cry, and their .pretty faces were often wet with tears. Surely he could not make one in the ring of little fairies, that jumped up and down untiringly, while two of their number chased one another rouud the circle, bobbing in and out among the tiny arms and legs, and sometimes bursting the magic ring of clasped fingers, in their hot pursuit! But then he was not called in-doors when the fun was at its height; nor had he to march off to bed just in the coolest part of the evening, long before it was dark. Surely he could no't trundle a hoop very far, without letting it fall, nor skip very long with the nicest ropes! But then he could walk where he chose, ay, even go out of bounds, without fear of beiiig put to stand in the corner.