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LITTELL'S LIVING AGE.-No. 715.-6 FEBRUARY, 1858.
From Chamber's Journal. A WOMAN'S THOUGHTS ABOUT
Do ye think of the days that are gone, Jeanie, ye sit by your fire at night?
As Do ye wish that the morn would bring back the time,
"And sleep thegither at the foot," it may be a safer and sweeter descent; but I am writing for those who have to make the descent alone.
When your heart and your step were so light? "I think of the days that are gone, Robin, And of all that I joyed in then : But the brightest that ever arose on me, I have never wished back again.' It is not a pleasant descent at the beginGROWING old. A time we talk of, and ning. When you find at parties that you jest or moralize over, but find almost impos- are not asked to dance as much as formerly, sible to realize at least to ourselves. In and your partners are chiefly stout middleothers, we can see its approach clearer: yet aged gentlemen and slim lads who blush even then we are slow to recognize it. terribly and require a great deal of drawing "What, Miss So-and-so looking old-did you out. When you are "dear "-ed and patrosay? Impossible: she is quite a young per-nized by stylish young chits who were in their 800; only a year older than I-and that cradles when you were a grown woman; or would make her just. Bless me! I am when some boy, who was your plaything in forgetting how time goes on. Yes"-with petticoats, has the impertinence to look over a faint deprecation which truth forbids you your head, bearded and grand, or even to to contradict, and politeness to notice "I consult you on his love-affairs. When you suppose we are neither of us so young as we find your acquaintance delicately abstaining used to be." from the term "old-maid" in your presence, Without doubt, it is a trying crisis in a or immediately qualifying it by an eager panwoman's life—a single woman's particularly egyric on the solitary sisterhood. When -when she begins to suspect she is "not so servants address you as “Ma'am" instead of young as she used to be;" that, after crying "Miss; " and if you are at all stout and com"Wolf" ever since the respectable maturity fortable-looking, strange shopkeepers persist of seventeen—as some young ladies are fond in making out your bills to "Mrs. Blank," of doing, to the extreme amusement of their and pressing upon your notice toys and perfriends-the grim wolf, old age, is actually ambulators. showing his teeth in the distance; and no Rather trying, too, when in speaking of courteous blindness on the part of these said yourself as a "girl"-which, from long friends, no alarmed indifference on her own, habit, you unwittingly do you detect a can neutralize the fact that he is, if still far covert smile on the face of your interlocutor; off, in sight. And, however charmingly poet- or, led by chance excitement to deport yourical he may appear to sweet fourteen-and-a-self in an ultra-youthful manner, some inhalf, who writes melancholy verses about "Istinct warns you that you are making yourwish I were again a child," or merry three- self ridiculous. Or catching in some strange and-twenty, who preserves in silver paper "my looking-glass the face that you are too fafirst gray hair," old age, viewed as a near miliar with to notice much, ordinarily, your approaching reality, is quite another thing. suddenly become aware that it is not a young To feel that you have had your fair half at face; that it will never be a young faceleast of the ordinary term of years allotted again; that it will gradually alter and alter, to mortals; that you have no right to expect until the known face of your girlhood, to be any handsomer, or stronger, or hap-whether plain or pretty, loved or disliked, ad pier than you are now; that you have climbed mired or despised, will have altogether van-DCCXV. LIVING AGE. VOL. XX. 21
ished-nay, is vanished: look as you will, desperately to the youth that will not stay? you cannot see it any more.
and which, after all, is not such a very precious or even a happy thing? Why give herself such a world of trouble to deny or conceal her exact age, when half her acquaintance must either know it or guess it, or be supremely indifferent about it? Why appear dressed-undressed, cynics would say-after the pattern of her niece, the belle of the ball; annoying the eye with beauty either half withered, or long overblown, and which in its prime would have been all the lovelier for more concealment ?
There is no denying the fact, and it ought to silence many an ill-natured remark upon dressed lamb-fashion," 66 young ladies of a certain age," and the like-that with most people the passing from maturity to middle age is so gradual, as to be almost imperceptible to the individual concerned. It is very difficult for a woman to recognize that she is growing old; and to many-nay, to all more or less-this recognition cannot but be fraught with considerable pain. Even the most frivolous are somewhat to be pitied, In this matter of dress, a word or two. when, not conducting themselves as passées, There are two styles of costume which ladies because they really do not think it, they past their première jeunesse are most prone expose themselves to all manner of miscon- to fall into one hardly knows which is the structions by still determinedly grasping that worst. Perhaps, though, it is the ultra-jufair sceptre of youth, which they never sus-venile-such as the insane juxtaposition of a pect is now the merest "rag of sovereignty" yellow skin and white tarlatane, or the anom-sovereignty deposed.
Nor can the most sensible woman fairly put aside her youth, all it has enjoyed, or lost, or missed-its hopes and interests, omissions and commisions, doings and sufferings-satisfied that it is henceforth to be considered entirely as a thing gone by-without a momentary spasm of the heart. Young people forget this as completely as they forget that they themselves may one day experience the same, or they would not be so ready to laugh at even the foolishest of those foolish old virgins, who deems herself juvenile long after everybody else has ceased to share in the pleasing delusion, and thereby makes both useless and ridiculous that season of early autumn which ought to be the most peaceful, abundant, safe, and sacred time in a woman's whole existence. They would not, with the proverbial harsh judgment of youth, scorn so cruelly those poor little absurdities, of which the unlucky person who indulges therein is probably quite unaware merely dresses as she has always done, and carries on the harmless coquetries and minauderies of her teens, unconscious how exceedingly ludicrous they appear in a lady of-say forty! Yet in this sort of exhibition, which society too often sees and enjoys, any honest heart cannot but often feel that of all the actors engaged in it, the one who plays the least objectionable and disgraceful part is she who only makes a fool of herself.
alous adorning of grey hair with artificial
The other sort of dress, which, it must be owned, is less frequent, is the dowdy style. Yet why should she do it? Why cling so People say-though not very soon-'Oh, I
ration no Fifth of November) involuntarily "making a Guy of herself."
am not a young woman now; it does no signify what I wear." Whether they quite believe it, is another question; but they say That slow, fine, and yet perceptible change it-and act upon it when laziness or indiffer- of mien and behavior, natural and proper to ence prompts. Foolish women! they for- advancing years, is scarcely reducible to rule. get that if we have reason at any time more at all. It is but the outward reflection of an than another to mind our "looks," it is when inward process of the mind. We only disour looks are departing from us. Youth can cover its full effect by the absence of it, as do almost any thing in the toilet-middle noticeable in a person "who has such very age cannot; yet is none the less bound to young' manners," who falls into raptures of present to her friends and society the most enthusiasm, and expresses loudly every emopleasing exterior she can. Easy is it to do tion of her nature. Such a character, when this when we have those about us who love real, is unobjectionable, nay, charming, in us, and take notice of what we wear, and in extreme youth; but the great improbability whose eyes we would like to appear gracious of its being real, makes it rather ludicrous, and lovely to the last, so far as nature allows; if not disagreeable, in mature age, when the not easy when things are otherwise. This passions die out, or are quieted down, the perhaps is the reason why we see so many sense of happiness,itself is calm, and the fullunmarried women grow careless and "old-est, tenderest tide of which the loving heart fashioned "in their dress-" What does it sig- is capable, may be described by those "still nify-nobody cares." waters" which "run deep.”
I think a woman ought to care a little for herself-a very little. Without preaching up vanity, or undue waste of time over that most thankless duty of adorning one's self for nobody's pleasure in particular—is it not still a right and becoming to feeling have some respect for that personality which, as well as our soul, heaven gave us to make the best of? And is it not our duty-considering the great number of uncomely people there are in the world-to lessen it by each of us making herself as little uncomely as she can ?
To "grow old gracefully," as one, who truly has exemplified her theory, has written and expressed it, is a good and beautiful thing; to grow old worthily, a better. And the first effort to that end, is not only to recognize, but to become personally reconciled to the fact of youth's departure; to see, 'or, if not seeing, to have faith in, the wisdom of that which we call change, yet which is in truth progression; to follow openly and fearlessly, in ourselves and our own life, the same law which makes spring pass into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter, preserving an especial beauty and fitness in each of the four.
Because a lady ceases to dress youthfully, she has no excuse for dressing untidily; and though having found out that one general style suits both her person, her taste, and Yes, if women could only believe it, there convenience, she keeps to it, and generally is a wonderful beauty even in growing old. prefers moulding the fashion to herself, The charm of expression arising from softrather than herself to the fashion. Still, ened temper or ripened intellect, often amthat is no reason why she should shock the ply atones for the loss of form and coloring; risible nerves of one generation, by shewing and, consequently, to those who never could up to them the out-of-date costume of an- boast either of these latter, years give much other. Neatness invariable; hues carefully more than they take away. A sensitive perharmonized, and, as time advances, subsiding son often requires half a lifetime to get thor into a general unity of tone, softening and dark-oughly used to this corporeal machine, to atening in color, until black, white, and gray, tain a wholesome indifference both to its dealone remain, as the suitable garb for old age; fects and perfections—and to learn at last, these things are every woman's bounden duty what nobody would acquire from any teacher to observe as long as she lives. No poverty, but experience, that it is the mind alone grief, sickness, or loneliness-those mental which is of any consequence; that with causes which act so strongly upon the exter-good temper, sincerity, and a moderate stock nal life-can justify any one (to use a phrase of brains-or even the two former only—any probably soon to be obsolete when charity sort of body can in time be made useful, reand common sense have left the rising gene-spectable, and agreeable, as a travelling dress
lutely plain in youth, thus grows pleasant and well-looking in declining years. You will hardly ever find anybody, not ugly in mind, who is repulsively ugly in person after middle life.
for the soul. Many a one, who was abso- as we cease to expect, or conduct ourselves as if we expected, that Providence will appear as Deus ex machinâ for our own private benefit. We are able to pass out of our own small daily sphere, and take interest in the marvellous government of the uniSo with the character. If a woman is ever verse; to see the grand workings of cause to be wise or sensible, the chances are that and effect, the educing of good out of apshe will have become so somewhere between parent evil, the clearing away of the knots thirty and forty. Her natural good quali- in tangled destinies, general or individual, ties will have developed; her evil ones have the wonderful agency of time, change, and either been partly subdued, or have over-progress in ourselves, in those surrounding grown her like rampant weeds; for however us, and in the world at large. We have we may talk about people being "not a whit altered "-"just the same as ever not one of us is, or can be, for long together exactly the same; no more than that the body we carry with us is the identical body we were born with, or the one we supposed ours seven years ago. Therein, as in our spiritual self which inhabits it, goes on a perpetual change and renewal: if this ceased, the In small minds, this feeling expands itself result would be, not permanence, but cor- in meddling, gossiping, scandal-mongering; ruption. In moral and mental, as well as but such are only the abortive developments physical growth, it is impossible to remain of a right noble quality, which, properly stationary; if we do not advance we retro-guided, results in benefits incalculable to the grade. Talk of "too late to improve". individual and to society. For, undoubtedly, "too old to learn," &c. Idle words! A the after-half of life is the best workinghuman being should be improving with time. Beautiful is youth's enthusiasm, and every day of a lifetime; and will probably have to go on learning through all the ages of immortality.
And this brings me to one among the number of what I may term "the pleasures of growing old."
At our outset, "to love " is the verb we are most prone to conjugate; afterwards, we discover that though the first, it is by no means the sole verb in the grammar of life, or even the only one that implies (vide Lennie or Murray)" to be, to do, or to suffer." To know that is, to acquire, to find out, to be able to trace and appreciate the causes of things, gradually becomes a necessity, an exquisite delight. We begin to taste the full meaning of that promise which describes the other world as a place where "we shall know even as we are known." Nay, even this world, with all its burdens and pains, presents itself in a phase of abstract interest entirely apart from ourselves and our small lot therein, whether joyful or sorrowful. We take pleasure in tracing the large workings of all things-more clearly apprehended
lived just long enough to catch a faint tone or two of the large harmonies of nature and fate-to trace the apparent plot and purpose of our own life and that of others, sufficiently to make us content to sit still and see the play played out. As I once heard 'said: "We feel we should like to go on living, were it only out of curiosity."
grand are its achievements; but the most solid and permanent good is done by the persistent strength and wide experience of middle age.
A principal agent in this is a blessing which rarely comes till then-contentment: not mere resignation, a passive acquiescence in what cannot be removed, but active contentment; bought, and cheaply, too, by a personal share in that daily account of joy and pain, which, the longer one lives the more one sees, is pretty equally balanced in all lives. Young people are happy-enjoy ecstatically, either in prospect or fruition, "the top of life;" but they are very seldom contented. It is not possible. Not till the cloudy maze is half travelled through, and we begin to see the object and purpose of it, can we really be content.
One great element in this-nor let us think shame to grant that which God and nature also allow-consists in the doubtful question "to marry or not to marry," being by this time generally settled; the world's idle curiosity or impertinent meddling there
"Sir, may I put to you, and will you answer, three questions? First, did not the Almighty govern this world very well before you came into it?" "Of course."
"And will He not also do the same when you are gone out of it? "I know that."
"Then, do you not think, sir, that He is able to govern it while you are in it?" The ambassador smiled assent, turned round, and slept calmly.
Alas, it is the slowest and most painful lesson that Faith has to learn-Faith, not Indifference to do steadfastly and patiently all that lies to her hand; and there leave it, believing that the Almighty is able to govern His own world.
with having came to an end; which alone is | many things "—whom I would fain remind of a great boon to any woman. Her relations the anecdote of the ambassador in China. To with the other sex imperceptibly change their him, tossing sleepless on his bed, his old sercharacter, or slowly decline. Though there vant said: are exceptions, of old lovers who have become friends, and friends whom no new love could make swerve from the fealty of years, still it usually happens thus. If a woman wishes to retain her sway over mankind, not an unnatural wish even in the good and amiable, who have been long used to attention and admiration in society, she must do it by means quite different from any she has hitherto employed. Even then, be her wit ever so sparkling, her influence ever so pure and true, she will often find her listener preferring bright eyes to intellectual conversation, and the satisfaction of his heart to the improvement of his mind. And who can blame him? Pleasant as men's society undoubtedly is; honorable, well-informed gentlemen, who meet a lady on the easy neutral ground of mutual esteem, and take more pains to be agreeable to her than, unfortunately, her own sex frequently do; they are, after all, but men. Not one of them is really necessary to a woman's happiness, except the one whom, by this time, she has probably either seen, or lost, or found. Therefore, however uncomplimentary this may sound to those charming and devoted creatures, which of course they always are in ladies', young ladies' society, an elderly lady may be well content to let them go, before they depart of their own accord. I fear the waning coquette and the ancient beauty, as well as the ordinary women, who has had her fair share of both love and liking, must learn and shew by her demeanor she has learned that the only way to preserve the unfeigned respect of the opposite sex, is by letting them see that she can do without either their attention or their admiration.
It is said that we suffer less as we grow older, that pain, like joy, becomes dulled by repetition, or by the callousness that comes with years. In one sense this is true. If there is no joy like the joy of youth, the rapture of a first love, the thrill of a first ambition, God's great mercy has also granted that there is no anguish like youth's pain; so total, so hopeless, blotting out earth and heaven, falling down upon the whole being like a stone. This never comes in after-life, because the sufferer, if he or she have lived to any purpose at all, has learned that God never meant any human being to be crushed under any calamity like a blindworm under a stone.
For lesser evils, the fact that our interests gradually take a wider range, allows more scope for the healing power of compensation. Also our strongest idiosyncrasies, our loves, hates, sympathies, and prejudices, having assumed a more rational and softened shape, Another source of contentment which in we do not present so many angles for the youth's fierce self-dependence it would be vain rough attrition of the world. Likewise, with to look for is the recognition of one's own the eye of that Faith already referred to, we comparative unimportance and helplessness have come to view life in its entirety, instead in the scale of fate. We begin by thinking of agonizingly puzzling over its disjointed we can do everything, and that everything parts, which are not, and were never meant rests with us to do; the merest trifle frets to be, made wholly clear to mortal eye. And and disturbs us, the restless heart wearies it-that calm twilight, which by nature's kindly self with anxieties over its own future, the law so soon begins to creep over the past, tender one over the futures of those dear to throws over all things a softened coloring it. Many a young face do I see, wearing the which together transcends and forbids reindescribable Martha-look-" troubled about gret. I suppose there is hardly any woman