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Life from its rapid shifting scenes, appears,
E'en in its great realities, to all
HAVE we ever asked ourselves the question, “When did we begin to live ?" We breathed, it is true, at the moment of our birth, and certainly in a primary sense we then began to live; but at what particular period of our life were we for the first time perfectly and really intelligibly conscious that we were a reasonable and responsible being-one that had a separate and individual part to act in the great drama of life, irrespective of, and altogether unconnected with, that of any of our fellows; when we, fresco-like, stood out in our own individuality, and felt the movings of our conscience within rousing us from our lethargic repose to acquit ourselves like men in the great battle of the world ; in other words,—When did we begin to live ?
Supposing we are now in one of the fashionable suburbs of the Metropolis, and as the luxurious equipages of the great and noble pass in rapid review before us, we put the question in succession to each of their lordly occupants. We might fancy the almost uniform reply would be—"Born to affluence, we have never experienced want; initiated not into the mysteries of any profession, we know not the toil and labour of those who work for their subsistence by the sweat of their brow, or by the exercise of their mental faculties; the stream of life, on the whole, hath flowed so soft and pleasantly that we can scarcely tell when we began to live."
Now, this may, to a certain extent, be true as regards the higher classes of our land; but its full and unqualified admission would lead to the supposition that the rich have not the same feelings as the poor, than which there cannot be a greater or more transparent fallacy. The sorrows of the rich are as sharp, their trials as severe, their hearts as impressible, their affections as finely-strung to tender emotions, as are the sorrows, the trials, and heart emotions of the poor. Nay, from the upper ranks have sprung the greatest men of our time, with each and all of whom there must have been some distinct, particular period of their life which effectually startled them into reflection, resolution, and action.
But let us for a moment change the scene. We are now in one of the poorest and most densely-populated districts, where, with God-defying front, vice and wretchedness go boldly hand in hand, and the air is polluted with the ribbald jest and obscene song; the maudlin roar of the drunkard, the screams of famishing children, the shouts of the profane, and the groans of the dying. Ask that bold virago, with blotched and swollen features, clad in tattered and faded garments, with a puling, sickly infant at her breast and a ragged urchin by her side, just issuing from the gaudily-decorated gin palace; or yonder hoary-headed sinner, reeling along to his miserable den, with delirium in his eye and curses on his lip; or this little half-starved “ Arab of the city," sharp and acute beyond his years, clothed in flaunting rags, without shoes to his feet or covering to his head, who never knew a father's care or a mother's love : they will each in their turn laugh at your ignorance and simplicity, and, with a savage leer, in confidence tell you that, early thrown upon their own resources, they began to live with the first dawnings of reasons, and that the battle of life to them has been so fierce and prolonged, they have always known by bitter experience what it is to live.
Ruminating on these things one beautiful summer evening in the honeysuckle porch of our suburban cottage, far away
from the Howe of Strathmore, and relating to him the train of thought with which my mind had been occupied, I hastily put the question to my eldest boy, an intelligent lad of some sixteen summers, when he quickly but with great solemnity replied
“When my dear little brother died.”
"But why," I asked, “do you fix upon that particular period ?"
Because,” said he, “I never was conscious of reasoning before that event.'
"Explain yourself still further, my boy. Do you mean to say your life was all a blank previous to the death of little Edmund ?"
“It was, my father. Our home was such a happy home, the sunshine of love ever o'er us, and glad faces and merry hearts ever around us, that I never thought what life was till my little playmate grew sick and drooped and died. It was not so much his pale, thin cheek, his dim eye, or his weak and scarcely audible voice, nor was it the low and ceaseless moan, the pressure of his damp and wasted hand, nor his last long look before he closed his eyes in death—but—it was“Go on, my son.
Unburthen everything to a father's ear. “It was the silence, my father, that came like a cloud over everything when he was gone—that hushed and deep stillness, more terrible than all beside, that oppressed my heart with strange new feelings, that I could not weep, though my heart was troubled and heavy with grief. Then all at once the thought struck my mind — Where has my brother gone?' *To God,' some inward monitor replied. Tears then gushed forth like a stream, my heart was relieved of its heavy burden, a new existence seemed implanted within me, and a new world opened up before me, and I then felt that in reality I had begun to live."
“God bless you, my dear boy. Live on, live on, and never allow the cares, or sorrows, or temptations of the world to obscure for an instant thy First impressions of Life !"
“But will you now permit me, my father, to put the same question to yourself ?"
Certainly, my son. Although the pictures I drew of the great and wealthy, and of the abject and suffering poor, are in their details literally and substantially true, it must be admitted that these are the extreme cases of obliviousness on the one hand and precociously developed intellect on the other. Still, generally speaking, there must be some event in the lives of most men which served, if not as the turning-point of their destiny, at least to direct their thoughts into a new channel, and add fresh impulse to all their actions. Affliction, death, some sudden and severe temporal loss, disappointment in love, the estrangement of friends, or the malignity of enemies, may each in their turn, to differently constituted minds, have been the cause of a complete revulsion in their feelings and change of their deportment, so that they have begun in reality to lead a new life. I am no exception to this rule myself, but the particular circumstance which tinged with reflection my after life may appear trivial in your eyes when compared with any of those I have enumerated, or even with that sad and solemn event which inspired new life and opened up a new world to yourself."
During this conversation, my little bright-haired Mary had, unknown to me, entwined her arms around her brother's neck, and now, gazing intently with her large hazel, dreamy eyes into mine, joined her entreaties to those of her brother that I would relate to them this little incident in my history.
“Do tell us, dear father," again repeated Mary; "we are so anxious to know, and we shall listen so attentively.”
“You have often heard me speak of my mountain home ?”
“Oh, yes,” said Mary; "we know all about the pretty little homestead and the mill, in Strathmore, the daisied meadow and the bonnie burn, and the grand old ancestral trees; the honeysuckled porch, the moss-covered arbour, the lowing of the kine on the leas, and the bleating of the sheep on the hills.”
“Yes," rejoined Harry; "and the great bleak mountains and weird old castles, with their stirring stories of knights and cavaliers and ladyes gay,' of tilt and tournament and foray.”
“Then, my children, I need not describe that home you seem to know so well, but shall at once proceed to my narrative. My boyhood had passed so pleasantly away that hardly a cloud had ever obscured its brightness. A fond
A father and a doting mother had done everything for their boy's present and future happiness that an enduring love, sanctified by religious principles, could dictate ; and the time had at last arrived when I was to bid farewell to this happy home, and to go forth to the world to act my part on the great stage of life. I had already bade adieu to my merry
. hearted school-fellows, and received the sage advice and parting benediction of my respected preceptor. On the day before I left, I paid some parting visits to my friends in the glen, and while each and all expressed their sorrow at my departure, I never felt so very happy, nor so free from anxiety and care.
“As I went on my homeward way, there were many things to attract and interest me. The village green, the dark pine wood, for,
I thought the Indies, Isle of Palms,
Could ne'er outvie the woods of Glamis : -the murmuring streamlet, the heath-clad hills—shall I ever see them again? Sometimes such thoughts would intrude themselves; but the sun shone so brightly, the birds sang so sweetly, and the bonnie burn meandered so softly, that I gave my heart up to its full current of gushing gladness, and thought not of the morrow.
“When I reached Airniefoul there was an unusual stillness in the house. My father was sitting in his old arm-chair, apparently in deep and troubled thought; my mother was busy packing my wardrobe, and the servants were moving noiselessly about their household duties :