« PreviousContinue »
From that hour angling is no more a mere delightful day-dream, haunted by the dim hopes of imaginary minnows, but a reality - an art—a science - of which the flaxen-headed school-boy feels himself to be master a mystery in which he has been initiated ; and off he goes now all alone, in the power of successful passion, to the distant brook, – brook a mile off, — with fields, and hedges, and single trees, and little groves, and a huge forest of six acres, between it and the house in which he is boarded or was born! There flows on the slender music of the shadowy shallows — there pours the deeper din of the birch-treed waterfall. The scared water-pyet flits away from stone to stone, and, dipping, disappears among the airy bubbles, to him a new sight of joy and wonder. And 0 ! how sweet the scent of the broom or furze, yellowing along the braes, where leap the lambs, less happy than he, on the knolls of sunshine! His grandfather has given him a half-crown rod in two pieces — yes, his line is of hair twisted, plaited by his own soon-instructed little fingers. By Heavens, he is fishing with the fly! And the Fates, who, grim and grisly as they are painted to be by full-grown, ungrateful, lying poets, smile like angels upon the paidler in the brook, winnowing the air with their wings into western breezes, while at the very
first throw the yellow trout forsakes his fastness beneath the bog-wood, and with a lazy wallop, and then a sudden plunge, and then a race like lightning, changes at once the child into the boy, and shoots through his thrilling and aching heart the ecstasy of a new life expanding in that glorious pastime, even as a rainbow on a sudden brightens up the sky. Fortuna favet fortibus — and with one long pull, and strong pull, and pull all together, Johnny lands a twelveincher on the soft, smooth, silvery sand of the only bay in all the burn where such an exploit was possible, and, dashing upon him like an osprey, soars up with him in his talons to the bank, breaking his line as he hurries off to a spot of safety twenty yards from the pool, and then, flinging him down on a heath-surrounded plat of sheepnibbled verdure, lets him bounce about till he is tired, and lies gasping with unfrequent and feeble motions, bright, and beautiful, and glorious with all his yellow light and crimson lustre, spotted, speckled, and starred in his scaly splendor, beneath a sun that never shone before so dazzlingly; but now the radiance of the captive creature is dimmer and obscured, for the eye of day winks and seems almost shut behind that slow-sailing mass of clouds, composed in equal parts of air, rain, and sunshine.
THOMAS DE QUINCEY. Thomas de Quincey was born in Manchester in 1736. He received his education at Eter, and remained for a time at Oxford, but ran away while only sixteen years old, and lived a vagabond life in London. The story of his adventures and sufferings forms one of the most interesting chapters in liis works. Like Coleridge he was a slave to opium, and consumed prodigious quantities. In his Confessions of an Opium-Eater, he has described with her rible vividness the dreams and the mental condition induced by the drug. He succeeded however, in freeing himself from the fatal appetite, partly, if not altogether, and continued for many years a brilliant and industrious writer for the press.
De Quincey has left no works that show the creative faculty; but his critical acuteness is marvellous, and his descriptive powers are of the highest order. His complete works have been published in this country in fifteen volumes. He died at Edinburgh in 1859
CHILDHOOD. On the day after my sister's death, whilst the sweet temple of her brain was yet unviolated by human scrutiny, I formed my own scheme for seeing her once more. Not for the world would I have made this known, nor have suffered a witness to accompany me. I had never heard of feelings that take the name of “sentimental,” nor dreamed of such a possibility. But grief, even in a child, hates the light, and shrinks from human eyes. The house was large enough to have two staircases; and by one of these I knew that about midday, when all would be quiet (for the servants dined at one o'clock), I could steal up into her chamber. I imagine that it was about an hour after high noon when I reached the chamber door; it was locked, but the key was not taken away. Entering, I closed the door so softly, that, although it opened upon a hall which ascended through all the stories, no echo ran along the silent walls. Then, turning round, I sought my sister's face. But the bed had been moved, and the back was now turned towards myself. Nothing met my eyes but one large window, wide open, through which the sun of midsummer, at midday, was showering down torrents of splendor. The weather was dry, the sky was cloudless, the blue depths seemed the express types of infinity, and it was not possible for eye to behold, or for heart to conceive, any symbols more pathetic of life and the glory of life.
From the gorgeous sunlight I turned around to the corpse. There lay the sweet childish figure; there the angel face; and, as people usually fancy, it was said in the house that no features had suffered any change. Had they not? The forehead, indeed - the serene and noble forehead — that might be the same; but the frozen eye
lids, the darkness that seemed to steal from beneath them, the marble lips, the stiffening hands, laid palm to palm, as if repeating the supplications of closing anguish — could these be mistaken for life? Had it been so, wherefore did I not spring to those heavenly lips with tears and never-ending kisses ? But so it was not. I stood checked for a moment; awe, not fear, fell upon me; and, whilst I stood, a solemn wind began to blow — the saddest that ear ever heard. It was a wind that might have swept the fields of mortality for a thousand centuries. Many times since, upon summer days, when the sun is about the hottest, I have remarked the same wind arising and uttering the same hollow, solemn, Memnonian, but saintly swell : it is in this world the one great audible symbol of eternity. And three times in my life have I happened to hear the same sound in the same circumstances namely, when standing between an open window and a dead body on a summer day.
Instantly, when my ear caught this vast Æolian intonation, when my eye filled with the golden fullness of life, the pomps of the heavens above, or the glory of the flowers below, and turning when it settled
upon the frost which overspread my sister's face, instantly a trance fell upon me.
A vault seemed to open in the zenith of the far blue sky, a shaft which ran up forever. 1, in spirit, rose as if on billows that also ran up the shaft forever; and the billows seemed to
the throne of God; but that also ran before us, and fled away continually. The fight and the pursuit seemed to go on forever and ever.
Frost gathering frost, some Sarsar wind of death, seemed to repel me ; some mighty relation between God and death dimly struggled to evolve itself from the dreadful antagonism between them; shadowy meanings even yet continued to exercise and torment, in dreams, the deciphering oracle within me. I slept — for how long I cannot say; slowly I recovered my self-possession, and when I woke, found myself standing, as before, close to my sister's bed.
On Sunday mornings I went with the rest of my family to church; was a church on the ancient model of England, having aisles, galleries
, organ, all things ancient and venerable, and the proportions majestic. Here, whilst the congregation knelt through the long litany, as often as we came to that passage, so beautiful amongst many that are so, where God is supplicated on behalf of “all sick persons
young children,” and that he would “show his pity upon all prisoners and captives," I wept in secret, and raising my streaming eyes to the upper windows of the galleries, saw, on days when the
sun was shining, a spectacle as affecting as ever prophet can have beheld. The sides of the windows were rich with storied glass ; through the deep purples and crimsons streamed the golden light; emblazonries of heavenly illumination (from the sun) mingling with the earthly emblazonries (from art and its gorgeous coloring) of what is grandest in man. There were the apostles that had trampled upon earth, and the glories of earth, out of celestial love to man. There were the martyrs that had borne witness to the truth through flames, through torments, and through armies of fierce, insulting faces. There were the saints who, under intolerable pangs, had glorified God by meek submission to his will. And all the time, whilst this tumult of sublime memorials held on as the deep chords from some accompaniment in the bass, I saw through the wide central field of the window, where the glass was uncolored, white, fleecy clouds sailing over the azure depths of the sky: were it but a fragment or a hint of such a cloud, immediately under the flash of my sorrowhaunted eye, it grew and shaped itself into visions of beds with white lawny curtains; and in the beds lay sick children, dying children, that were tossing in anguish, and weeping clamorously for death. God, for some mysterious reason, could not suddenly release them from their pain ; but he suffered the beds, as it seemed, to rise slowly through the clouds ; slowly the beds ascended into the chambers of the air ; slowly, also, his arms descended from the heavens, that he and his young children, whom in Palestine, once and forever, he had blessed, though they must pass slowly through the dreadful chasm of separation, might yet meet the sooner.
These visions were self-sustained. These visions needed not that any sound should speak to me, or music mould my feelings. The hint from the litany, the fragment from the clouds — those and the storied windows were sufficient. But not the less the blare of the tumultuous organ wrought its own separate creations. And oftentimes in anthems, when the mighty instrument threw its vast columns of sound, fierce yet melodious, over the voices of the choir, - high in arches, when it seemed to rise, surmounting and.overriding the strife of the vocal parts, and gathering by strong coercion the total storm into unity, — sometimes I seemed to rise and walk triumphantly upon those clouds which, but a moment before, I had looked up to as mementos of prostrate sorrow; yes, sometimes under the transfigurations of music, felt of grief itself as of a fiery chariot for mounting victoriously above the causes of grief.
God speaks to children, also, in dreams, and by the oracles that
lurk in darkness. But in solitude, above all things, when made vocal to the meditative heart by the truths and services of a national church, God holds with children “communion undisturbed.” Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is, like light, the mightiest of agencies ; for solitude is essential to man. All men come into this world alone; all leave it alone. Even a little child has a dread, whispering consciousness that, if he should be summoned to travel into God's presence, no gentle nurse will be allowed to lead him by the hand, nor mother to carry him in her arms, nor little sister to share his trepidations. King and priest, warrior and maiden, philosopher and child, all must walk those mighty galleries alone. The solitude, therefore, which in this world appalls or fascinates a child's heart, is but the echo of a far deeper solitude, through which already he has passed, and of another solitude deeper still, through which he has to pass — reflex of one solitude, prefiguration of another.
O burden of solitude, that cleavest to man through every stage of his being ! in his birth, which has been — in his life, which is - in his death, which shall be — mighty and essential solitude ! that wast, and art, and art to be ; thou broodest, like the Spirit of God moving upon the surface of the deeps, over every heart that sleeps in the nurseries of Christendom. Like the vast laboratory of the air, which, seeming to be nothing, or less than the shadow of a shade, hides within itself the principles of all things, solitude for the meditating child is the Agrippa's mirror of the unseen universe. Deep is the solitude of millions who, with hearts welling forth love, have none to love them. Deep is the solitude of those who, under secret griefs, have none to pity them. Deep is the solitude of those who, fighting with doubts or darkness, have none to counsel them. But deeper than the deepest of these solitudes is that which broods over childhood under the passion of sorrow, bringing before it, at intervals, the final solitude which watches for it, and is waiting for it within the gates of death. O mighty and essential solitude, that wast, and art, and art to be, thy kingdom is made perfect in the grave; but even over those at keep watch outside the grave, ke myself, an infant of six years old, thou stretchest out a sceptre of fascination.
A PALIMPSEST is a membrane or roll cleansed of its manuscript by reiterated successions.
What was the reason that the Greeks and the Romans had not the