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PART I. Birthdays of Early Life.



BIRTHDAYS! A magical sound for the young and happy. At that sound their eyes sparkle with anticipations of delight; their cheeks kindle into warmer, lovelier life; and their feet are ready to bound from the earth in a thousand light and airy motions of fantastic grace.

Charles Lamb, in one of his admirable essays, regrets that “ in the gradual desuetude of old observances, this custom of solemnizing our proper birthday hath nearly passed away, or is left to children, who reflect nothing at all about the matter, nor understand anything beyond the cake and the orange."

There is just matter for regret that birthday observances are not kept up among us with more earnestness, if only for the sake of the children, who still represent to us all that is pure, fresh, bright, loving and lovely—“ for of such is the kingdom of Heaven," --and who, I think, with all respect for Elia, do understand something of birthdays beyond the cake and the orange; they

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do understand on these occasions something of the importance of their own existence, though they cannot enter into its mysteries; something of the sweetness and preciousness of the love of the family ; something, too, of the


of time towards eternity, and perhaps much more than we can know, for childhood itself is a mystery.

CHILDHOOD. O thou bright thing, fresh from the hand of God, The motions of thy dancing limbs are swayed By the unceasing music of thy being ! Nearer I seem to God when looking on thee. 'Tis ages since He made His youngest star, His hand was on thee as 'twere yesterday, Thou later revelation! Silver stream, Breaking with laughter from the lake divine, Whence all things flow. O bright and singing babe, What wilt thou be hereafter ?


That is the question which makes the birthdays of childhood so touching to those who look on the bright groups gathered under the evening lamps, dressed like so many fairies, and bubbling over with innocent mirth. Hope and Fear alike suggest the solemn thought, What will these be hereafter ?

No doubt the cake and the orange are the chief things to be considered in childhood's birthdays; and plentifully they should be provided, too, with all the exhilarating accessories; for children are, one and all, of the mind of Mendelssohn, the great musician, who did not like “a half-and-half celebration."

It is true that


Joy is a weak and giddy thing, that laughs
Itself to weariness or sleep, and wakes
To the same barren laughter ; 'tis a child
Perpetually, and all its past and future

Lie in the compass of an infant's day.


Yet, when we see, and hear, and feel what one day of birthday joy is to a child that is a child, without taking the previous days of ecstatic anticipation into account, surely the result is worth the cost and trouble. Prosperity, therefore, to children's birthday feasts! It is not

to the children of affluence alone that birthdays come or ought to

come with joy. Humble homes on these occasions may be transformed into bowers of fairy bliss. The poor child is as glad and proud as a princess beside the clean-swept hearth, and the tidy table

bearing the plainly made cake, and the cheap display of fruit of the season, all in her or his honour. Nowhere, in fact, are birthday enjoyments so keenly appreciated as in cottages and rooms where the rule of life in general is, unfortunately, privation of all but the most absolute necessaries, but where the hardworking father is of the faith of Robert Burns and James Montgomery :

To make a happy fireside clime

To weans and wife,-
Thai's the true pathos and sublime

Of human life.
Closer, closer, let us knit

Hearts and hands together ;
Where our fireside comforts sit

In the wildest weather.

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