Page images

in which there are four or five bitter drops more than in that belonging to the after-summer. Up to twelve o'clock at night, and until the thirty-first day of the twelfth month, the wintry, nocturnal idea of dissolution and decay oppresses us; but as soon as it is one in the morning, and the first of January, a morning breeze, speaking of new life, moves away the clouds which were lying over our souls, and we begin to look for the dark, pure, morning blue, the rising of the star of morning and of spring. On a December day like this, the pale, dim, stagnant world of stiffened, sapless plants about us oppresses and hems us round; and the insect collections lying beneath the vegetation, covered with earth; and the rafter work of bare, dry, wrinkly trees; the December sun hanging in the sky at noon no higher than the June sun does at evening; all these combined shed a yellow lustre as of death (like that of burning alcohol) over the pale, faded meadows; and long giant shadows lie extended, motionless, everywhere - evening shadows of this evening of nature and of the year — like the ruined remains, the burnt-out ash heaps of nights as long as themselves. But the glistening snow, on the other hand, spread over the blooming earth under us, is like the blue foreground of spring, or a white fog a foot or two in depth. The quiet dark sky lies above, and the white earth is like some white moon, whose sparkling ice fields melt, as we draw nearer, into dark waving meadows of flowers.

The heart of our sorrowful Firmian grew sadder yet as he stood upon this cold, burnt-out hearth-place of nature. The daily recurring pausings of his heart and pulse were (he thought) the sudden silences of the storm bell in his breast, presaging a speedy end of the thunder, and dissolution of the storm cloud, of life. He thought the faltering of his mechanism was caused by some loose pin having fallen in among the wheels somewhere; he ascribed it to polypus of the heart, and his giddiness he felt sure gave warning of an attack of apoplexy. To-day was the three hundred and sixty-fifth Act of the year, and the curtain was slowly dropping upon it already: what could this suggest to him save gloomy similes of his own epilogue - of the winter solstice of his shortened, overshadowed life? The weeping image of his Lenette came now before his forgiving, departing soul, and he thought, “She is really not in the right; but I will yield to her, as we have not very long to be together now. I am glad for her sake, poor soul, that my arms are moldering away from about her, and that her friend is taking her to his.”

He went up on to the scaffold of blood and sorrow where his friend, Heinrich, had taken his farewell. From that eminence, as often as his heart was heavy, his glance would follow Leibgeber's path as far as the hills; but to-day his eyes were moister than before, for he had no hope that he would see the spring again. This spot was to him the hill which the Emperor Adrian permitted the Jews to go up twice in the year, that they might look towards the ruins of the holy city and weep for the place wherein their steps might tread no more. The sun was now assembling the shadows which were to close in upon the old year, and as the stars appeared - the stars which rose at evening now being those which in spring adorn the morning – fate snapped away the loveliest and richest in flowers of the liana branches from his soul, and from the wound flowed clear water. “I shall see nothing of the coming spring,” he thought, “except her blue, which, as in enamel painting, is the first laid on of all her colors.” His heart-one educated to be loving could always fly for rest from his satires and from dry details of business duty, sometimes, too, from Lenette's indifference and lack of sympathy, to the warm breast of the eternal goddess Nature, ever ready to take us to her heart. Into the free, un. veiled, and blooming outdoor world, beneath the grand wide sky, he loved to repair with all his sighs and sorrows, and in this great garden he made all his graves (as the Jews made them in smaller ones). And when our fellows forsake and wound us, the sky and the earth, and the little blooming tree, open their arms and take us into them; the flowers press themselves to our wounded hearts, the streams mingle in our tears, and the breezes breathe coolness into our sighs. A mighty angel troubles and inspires the great ocean pool of Bethesda; into its warm waves we plunge, with all our thousand aches and pains, and ascend from the water of life with our spasms all relaxed and our health and vigor renewed once more.

Firmian walked slowly home with a heart all conciliation, and eyes which, now that it was dark, he did not take the pains to dry. He went over in his mind everything which could possibly be adduced in his Lenette's excuse. He strove to win himself over to her side of the question by reflecting that she could not (like him) arm herself against the shocks, the stumbling-stones, of life, by putting on the Minerva's helm,

the armor of meditation, philosophy, authorship. He thoroughly determined (he had determined the same thing thirty times before) to be as scrupulously careful to observe in all things the outside politesses of life with her as with the most absolute stranger; nay, he already enveloped himself in the fly net or mail shirt of patience, in case he should really find the checked calico untranslated at home. This is how we men con. tinually behave — stopping our ears tight with both hands, , trying our hardest to fall into the siesta, the midday sleep, of a little peace of mind (if we can only anyhow manage it); thus do our souls, swayed by our passions, reflect the sunlight of truth as one dazzling spot (like mirrors or calm water), while all the surrounding surface lies but in deeper shade.

As Firmian laid him down on his bed, he thought, “A sleep closes the old year as if it were one's last, and ushers in the new as it does our own lives; and I sleep on towards a future all anxiety, vague of form, and darkly veiled. Thus does man sleep at the gate behind which the dreams are barred; but although his dreams are but a step or two — a minute or two — within that gate, he cannot tell what dreams await him at its opening; whether in the brief, unconscious night beasts of prey with glaring eyes are lying in wait to dash upon him, or smiling children to come trooping round him in their play; nor if, when the cloudy shapes beyond that mystic door come about him, their clasp is to be the fond embrace of love or the murderous clutch of death."

In the lone stillness of the New Year's night

An old man at his window stood, and turned
His dim eyes to the firmament, where, bright

And pure, a million rolling planets burned, -
And then down on the earth all cold and white,

And felt that moment that of all who mourned
And groaned upon its bosom, none there were
With his deep wretchedness and great despair.

For near him lay his grave,

-hidden from view Not by the flowers of youth, but by the snows Of age alone. In torturing thought he flew

Over the past, and on his memory rose


- 26

That picture of his life which conscience drew,

With all its fruits, diseases, sins, and woes;
A ruined frame, a blighted soul, dark years
Of agony, remorse, and withering fears.

Like spectres now his bright youth-days came back,

And that cross-road of life where, when a boy, His father placed him first : its right-hand track

Leads to a land of glory, peace, and joy,
Its left to wildernesses waste and black,

Where snakes and plagues and poison-winds destroy.
Which had he trod? Alas ! the serpents hung
Coiled round his heart, their venom on his tongue.

Sunk in unutterable grief, he cried,

“Restore my youth to me! O God, restore My morn of life! O father! be my guide,

And let me, let me choose my path once more !”
But on the wide waste air his ravings died

Away, and all was silent as before.
His youth had glided by, fleet as the wave;
His father came not, — he was in his grave.

Strange lights flashed flickering by: a star was falling;

Down to the miry marsh he saw it rush “ Like me!” he thought, and oh! that thought was galling,

And hot and heart-wrung tears began to gush.
Sleep-walkers crossed his eyes in shapes appalling;

Gaunt windmills lifted up their arms to crush;
And skeleton monsters rose up from the dim
Pits of the charnel-house, and glared on him !

Amid these overboiling bursts of feeling,

Rich music, heralding the young year's birth, Rolled from a distant steeple, like the pealing

Of some celestial organ o'er the earth : Milder emotions over him came stealing;

He felt the soul's unpurchasable worth. “Return!” again he cried, imploringly; “O my lost youth! return, return to me!"

And youth returned, and age withdrew its terrors;

Still was he young,- for he had dreamed the whole : But faithful is the image conscience mirrors

When whirlwind passions darken not the soul.

Alas! too real were his sins and errors;

Too truly had he made the earth his goal;
He wept, and thanked his God that with the will
He had the power to choose the right path still

Here, youthful reader, ponder! and if thou,

Like him, art reeling over the abyss,
And shakest off sin's iron bondage now,

This ghastly dream may prove thy guide to bliss ;
But should age once be written on thy brow,

Its wrinkles will not be a dream, like this.
Mayest vainly pour thy tears above the urn
Of thy departed youth, - it never will return!


ONCE on a summer evening I was lying in the sunshine on a mountain, and fell asleep. Then I dreamed that I awoke in a church-yard. The down-rolling wheels of the steeple-clock, which was striking eleven, had awakened me. I looked for the sun in the empty night-heaven, for I thought an eclipse was veiling it with the moon. All the graves were open, and the iron doors of the charnel-house were moved to and fro by invisible hands. Shadows which no one cast flitted on the walls ; and other shadows walked erect in the thin air. In the open coffins none were sleeping now but children. In the sky hung in large folds merely a gray sultry mist, which a giant shadow like a net was drawing down nearer, tighter, and hotter. Above me I heard the distant fall of avalanches; under me the first step of an illimitable earthquake. The church wavered up and down with two unceasing discords, which contended with each other and vainly endeavored to mingle in unison. At times a gray gleam skipped up along its windows, and under the gleam the lead and iron ran down molten. The net of the mist and the reeling earth thrust me into that fearful temple, at the door of which, in two poisonous thickets, two glittering basilisks were brooding. I passed through unknown shadows, on whom ancient centuries were impressed. All the shadows were standing round the empty altar; and in all of them the breast, instead of the heart, quivered and beat. One dead man only, who had just been buried in the church, still lay on his pillow without a quivering breast, and on his smiling countenance stood a happy dream. But as a living one entered, he awoke, and smiled no

« PreviousContinue »