Page images
PDF
EPUB

see the blessed sun with living eyes. But this hope endured but for a moment. Turning suddenly from their course, the black mouth of an infernal cavern yawned fearfully upon them; a sulphurous blast issued from its jaws; and, immensely far within, flickering flames made visible hideous recesses and hanging precipices! Hans shrunk back in terror. 'Enter!' said his guide, in a voice of thunder. It was done, and the falling crash of a large rock, balanced above, shut out the miserable mortal from the light and the world for ever. Fatigue and terror had done their worst; exhausted nature could no longer endure. Hans sunk upon the ground, near the entrance, helpless and immoveable. Still his eyes were open, and the dark glimmerings of the vaulted caverns around him added a tenfold horror to his situation. The demons of the place seemed peeping out upon him from their dark recesses; they began to approach on every side; he saw their glaring eyes, he heard their flapping wings, he felt their hot breath upon his cheek, and their talons in his living flesh! He uttered a piercing shriek. It awakened-not the awful echoes of the cave, but the shrill voice of aunt Sorchie!' The fiery eyes were hers; the talons were her lank fingers in his hair. Wake up from your drunken night-mare! You've frightened all the dogs by your screaming!' Hans found himself in bed. Like Bunyan's pilgrim, 'he awoke, and behold it was a dream!'

I HAVE ΝΟ WIFE.

BY AN OLD AND INCORRIGIBLE MEMBER or THE BACHELOR'S CLUB.

[blocks in formation]

SHAKSPEARE'S SEVEN AGES.

AGE SIXTH.

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon;
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side;
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in its sound.'

[ocr errors]

Ir may or may not be a melancholy task to follow the history of man into the declining years. To be old, is generally to be respectable. Gray hairs and feeble limbs teach us our mortality more impressively and certainly, than the passing hearse and funeral bell. That coffin may enclose the young, the middle-aged, or the old; but the changing form, the failing sight, and tottering step, tell us that there must be a final point to human life—a wasting and wearing out of the corporeal frame which, though we escape disease and accident, will come upon us at last, be we never so strong, and rich, and good, and happy, now. And gray hairs are respectable for this lesson they teach; and in assemblies of men, they repress undue levity; in churches, they preach to us along with the minister; and in all places, they soften our feelings toward one another, because of a sentiment of a common fate that nothing can avert save early death. As we look upon an old man, our pride of life is chastened; and we regard with a proper mistrust the glitter and show so apt to turn our thoughts from any regard to the future. What lessons are there in that household, where is smiling infancy and infirm old age! Age always has its peculiarities. Its character is fixed, its tastes decided. The world is changing, a step forward or back, and the old man with the cue, the white-topped boots, cocked hat, and powdered hair, looks strange because every body else is fickle and unstable. It is this very fixedness and decision that makes us so willing to rely upon the counsels and opinions of the old. The respect due to age, so often enjoined upon us in Scripture, is not unsafe, and without good reason. By respecting the advice of an old man, we not only gratify the individual, by making him feel that he is not living in vain, but we insure to ourselves a great chance of success in the matter in hand; for age advises from experience, and not from untested theory. Its counsels do not come to us with any taint of self. Its ambitions are over, its battles ended, and its wisdom mellowed and freed from the harsh pride of party opinion. 'Old men resemble old books, that contain excellent matter, though badly bound, dusty, and worm-eaten. Do not neglect the society of old men.'*

To an intelligent and kind-hearted old man, all the young are his children. He feels almost a father's joy in the success of any one. In the love of life, so strong in all, he may sometimes wish himself young again; but, then, more for the sake of improving by his experience,

[blocks in formation]

than from any desire for the emulation and contest over again. He has noenvy, no jealousy, to blind his eyes to merit; his course is nearly finished, and now he looks back upon the succeeding generation with an honest sympathy in their fate. In them he lives over again his own life; and as youthful ardor leaps a gulf, or surmounts a dangerous obstacle, in no heart is there excited a readier or more generous interest than in that which quickens in the bosom of that old man with the cane. With the zest of some veteran actor on the scenic stage, he observes the new candidates for public favor in his old parts. To-day, some Romeo, breathing sighs, attracts his notice, and almost a youthful smile lights his features; some cruel Richard or some weak Macbeth calls to mind his own temptations, passions, sins; and the interest deepens, but the smile is gone. If any of our readers have seen Kilner watch the progress of a love scene on the stage, himself acting father or uncle, they will not mistake our meaning.

What though the sage counsels of age lack the pomposity of wisdom? What though the 'big manly voice' of command, of contention and pride, are become the 'childish treble?' What though the tenement of the mind begins to look shattered, the soundness of the limbs to shrink, the eye-sight to grow dim? All these are atoned for, by kindliness of heart, disinterestedness of motive, and paternal regard. The good old man feels that the 'play' is nearly over to him. He has enacted his 'part' well, and is now waiting for the curtain to fall, when he shall hear the plaudit of, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.' Time, which invests every thing with reverence, and hallows the past with the sacredness of immutability, has covered over the events of his life with the moss of remembrance, which softens the rugged, and makes green the passage of an otherwise too bleak old age. The early struggles of his youth, the masculine energies of his manhood, come to mind, not associated in the one with its poverty, want, mortifications, and disappointments, nor in the other with its mad ambitions, its enmities, strife, and discord; but altogether, assuming the character of a divine dispensation to the soul, ordered, in the providence of God, to fit it for a higher existThis is the way with the good old man; and if the reader wishes to follow our train of reading and devotion, as we dwell upon the page of this true history, he must sing, as we do, the following hymn, to the tune called 'Missionary Chant,' found in many collections of sacred music :

ence.

'As when the weary traveller gains

The height of some commanding hill,
His heart revives, if o'er the plains
He sees his home, though distant still;
So when the Christian pilgrim views
By faith his mansion in the skies,
The sight his fainting strength renews,
And wings his speed to reach the prize.

The hope of heaven his spirit cheers;
No more he grieves for sorrows past ;
Nor any future conflict fears,

So he may safe arrive at last.
O Lord! in thee our hopes we stay,
To lead us on to thine abode;
Assured thy love will far o'erpay
The hardest labors of the road!

But how shall we describe the old age of the bad old man? Is there such a being as a gray-haired sinner? We do not wish to believe it. Few men pass through this world of trial and temptation unscathed; and is it unfair to conclude that all profit by experience, and that when the violence of the passions subsides, many a man who has been too ambitious, too grasping, more a lover of pleasure than a lover of God, in his old age comes, by reflection, to a knowledge and love of goodness, and repents, and feels a hearty contrition for his errors? Is this too soothing a view for man in a vale of tears? It is not our intention to offend any creed or scheme of theology, but it may be, that the highest appreciation of a pure and religious life is felt by him who has suffered the pains of sin; as the celebrated John Newton, afterward a pattern for the world, according to accounts, notoriously lived a youth and manhood of profligacy and crime. The sailor, by shipwreck, learns the shallows and rocks. Men do not learn virtue any better than they learn other things, except by experience. We are not the apologists of vice, but it is true, that a large part of the error and wickedness in the world, results from a perversion of the understanding, and early inculcated habits of evil; and that many sins, which at all times deserve disapprobation, are more objects of pity than malediction. We forget, unless we are sitting in judgment upon our own faults, that we are made weak, that through our weakness we may become strong.

It is a great pity that moralists find it necessary to address the world in such exaggerated language. Our first moral teachers, our nurses, frighten us into quiet, by stories of bears and old black men coming to catch us; the school-master then incites his pupils to diligence, by threats of whippings he would not dare to give a dog he valued; and so upward, ministers preach of misery they cannot believe possible, and almost all appeals to the world, upon any subject not demonstrable by physical experiment, are rendered exagge rated, swollen, and unnatural, by pictures of awful alternatives. Human character is debased by this course, and motives of action degraded.

Pride conceals real goodness almost as often as it conceals vice. With the old this is especially true. Old men are averse to making professions of goodness. They have got to know, by this time, the hollowness of such stuff. As their interest in the bustle of the world ceases, as they learn how little true happiness rests upon what men say or think of them, they rely more upon God in private, than upon forms and observances. They settle these matters in the secret places of the heart, and, without doubt, have their seasons of prayer for divine aid, and of contrition for their past offences. They are not entirely dependent upon the opinions of inexperienced young theologians and preachers, who are often swayed more by private ambition, and sectarian pride, than any deep regard for the souls of their hearers. They have learnt that religion is an affair of the heart, and that our public services are a means and not an end. They have not passed through the age of wisdom for nothing.

Men of violent passions and evil habits are not often suffered to disgrace this respectable age, by ever arriving at it. Such persons

(and they have a lesson which they were born to teach,) die in manhood; and if, as was once said by an eloquent divine, 'their youth has been spent in hovels of ignorance and vice, if they have never known instruction and counsel, I pity them, and I believe God pities them.' Shakspeare, in his history, utters no ridicule upon old age. He describes it, in the phraseology of his time, as he saw it. Never having lived it, he does not pretend to enter into its heart; and thus he shows the modesty of wisdom. We have before said he was a 'justice.'

This season of life may be properly termed the age of retrospection. As a father about to die calls his family and kindred around him, to bid them adieu for a season, so old age, about to part with this world for ever, has more reason to take a parting look at scenes, and events, and places, it can never know again. Much of the time of an old man is spent in thinking upon the past, and thus he prepares for the future. The whole life of any man, if reviewed calmly, will teach him the goodness of God; and all, even the poorest and most tasked pilgrim, may in sincerity say, Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life.' With what a placid face does the old man talk of death! How willing he seems to die! With what an oily satisfaction does he dwell upon the events of his own life, and how much more ancient do the facts he relates seem, than the deeds of a Cæsar! This is because he feels that they are old; and one feels impressed, as he talks, that he does indeed belong to a generation now slumbering in the grave. He evidently has this idea himself. The old soldier loves to 'shoulder his crutch, and show how fields were won.' The merchant delights to recount his speculations, his risks, his up-early and late-to-bed toils. The sailor tells of storms and 'hair breadth 'scapes' in battle, pestilence, and tempest. Each has his story, and though told a thousand times, we hope each will always find patient and interested listeners to give ear.

There are a set of men in the world, who, though they show the 'lean and slippered pantaloon,' seem to escape our description of the sixth age. With them it is one chain of action, energy, and wisdom, from the soldier' to the grave. We mean literary old age. And here facts are indisputable. Dryden wrote better in age than in middle life. Cato learnt Greek at eighty. Michael Angelo in his old age declared himself still a student. Ludovico_Monaldesco, at the age of 115, wrote the memoirs of his own time. Franklin's philosophical pursuits began when he had reached nearly his fiftieth year."* Nearer our own time, we might mention hundreds of cases. Let it suffice to notice the instance of Goëthe, who has left such rich counsels to the student. He is said to have been ‘hale and hearty to the last, and fresh and cheerful as a boy.' The demon Care, which undermines the old age of many, had by him been vanquished betimes; he moved in a region elevated above the petty fears and anxieties of common men, and the sunlight of an habitual serenity shed the smile of a second youth over his old age. His latter years were, as Echermann so beautifully says of his poems, 'pure reality, in the light of a mild glorification.'

* Curiosities of Literature.

« PreviousContinue »