« PreviousContinue »
suppose that it is in the power of human nature to fast, in the strict sense of the word. A few years ago, we had a young lady visiting here, who was of the Catholic persuasion; and who was so particular in the observance of Lent, as to create great alarm in our minds for the safety of her health ; and although papa used both argument and entreaty to induce her to partake of food similar to ourselves, she continued to follow the course which she had commenced; and that too in such a spirit of resignation to what she considered a necessary and important duty, as to inspire me with love and respect for her character, although not altogether unmixed with feelings of pity.
CHARLES. Much sneering and sarcasm have been indulged in, I believe, on the subject of the Lent fast, by persons who had no inclination for fasting themselves; but amongst the number of those which I have seen in print, there are none so deserving of remembrance as the lines of the celebrated' Herrick. He says : '
“ Is this a fast, to keepe
The larder leane,
Of flesh, yet still
Thy sheaf of wheat
To starve thy sin,
And that is to keepe thy Lent.” Mr. Constance. Very well remembered, Charles. But we have now to request of William an explanation of another day, certainly very different from the one we have just considered; but not altogether unlooked for, nor uninteresting in its character: I mean that of St. Valentine, on the 14th. But, as I perceive a smile on the ladies' lips, perhaps they may have something to say on that popular festival; William's gallantry will therefore cause him to give place to them, and we will receive the saint's history from the ladies.
WILLIAM. O, certainly, Sir; upon such a subject I think the ladies far better qualified than myself.
ANGELINA. Indeed, papa, you are greatly mistaken if you suppose I have any information to communicate. I was only smiling to think what a number of foolish young men will be scribbling and spoiling good paper on that day; and how anxiously they will all be peeping for the postman, to know whether any young lady will condescend to “ choose them for their Valentine," as the love epistle generally expresses it.
Mr. Constance. I am inclined to think that the gentlemen are not the only scribblers on this occasion ; for, from the increase of business on St. Valentine's Day, in the London post-office particularly (amounting sometimes to 20,000 letters extra), we may fairly infer, that the ladies also spoil their share of good paper.
Maria. We none of us know any thing of the worthy saint, William; so you must needs explain who he was.
WILLIAM. St. Valentine, then, was a martyr to the cause of Christianity in the early ages; but is said to have abjured his religion because he was not made a bishop. Why his memory is celebrated according to the present custom, I am at a loss to know. Many reasons have been given: one is, that having changed his religion, it was the custom of him and his friends to call their proselytes together on this day, when each chose a female to instruct in religious affairs; and another, that St. Valentine caused the names of saints to be substituted in billets given on
that day, instead of the superstitious pagan custom, of drawing the names of girls, in honour of their goddess Februata, or Juno. But, whatever may have given rise to its present observance, St. Valentine holds a place in the calendar as a distinguished martyr. It is said that he restored to sight the daughter of a man named Asterius, in whose custody he was placed for future punishments; which miracle had such an effect upon the family that they were all converted; and joyfully suffered martyrdom about the year 270. In twelve months after that time, the saint himself was beaten with clubs, and then beheaded.
Mr. CONSTANCE. The origin of sending love epistles on St. Valentine's day appears to be involved in more than usual mystery; and nothing positive, as to its first celebration, is found upon record : we are, therefore, left to conjecture, as to the probable cause of its first observance. I think that of the Roman boys drawing the names of girls, in honour of their goddess Februata, to have been the most likely origin. Another term, which has received no satisfactory definition, as to what it was derived from, is the next mentioned festivity, called Ember Week. The most reasonable of the many conjectures is, that it is so called from the Saxon embryne, or imbryne, signifying a circuit or course; the intent of its establishment being to implore blessings of the Almighty on the produce of the earth, by prayer and fasting; and that four times in each year, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, were the periods for exercising those acts of devotion ; although two of the seasons are now omitted by the Church, and the Ember Days are Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, after the first Sunday in Lent, and after the 13th of December. The next, and last day, to be noticed this month, is, I perceive, dedicated to one of the disciples of Christ. It is called St. Matthias, after his name. Say what particulars are related of him.
WILLIAM. Very few, Sir; neither the place of his birth, his parentage, nor the manner in which he employed his time anterior to his election to the apostleship, has been recorded. He is understood, however, to have been a constant attendant on our Saviour during the whole of his ministry, from his baptism by St. John, until his assumption into heaven. The principal occurrence of his life was his appointment to fill the vacancy in the apostleship, occasioned by the death of Judas Iscariot, related in the 1st chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. After this time, he appears to have been active, zealous, and successful, in converting the barbarous inhabitants of the regions of Cappadocia and Colchis, notwithstanding the rudeness of his first reception among them.
CHARLES. Did he die a natural death?
WILLIAM. No: about the year 62, when travelling to Jerusalem, he was seized, and carried before Ananias the high-priest, who had before inhumanly occasioned the murder of James the Just; and Matthias, like that illustrious apostle, remaining steadfast in the faith, was first stoned, and then beheaded with a battle-axe; which warlike instrument is to be seen in all graphic representations of him. The day is kept on the 24th, and is the last remarkable day mentioned in the calendar for this month. Our labours for the evening therefore close with it.
The young folks now prepared for their departure. The rain and sleet having ceased, and a sharp frost succeeding, rendered their path homewards less disagreeable than could have been expected. But sufficient inconvenience was still felt, to create a wish for the departure of February, which was designated, by one and all, as the most unpleasant month of the year.
In mantle of Proteus clad,
With aspect ferocious and wild ;
Now froward, now placid and mild.
“Oh! what a cutting wind,” exclaimed William, as he hastily entered the room, shrugging up his shoulders, as though he felt its influence even there :-" Hark! how it whistles through the tall trees, and roars round the house.”
“ It does so, William,” replied his aunt ; “ but in that whistle methinks I hear the announcement of the joyous Spring. March is her piping herald, and informs us of her near approach. To me a Spirit of Good seems now abroad, riding upon the winds; for, by their influence, every particle of damp and unhealthy remains of Winter is dispersed, and the superabundant moisture dried up. Nature's resting time is over: and in this month may be seen vast preparations making for the reproduction of the vegetable world. The winds, therefore, though cutting and severe, may be considered the harbingers of all that is cheering and delightful.” - “ Yes,” said Angelina, smiling, “ March is a hearty, though a stern and blustering personage : for, notwithstanding he is often seen in these splenetic humours, a