By A.K.H. Boyd.
Does it ever come across you, my friend, with something of a start, that things cannot always go on in your lot as they are going now? Does not a sudden thought sometimes flash upon you, a hasty, vivid glimpse, of what you will be long hereafter, if you are spared in this world? Our common way is too much to think that things will always go on as they are going. Not that we clearly think so: not that we ever put that opinion in a definite shape, and avow to ourselves that we hold it: but we live very much under that vague, general impression. We can hardly help it. When a man of middle age inherits a pretty country seat, and makes up his mind that he cannot yet afford to give up business and go to live at it, but concludes that in six or eight years he will be able with justice to his children to do so, do you think he brings plainly before him the changes which must be wrought on himself and those around him by these years? I do not speak of the greatest change of all, which may come to any of us so very soon: I do not think of what may be done by unlooked-for accident: I think merely of what must be done by the passing on of time. I think of possible changes in taste and feeling, of possible loss of liking for that mode of life. I think of lungs that will play less freely, and of limbs that will suggest shortened walks, and dissuade from climbing hills. I think how the children will have outgrown daisy-chains, or even got beyond the season of climbing trees. The middle-aged man enjoys the prospect of the time when he shall go to his country house; and the vague, undefined belief surrounds him, like an atmosphere, that he and his children, his views and likings, will be then just such as they are now. He cannot bring it home to him at how many points change will be cutting into him, and hedging him in, and paring him down. And we all live very much under that vague impression. Yet it is in many ways good for us to feel that we are going on—passing from the things which surround us—advancing into the undefined future, into the unknown land. And I think that sometimes we all have vivid flashes of such a conviction. I dare say, my friend, you have seen an old man, frail, soured, and shabby, and you have thought, with a start, Perhaps there is Myself of Future Years.
We human beings can stand a great deal. There is great margin allowed by our constitution, physical and moral. I suppose there is no doubt that a man may daily for years eat what is unwholesome, breathe air which is bad, or go through a round of life which is not the best or the right one for either body or mind, and yet be little the worse. And so men pass through great trials and through long years, and yet are not altered so very much. The other day, walking along the street, I saw a man whom I had not seen for ten years. I knew that since I saw him last he had gone through very heavy troubles, and that these had sat very heavily upon him. I remembered how he had lost that friend who was the dearest to him of all human beings, and I knew how broken down he had been for many months after that great sorrow carne. Yet there he was, walking along, an unnoticed unit, just like any one else; and he was looking wonderfully well. No doubt he seemed pale, worn, and anxious: but he was very well and carefully dressed; he was walking with a brisk, active step; and I dare say in feeling pretty well reconciled to being what he is, and to the circumstances amid which he is living. Still, one felt that somehow a tremendous change had passed over him. I felt sorry for him, and all the more that he did not seem to feel sorry for himself. It made me sad to think that some day I should be like him; that perhaps in the eyes of my juniors I look like him already, careworn and ageing. I dare say in his feeling there was no such sense of falling off. Perhaps he was tolerably content. He was walking so fast, and looking so sharp, that I am sure ho had no desponding feeling at the time. Despondency goes with slow movements and with vague looks. The sense of having materially fallen off is destructive to the eagle-eye. Yes, he was tolerably content. We can go down-hill cheerfully, save at the points where it is sharply brought home to us that we are going down-hill. Lately I sat at dinner opposite an old lady who had the remains of striking beauty. I remember how much she interested me. Her hair was false, her teeth were false, her complexion was shriveled, her form had lost the round symmetry of earlier years, and was angular and stiff; yet how cheerful and lively she was! She had gone far down-hill physically; but either she did not feel her decadence, or she had grown quite reconciled to it. Her daughter, a blooming matron, was there, happy, wealthy, good; yet not apparently a whit more reconciled to life than the aged grandame. It was pleasing, and yet it was sad, to see how well we can make up our mind to what is inevitable. And such a sight brings up to one a glimpse of Future Years. The cloud seems to part before one, and through the rift you discern your earthly track far away, and a jaded pilgrim plodding along it with weary step; and though the pilgrim does not look like you, yet you know the pilgrim is yourself.
This cannot always go on. To what is it all tending? I am not thinking now of an out-look so grave, that this is not the place to discuss it. But I am thinking how everything is going on. In this world there is no standing still. And everything that belongs entirely to this world, its interests and occupations, is going on towards a conclusion. It will all come to an end. It cannot go on forever. I cannot always be writing sermons as I do now, and going on in this regular course of life. I cannot always be writing essays. The day will come when I shall have no more to say, or when the readers of the Magazine will no longer have patience to listen to me in that kind fashion in which they have listened so long. I foresee it plainly, this evening.—even while writing my first essay for the Atlantic Monthly, the time when the reader shall open the familiar cover, and glance at the table of contents, and exclaim indignantly, ‘Here is that tiresome person again with the four initials: why will he not cease to weary us?’ I write in sober sadness, my friend: I do not intend any jest. If you do not know that what I have written is certainly true, you have not lived very long. You have not learned the sorrowful lesson, that all worldly occupations and interests are wearing to their close. You cannot keep up the old thing, however much you may wish to do so. You know how vain anniversaries for the most part are. You meet with certain old friends, to try to revive the old days; but the spirit of the old time will not come over you. It is not a spirit that can be raised at will. It cannot go on forever, that walking down to church on Sundays, and ascending those pulpit steps; it will change to feeling, though I humbly trust it may be long before it shall change in fact. Don’t you all sometimes feel something like that? Don’t you sometimes look about you and say to yourself, That furniture will wear out: those window-curtains are getting sadly faded; they will not last a lifetime? Those carpets must be replaced some day; and the old patterns which looked at you with a kindly, familiar expression, through these long years, must be among the old familiar faces that are gone. These are little things, indeed, but they are among the vague recollections that bewilder our memory; they are among the things which come up in the strange, confused remembrance of the dying man in the last days of life. There is an old fir-tree, a twisted, strange-looking fir-tree, which will be among my last recollections, I know, as it was among my first. It was always before my eyes when I was three, four, five years old:
I see the pyramidal top, rising over a mass of shrubbery; I see it always against a sunset-sky; always in the subdued twilight in which we seem to see things in distant years. These old friends will die, you think; who will take their place? You will be an old gentleman, a frail old gentleman, wondered at by younger men, and telling them long stories about the days when Lincoln was President, like those which weary you now about the Declaration of Independence. It will not be the same world then. Your children will not be always children. Enjoy their fresh, youth while it lasts, for it will not last long. Do not skim over the present too fast, through a constant habit of onward-looking. Many men of an anxious turn are so eagerly concerned in providing for the future, that they hardly remark the blessings of the present. Yet it is only because the future will some day be present, that it deserves any thought at all. And many men, instead of heartily enjoying present blessings while they are present, train themselves to a habit of regarding these things as merely the foundation on which they are to build some vague fabric of they know not what. I have known a clergyman, who was very fond of music, and in whose church the music was very fine, who seemed incapable of enjoying its solemn beauty as a tiling to be enjoyed while passing, but who persisted in regarding each beautiful strain merely as a promising indication of what his choir would come at some future time to be. It is a very bad habit, and one which grows unless repressed. You, my reader, when you see your children racing on the green, train yourself to regard all that as a happy end in itself. Do not grow to think merely that those sturdy young limbs promise to be stout and serviceable when they are those of a grown-up man; and rejoice in the smooth little forehead with its curly hair, without any forethought of how it is to look some day when over-shadowed (as it is sure to be) by the great wig of the Lord Chancellor. Good advice: let us all try to take it. Let all happy things be enjoyed as ends, as well as regarded as means. Yet it is in the make of our nature to be ever onward-looking; and we cannot help it. When you get the first number for the year of the. Magazine which you take in, you instinctively think of it as the first portion of a new volume; and you are conscious of a certain though slight restlessness in the thought of a thing incomplete, and of a wish that you had the volume completed. And sometimes, thus locking onward into the future, you worry yourself with little thoughts and cares. There is that old dog: you Lave had him for many years; he is growing stiff and frail; what arc you to do when he dies? When he is gone, the new dog you get will never be like him; he may be, indeed, a far handsomer and more amiable animal, but he will not be your old companion; he will not be surrounded with all those old associations, not merely with your own by-past life, but with the lives, the faces, and the voices of those who have left you, which invest with a certain sacredness even that humble but faithful friend. He will not have been the companion of your youthful walks, when you went, at a pace which now you cannot attain. He will just be a common dog; and who that has reached your years cares for that? The other indeed was a dog too, but that was merely the substratum on which was accumulated a host of recollections: it is Auld Lang syne that walks into your study when your shaggy friend of ten summers comes stiffly in, and after many querulous turnings lays himself down on the rug before the fire. Do you not feel the like when you look at many little matters, and then look into the Future Years? That harness—how will you replace it? It will be a pang to throw it by, and it will be a considerable expense too to get a new suit. Then you think how long harness may continue to be serviceable. I once saw, on a pair of horses drawing a stage-coach among the hills, a set of harness which was thirty-five years old. It had been very costly and grand when new; it had belonged for some of its earliest years to a certain wealthy nobleman. The nobleman had been for many years in his grave, but there was his harness still. It was tremendously patched, and the blinkers were of extraordinary aspect; but it was quite serviceable. There is comfort for you, poor country parsons! How thoroughly I understand your feeling about such little things. I know how you sometimes look at your phaeton or your dog-cart; and even while the morocco is fresh, and the wheels still are running with their first tires, how you think you see it after it has grown shabby and old-fashioned. Yes, you remember, not without a dull kind of pang, that it is wearing out. You have a neighbor, perhaps, a few miles off, whose conveyance, through the wear of many years, has become remarkably seedy; and every time you meet it you think that there you see your own, as it will some day be. Every dog has his day: but the day of the rational dog is over-clouded in a fashion unknown to his inferior fellow-creature; it is overclouded by the anticipation of the coming day which will not be his. You remember how that great though morbid man, John Foster, could not heartily enjoy the summer weather, for thinking how every sunny day that shone upon him was a downward step towards the winter gloom. Each indication that the season was progressing, even though progressing as yet only to greater beauty, filled him with great grief. ‘I have seen a fearful sight to-day,’ he would say, ‘I have seen a buttercup.’ And we know, of course, that in his case there was nothing like affectation; it was only that, unhappily for himself, the bent of his mind was so onward-looking, that he saw only a premonition of the snows of December in the roses of June. It would be a blessing if we could quite discard the tendency. And while your trap runs smoothly and noiselessly, while the leather is fresh and the paint unscratched, do not worry yourself with visions of the day when it will rattle and crack, and when you will make it wait for you at the corner of back-streets when you drive into town. Do not vex yourself by fancying that you will never have heart to send off the old carriage, nor by wondering where you shall find the money to buy a new one.
Have you ever read the Life of Mansie Wauch, Tailor in Dalkeith, by that pleasing poet and most amiable man, the late David Macbeth Moir? I have been looking into it lately; and I have regretted much that the Lowland Scotch dialect is so imperfectly understood in England, and that even where so far understood its raciness is so little felt; for great as is the popularity of that work, it is much less known than it deserves to be. Only a Scotchman can thoroughly appreciate it. It is curious, and yet it is not curious, to find the pathos and the polish of one of the most touching and elegant of poets in the man who has with such irresistible humor, sometimes approaching to the farcical, delineated humble Scotch life. One passage in the book always struck me very much. We have in it the poet as well as the humorist; and it is a perfect example of what I have been trying to describe in the pages which you have rend. I mean the passage in which Mansie tells us of a sudden glimpse which, in circumstances of mortal terror, he once had of the future. On a certain ‘awful night’ the tailor was awakened by cries of alarm, and, looking out, he saw the next house to his own was on fire from cellar to garret. The earnings of poor Mansie’s whole life were laid out on his stock in trade and his furniture, and it appeared likely that these would be at once destroyed.
“Then,” says he, “the darkness of the latter days came over my spirit like a vision before the prophet Isaiah; and I could see nothing in the years to come but beggary and starvation,--myself a fallen-back old man. with an out-at-the-elbows coat, a greasy hat, and a bald brow, hirpling over a staff, requeeshting an awmous:
Nanse a broken-hearted beggar-wife, torn down to tatters, and weeping like Eachel when she thought on better days; and poor wee Benjie going from door to door with a meal-pock on his back.”
Ah, there is exquisite pathos there, as well as humor; but the thing for which I have quoted that sentence is its startling truthfulness. You have all done what Mansie Wauch did, I know. Every one has his own way of doing it, and it is his own especial picture which each sees; but there has appeared to us, as to Mansie, (I must recur to my old figure,) as it were a sudden rift in the clouds that conceal the future, and we have seen the way, far ahead—the dusty way—and an aged pilgrim pacing slowly along it; and in that aged figure we have each recognized our own young self. How often have I sat down on the mossy wall that surrounded my churchyard, when I had more time for reverie than I have now—sat upon the mossy wall, under a great oak, whose brandies came low down and projected far out—and looked at the rough gnarled bark, and at the passing river, and at the belfry of the little church, and there and then thought of Mansie Wauch and of his vision of Future Years! How often in these hours, or in long solitary walks and rides among the hills, have I had visions clear as that of Mansie Wauch, of how I should grow old in my country parish! Do not think that I wish or intend to be egotistical, my friendly reader. I describe these feelings and fancies because I think this is the likeliest way in which to reach and describe your own. There was a rapid little stream that flowed, in a very lonely place, between the highway and a cottage to which I often went to see a poor old woman; and when I came out of the cottage, having made sure that no one saw me, I always took a great leap over the little stream, which saved going round a little way. And never once, for several years, did I thus cross it without seeing a picture as clear to the mind’s eye as Mansie Wauch’s—a picture which made me walk very thoughtfully along for the next mile or two. It was curious to think how one was to get through the accustomed duty after having grown old and frail. The day would come when the brook could be crossed in that brisk fashion no more. It must be an odd thing for the parson to walk as an old man into the pulpit, still his own, which was his own when he was a young man of six-and-twenty. What a crowd of old remembrances must be present each Sunday to the clergyman’s mind, who has served the same parish and preached in the same church for fifty years! Personal identity, continued through the successive stages of life, is a common-place thing to think of; but when it is brought home to your own case and feeling, it is a very touching and a very bewildering thing. There are the same trees and hills as when you were a boy; and when each of us comes to his last days in this world, how short a space it will seem since we were little children! Let us humbly hope, that, in that brief space parting the cradle from the grave, we may (by help from above) have accomplished a certain work which will cast its blessed influence over all the years and all the ages before us. Yet it remains a strange thing to look forward and to see yourself with grey hair, and not much even of that; to see your wife an old woman, and your little boy or girl grown up into manhood or womanhood. It is more strange still to fancy you see them all going on as usual in the round of life, and you no longer among them. You see your empty chair. There is your writing-table and your inkstand; there are your books, not so carefully arranged as they used to be; perhaps,--on the whole, less indication than you might have hoped that they miss you. All this is strange when you bring it home to your own case; and that hundreds of millions have felt the like makes it none the less strange to you. The commonplaces of life and death are not commonplace when they befall ourselves. It was in desperate hurry and agitation that Mansie Wauch saw his vision; and in like circumstances you may have yours too. But for the most part such moods come in leisure—in saunterings through the autumn woods—in reveries by the winter fire.
I do not think, thus musing upon our occasional glimpses of the Future, of such fancies as those of early youth—fancies and anticipations of greatness, of felicity, of fame; I think of the onward views of men approaching middle-age, who have found their place and their work in life, and who may reasonably believe that, save for great unexpected accidents, there will be no very material change in their lot till that “change come” to which Job looked forward four thousand years since. There are great numbers of educated folk who are likely always to live in the same kind of house, to have the same establishment, to associate with the same class of people, to walk along the same streets, to look upon the same hills, as long as they live. The only change will be the gradual one which will be wrought by advancing years.
And the onward view of such people in such circumstances is generally a very vague one. It is only now and then that there comes the startling clearness of prospect so well set forth by Mansie Wauch. Yet sometimes, when such a vivid view comes, it remains for days and is a painful companion of your solitude. Don’t you remember, clerical reader of thirty-two, having seen a good deal of an old parson, rather sour in aspect, rather shabby-looking, sadly pinched for means, and with powers dwarfed by the sore struggle with the world to maintain his family and to keep up a respectable appearance upon his limited resources; perhaps with his mind made petty and his temper spoiled by the little worries, the petty malignant tattle and gossip and occasional insolence of a little backbiting village? and don’t you remember how for days you felt haunted by a sort of nightmare that there was what you would be, if you lived so long? Yes; you know how there have been times when for ten days together that jarring thought would intrude, whenever your mind was disengaged from work; and sometimes, when you went to bed, that thought kept you awake for hours. You knew the impression was morbid, and you were angry with yourself for your silliness; but you could not drive it away.
It makes a great difference in the prospect of Future Years, if you are one of those people who, even after middle age, may still make a great rise in life. This will prolong the restlessness which in others is sobered down at forty: it will extend the period during which you will every now and then have brief seasons of feverish anxiety, hope, and fear, followed by longer stretches of blank disappointment. And it will afford the opportunity of experiencing a vividly new sensation, and of turning over a quite new leaf, after most people have settled to the jog-trot at which the remainder of the pilgrimage is to be covered. A clergyman of the Church of England may be made a bishop, and exchange a quiet rectory for a palace. No doubt the increase of responsibility is to a conscientious man almost appalling; but surely the rise in life is great. There you are, one of four-and-twenty,--selected out of near twenty thousand. It is possible, indeed, that you may feel more reason for shame than for elation at the thought. A barrister unknown to fame, but of respectable standing, may be made a judge. Such a man may even, if he gets into the groove, be gradually pushed on till he reaches an eminence which probably surprises himself as much as any one else. A good speaker in Parliament may at sixty or seventy be made a Cabinet Minister. And we can all imagine what indescribable pride and elation must in such cases possess the wife and daughters of the man who has attained this decided step in advance. I can say sincerely that I never saw human beings walk with so airy tread, and evince so fussily their sense of a greatness more than mortal, as the wife and the daughter of an amiable but not able bishop I knew in my youth, when they came to church on the Sunday morning on which the good man preached for the first time in his lawn sleeves. Their heads were turned for the time; but they gradually came right again, as the ladies became accustomed to the summits of human affairs. Let it be said for the bishop himself, that there was not a vestige of that sense of elevation about him. He looked perfectly modest and unaffected. His dress was remarkably ill put on, and his sleeves stuck out in the most awkward fashion ever assumed by drapery. I suppose that sometimes these rises in life come very unexpectedly. I have heard of a man who, when he received a letter from the Prime Minister of the day offering him a place of great dignity, thought the letter was a hoax, and did not notice it for several days. You could not certainly infer from his modesty what has proved to be the fact, that he has filled his place admirably well. The possibility of such material changes must no doubt tend to prolong the interest in life, which is ready to flag as years go on. But perhaps with the majority of men the level is found before middle age, and no very great worldly change awaits them. The path stretches on, with its ups and downs; and they only hope for strength for the day. But in such men’s lot of humble duty and quiet content there remains room for many fears. All human beings who are as well off as they can ever be, and so who have little room for hope, seem to be liable to the invasion of great fear as they look into the future. It seems to be so with kings, and with great nobles. Many such have lived in a nervous dread of change, and have ever been watching the signs of the times with apprehensive eyes. Nothing that can happen can well make such better; and so they suffer from the vague foreboding of something which will make them worse. And the same law readies to those in whom hope is narrowed down, not by the limit of grand possibility, but of little,--not by the fact that they have got all that mortal can get, but by the fact that they have got the little which is all that Providence seems to intend to give to them. And, indeed, there is something that is almost awful, when your affairs are all going happily, when your mind is clear and equal to its work, when your bodily health is unbroken, when your home is pleasant, when your income is ample, when your children are healthy and merry and hopeful,--in looking on to Future Years. The more happy you are, the more there is of awe in the thought how frail are the foundations of your earthly happiness,--what havoc may be made of them by the chances of even a single day. It is no wonder that the solemnity and awfulness of the Future have been felt so much, that the languages of Northern Europe have, as I dare say you know, no word which expresses the essential notion of Futurity. You think, perhaps, of shall and will. Well, these words have come now to convey the notion of Futurity; but they do so only in a secondary fashion. Look to their etymology, and you will see that they imply Futurity, but do not express it. I shall do such a thing means I am bound to do it, I am under an obligation to do it. I will do such a thing means I intend to do it, It is my present purpose to do it. Of course, if you are under an obligation to do anything, or if it be your intention to do anything, the probability is that the thing will be done; but the Northern family of languages ventures no nearer than that towards the expression of the bare, awful idea of Future Time. It was no wonder that Mr. Croaker was able to cast a gloom upon the gayest circle, and the happiest conjuncture of circumstances, by wishing that all might be as well that day six months. Six months! What might that time not do? Perhaps you have not read a little poem of Barry Cornwall’s, the idea of which must come home to the heart of most of us:--
Touch us gently, Time!
Let us glide adown thy stream
Gently,--as we sometimes glide
Through a quiet dream.
Humble voyagers are we,
Husband, wife, and children three—
One is lost,--an angel, fled
To the azure overhead.
Touch us gently, Time!
We’ve not proud nor soaring wings:
Our ambition, our content,
Lies in simple things.
Humble voyagers are we,
O’er life’s dim, unsounded sea,
Seeking only some calm clime:--
Touch us gently, gentle Time!
I know that sometimes, my friend, you will not have much sleep, if, when you lay your head on your pillow, you begin to think how much depends upon your health and life. You have reached now that time at which you value life and health not so much for their service to yourself, as for their needfulness to others. There is a petition familiar to me in this Scotch country, where people make their prayers for themselves, which seems to me to possess great solemnity and force, when we think of all that is implied in it. It is, Spare useful lives! One life, the slender line of blood passing into and passing out of one human heart, may decide the question, whether wife and children shall grow up affluent, refined, happy, yes, and good, or be reduced to hard straits, with all the manifold evils which grow of poverty in the case of those who have been reduced to it after knowing other things. You often think, I doubt not, in quiet hours, what would become of your children, if you were gone. You have done, I trust, what you can to care for them, even from your grave: you think sometimes of a poetical figure of speech amid the dry technical phrases of English law: you know what is meant by the law of Mortmain; and you like to think that even your dead hand may be felt to be kindly intermeddling yet in the affairs of those who were your dearest: that some little sum, slender, perhaps, but as liberal as you could make it, may come in periodically when it is wanted, and seem like the gift of a thoughtful, heart and a kindly hand which are far away. Yes, cut down your present income to any extent, that you may make some provision for your children after you are dead. You do not wish that they should have the saddest of all reasons for taking care of you, and trying to lengthen out your life. But even after you have done everything which your small means permit, you will still think, with an anxious heart, of the possibilities of Future Years. A man or woman who has children has very strong reason for wishing to live as long as may be, and has no right to trifle with, health or life. And sometimes, looking out into days to come, you think of the little things, hitherto so free from man’s heritage of care, as they may some day be. You see them shabby, and early anxious: can that be the little boy’s rosy face, now so pale and thin? You see them in a poor room, in which you recognize your study chairs, with the hair coming out of the cushions, and a carpet which you remember now threadbare and in holes.
It is no wonder at all that people are so anxious about money. Money means every desirable material thing on earth, and the manifold immaterial things which come of material possessions. Poverty is the most comprehensive earthly evil; all conceivable evils, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, may come of that. Of course, great temptations attend its opposite; and the wise man’s prayer will be what it was long ago—‘Give me neither poverty nor riches.’ But let us have no nonsense talked about money being of no consequence. The want of it has made many a father and mother tremble at the prospect of being taken from their children; the want of it has embittered many a parent’s dying hours. You hear selfish persons talking vaguely about faith. You find such heartless persons jauntily spending all they get on themselves, and then leaving their poor children to beggary, with the miserable pretext that they are doing all this through their abundant trust in God. Now this is not faith; it is insolent presumption. It is exactly as if a man should jump from the top of St. Paul’s, and say that he had faith that the Almighty would keep him from being dashed to pieces on the pavement. There is a high authority as to such cases—‘Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.’ If God had promised that people should never fall into the miseries of penury under any circumstances, it would be faith to trust that promise, however unlikely of fulfillment it might seem in any particular case. But God has made no such promise; and if you leave your children without provision, you have no right to expect that they shall not suffer the natural consequences of your heartlessness and thoughtlessness. True faith lies in your doing everything you possibly can, and then humbly trusting in God, And if, after you have done your very best, you must still go, with but a blank outlook for those you leave, why, then, you may trust them to the Husband of the widow and Father of the fatherless. Faith, as regards such matters, means firm belief that God will do all he has promised to do, however difficult or unlikely. But some people seem to think that faith means firm belief that God will do whatever they think would suit them, however unreasonable, and however flatly in the face of all the established laws of His government.
We all have it in our power to make ourselves miserable, if we look far into future years and calculate their probabilities of evil, and steadily anticipate the worst. It is not expedient to calculate too far a-head. Of course, the right way in this, as in other things, is the middle way: we are not to run either into the extreme of over-carefulness and anxiety on the one hand, or of recklessness and imprudence on the other. But as mention has been made of faith, it may safely be said that we are forgetful of that rational trust in God which is at once our duty and our inestimable privilege, if we are always looking out into the future, and vexing ourselves with endless fears as to how things are to go then. There is no divine promise, that, if a reckless blockhead leaves his children to starve, they shall not starve. And a certain inspired volume speaks with extreme severity of the man who fails to provide for them of his own house. But there is a divine promise which says to the humble Christian,--‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.’ If your affairs are going on fairly now, be thankful, and try to do your duty, and to do your best, as a Christian man and a prudent man, and then leave the rest to God. Your children are about you; no doubt they may die, and it is fit enough that you should not forget the fragility of your most prized possessions; it is fit enough that you should sometimes sit by the fire and look at the merry faces and listen to the little voices, and think what it would be to lose them. But it is not needful, or rational, or Christian-like, to be always brooding on that thought. And when they grow up, it may be hard to provide for them. The little thing that is sitting on your knee may before many years be alone in life, thousands of miles from you and from his early home, an insignificant item in the bitter price which Britain pays for her Indian Empire. It is even possible, though you hardly for a moment admit that thought, that the child may turn out a heartless and wicked man, and prove your shame and heart-break; all wicked and heartless men have been the children of somebody; and many of them, doubtless, the children of those who surmised the future as little as Eve did when she smiled upon the infant Cain. And the fireside by which you sit, now merry and noisy enough, may grow lonely,--lonely with the second loneliness, not the hopeful solitude of youth looking forward, but the desponding loneliness of age looking back. And it is so with everything else. Your health may break down. Some fearful accident may befall you. The readers of the magazine may cease to care for your articles. People may get tired of your sermons. People may stop buying your books, your wine, your groceries, your milk and cream. Younger men may take away your legal business. Yet how often these fears prove utterly groundless! It was good and wise advice given by one who had managed, with a cheerful and hopeful spirit, to pass through many trying and anxious years, to ‘take short views:’—not to vex and worry yourself by planning too far a-head. And a wiser than the wise and cheerful Sydney Smith had anticipated his philosophy. You remember Who said, ‘Take no thought,’—that is, no over-anxious and over-careful thought—‘for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’ Did you ever sail over a blue summer sea towards a mountainous coast, frowning, sullen, gloomy: and have you not seen the gloom retire before you as you advanced; the hills, grim in the distance, stretch into sunny slopes when you neared them; and the waters smile in cheerful light that looked so black when they were far away? And who is there that has not seen the parallel in actual life? We have all known the anticipated ills of life—the danger that looked so big, the duty that looked so arduous, the entanglement that we could not see our way through—prove to have been nothing more than specters on the far horizon; and when at length we reached them, all their difficulty had vanished into air, leaving us to think what fools we had been for having so needlessly conjured up phantoms to disturb our quiet. Yes, there is no doubt of it, a Very great part of all we suffer in this world is from the apprehension of things that never come. I remember well how a dear friend, whom I (and many more) lately lost, told me many times of his fears as to what he would do in a certain contingency which both he and I thought was quite sure to come sooner or later. I know that the anticipation of it caused him some of the most anxious hours of a very anxious, though useful and honored life. How vain his fears proved! He was taken from this world before what he had dreaded had cast its most distant shadow. Well, let me try to discard the notion which has been sometimes worrying me of late, that perhaps I have written nearly as many essays as any one will care to read. Don’t let any of us give way to fears which may prove to have been entirely groundless.
And then, if we are really spared to see those trials we sometimes think of, and which it is right that we should sometimes think of, the strength for them will come at the time. They will not look nearly so black, and we shall be enabled to bear them bravely. There is in human nature a marvelous power of accommodation to circumstances. We can gradually make up our mind to almost anything. If this were a sermon instead of an essay, I should explain my theory of how this comes to be. I see in all this something beyond the mere natural instinct of acquiescence in what is inevitable; something beyond the benevolent law in the human mind, that it shall adapt itself to whatever circumstances it may be placed in; something beyond the doing of the gentle comforter Time. Yes, it is wonderful what people can go through, wonderful what people can get reconciled to. I dare say my friend Smith, when his hair began to fall off, made frantic efforts to keep it on. I have no doubt he anxiously tried all the vile concoctions which quackery advertises in the newspapers, for the advantage of those who wish for luxuriant locks. I dare say for a while it really weighed upon his mind, and disturbed his quiet, that he was getting bald. But now he has quite reconciled himself to his lot; and with a head smooth and shiny as the egg of the ostrich, Smith goes on through life, and feels no pang at the remembrance of the ambrosial curls of his youth. Most young people, I dare say, think it will be a dreadful thing to grow old: a girl of eighteen thinks it must be an awful sensation to be thirty. Believe me, not at all. You are brought to it bit by bit; and when you reach the spot, you rather like the view. And it is so with graver things. We grow able to do and to bear that which it is needful that we should do and bear. As is the day, so the strength proves to be. And you have heard people tell you truly, that they have been enabled to bear what they never thought they could have come through with their reason or their life. I have no fear for the Christian man, so he keeps to the path of duty. Straining up the steep hill, his heart will grow stout in just proportion to its steepness. Yes, and if the call to martyrdom came, I should not despair of finding men who would show themselves equal to it, even in this commonplace age, and among people who wear Highland cloaks and knickerbockers. The martyr’s strength would come with the martyr’s day. It is because there is no call for it now, that people look so little like it.
It is very difficult, in this world, to strongly enforce a truth, without seeming to push it into an extreme. You are very apt, in avoiding one error, to run into the opposite error; forgetting that truth and right lie generally between two extremes. And in agreeing with Sydney Smith, as to the wisdom and the duty of ‘taking short views,’ let us take care of appearing to approve the doings of those foolish and unprincipled people who will keep no out-look into the future time at all. A bee, you know, cannot see more than a single inch before it; and there are many men, and perhaps more women, who appear, as regards their domestic concerns, to be very much of bees. Not bees in the respect of being busy; but bees in the respect of being blind. You see this in all ranks of life. You see it in the artisan, earning good wages, yet with every prospect of being weeks out of work next summer or winter, who yet will not be persuaded to lay by a little in preparation for a rainy day. You see it in the country gentleman, who, having five thousand a year, spends ten thousand a year; resolutely shutting his eyes to the certain and not very remote consequences. You see it in the man who walks into a shop and buys a lot of things which he has not the money to pay for, in the vague hope that something will turn up. It is a comparatively thoughtful and anxious class of men who systematically overcloud the present by anticipations of the future. The more usual thing is to sacrifice the future to the present; to grasp at what in the way of present gratification or gain can be got, with very little thought of the consequences. You see silly women, the wives of men whose families are mainly dependent on their lives, constantly urging on their husbands to extravagances which eat up the little provision which might have been made for themselves and their children when he is gone who earned their bread. There is no sadder sight, I think, than that which is not a very uncommon sight, the care-worn, anxious husband, laboring beyond his strength, often sorrowfully calculating how he may make the ends to meet, denying himself in every way; and the extravagant idiot of a wife, bedizened with jewellery and arrayed in velvet and lace, who tosses away his hard earnings in reckless extravagance; in entertainments which he cannot afford, given to people who do not care a rush for him; in preposterous dress; in absurd furniture; in needless men-servants; in green-grocers above measure; in resolute aping of the way of living of people with twice or three times the means. It is sad to see all the forethought, prudence, and moderation of the wedded pair confined to one of them. You would say that it will not be any solid consolation to the widow, when the husband is fairly worried into his grave at last,--when his daughters have to go out as governesses, and she has to let lodgings,--to reflect that while he lived they never failed to have champagne at their dinner parties; and that they had three men to wait at table on such occasions, while Mr. Smith, next door, had never more than one and a maidservant. If such idiotic women would but look forward, and consider how all this must end! If the professional man spends all he earns, what remains when the supply is cut off; when the toiling head and hand can toil no more? Ah, a little of the economy and management which must perforce be practiced after that might have tended powerfully to put off the evil day. Sometimes the husband is merely the care-worn drudge who provides what the wife squanders. Have you not known such a thing as that a man should be laboring under an Indian sun, and cutting down every personal expense to the last shilling, that he might send a liberal allowance to his wife in England; while she meanwhile was recklessly spending twice what was thus sent her; running up overwhelming accounts, dashing about to public balls, paying for a bouquet what cost the poor fellow far away much thought to save, giving costly entertainments at home, filling her house with idle and empty-headed scapegraces, carrying on scandalous flirtations; till it becomes a happy thing, if the certain ruin she is bringing on her husband’s head is cut short by the needful interference of Sir Cresswell Cresswell? There are cases in which tarring and feathering would soothe the moral sense of the right-minded onlooker. And even where things are not so bad as in the case of which we have been thinking, it remains the social curse of this age, that people with a few hundreds a year determinedly act in various respects as if they had as many thousands. The dinner given by a man with eight hundred a year, in certain regions of the earth which I could easily point out, is, as regards food, wine, and attendance, precisely the same as the dinner given by another man who has five thousand a year. When will this end? When will people see its silliness? In truth, you do not really, as things are in this country, make many people better off by adding a little or a good deal to their yearly income. For in all probability they were living up to the very extremity of their means before they got the addition; and in all probability the first thing they do, on getting the addition, is so far to increase their establishment and their expense that it is just as hard a struggle as ever to make the ends meet. It would not be a pleasant arrangement, that a man who was to be carried across the straits from England to France, should be fixed on a board so weighted that his mouth and nostrils should be at the level of the water, and thus that he should be struggling for life, and barely escaping drowning all the way. Yet hosts of people, whom no one proposes to put under restraint, do as regards their income and expenditure a precisely analogous thing. They deliberately weight themselves to that degree that their heads are barely above water, and that any unforeseen emergency dips their heads under. They rent a house a good deal dearer than they can justly afford; and they have servants more and more expensive than they ought; and by many such things they make sure that their progress through life shall be a drowning struggle; while, if they would rationally resolve and manfully confess that they cannot afford to have things as richer folk have them, and arrange their way of living in accordance with what they can afford, they would enjoy the feeling of ease and comfort; they would not be ever on the wretched stretch on which they are now, nor keeping up the hollow appearance of what is not the fact. But there are folk who make it a point of honor never to admit that in doing or not doing anything, they are actuated for an instant by so despicable a consideration as the question whether or not they can afford it. And who shall reckon up the brains which this social calamity has driven into disease, or the early paralytic shocks which it has brought on?
When you were very young, and looked forward to Future Years, did you ever feel a painful fear that you might outgrow your early home affections, and your associations with your native scenes? Did you ever think to yourself,--Will the day come when I have been years away from that river’s side, and yet not care? I think we have all known the feeling. O plain church to which I used to go when I was a child, and where I used to think the singing so very splendid! O little room where I used to sleep! and you, tall tree,--on whose topmost branch I cut the initials which perhaps the reader knows, did I not even then wonder to myself if the time would ever come when I should be far away from-you,--far away, as now, for many years, and not likely to go back,--and yet feel entirely indifferent to the matter? and did not I even then feel a strange pain in the fear that very likely it might? These things come across the mind of a little boy with a curious grief and bewilderment. Ah, there is something strange in the inner life of a thoughtful child of eight years old! I would rather see a faithful record of his thoughts, feelings, fancies, and sorrows, for a single week, than know all the political events that have happened during that space in Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Turkey. Even amid the great grief at leaving home for school in your early days, did you not feel a greater grief to think that the day might come when you would not care at all; when your home ties and affections would be outgrown; when you would be quite content to live on, month after month, far from parents, sisters, brothers, and feel hardly a perceptible blank when you remembered that they were far away? But it is of the essence of such fears, that, when the thing comes that you were afraid of, it has ceased to be fearful; still it is with a little pang that you sometimes call to remembrance how much you feared it once. It is a daily regret, though not a very acute one, (more’s the pity,) to be thrown much, in middle life, into the society of an old friend whom as a boy you had regarded as very wise, and to be compelled to observe that he is a tremendous fool. You struggle with the conviction; you think it wrong to give in to it; but you cannot help it. But it would have been a sharper pang to the child’s heart, to have impressed upon the child the fact, that ‘Good Mr. Goose is a fool, and some day you will understand that he is.’ In those days one admits no imperfection in the people and the things one likes. You like a person; and he is good. That seems the whole case. You do not go into exceptions and reservations.
I remember how indignant I felt, as a boy, at reading some depreciatory criticism of the Waverley Novels. The criticism was to the effect that the plots generally dragged at first, and were huddled up at the end. But to me the novels were enchaining, enthralling; and to hint a defect in them stunned one. In the boy’s feeling, if a thing be good, why, there cannot be anything bad about it. But in the man’s mature judgment, even in the people he likes best, and in the things he appreciates most highly, there are many flaws and imperfections. It does not vex us much now to find that this is so; but it would have greatly vexed us many years since to have been told that it would be so. I can well imagine, that, if you told a thoughtful and affectionate child, how well he would some day get on, far from his parents and his home, his wish would be that any evil might befall him rather than that! We shrink with terror from the prospect of things which we can take easily enough when they come. I dare say Lord Chancellor Thurlow was moderately sincere when he exclaimed in the House of Peers, ‘When I forget, my king, may my God forget me!’ And you will understand what Leigh Hunt meant, when, in his pleasant poem of The Palfrey, he tells us of a daughter who had lost a very bad and heartless father by death, that,
The daughter wept, and wept the more,
To think her tears would soon be o’er.
Even in middle age, one sad thought which comes in the prospect of Future Years is of the change which they are sure to work upon many of our present views and feelings. And the change, in many cases, will be to the worse. One thing is certain,--that your temper will grow worse, if it do not grow better. Years will sour it, if they do not mellow it. Another certain thing is, that, if you do not grow wiser, you will be growing more foolish. It is very true that there is no fool so foolish as an old fool. Let us hope, my friend, that, whatever be our honest worldly work, it may never lose its interest. We must always speak humbly about the changes which coming time will work upon us, upon even our firmest resolutions and most rooted principles; or I should say for myself that I cannot even imagine myself the same being, with bent less resolute and heart less warm to that best of all employments which is the occupation of my life. But there are few things which, as we grow older, impress us more deeply than the transitoriness of thoughts and feelings in human hearts. Nor am I thinking of contemptible people only, when I say so. I am not thinking of the fellow who is pulled up in court in an action for breach of promise of marriage, and who in one letter makes vows of unalterable affection, and in another letter, written a few weeks or months later, tries to wriggle out of his engagement. Nor am I thinking of the weak, though well-meaning lady, who devotes herself in succession to a great variety of uneducated and unqualified religious instructors; who tells you one week how she has joined the flock of Mr. A., the converted prize-fighter, and how she regards him as by far the most improving preacher she ever heard; and who tells you the next week that she has seen through the prize-fighter, that he has gone and married a wealthy Roman Catholic, and that now she has resolved to wait on the ministry of Mr. B., an enthusiastic individual who makes shoes during the week and gives sermons on Sundays, and in whose addresses she finds exactly what suits her. I speak of the better feelings and purposes of wiser, if not better folk. Let me think here of pious emotions and holy resolutions, of the best and purest frames of heart and mind. Oh, if we could all always remain at our best! And after all, permanence is the great test. In the matter of Christian faith and feeling, in the matter of all our worthier principles and purposes, that which lasts longest is best. This, indeed, is true of most things. The worth of anything depends much upon its durability,--upon the wear that is in it. A thing that is merely a fine flash and over only disappoints. The highest authority has recognized this. You remember Who said to his friends, before leaving them, that He would have them bring forth fruit, and much fruit. But not even that was enough. The fairest profession for a time, the most earnest labor for a time, the most ardent affection for a time, would not suffice. And so the Redeemer’s words were,--‘I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.’ Well, let us trust, that, in the most solemn of all respects, only progress shall be brought to us by all the changes of Future Years.’
But it is quite vain to think that feelings, as distinguished from principles, shall not lose much of their vividness, freshness, and depth, as time goes on. You cannot now by any effort revive the exultation you felt at some unexpected great success, nor the heart-sinking of some terrible loss or trial. You know how women, after the death of a child, determine that every day, as long as they live, they will visit the little grave. And they do so for a time, sometimes for a long time; but they gradually leave off. You know how burying-places are very trimly and carefully kept at first, and how flowers are hung upon the stone; but these things gradually cease. You know how many husbands and wives, after their partner’s death, determine to give the remainder of life to the memory of the departed, and would regard with sincere horror the suggestion that it was possible they should ever marry again; but after a while they do. And you will even find men, beyond middle age, who made a tremendous work at their first wife’s death, and wore very conspicuous mourning, who in a very few months may be seen dangling after some new fancy, and who in the prospect of their second marriage evince an exhilaration that approaches to crackiness. It is usual to speak of such things in a ludicrous manner, but I confess the matter seems to me anything but one to laugh at. I think that the rapid dying out of warm feelings, the rapid change of fixed resolutions, is one of the most sorrowful subjects of reflection which it is possible to suggest, Ah, my friends, after we die, it would not be expedient, even if it were possible, to come back. Many of us would not like to find how very little they miss us. But still, it is the manifest intention of the Creator that strong feelings should be transitory. The sorrowful thing is when they pass and leave absolutely no truce behind them. There should always be some corner kept in the heart for a feeling which once possessed it all. Let us look at the case temperately. Let us face and admit the facts. The healthy body and mind can get over a great deal; but there are some things which it is not to the credit of our nature should ever be entirely got over. Here are sober truth, and sound philosophy, and sincere feeling together, in the words of Philip van Artevelde:--
Well, well, she’s gone,
And I have tamed my sorrow.
Pain and grief
Are transitory things, no less than joy;
And though they leave us not the men we were,
Yet they do leave us.
You behold me here,
A man bereaved, with something of a blight
Upon the early blossoms of his life,
And its first verdure,--having not the less
A living root, and drawing from the earth
Its vital juices, from the air its powers:
And surely as man’s heart and strength are whole,
His appetites determinate, his heart
Re-opens, and his objects and desires
Spring up renewed.
But though Artevelde speaks truly and well, you remember how Mr. Taylor, in that noble play, works out to our view the sad sight of the deterioration of character, the growing coarseness and harshness, the lessening tenderness and kindliness, which are apt to come with advancing years. Great trials, we know, passing over us, may influence us either for the worse or the better; and unless our nature is a very obdurate and poor one, though they may leave us, they will not leave us the men we were. Once, at a public meeting, I heard a man in eminent station make a speech. I had never seen him before; but I remembered an inscription which I had read, in a certain churchyard far away, upon the stone that marked the resting-place of his young wife, who had died many years before. I thought of its simple words of manly and hearty sorrow. I knew that the eminence he had reached had not come till she who would have been proudest of it was beyond knowing it or caring for it. And I cannot say with what interest and satisfaction I thought I could trace, in the features which were sad without the infusion of a grain of sentimentalism, in the subdued and quiet tone of the man’s whole aspect and manner and address, the manifest proof that he had not shut down the leaf upon that old page of his history, that lie had never quite got over that great grief of earlier years. One felt better and more hopeful for the sight. I suppose many people, after meeting some overwhelming loss or trial, have fancied that they would soon die; but that is almost invariably a delusion. Various dogs have died of a broken heart, but very few human beings. The inferior creature has pined away at his master’s loss: as for us, it is not that one would doubt the depth and sincerity of sorrow, but that there is more endurance in our constitution, and that God has appointed that grief shall rather mould and influence than kill. It is a much sadder sight than an early death, to see human beings live on after heavy trial, and sink into something very unlike their early selves and very inferior to their early selves. I can well believe that many a human being, if he could have a glimpse in innocent youth of what he will be twenty or thirty years after, would pray in anguish to be taken before coming to that! Mansie Wauch’s glimpse of destitution was bad enough; but a million times worse is a glimpse of hardened and unabashed sin and shame. And it would be no comfort—it would be an aggravation in that view—to think that by the time you have reached that miserable point, you will have grown pretty well reconciled to it. That is the worst of all. To be wicked and depraved, and to feel it, and to be wretched under it, is bad enough; but it is a great deal worse to have fallen into that depth of moral degradation, and to feel that really you don’t care. The instinct of accommodation is not always a blessing. It is happy for us, that, though in youth we hoped to live in a castle or a palace, we can make up our mind to live in a little parsonage or a quiet street in a country town. It is happy for us, that, though in youth we hoped to be very great and famous, we are so entirely reconciled to being little and unknown. But it is not happy for the poor girl who walks the Haymarket at night that she feels her degradation so little. It is not happy that she has come to feel towards her miserable life so differently now from what she would have felt towards it, had it been set before her while she was the blooming, thoughtless creature in the little cottage in the country. It is only by fits and starts that the poor drunken wretch, living in a garret upon a little pittance allowed him by his relations, who was once a man of character and hope, feels what a sad pitch he has come to. If you could get him to feel it constantly, there would be some hope of his reclamation even yet.
It seems to me a very comforting thought, in looking on to Future Years, if you are able to think that you are in a profession or a calling from which you will never retire. For the prospect of a total change in your mode of life, and the entire cessation of the occupation which, for many years employed the greater part of your waking thoughts, and all this amid the failing powers and nagging hopes of declining, years, is both a sad and a perplexing prospect to a thoughtful person. For such a person cannot regard this great change simply in the light of a rest from toil and worry; he will know quite well what a blankness, and listlessness, and loss of interest in life, will come of feeling all at once that you have nothing at all to do. And so it is a great blessing, if your vocation be one which is a dignified and befitting one for an old man to be engaged in, one that beseems his gravity and his long experience, one that beseems even his slow movements and his white hairs. It is a pleasant thing to see an old man a judge; his years become the judgment-seat. But then the old man can hold such an office only while he retains strength of body and mind efficiently to perform its duties; and he must do all his work for himself: and accordingly a day must come when the venerable Chancellor resigns the Great Seal; when the aged Justice or Baron must give up his place; and when these honored Judges, though still retaining considerable vigor, but vigor less than enough for their hard work, are compelled to feel that their occupation is gone. And accordingly I hold that what is the best of all professions, for many reasons, is especially so for this, that you need never retire from it. In the Church you need not do all your duty yourself. You may get assistance to supplement your own lessening strength. The energetic young curate or curates may do that part of the parish work which exceeds the power of the ageing incumbent, while the entire parochial machinery has still the advantage of being directed by his wisdom and experience, and while the old man is still permitted to do what he can with such strength as is spared to him, and to feel that he is useful in the noblest cause yet. And even to extremest age and frailty,--to age and frailty which would long since have incapacitated the judge for the Bench—the parish clergyman may take some share in the much-loved duty in which he has labored so long. He may still, though briefly, and only now and then, address his flock from the pulpit, in words which his very feebleness will make far more touchingly effective than the most vigorous eloquence and the richest and fullest tones of his young coadjutors. There never will be, within the sacred walls, a silence and reverence more profound than when the withered kindly face looks as of old upon the congregation, to whose fathers its owner first ministered, and which has grown up mainly under his instruction,--and when the voice that falls familiarly on so many ears tells again, quietly and earnestly, the old story which we all need so much to hear. And he may still look in at the parish school, and watch the growth of a generation that is to do the work of life when he is in his grave; and kindly smooth the children’s heads; and tell them how One, once a little child, and never more than a young man, brought salvation alike to young and old. He may still sit by the bedside of the sick and dying, and speak to such with the sympathy and the solemnity of one who does not forget that the last great realities are drawing near to both. But there are vocations which are all very well for young or middle-aged people, but which do not quite suit the old. Such is that of the barrister. Wrangling and hair-splitting, browbeating and bewildering witnesses, making coarse jokes to excite the laughter of common jurymen, and addressing such with clap-trap bellowings, are not the work for grey-headed men. If such remain at the bar, rather let them have the more refined work of the Equity Courts, where you address judges, and not juries; and where you spare clap-trap and misrepresentation, if for no better reason, because, you know that these will not stand you in the slightest stead. The work which best befits the aged, the work for which no mortal can ever become too venerable and dignified or too weak and frail, is the work of Christian usefulness and philanthropy. And it is a beautiful sight to see, as I trust we all have seen, that work persevered in with the closing energies of life. It is a noble test of the soundness of the principle that prompted to its first undertaking. It is a hopeful and cheering sight to younger men, looking out with something of fear to the temptations and trials of the years before them. Oh! if the grey-haired clergyman, with less now, indeed, of physical strength and mere physical warmth, yet preaches, with the added weight and solemnity of his long experience, the same blessed doctrines now, after forty years, that he preached in his early prime; if the philanthropist of half a century since is the philanthropist still,--still kind, hopeful, and unwearied, though with the snows of age upon his head, and the hand that never told its fellow of what it did now trembling as it does the deed of mercy; then I think that even the most doubtful will believe that the principle and the religion of such men were a glorious reality! The sternest of all touchstones of the genuineness of our better feelings is the fashion in which they stand the wear of years.
But my shortening space warns me to stop; and I must cease, for the present, from these thoughts of Future Years,--cease, I mean, from writing about that mysterious tract before us: who can cease from thinking of it? You remember how the writer of that little poem which has been quoted asks Time to touch gently him and his. Of course he spoke as a poet, stating the case fancifully,--but not forgetting, that, when we come to sober sense, we must prefer our requests to an Ear more ready to hear us and a Hand more ready to help. It is not to Time that I shall apply to lead me through life into immortality! And I cannot think of years to come without going back to a greater poet, whom we need not esteem the less because his inspiration was loftier than that of the Muses, who has summed up so grandly in one comprehensive sentence all the possibilities which could befall him in the days and ages before him. “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory!” Let us humbly trust that in that sketch, round and complete, of all that can ever come to us, my readers and I may be able to read the history of our Future Years!
This is taken from Recreations of a Country Parson.
Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved