It always grieves me to contemplate the initiation of children into the ways of life when they are scarcely more than infants. It checks their confidence and simplicity, two of the best qualities that Heaven gives them, and demands that they share our sorrows before they are capable of entering into our enjoyments.
There is nothing, no, nothing, innocent or good, that dies and is forgotten: let us hold to that faith or none. An infant, a prattling child, dying in its cradle will live again in the better thoughts of those who loved it, and play its part, through them, in the redeeming actions of the world, though its body be burnt to ashes, or drowned in the deepest sea. There is not an angel added to the host of heaven but does its blessed work on earth in those that loved it here. Forgotten! oh, if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear! for how much charity, mercy, and purified affection would be seen to have their growth in dusty graves!
Oh, it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach; but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty universal truth. When death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of Mercy, Charity, and Love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the destroyers steps there spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to heaven.
It is something to look upon enjoyment, so that it be free and wild, and in the face of nature, though it is but the enjoyment of an idiot. It is something to know that Heaven has left the capacity of gladness in such a creatures breast; it is something to be assured that, however lightly men may crush that faculty in their fellows, the great Creator of mankind imports it even to His despised and slighted work. Who would not rather see a poor idiot happy in the sunlight than a wise man pining in a darkened jail?
Ye men of gloom and austerity, who paint the face of Infinite Benevolence with an eternal frown, read in the Everlasting Book, wide open to your view, the lesson it would teach. Its pictures are not in black and sombre hues, but bright and glowing tints; its musicsave when ye drown itis not in sighs and groans, but songs and cheerful sounds. Listen to the million voices in the summer air, and find one dismal as your own. Remember, if ye can, the sense of hope and pleasure which every glad return of day awakens in the breast of all your kind who have not changed their nature; and learn some wisdom even from the witless, when their hearts are lifted up they know not why, by all the mirth and happiness it brings.
If ever household affections and love are graceful things, they are graceful in the poor. The ties that bind the wealthy and the proud at home may be forged on earth, but those which link the poor man to his humble hearth are of the true metal and bear the stamp of heaven. The man of high descent may love the halls and lands of his inheritance as a part of himself, as trophies of his birth and power; the poor mans attachment to the tenement he holds, which strangers have held before, and may to-morrow occupy again, has a worthier root, struck deep into a purer soil. His household gods are of flesh and blood, with no alloy of silver, gold, or precious stones; he has no property but in the affections of his own heart; and when they endear bare floors and walls, despite of toil and scanty meals, that man has his love of home from God, and his rude hut becomes a solemn place.
There are chords in the human heartstrange varying stringswhich are only struck by accident; which will remain mute and senseless to appeals the most passionate and earnest, and respond at last to the slightest casual touch. In the most insensible or childish minds there is some train of reflection which art can seldom lead, or skill assist, but which will reveal itself, as great truths have done, by chance, and when the discoverer has the plainest and simplest end in view.
We are men of secluded habits, with something of a cloud upon our early fortunes; whose enthusiasm, nevertheless, has not cooled with age; whose spirit of romance is not yet quenched; who are content to ramble through the world in a pleasant dream, rather than ever waken again to its harsh realities. We are alchemists, who would extract the essence of perpetual youth from dust and ashes, tempt coy Truth in many light and fairy forms from the bottom of her well, and discover one crumb of comfort, or one grain of good, in the commonest and least regarded matter that passes through our crucible. Spirits of past times, creatures of imagination, and people of to-day, are alike the objects of our seeking; and, unlike the objects of search with most philosophers, we can injure their coming at our command.
Alas! how few of natures faces there are to gladden us with their beauty! The cares, and sorrows, and hungerings of the world change them as they change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold forever, that the troubled clouds pass off, and leave heavens surface clear. It is a common thing for the countenances of the dead, even in that fixed and rigid state, to subside into the long-forgotten expression of sleepless infancy, and settle into the very look of early life; so calm, so peaceful, do they grow again, that those who knew them in their happy childhood kneel by the coffins side in awe, and see the angel even upon earth.
There is a kind of sleep which steals upon us sometimes, which, while it holds the body prisoner, does not free the mind from a sense of things about it, but enables it to ramble as it pleases. So far as an overpowering heaviness, a prostration of strength, and an utter inability to control our thoughts or power of motion, can be called sleep, this is it; and yet we have a consciousness of all that is going on about us, and even if we dream, words which are really spoken, or sounds which really exist at the moment, accommodate themselves with surprising readiness to our visions, until reality and imagination become so strangely blended that it is afterwards almost a matter of impossibility to separate the two. Nor is this the most striking phenomenon incidental to such a state. It is an ascertained fact, that though our senses of touch and sight be for the time dead, yet our sleeping thoughts and the visionary scenes that pass before us will be influenced by the mere silent presence of some external object, which may not have been near us when we closed our eyes, and of whose vicinity we have no waking consciousness.
She raised her eyes to the bright stars, looking down so mildly from the wide worlds of air; and, gazing on them, found new stars burst upon her view; and more beyond, and more beyond again, until the whole great expanse sparkled with shining spheres, rising higher and higher in immeasurable space, eternal in their numbers as in their changeless and incorruptible existence. She bent over the calm river, and saw them shining in the same majestic order as when the dove beheld them gleaming through the swollen waters, upon the mountain-tops down far below, and dead mankind a million fathoms deep.