Page images
PDF
EPUB

observers of Christmas*, so they were accustomed to greet new year's-day with mirth and good fellowship. The seat of the King of Christmas in the hall was filled by his marshal, and the master of the revels supplied the vacant seat of the marshal thus elevated to the throne of the sovereign. In truth, the gentlemen of Lincoln's-Inn seem to have lived "righte merrily" in ancient times, and never to have missed any excuse for a wassailing of which they could avail themselves.

Thus the custom of greeting the new year with mirth and revelling appears to have been general among nations ancient and modern. It arose, perhaps, from the conviction, that as life was environed with hazards and hung on a slender thread, they were fortunate to have gotten safely over another year. Like all impressions that are productive of similar effects, these were the result of sudden and pleasant impulses. There was only one other way in which they could have regarded the season, but that was far too reflective and philosophic for untutored minds. They never, in consequence, thought of the rapid tide of accumulating seasons hurrying them to an unknown existence and to the state of "cold obstruction." Though the lapse of every year brings us all nearer to the close of "life's fitful fever," we still exemplify Young's line

"All men think all men mortal but themselves ;" and in consequence of this only a few among the great mass of mankind observe the noiseless foot of time stealing by them, and robbing them of a portion of life at every step. But we shall be told, like Hamlet, if we consider the subject farther in this light, "that it were to consider too curiously to consider so.

There is great pleasnre sometimes in following the multitude, and taking its unstudied views of things. The new season seems naturally to bring with it anticipations of good fortune, and thus it heightens the deceptions which reconcile us to life, or rather increase our love of it. In truth, the entrance of the new year has peculiar charms:-the lengthening days, the earth about to rise from the cheerless sleep of winter, the exhilarating feelings at the approach of Spring, the incipient song of birds, the increasing sunshine, are all calculated to repress sad thoughts by the delicious sensations they inspire. It is the character of human nature to fling itself confidently upon the future, and even to "leap amid its darkness." The past is beyond our power, the present is become the past ere we can reflect upon it: man, therefore, has only the future for the haven, in which he can anchor his little bark of expectations, and he looks to it with delight, always flattering himself that there he shall find good holding-ground, and see

"The seas for ever calm, the skies for ever bright."

The greetings and wine-cups that usher in the new year are not wholly empty ceremonies. The division of time entered upon has a thousand hopes on its wings. We are dependant upon it for many things which we have to achieve, or which we promise ourselves will be achieved for us. Our approaching crops will be more plentiful than those of the last year, because the season has been fine, and we have bestowed additional pains in sowing them (not that this literally would

Sce vol. ii. p. 611.

be of much advantage to individuals in some nations during the present topsy-turvy days), our South Sea whalers will turn out well, we shall pay off a mortgage, or come into a fortune: these anticipations heighten the flavour of the new year's wine, and give a heartiness to its greetings. But it is in early youth, when our anticipations are not of so precarious a nature, when the past leaves few recollections of joy or sorrow, that our pictures of the new year display the most vivid colouring. Reason lies inert at that Spring season of life-the future teems with views of pleasure, which, in many instances, we cannot miss. We then arose early from our beds, with

"No thought of ills to come

Nor cares beyond to-day."

The compliments of the season were repeated, now nearly gone out of fashion; we received our new year's gifts with a pleasure, the remembrance of which even now warms us, and we gazed with eyes of ardent affection on the parents and friends that were the donors. As we add another year or two of youth, we rejoice that the next new year will place us beyond the limits of parental authority, little reflecting how small a reason we have for pleasure at this. The lover hails the new era as that in which he shall consummate his happiness in the arms of a mistress-the heiress as the time when she shall escape the watchful eye of her guardian—and the maid when she shall become the wife and the mother; in short, to all in whom the reign of passion has not been succeeded by that of lukewarmness and reason, the new year is

a season of

"Vernal delight and joy."

Happy period of youth! the most delightful paradise of the visionary or the poet would be wanting in its attractions, if thou didst not reign in it perennially.

In the decline of manhood and in age we have comparatively little to do with vivid anticipations: then is the past period of life all we can draw upon : then we recal images coloured with the dark hues of a Rembrandt, and make reflections on a new year's day very dissimilar from those of youth and the multitude. We can then think of and love only old things, and make an unsatisfying meal upon retrospections. Then revellings at the new year are like meat to the sick man, regarded without desire, and swallowed without taste or appetite. Then memory may call up the sensations with which we once greeted it-the parental gift-the mother's smile, on presenting us the promised toythe paternal commendation at our past progress in learning-the glee and honest undamped vivacity, to which we gave way-the joyous swell of our little hearts at the postponement of the bed hour, and the indulgences allowed us at that season. We may go to maturer recollections in more advanced youth, and recal the sweetness of our first love, and our outset in life, with its keenly enjoyed pleasures and its vivid emotions. But all these are brought forward, as it were, only to remind us of their evanescence and our present incapacity of re-enjoying them; for even if our rigid members and slowly-beating pulses were capable of a momentary liveliness and fluttering we cannot find the participators in our youthful happiness-we must exclaim,

"Where is the parent that look'd on my childhood,

And where is the bosom-friend dearer than all !"

and we might indeed be answered by Echo-" Where!"

But the merry village-bells ring in the stranger year over the generations sleeping insensibly beneath them. To a thousand ears in the full flush of life, youth, and health, they waft sounds of gladness, and "Another year, and then those sounds shall hail

The day again, and gladness fill the vale."

"Another year" and again the " jolly rebecks" will sound and the same merriment be repeated, for even the pleasures of life are but a string of such stale repetitions. Still let us make the most of them, and not live too much upon those of " to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow," but endeavour to employ and enjoy well the present time-let us be more anxious to be able to call truly our past years happy ones at their conclusion, as to hope at the beginning that each new one may turn out to be so.

ར.

SIMPLICITY.

From wealthy Ormus' pearly bed

Let Beauty deck her braided hair,
And glittering rays of splendour shed
From every gem that nestles there;
Reckless of Freedom's sacred call

Let Afric bid her children toil,
And give to grace yon pageant hall
The rifled honours of her soil;
But say, can such delights impart
A smile to Virtue's chasten'd eye?
Ah, no! she turns with aching heart
To thee, divine Simplicity!

With thee she loves at break of dawn
To climb the hill's aspiring height,
With thee to rove th' enspangled lawn
When gently swells the gale of Night;
To seek the soft retiring dell

Where Spring its earliest visit paid,
Where Summer's lingering beauties dwell,
And Autumn courts the sober shade;

To gather thence the fairest gem

That graces Nature's diadem,

As gladden'd by the kindly shower
She sits enthroned in Flora's bower!

Then, farewell Wealth and Grandeur too!
Ah, what is all your pomp to me
Whilst mine the joys ye never knew-
The joys of loved Simplicity?
Give me to cull with tender hand

The straggling sweets of Nature's reign;

I'll covet not the fairy-wand

Which sways rich Fancy's genii-train!

Give me the gentle heart to share

In all those joys, to Nature true

The breast those straggling sweets to wear-
Then, Wealth farewell, and Grandeur too!

S. C.

THE PIRATE. BY THE AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY.

66

We trust that we are not deficient in gratitude to the great Scottish novelist for the abundant delight which he ministers to us, even in the lowest of his works; but we cannot quite join in the shout of boundless exultation, nor subscribe to all the tremendous eulogies, with which some of our contemporaries hail every production of his genius. With some of these it is the mere cant of criticism to suggest that there is any falling off, or any repetition in his works, and it is an audacious heresy to" hint a fault or hesitate dislike" respecting any of his creations. We are more reasonable, we frankly confess, in our idolatry: though we admire "The Pirate" it is "with a difference;" nor are we quite convinced that if none of its predecessors had appeared, it would excite exactly the same sensation which was produced by " Waverley." Without resorting to the ordinary and shallow theory, that the powers of observation and invention in an original writer are necessarily exhausted by frequent publication, we may, we think, easily perceive why his works should alter for the worse as he proceeds in a rapid career. His first love of the employment grows naturally cold, or degenerates into a mere craving after the excitements of applause, or a desire for the more solid rewards of his labours. His own peculiar feeling-the "primal sympathy" with his works-wears out as his tact of authorship advances. He writes not to indulge his genius, but to please his booksellers, and to satisfy the expectations of the public. This new inspiration excites him to a different course, and produces more stiffness, more constraint, and more nicely-balanced incident and character, than would be found in the voluntary pouring forth of a free and exuberant mind gliding at " its own sweet will" through the fair regions of imagination and of humanity which it has chosen.

The peculiar excellences of our author-his power of conceiving and delineating character-his command of descriptive allusion—and the" mighty magic" of his commune with the wild superstitions of the North are not of casts likely to endure, through successive works, in their original vigour. In characteristic delineations, the very recollection of previous success is unfavourable to continued excellence. As the author becomes conscious of his own skill, he unavoidably infuses something of a kindred consciousness into the persons whom he draws. They have less of truth and unaffected nature, and more theatrical pretension, than those which were hit off in the first moments of his inspiration. They become, though it may sound paradoxical, too consistent; that is, they are too perpetually intent on their own peculiarities, and these are obtruded on the notice of the reader far more frequently than are the most characteristic traits of any whom we meet with in actual life. There is also an evident design to fill up and heighten previous sketches; to add the pomp of circumstance to figures which are only encumbered by the apparel, and to push every hint, which has once succeeded, to a dangerous extreme. That which before was made visible by a single glowing flash, is now brought out" into the light of common day," and we are invited minutely to examine and admire its proportions. As there is more stiffness in individual figures, so there is an elaborate art in the grouping, which destroys the effect of the picture. Each finely elaborated creation revolves in its own separate orbit

instead of joining in the mazy round in linked union. The creatures do not come tumbling into life, fresh from the teeming brain, in glorious confusion, but are coldly arranged in picturesque attitudes. Instead of the perpetual undulation of thought, the gay variety of healthful forms, the perpetual melting of things into each other, all is carefully distinguished and contrasted. We feel no more the careless plenitude, we revel no more in the unbounded prodigality of genius; we have leisure to admire the author, instead of luxuriating delighted in his creations.

The charm also which the Scotch novels derived from allusions to external nature, was peculiarly liable to be dissipated and weakened in their progress. This charm consisted not in the exquisite pictures of extended scenery-not even in the vivid description of particular objects -but in the familiar allusion to the beauties of Nature and to the feelings which they excited, copiously scattered through the busiest and most eventful portions of the history. Mere naked description is comparatively an inferior art, and scarcely ever produces very intense or elevated sensations; but nothing can be more delicious than to feel the influences of the quiet earth and heaven mingling with and tempering more passionate emotions. But as the author proceeds, as he learns more distinctly his own faculties, and as every object in his works assumes more of separate identity, he will naturally elaborate his descriptions as descriptions, and can scarcely recur, even if he would, to the bright throng of intermingled hints, traits, and images, which he poured out from the mere impulse of delighted power.

The supernatural touches of our author would still less bear to be frequently repeated. Nothing, indeed, can more decidedly shew the influence of composition re-acting on the mind of an author, than the circumstance that setting out with a manifest tendency to superstition and an eager love of the marvellous, he has, in the end of this his last work, disappointed all the strange fears which he has excited in its progress, and made his awe-stirring character finally sensible of the vanity of her own pretensions! The undefined feeling of delicious terror-the longing to find in unusual phenomena indications of something more than mortal, will soon wear out in the mind which sets down its sensations in a note-book, and thinks how they can be most artfully disposed to awaken interest in the public. It is very curious and edifying to observe the progress of this alteration in the mind of the author of Waverley. At first his supernatural terrors were interwoven with the very threads of existence. He infused his own spirit into the blood of his enchanted readers. In his works, dim intimations found answering realities; enthusiasm verged on inspiration; and the dreams of fond credulity were scarcely distinguishable from the solemnities of death and life. But his genuine sense of the mysterious soon decayed when it became food for common wonder; and instead of the marvels told, as it were, under the breath-instead of the fine uncertainty in which we were so tremulously bewildered, we had prodigies which no one could believe for a moment-second-sight clearly developed-visions" plenty as blackberries"-witches in immediate communication with the evil one-and prophecies fulfilled to the letter. But even the power which sustained these cold fantasies has decayed; and in" The Pirate" our wonder is excited only to be destroyed by those most

« PreviousContinue »