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mankind are naturally gamblers, and are ever ready to risk their accustomed pleasures for the chance of new ones. Those who have once lost their hearts to Fortune can never be persuaded that she will continue indifferent to their claims, however scornfully she may treat them for a while. The advice of the wise, and their own sad experience are equally unprofitable to those who are blinded by ambition and self-will. Men of ardent temperaments, and of an active life which leaves little time for thought, have generally a very slight regard for the past, and launch all their happiness on the deceitful future. They fancy themselves more shrewd and practical than the philosopher, who, because he occasionally retraces his path in the soft twilight of imagination, is considered a visionary idler. They know not the stuff of which life is made, and are themselves in a wild delusion. What is the future, for which they wear out their hearts and minds with such incessant toil ?-a nonentity—the dream of a dream. The past, on the other hand, is a storehouse of treasures that are lodged beyond the reach of fate. While we have life and memory they
We could not have them longer. This is equivalent to an eternity of enjoyment, for it ends but with our consciousness of good and evil. The future is rife with disappointment. The present glides by us while we breathe its name. We may as well endeavour to grasp water in the hand, as to retain such a small and slippery division of human life. It is, indeed, an inexpressibly insignificant portion of existence, and is chiefly valuable as we make it worthy to live in our recollection after its departure. As the past then forms so large a share of our being, it is strange that men should bring themselves to regard it with indifference, and to waste all their thoughts upon things and seasons yet unborn. As we cannot take a last look at the meanest material object around which is breathed an atmosphere of old associations, it seems almost inexplicable that we should be so ready to insult the departing year with the loud peals of joyance. Our ancient friend is laden with a weight of many cares and pleasures ; but because the stores are familiar and the bearer is old, ought both to be despised ? If a strange face and untried goods are at our door, and the old guest must necessarily resign his place to the new one, this merriment at parting with the former is at least ill-timed. As he glides away from the scene into the shades of night, with what a child-like eagerness do men clamorously welcome his successor, who comes like a plausible pedlar from a foreign land. They gaze greedily on his glittering wares, and grasp at the brittle bubbles of hope, the gilded dross of avarice, and the drums and rattles of ambition.
I know nothing of the future. I look upon the past as a welltried friend that has departed for an eternal exile. Its evil qualities are written on water, its good on adamant. I lament that it is gone, and grieve that I did not better appreciate its worth before. I see it now through an altered medium, unblinded by fear or hope or passion. I cannot scan the advancing year with the same facility and precision. The future is like the mist that hangs about the dawn of day. Coming objects loom largely in the shade, but dwindle as the light increases. The past is like an evening landscape bathed in the lingering glory of a departed sun. Our retrospections are generally of a nature far more pure and holy than our hopes and our desires. The evil-minded do not dwell fondly upon the past. Men love to recall the memory of their best actions, and not their worst. The stern and heartless rush recklessly forward,
“ And cast no longing, lingering, look behind.”
The gaiety of ingenuous childhood—the first smile of innocent love-the cordiality and disinterestedness of youthful friendship -our earliest impressions of the beauty of human life and the loveliness of external nature—the whispered prayers at a mother's knee ere the consciousness of sin made us dread our great Creator—these are amongst the many recollections that hallow and endear the past, and which would be ill exchanged for the vague and uncertain visions of the future.
Even if the past has been to some a season of affliction, who can say that the new year will be less unhappy? We know the worst of the one—we know literally nothing of the other. The dreariest path has ever some few verdant spots that may be looked back upon with a feeling of interest, and even remembered sorrows do not irritate us like those which are anticipated, but on the contrary often assume an aspect that is strangely pleasing. Their bitterness has passed away. If Hope never deviates from her onward path, nor mingles in the train of departing seasons, Memory is a safer and sweeter though less brilliant com. panion, and her footsteps are unfollowed by the fiend Despair. I have already adverted to the pure and virtuous and refined emotions which are awakened by the contemplation of the past. Let those who doubt the truth of this reflect, how much more ready they are to forgive old injuries or vexations than such as are experienced in the present or anticipated in the future. We recollect ancient quarrels with self-accusation and a generous allowance. Former rivalries and contests now seem to have been unnecessarily fierce and virulent. A change has come over us, and our hearts are softened. We cannot dwell, therefore, too much upon the past. It is a gentle teacher of virtue, wisdom and benevolence. We listen to its solemn voice with a mysterious reverence and a severe delight. The most trivial relics of our earlier life are treasured things. They gleam out from the dusky shadows of departed years like gems seen by moonlight.“ Heaven lies about us in our infancy."
Our first pure pleasures are yet in Memory's holy keeping. However rough and dreary may be our onward pilgrimage, she, like a heavenly spirit, still haunts and cheers us with her magic mirror.
It were a pitiful philosophy that would deprive us of such enchantments as these, and make us look upon the varied and delightful volume of the past as a dead letter. Thoughts are things, and form as essential a part of our actual existence, as our flesh and blood.
We should reckon not our life by years and days, but by what we do and think. In this way a short life might be made a long one, by the quantity of ideas and deeds that would be crowded into its narrow span. Such is the life of angels, and the only one that is worthy of intellectual beings. Spirits have no marks of time. The idler and the slumberer only exist at intervals, for vacuity and sleep are a partial death.
The noon of night is fast approaching. Now for the farewell toll to the departing year, and the shouts of welcome to the stranger! But hark !—the clock has struck! The mystic change is over. The new year has come—the old one has departed. As at the death and succession of mighty monarchs, we mingle sighs and gratulations, and merriment and mourning. It is a sample of the varieties and incongruities of human life. We resemble those hasty and fickle lovers who receive a new partner ere the predecessor is cold and buried. The gay bridal chariot dashes against the slow solemn hearse. The funeral baked meats furnish forth the marriage table. But let others run riot as they may at the fresh arrival, and worship the rising sun, my own heart still yearns towards the vanished year. I have learnt its worst qualities and its best, and the first are softened and the last increased by the tender hand of Time. Before me all is darkness. I see not
“ Through what variety of untried being,
Through what new scenes and dangers I must pass.”
With reference to the future I can be certain but of one solemn fact, that the new year brings me nearer to that awful period, when even the past, which now lives so vividly in remembrance, will be utterly annihilated, and
“ This sensible warm motion will become
A kneaded clod."
I turn from this chilling prospect with stifled breath, and think of “the blind cave of eternal night” with a dread revulsion ;-for I love the blue skies, the green fields and the crystal air. I would still listen to the sound of merry voices, and meet the radiant faces of the young and gay. I would study and commune with living wisdom, and trace the wondrous intellectual advances of mankind. Oh! it is terrible to receive a mandate to depart
“ From the warm precincts of the cheerful day,"
ere youth and hope have left us. To quit the glittering and crowded theatre of life, for the dark, solitary and silent cell of death. To be forced from the scene at a fate-fraught period like the present, when such mighty moral revolutions are at work, is like being dragged from the spectacle of an unfinished drama at the moment when we are most interested in its progress. But, alas! the fairest and the proudest of human beings must bow submissively to the stern voice of Asrael, come when he may, and lie in “cold obstruction," while many a loathsome reptile is basking in the pleasant sun! Our dearest friends and kindred, our own cherished offspring, will at last walk over the cold, damp sod which presses upon our breasts, with as much gaiety and thoughtlessness as if we had never been.
It is a law of our nature that the image of death is ever thrust from our minds by the strong antagonist principle of vitality, and while our veins are supplied with pure and healthy blood the visions of the charnel house are faint and powerless. They may laugh at death who do not vividly apprehend its nature. The