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and in the once sunny South of Europe the grapes no longer hang in purple clusters from the trellised vine. The noble oaks and elms which formerly adorned our glades have been displaced by the shivering pines and puny birches of Northern climes.
And man, too, how does he fare in a world over which the snows of age are falling fast ? Declining light, declining heat, declining vegetation, declining resources generally, have told upon the once lordly being who walked the earth with pride in his port and defiance in his eye. Wan in countenance and shrunken in muscle, his frame has become stunted like that of the children of Frost. Let this degeneracy be prolonged, as it must if the race is perpetuated, and may not the world be ultimately occupied by a tribe of pigmies? The length of individual life has also greatly diminished. Amongst the Buddhists there is a tradition that the duration of existence has been constantly lowering from a period of 80,000 years, at which it originally stood. down to its modern span, and that it will continue to contract until it reaches seven years; whilst in point of stature men will gradually dwindle away until they are no larger than your thumb.
The intellect, as well, has kept pace with the body in its decay. Sutfering not only from the cramped physique with which it is now associated, but also from the adverse external conditions under which men exist, and withering, too, under the decline of arts and social comforts, it has become so dwarfish in its development that little of its civilized brilliancy still survives. No more Platos, Miltons, Bunyans, Newtons, Davys, Humboldts, are born. No great books are composed. Not a single discovery is effected in the course of a year. The Houses of Parliament are occupied by small statesmen, whose sublimest efforts are not equal to the eloquence of an African Palaver. Royal Acade. mies and National Operas have become extinct institutions. In the pulpits, sermons are heard which would not have done credit to a sixyear-old schoolboy when the race was in its prime. The writing's and the inventions of former ages are becoming quite unintelligible. Youths at school get as far as vulgar fractions in arithmetic, or the pons asinorum in geometry, and then pull up under the impression that their education is complete. To master a single language fully is deemed a sufficient occupation for a whole life. And when poor fallen humanity casts its eye upon some relic of bygone grandeur-a ruined railway, a crumbling cathedral, a dilapidated picture, a mouldering volume which tells of the great feats the race has performed-it might well parody Swift's melancholy exclamation upon opening the “Tale of a Tub," as the shadows of lunacy were falling around him, " What a genius I must have had when I wrote that work!”
Let us not prolong this sombre speculation, however, by picturing the unhappy results which would ensue were the principle of decay admitted into other departments of nature. If, for example, the magnetism of the earth were to become so feeble that the needle responded but faintly to its calls, or so eccentric that no dependence could be placed upon its movements, it is enough to ask how commerce would
languish when ships were deprived of their trusty guides across the deep. If the electric force were now so superannuated that it could not even produce a few flashes of mild sheet lightning such as We are accustomed to witness on a summer's eve,-or if its stormiest manifestations were as delicate as the tremulous pulses of the Aurora Borealis,- who can tell how the earth would suffer from the change in her vegetative processes and in a variety of important phenomena ? Were the cohesive properties of matter to alter, would it not be miserable to know that iron was becoming brittle as glass, marble soft as clay or putty, and that ultimately granite itself would crumble into dust! Or, perhaps, the gravitating tendencies of the earth towards the sun might be slackening, and, in that case, provided the primitive impulse continued unabated, our planet would recede in space, and travel round its primary in a larger and drearier orbit than we could afford to pursue.
This, however, or something like this, might have been the appointed destiny of our planet. Doomed to decay, like the beings by whom it is inhabited, all its great agencies might now be suffering from the infirmities of senescence. Why they are not so we cannot comprehcnd. To keep them in ceaseless activity — for it must be remembered that they are "perpetual motions"—implies an inexhaustible stock of energy which none but a power that is truly divine could supply. If some of them, at least, had flagged in their labours—if, after undergoing the drudgeries of innumerable years, they had grown tired of their tasks—what could we have expected but that the machinery of Nature should break down, and all her phenomena fall into irreparable confusion! But it is not so. Ransack the whole creation, and not a single symptom of unquestionable decay, not a single token of absolute death, can be detected. The “greater light” still sparkles in the firmament with “unsuffering splendour,” for, fortunately,–
“ It is no task for suns to shine.”
The atmosphere has not become turbid with the fumes it constantly receives, nor fetid with the noisome effluvia which are emptied into it incessantly, as if it were a huge cesspool. Far above our heads the clouds are continually conveying the rich moisture from the sea, and dropping it upon the needy land. Yet these fleets of vapour have not lessened in number, nor have the showers they discharge been reduced in quantity. The soil has not deteriorated in its produce, still less has it sullenly refused to yield its fruits. Thousands of crops have been extracted from its bosom, millions of men have fed on its corn, myriads of animals have fattened on its herbage. Forests, with tons of timber in many of its trees, and green leaves countless as the sands on the shore, have risen and fallen, and yet the ground has gone to its work as gladly as if the toil of rearing oaks or banyans were nothing but simple play. Fire burns as cheerfully as ever, and the mean temperature of the earth continues precisely the same, for aught we know, as it was at the commencement of the human era. The winds never forget to blow, and the waves are rarely at rest. Nor has man vet yielded to his forefathers in point of stature, or fallen below them in point of strength ; his imagination is still as brilliant as theirs, and his intellect not less searching and profound.
Yet the Psalmist tells us, in a fine figure, that, compared with the eternity of God, the whole universe shall wax old like a garment, and like a vesture shall it be changed. And the Apostle Peter declares " that the heavens (the atmosphere) shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also, and the works that are therein (thereon), shall be burnt up." What this transformation may be no one can confidently predict; but that it will be preceded by a season of physical decrepitude and disorganization we have no right to assume. At the beck of the Creator those mighty ministers of His will, which now keep the world in action, will fulfil the task which may then be assigned them, and when the fires of purification have swept over its surface, and the memorials of man's art and man's iniquity have alike been destroyed in that avenging flame, the earth shall come forth, not consumed but simply changed- not re-placed but re-modelled—not groaning in bondage because of the curse, but rejoicing in its primal freedom—not with the guilty drapery of human depravity still clinging to its form, but clothed in the beautiful garments of righteousness and of peace.
OUR CHRISTMAS TIME.
I WROTE you last " in the March sunshine,” with the thrush singing on trees just beginning to take on their leaves. I write now after the glory and music of the summer has died, when the frost rime silvers the fruit-tree bolls, and when the wind is keen as the newly-sharpened scythe of the mower. At my last writing I sat in my garden, with the bland Spring air on my face: I write now with my curtains drawn, my fire cheerful, and my slippered feet resting on a footstool ; while Tom is coiled up in a ball sound asleep in the ruddy heat and light. Outside, the ground is hard as iron, the firmament is sparkling with innumerable sapphires, and over the low, dark hill, lo! the tender radiance that precedes the moon. Every window in the little village has its light, and to the traveller coming on, enveloped in his frosty breath, the whole place shines like a congregation of glowworms. A pleasant enough sight to him, I daresay, if his home is there. The canal is not such an agreeable promenade now as it was in March last. The barges come and go as usual, but at this season I don't envy the bargemen so much. The horse comes smoking along; the tarpaulin which covers the merchandise is coated with hoar frost; and the helmsman, smoking his short pipe for the mere heat of it, cowers over a few red cinders contained in a framework of iron. The labour of the poor fellows will soor: be over for a time, for if this frost continues the canal will be sheathed over in a night, and next day it will be covered with stones to test its strength, and a daring urchin that ventures upon it will go souse head over heels, and run blubbering home with his teeth in a chatter ; and the next-work will be struck, and the whole village will be upon the ice from ruddy dawn at nine, to ruddy eve at three ; and hours later, inveterate skaters will be moving ghostlike in the gloom—now one, now another, shooting on sounding irons into a space of clear frosty light, chasing the moon, or suddenly wheeling to cut across the image of a star. Happy youths, drinking the frosty wind! In the harder winters of forty years ago, I could skim as swallow-like as any of you. I am forced now, however, to seek other pleasures in the bitter season ; and, sooth to say, old December wears a jolly heart enough beneath his icy coat. Pluck up a single ivy leaf from the old wall, see what a jeweller he is. How the dark green, retaining yet its life, is silvered over with his frosts. Go into the woods, and behold on the black boughs his glories of pearl and diamond-pendant splendours that, smitten by the noon-ray, melt into tears, and fall but to congeal in splendours again. Nor does Winter work in black and white alone. He has on his palette more gorgeous colours than those in which swim the summer-setting suns ; and with these, about three o'clock, he begins to adorn his West, sticking his red-hot ball of a sun in the very midst ; and a couple of hours later, when the orb has fallen, and the flaming crimson has mellowed into liquid orange, you can see the black skeletons of trees scribbled upon the melancholy glory; infinitely weird, dreary, yet beautiful the sight, and has often before now brought tears to eyes not usually given to the melting mood. Nor need I speak of the magnificence of a winter midnight, when space is sombre blue, and every crowded star and planet in it “burnished by the frost," is glittering like the harness of an archangel full panoplied for a battle day.
And not only has winter its peculiar beauties, its spiritual whiteness after a whole night's snow, its depth of sunset tint, its starry splendours; but it has its own specialities of human kindnesses and remembrances. The heart warms as the frost increases ; estrangements, which have continued the whole year, melt in the smile of Christmas eve. There are warmer hand-shakings on that night than during the twelve months bye past. Friend lives in the mind of friend. There is more charity at that time than at any other. You get up at midnight, and toss your spare pence to the half-benumbed musicians standing ankle-deep in snow beneath your window, although at any other time you would consider their music a nuisance, and call loudly on the police. Poverty and scanty clothing, and empty grates, come home at that season of the year to the bosoms of the rich, and they give of
their abundance. The very redbreast of the woods enjoys his Christmas feast. This charity takes tangible shape in plum-puddings. The Master's words, “ the poor ye have always with you,” wear at that time a deeper significance. For at least one night of the year, over all Christendom there is brotherhood. And good men sitting amid their families, or by a solitary fire, like me, when they remember the great light that shone over the poor shepherds huddled on the Bethlehem plains eighteen hundred years ago, and the bands of angels that appeared, and the song of “Peace on earth and good-will toward men,” which for the first time hallowed the midnight air,- pray for that strain's fulfilment, that battle and strife should vex the nations no more, and that not only on Christmas eve, but the whole year round, men should be brethren, owning one Father in Heaven.
This, then, is Christmas-day, eighteen hundred and fifty-nine. Everything is silent in the little village. The smith's hammer reposes beside the anvil, the flying shuttle is at rest. Through the clear wintry sunshine, the bells rang from the grey church tower amid the leafless elms, and up the walk the villagers trooped in their best dresses and their best faces—some of these latter a little reddened by the keen frost—and took their places decently in the ancient pews. The clergyman,—who is no Boanerges or Chrysostom golden-mouthed, but a living, genial-hearted, and pious man, the whole field of his life from boyhood until now, full of charity and kindly deeds as yellow autumn field with heavy wheaten ears, and with as few traces of human weakness and gaudy poppies of pride and vanity scattered amongst it, as was ever man's lot, I believe ;-the clergyman, I say-for the sentence is getting unwieldy on my hands, and one must double back to secure connection-read out in that earnest silvery voice of his, sweeter than any music to my ear, the chapters of the New Testament that deal with our Saviour's birth. How the whole congregation hung on the good man's voice, as he spoke of the Child brought forth in a manger ; of the apparition of choiring angels that appeared in mid air to the shepherds ; of the miraculous star that took its station in the sky; and of the wise men that came from afar, and laid their gifts of frankincense and myrrh at the feet of the Child. With the story every listener was familiar, but on that day, and backed by the persuasive melody of the reader's voice, it seemed to all of them quite new, at least they listened as attentively as if it were. The discourse that followed possessed no novelty of doctrine, contained no remarkable thoughts, dealt simply with the goodness of the Maker of heaven and earth, on the shortness of time, on the Christian duties of thankfulness, and of charity to the poor; and I am persuaded that every one who heard it returned to his own house in a better frame of mind. On coming out, I noticed on one side of the church-walk a grave newly dug. Poor Farmer Goodman, he was to be buried that afternoon. When my eye fell upon it, I remembered quite well that on last Christmas-day he attended morning service, and when it was over, he walked with me to my own door. I dare say it touched the hearts of