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it is in some of the harmonies of Arcangelo Corelli. And the recitative of Handel's divine strain, “ There were shepherds abiding in the fields,” is as exquisite for truth and simplicity as the cheek of innocence. See what Milton has sung of these angelic symphonies in the ode “ On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.” Shakespeare has touched upon Christmas Eve with a reverential tenderness, sweet as if he had spoken it hushingly.
“Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes,
Upon which (for it is a character in Hamlet who is speaking) Horatio observes, in a sentence remarkable for the breadth of its sentiment as well as the niceness of its sincerity (like the whole of that apparently favorite character of the poet, who loved a friend),
“So have I heard, and do in part believe it :”
that is to say, he believed all that was worthy, and recognized the balmy and Christian effect produced upon welldisposed and sympathetic minds by reflections on the season.
The Waits, that surprise us with music in the middle of the night, evidently originated in honor of the heavenly visitation. They are, unfortunately, not apt to be very celestial of their kind. There is a fellow in particular, that plays the bass, who seems to make a point of being out of tune. He has two or three notes that are correct enough, that enable him to finish in a style of grandeur and self-satisfaction, but his “by-play,” for the most part, is horrible. However, the very idea of music is good, especially in the middle of the night; and a little imagination and Christian charity, together with a consideration of his cold fingers, will help us to be thankful for his best parts, and slip as we can over his worst. When the English become a more musical people, zealous amateurs will volunteer their services on fine nights, and, going forth with their harps and guitars, charm their friends and neighbors with strains rendered truly divine by the hour and the occasion, —
Answering the stringed noise.” (See Milton'seade, as above-mentioned.)
“ Soft stillness and the night
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
A Christmas day, to be perfect, should be clear and cold, with holly branches in berry, a blazing fire, a dinner with mince-pies, and games and forfeits in the evening. You cannot have it in perfection, if you are very fine and fashionable. Neither, alas ! can it be enjoyed by the very poor; so that, in fact, a perfect Christmas is impossible to be had, till the progress of things has distributed comfort more equally. But when we do our best, we are privileged to enjoy our utmost; and charity gives us a right to hope. The completest enjoyer of Christmas (next to a lover who has to receive forfeits from his mistress), is the holiday school-boy who springs up early, like a bird, darting hither and thither, out of sheer delight, thinks of his mince-pies half the morning, has too much of them when they come (pardon him this once), roasts chestnuts and cuts apples half the evening, is conscious of his new silver in his pocket, and laughs at every piece of mirth with a loudness that rises above every other noise. Next day what a pegtop will he not buy! what string, what nuts, what gingerbread! And he will have a new clasp-knife, and pay three times too much for it. Sour oranges also will he suck, squeezing their cheeks into his own with staring eyes; and his mother will tell him they are not good for him, — and let him go on.
A Christmas evening should, if possible, finish with music. It carries off the excitement without abruptness, and sheds a repose over the conclusion of enjoyment.
A word respecting the more serious part of the day's subject alluded to above. It is but a word, but it may sow a seed of reflection in some of the best natures, especially in these days of perplexity between new doctrines and old. It appears to us, that there is a point never enough dwelt upon, if at all, by those who attempt to bring about a reconciliation between belief and the want of it. It is addressed only to the believers in a Providence, but those who have that belief, if they have no other, are a numerous body. The point is this, — that Christianity, to say the least of it, is a GREAT EVENT. It has had a wonderful effect on the world, and still has, even in the workings of its apparently unfilial daughter, modern philosophy, who could never have been what she is but for the doctrine of boundless sympathy, grafted upon the elegant self-reference of the Greeks, and the patriotism of the Romans, which was so often a mere pretext for the most unneighborly injustice. Now so great an event must have been in the contemplation of Providence, - one of the mountain-tops of its manifestation; and, if we say, even of a Shakespeare and a Plato (and not without reason), that there is something “divine " in them, that is to say, something partaking of a more energetic and visible portion of the mysterious spirit breathed into mankind, how much more, and with how much more reverential a love, ought we not to have a divine impression of the nature of Him, who drew the great line between the narrowness of the Old World and the universalities of the New, and uttered to the earth, through the angelical organ of his whole being, life and death, that truly celestial doctrine, “ Think of others !”
NEW YEAR'S GIFTS.
7ORMERLY, everybody made presents on New
Year's Day, as they still do in Paris, where
our lively neighbors turn the whole metrops olis into a world of cakes, sweetmeats, jewel
lery, and all sorts of gifts and greetings. The Puritans checked that custom, out of a notion that it was superstitious, and because the heathens did it; which was an odd reason, and might have abolished many other innocent and laudable practices — eating itself, for one — and going to bed. Innumerable are the authorities which (had we lived in those days) we would have brought up in behalf of those two customs, in answer to the New-Year'sDay-knocking-down folios of Mr. Prynne, the great “blasphemer of custard.” Unfortunately if the Puritans thought gift-giving superstitious, the increasing spirit of commerce was too well inclined to admit half its epithet, and regard the practice as, at least, superfluous — a thing over and above — and what was not always productive of
a "consideration.” “Nothing is given for nothing nowadays,” as the saying is. Nay, it is doubtful whether next to nothing will always be given for something. There are people, we are credibly informed, taken for persons “ well to do” in the world, and of respectable character, who will even turn over the pages of the “London Journal,” and narrowly investigate whether there is enough wit, learning, philosophy, lives, travels, poetry, voyages, and romances in it, for three halfpence.*
This must be mended, or there will be no such thing as a New Year by and by Novelty will go out; the sun will halt in the sky, and prudent men sharply consider whether they have need of common perception.
Without entering into politics, something is to be said, nowadays, for an Englishman's being averse to making presents; and, as it behooves us to make the best of a bad thing, reasons might be shown also why it is not so well to have a formal and official sort of day for making presents, as to leave them to more spontaneous occasions. Besides, if everybody gives and everybody receives, where, it may be asked, is the compliment? And how are people to know whether they would have given or received anything, had it not been the custom ?
How are they to be sure, whether a very pretty present is not a positive insult, till they compare it with what has been received by others? And how are men in office and power to be sure that in the gifts of their inferiors there is anything but self-seeking and bribery? It was formerly
* Such a one was not Walter Savage Landor, who thus wrote, from Italy to a friend in England: “Let me recommend to you Leigh Hunt's ‘London Journal,' three halfpence a week. It contains neither politics nor scandal, but very delightful things in every department of graceful literature." - ED.