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BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
We take no note of time,
To give a language to time, for the preservation of its records, and the utterance of its lessons, has been amongst the occupations of man, from the day when first he found himself in its mysterious presence, down to these latter ages of the world ;-and yet, all the resources of his ingenuity, impelled by all the aspirations of his heart, have only succeeded in supplying it with an imperfect series of hieroglyphics, difficult in their acquirement and uncertain in their use. Ages upon ages of the young world have passed away, of which the old hath no chronicle. Genera- . tions after generations of men have “made their bed in the darkness,” and left no monuments. Of the crowded memorials reared by others along the stream of time, many (and those the mightiest) are written in a cypher, of which the key is lost. The wrappings of the mummy are letters of a dead language ; and no man can translate the ancient story of the pyramid !
We have learnt to speak of time, because it is that portion of eternity with which we have presently to do, -as if it were a whit more intelligible-less vague, abstract, and unimaginable—than that eternity of which it is a part. He who can conceive of the one, must be able to embrace the awful image of the other. We
think of time as of a section of eternity, separated and intrenched by absolute limits ;-and thus, we seem to have arrived at a definite idea, surrounded by points on which the mind can rest. But, when the imagination sets out upon the actual experiment and discovers that those limits are not assignable, save on one only side,-and finds but a single point on which to rest its failing wing,--and looks from thence, along an expanse whose boundaries are nowhere else within the range of its restricted vision,then does the mortal bird return into its mortal nest, wearied with its ineffectual flight; and convinced that a shoreless ocean, and one whose shores it cannot see, are alike formless and mysterious to its dim and feeble gaze.
And yet, notwithstanding the connexion of these two ideas-of time and of eternity-(the notion of the former being only reached through the latter)—we deal familiarly, and even jestingly, with the one, while the mind approaches the other with reverential awe. Types, and symbols, and emblems—and those ever of a grave meaning—are the most palpable expressions which we venture to give to our conceptions of the one ; whilst the other we figure and personify,—and that, too often, after a fashion in which the better part of the moral is left unrepresented. Yet, who shall personify time! And who that has ever tried it, in the silence of his chamber, and the stillness of his heart, hath not bowed down, in breathless awe, before the solemn visions which his conjuration has awakened! Oh! the mysterious shapes which time takes, when it rises up into the mind, as an image, at those hours of lonely ' inquisition !" And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle.”—The mysterious presence which it assumes “in thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men!”Who, as he strove to collect the mournful attributes about which his fancy had been busy, into an impersonation, hath not suddenly felt as if a spirit passed before his face!... It stood still, but he could not discern the form thereof: an image was before his eyes, there was silence ;” and out of that silence hath seemed to come a voice, like that which whispered to Job—“They that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth, they are destroyed from
morning to evening: they perish for ever, without any regard
Time, abstractedly considered, as what, in truth, it is—a portion of the vast ocean of eternity—a river flowing from the sea, and flowing to the sea-a channel leading from deep to deep, through shores on which the races of the world are permitted to build for awhile, until the great waters shall once more cover all, and time, as time, “shall be no more,”—must long have defied the skill of man to map out its surface, and write his memorials upon its impalpable bosom. The thousand keels that sweep over the visible waters of the world, leave on their face traces of their passage more legible and enduring, than do the generations of men, as they come and go, on that viewless and voiceless stream. The ingenuity which has taught man to lay down the plan of the material ocean,—to assign to each spot on its uniform surface, its positive whereabout and actual relation,-and, by a series of imaginary lines and figures, to steer his way across its pathless solitudes, with a knowledge as certain as that which guides him amidst the substantive and distinctive features of the solid earth,is scarcely more admirable than that which, by a similar device, has enabled him to measure out the expanse of the silent river,to cover, as it were, its surface with a crowd of imaginary lati. tudes and longitudes, intersecting each other at all points,-and to ascertain, at any moment, by observation, his relative position on the great stream of time.
How long the unaided genius of man might have been, ere it could have fallen upon a scheme for the one achievement or the other, if left to struggle with its own resources, and unassisted by hints from without, we need not conjecture. But, in each case, the solution of the problem was suggested to him, as the materials for working it are still furnished, by the finger of God, himself. The great architect of the universe hath planted in its frame all necessary models and materials for the guidance and use of its human inhabitants ; leaving them to the exercise of those powers and capacities with which they have been furnished, to improve the lessons and apply the examples thus conveyed. In each of the cases of which we have spoken, the constellations which sur. round the world, and “are the poetry of heaven,” have been
the sources of the inspiration,-as they are still the lights by which that inspiration works. The hand that fashioned the “two great lights," and appointed to them their courses, and gave them, to be “for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years," pointed out to man how he might, by the observation of their revolutions, direct his course along the unbroken stream of time, or count its waves as they flowed silently and ceaselessly away. The sun and moon were the ancient (and, at first, the only) measures of time-as they are the essential foundations of all the modes by which man measures it, now; and in the order of the world's architecture, the “watches of the element” which guide us yet, were framed and “set in the firmament of heaven,” at that distant and uncertain period, whose “evening and morning were the fourth day.”
Nor did the beneficent power which erected these great meters of time, in the constitution of the universe, leave the world without suggestions how their use might be improved, in the business of more minute subdivision. The thousand natural inequalities of the earth's surface, and the vegetable columns which spring from its bosom, furnish—as do the spires and towers and columns which man rears thereon- -so many gnomons of the vast dial, on which are unerringly written, with the finger of shadow, the shining records of the sky. There is something unutterably solemn in watching the shade creep, day by day, round a circle whose diameter man might measure with his grave, or even cover with his hand, -and contrasting the limits within which it acts with the spaces of time which its stealing tread measures out,and feeling that it is the faithful index of a progress, before which the individual being and the universal frame of things are alike hastening to rapid and inevitable decay. There are few types more awfully representative of that which they typify than is the shadow. It is Time almost made visible. Through it, the mind reaches the most vivid impersonation of that mysterious idea which it is capable of containing. It seems as if flung directly from his present and passing wing.--The silent and ceaseless motion-gliding for ever on and on,-coming round again and again, but reverting never and tarrying never-blotting out the sun-shine as it passes, and leaving no trace where it has passed