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It is a strange thing how little, in general, people know about the sky. It is the part of creation in which Nature has done more for the sake of pleasing man, more for the sole and evident purpose of talking to him and teaching him, than in any other of her works; and it is just the part in which we least attend to her. There are not many of her other works in which some more material or essential purpose than the mere pleasing of man is not answered by every part of their organization; but every essential purpose of the sky might, so far as we know, be answered if, once in three days or thereabouts, a great, ugly, black rain-cloud were brought up over the blue, and everything wellwatered, and so all left blue again till next time, with, perhaps, a film of morning and evening mist for dew. And, instead of this, there is not a moment of any day of our lives when Nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory, and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty, that it is quite certain that it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly. The noblest scenes of the earth can be seen and known but by few; it is not intended that man should live always in the midst of them : he injures them by his presence; he ceases to feel them if he be always with them. But the sky is for all; bright as it is, it is not "too bright nor good for human nature's daily food ;' it is fitted, in all its functions, for the perpetual comfort and exalting of the heart; for the soothing it, and purifying it from its dross and dust. Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful; never the same for two moments together; almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its tenderness, almost divine in its infinity, its appeal to what is immortal in us is as distinct as its ministry of chastisement or of blessing to what is mortal is essential. And yet we never attend to it; we never make it a subject of thought, but as it has to do with our animal sensations; we look upon all by which it speaks to us more clearly than to brutes, upon all which bears witness to the intention of the Supreme, that we are to receive more from the covering vault than the light and the dew which we share with the weed and the worm, only as a succession of meaningless and monotonous accidents, too common and too vain to be worthy of a moment of watchfulness or a glance of admiration. If, in our moments of utter idleness and insipidity, we turn to the sky as a last resource, which of its phenomena do we speak of? One says it has been wet, and another it has been windy, and another it has been warm. Who, among the whole chattering crowd, can tell me of the forms and precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that gilded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south, and smote upon their summits, until they melted and mouldered away in a dust of blue rain ? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds, when the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves ? All has passed unregretted or unseen; or, if the apathy be ever shaken off, even for an instant, it is only by what is gross or what is extraordinary; and yet it is not in the broad and fierce manifestations of the elemental energies, not in the clash of the hail, nor the drift of the whirlwind, that the highest characters of the sublime are developed. God is not in the earthquake nor in the fire, but in the still small voice. They are but the blunt and the low faculties of our nature, which can only be addressed through lampblack and lightning. It is in quiet and subdued passages of unobtrusive majesty; the deep, and the calm, and the perpetual ; that which
must be sought ere it is seen, and loved ere it is understood; things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally, which are never wanting, and never repeated; which are to be found always, yet each found but once. It is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught and the blessing of beauty given. (From the “ Stones of Venice." By permission of Messrs.
Smith and Elder.)
Let the young go out, in these hours, under the descending sun of the year, into the fields of nature. Their hearts are now ardent with hope,—with the hopes of fame, of honour, or of happiness; and, in the long perspective which is before them, their imagination creates a world where all may be enjoyed. Let the scenes which they now may witness, moderate, but not extinguish their ambition ;—while they see the yearly desolation of nature, let them see it as the emblem of mortal hope ;-while they feel the disproportion between the powers they possess, and the time they are to be employed, let them carry their ambitious eye beyond the world ;-and while, in these sacred solitudes, a voice in their own bosom corresponds to the voice of decaying nature, let them take that high decision which becomes those who feel themselves the inhabitants of a greater world, and who look to a being incapable of decay.
Let the busy and the active go out, and pause for a time amid the scenes which surround them, and learn the high lesson which nature teaches in the hours of its fall. They are now ardent with all the desires of mortality; and fame, and interest, and pleasure, are displaying to them their shadowy promises, and, in the vulgar race of life, many weak and many worthless passions are too naturally engendered. Let them withdraw themselves, for a time, from the agitations of the world ; let them mark the desolation of summer, and listen to the winds of winter, which begin to murmur above their heads. It is a scene which, with all its powers, has yet no reproach ;-it tells them that such is also the fate to which they must come; that the pulse of passion must one day beat low; that the illusions of time must pass; and that “the spirit must return to him who gave it." It reminds them with gentle voice of that innocence in which life was begun, and for which no prosperity of vice can make any compensation, and that angel who is one day to stand upon the earth, and “to swear that time shall be no more," seems now to whisper to them, amid the hollow winds of the year, what manner of men ought they to be who must meet that decisive hour.
There is “an even-tide” in human life-a season when the eye becomes dim, and the strength decays; and when the winter of age begins to shed upon the human head its prophetic snow. It is the season of life to which the present is most analogous; and much it becomes, and much it would profit you, to mark the instructions which the season brings. The spring and the summer of your days are gone; and with them, not only the joys they knew, but many of the friends · who gave them. You have entered upon the autumn of your being; and whatever may have been the profusion of your spring, or the warm intemperance of your summer, there is yet a season of stillness and of solitude, which the beneficence of Heaven affords you, in which you may meditate upon the past and the future, and prepare yourselves for the mighty change which you are soon to undergo.
If thus you have the wisdom to use the decaying season of nature, it brings with it consolations more valuable than all the enjoyments of former days. In
the long retrospect of your journey, you have seen, every day, the shades of the evening fall, and, every year, the clouds of winter gather. But you have seen also, every succeeding day, the morning arise in its brightness; and, in every succeeding year, the spring return to renovate the winter of nature. It is now you may understand the magnificent language of Heaven; it mingles its voice with that of revelation; it summons you, in these hours when the leaves fall, and the winter is gathering, to that evening study which the mercy of Heaven has provided in the book of salvation : and while the shadowy valley opens, which leads to the abode of death, it speaks of that hand which can comfort and can save, and which can conduct to those “ green pastures, and those still waters," where there is an eternal spring for the children of God.
Christian, Heaven speed thee!
Good angels lead thee!
Tempests will come :
Christian, steer home!
Look to the weather bow,
Breakers are round thee!
Shallows may ground thee!
Hold the helm fast !
There-sweep the blast.