SACRED PHILOSOPHY OF
FIRST WEEK - TUESDAY.
AUTUMN IN THE CITY.
How often have British hearts swelled with pride on the view of those tokens of commercial wealth and industry, which, in union with her liberty, form the distinguishing characteristics of our country. Harbours crowded with vessels that import the produce of distant lands, or distribute on remote shores what we have manufactured; rivers, canals, and railways, groaning under the merchandise of many a city; highways thundering under the hurrying wheels of vehicles of all descriptions; and people of all ranks thronging along, each in eager pursuit of some object, and each bearing on his countenance the expression of business and lively interest ;- such is the view which meets us on approaching any of our maritime towns, and it is complicated an hundred-fold when we draw near to the metropolis.
If we enter the huge aggregate of buildings, and consider the palaces, the public offices, the cathedrals, the churches, the monuments, the magazines,-these, too, lead the heart to exultation, and we say, what a wonderful creature is man! How indefatigable, how ingenious, how aspiring, how powerful! Walk we the thronged pavements, where our way is threaded through countless masses of human beings, under the influence of all varieties of passion, sordid or generous, vengeful or merciful, how little do we meet with to offend the eye or even the taste of the fastidious. How orderly, how cleanly, how sober! For even in this great wilderness of eartlly appetites and passions, order is the rule, the infringement of it the exception. That which shocks and disgusts is met with but rarely, which that which pleases or aids our purposes is frequent and at hand.
Or, if we venture to tread the silent midnight streets, still parched or slippery from the thousand footsteps of the previous day, how quiet the repose of the busy souls, who sleep, or seem to sleep. The noise of day, the crash of wheels, the din of men, and bells, and hammers, and machinery, is hushed; and the muffled watchman, cyeing askance the straggler, or urging forward the suspected footstep, is all that meets us to tell of life. But for him, and a few scattered lights in upper casements, we might imagine ourselves perambulating a city of the plague,- a doomed spot,- a forsaken region, to which the rising sun will no more restore life and action, than he will to the mouldering towers of Palmyra or of Thebes. Blessed sleep! thou mercifully designed composer of human irritations, winder-up of worldly cares, and soother of drooping infirmities! how well did He who knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust, consider our necessities, when he bestowed thy periodical return of rest, and dropt the curtain of the night, not only on the lonely and tranquil hamlets, but on the great Babels of the world, which send their roar through all their gates by day.
The town is wonderful. It is the invention and the handiwork of the gregarious creature, Man. We admire while we consider it,- but if our admiration be analysed, it will be found to partake of a mixture of opposite things. That so much licentiousness should exist, and produce so little that is outwardly disgusting; that so many selfish and grasping creatures should so little betray their rapacity; that so many vindictive and angry beings should so well conceal their hatred or wrath ;- all these subjects are as wonderful, as that such a mass of humanity should be accommodated in so little space, and such an accumulation of bodily necessities find, within the same, meat, drink, and clothing. The heart is weighed down by the consideration, that a crowd of dying and responsible men is but an aggregation of evil.
Were the fair covering withdrawn, what would be the spectacle behind it! Remove the whited sepulchre, and the soul recoils from the festering mass beneath! Pass through the airless alleys of a city in autumn; look on the languid and pallid faces of its inhabitants; see the poor children, unconscious of the elasticity of their age, and with cheeks on which grime has occupied the place where roses never bloomed; inhale the dull oily atmosphere which hangs over them for ever; and sicken at the inevitable odours which assault your senses ;- then let your imagination convey you to the airy brow of a balmy hill, whence you can survey the valleys covered with corn, inhale the fragrance of the bean and clover fields, and behold the lusty rustics glowing over the sickle; see them breasting the waves of toil, and with light hearts encountering every labour,- and you will look back with compassion tenfold more inteuse on those whose lot is cast where man is plentiful as the ears of corn, and where moral and physical evil aggravate each other.
Even the balconies of the opulent, with their dusty beau-pots, cause a breathiess longing for green fields; and the splendid array of highly cultivated flowers, fruits, and vegetables, compressed into such a space as Covent Garden market, tell of that wealth which can command all that is luxurious, rather than of the simple garden and the glade studded with trees. Did you ever, at the upper windows of some poor dwelling in a narrow court, observe a broken tea-pot, with its sprig of peppermint or southern-wood, sustained by a rude rail, ambitiously painted green? You may be sure some poor soul dwells there, who is transplanted by hard necessity into the cheerless privations of that home, from some fresh cottage where the spring bubbled up in crystal beauty in the well, where the grass, sown with daisies and buttercups, approached even to the doorstep, and the free breeze of heaven blew all around him:- Far from the headlong stream and lucid air The palid alpine rose to meet him stoops, Ae if to soothe a brother in despair, Exiled from nature and her pictures fair.
And well will it be, if the denizen of the city lose not regret for that country home; well will it be, if, even - at the expense of some sentimental sorrow, the intervals of toil be filled up by remembrances of country habits, - and youthful happiness; well will it be, if the soul-destroying gin-palace do not obliterate the remembrance of the tranquil cottage, and if the sight of a poor, drooping, smoky, city sparrow draw a tear at the remembrance of the sweet songsters that peopled the hedges of the fields where his childhood roamed at large.
Such regrets and remembrances do not necessarily indicate discontent with our present lot, but rather keep alive in the heart the healthier associations which protect from deterioration, and save from complete amalgamation with the evil which surrounds us. Their influence is calculated to be even of higher and nobler utility, if it lead him to cast the eye of faith far into that promised laud where the sun will not light on the inhabitants, nor any heat,- where hunger, thirst, toil, and tears are unknown,- where unavailing regrets and bootless longings can no more enter than stings of conscience, or apprehensions of future sorrow.
How merciful is that arrangement which secludes every mind from all the minds around it, and leaves it unveiled before its God alone! The soul can rise superior to that contaminating mass of human beings, which limits bodily movement, taints the air, and injures health; for, in its spiritual mechanism, it is capable of a secret and enuobling intercourse, unintruded on by the thronging and bustling crowd around it. Obadiah was able to fear the Lord greatly, while his eyes and ears were exposed to the offensive and polluted worship of Baal; and his sovereign, Ahab, in whose hand his life was, could not, with all his tyranny and malignity, either penetrate or prevent the communion which his spirit held with his God.
So may the soul, that has tasted how suitable to holy contemplation are the calm retreat and silent shade, be able to sustain that contemplation, when the remembrance of the retreat and shade are all that is left him. The mind is its own place, and those who in any situation endeavour to draw nigh unto God, will find his promise sure, that He will draw nigh unto them. The very restlessness of human wishes, the fruitless toil, the failure of enjoyment even when the desired object is possessed, which are constantly exhibited in the crowded city, are as well calculated to tutor the contemplative mind, as tIme lonely wilderness, or the mouldering ruin. All that man labours after, and all the mistaken estimates that he forms of himself, may be seen rather in the city than the country. It is not, therefore, a place of tranquil enjoyment, but surely it is a place of warning
Earth walketh on the earth, glittering like gold,
Earth goeth to the earth sooner than it would;
Earth buildeth on the earth temples and towers,
Earth sayeth to the earth, all shall be ours.
So says the mouldering grave-stone by the gray ruins of Melrose Abbey. The same great lesson is as surely, and far more painfully, impressed on the contemplative soul, in the din of a great community.
Home | Links | Hall | Writings | Biography