Page images
PDF
EPUB

But we are forgetting the garden, all this while ; which must not be, for Nature does not. Though the gardener can find little to do in it, she is ever at work there, and ever with a wise band, and graceful as wise. The wintry winds of December having shaken down the last lingering leaves from the trees, the final labour of the gardener was employed in making all trim and clean; in turning up the dark earth to give it air-pruning off the superfluous produce of summer-and gathering away the worn out attire that the perennial flowers leave behind them when they sink into the earth to seek their winter home, as Harlequin and Columbine in the pantomimes sometimes slip down through a trap-door, and cheat their silly pursuers by leaving their vacant dresses standing erect behind them.-All being left trim and orderly for the coming on of the new year, Now, to resume our friendly monosyllable, all the processes of Nature for the renewal of her favoured race, the flowers, may be more aptly observed than at any other period. Still, therefore, however desolate a scene the garden may present to the general gaze, a particular examination of it is full of interest, and interest that is not the less valuable for its depending chiefly on the imagination. Now, the bloom-buds of the fruit-trees, which the late leaves of autumn had concealed from the view,-stand confessed, upon the otherwise bare branches; and, dressed in their patent wind and water-proof coats, brave the utmost severity of the season ;-their hard unpromising outsides, compared with the forms of beauty which they contain, reminding us of their friends the butterflies when in the chrysalis state.—Now the perennials,-having slipped off their summer robes, and retired to their subterranean sleeping-rooms, just permit the tops of their naked heads to peep above the ground, to warn the labourer from disturbing their annual repose. --Now the smooth-leaved and tender-stemmed rose of China hangs its pale, scentless, artificial-looking flowers upon the cheek of winter-reminding us of the last faint bloom upon the face of a fading beauty, or the bectic of disease on that of a dying one ; and a few chrysanthemums still linger--the wreck of the past year--their various-coloured stars looking like faded imitations of the gay glaring China-aster.

Now, too,-first evidences of the revivifying principle of the newborn year—for all that we have hitherto noticed are but lingering remnants of the old—now the golden and blue crocuses peep up their pointed coronals from amidst their guarding palisades of green and grey leaves, that they may be ready to come forth at the call of the first February sun that looks warmly upon them; and perchance one here and there, bolder than the rest, has started fairly out of the earth already, and half opened her trim form--pretending to have mistaken the true time:-as a forward school-miss will occasionally be seen coquetting with a smart cornet, before she has been regularly produced -as if she didn't know that there was “any harm in it.”

January in general. When the palm of merit is to be awarded among the Months, it is usual to assign it to May by acclamation. But if the claim depends on the sum of delight which each witnesses, or brings with her, I doubt if January should not bear the bell from her more blooming sister, if it were only in virtue of her share in the aforenamed festivities of the Christmas Holidays. And then, what a happy influence does she not exercise on all the rest of the year, by the family meetings she brings about, and by the kindling and renewing of the social affections that grow out of and are chiefly dependent on these! And what sweet remembrances and associations does she not scatter before her, through all the time to come, by her gifts—the "new year's gifts !" Christmasbores, as they are called, are but sordid boons in comparison of these — they are mere money paid for mere services rendered or expected—wages for work done and performed-barterings of value for value-offerings of the pocket to the pocket. But new year's gifts are offerings of the affections to the affections of the heart to the heart. The value of the first depends purely on themselves, and the gratitude, such as it is, which they call forth, is measured by the gross amount of that value. But the others owe their value to the wishes and intentions of the giver; and the gratitude they call forth springs from the affections of the receiver.

And then, who can see a new year open upon him without being better for the prospect--without making sundry wise reflections—(for any reflections on this subject must be comparatively wise ones) on the step he is about to take towards the goal of his being ? Every first of January that we arrive at is an imaginary mile-stone on the turnpike track of human life—at once a resting-place for thought and meditation, and a starting point for fresh exertion in the performance of our journey. The man who does not at least propose to himself to be better this year than he was last, must be either very good or very bad indeed. And only to propose to be better, is something : --if nothing else, it is an acknowledgment of our need to be so,--which is the first step towards amendment. But in fact, to propose to oneself to do well, is in some sort to do well, positively; for there is no such thing as a stationary point in human endeavours : he who is not worse today than he was yesterday, is better ; and he who is not better is worse. The very name of January, from Janus—twofaced—“ looking before and after,”-indicates the reflective propensities which she encourages, and which when duly exercised cannot fail to lead to good.

And then January is the youngest of the yearly brood, and therefore, prima facie, the best : for I protest most strenuously against the comparative age which Chaucer, I think, has assigned to this month by implication, when he compares an old husband and a young wife to " January and June." These poets will sacrifice any thing to alliteration-even abstract truth. I am sorry to say this of Chaucer, whose poetry is more of “ a true thing” than that of any other—always excepting Mr. Crabbe's, which is too much of a true thing. And nobody knew better than Chaucer the respective merits of the months, and the peculiar qualities and characteristics which appertain to each. But, I repeat, alliteration is the Scylla and Charybdis united of all who embark on the perilous ocean of poetry; and that Chaucer himself chose occasionally to “ listen to the voice of the charmer, charmed she never so unwisely,"—the above example affords sufficient proof. I am afraid poets themselves are too self-opiniated people to make it worth while for me to warn them on this point; but I hereby pray all

prosewriters pertinaciously to avoid so pernicious a practice. This, however, by the bye.

I need scarcely accumulate other arguments and examples to show that my favourite January deserves to rank first among the months, in merit as she does in place. But lest doubters should still remain, I will add-ask the makers-out of annual accounts whether any month can compare with January, since then they may begin to hope for a settlement, and may even in some cases venture to ask for it;—which latter is a comfort that has been denied them during all the rest of the year ; besides its being a remote step towards the said settlement. And on the other hand, ask the contractors of annual accounts whether January is not the best of all possible months, since then they may begin to order afresh, with the prospect of a wbole year's impunity. The answers to these two questions must of course decide the point, since the two classes of persons to whom they are addressed include the whole adult(erated) population of these commercial realms ! z.

THE HOUR OF DEATH.
Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the North-wind's breath,

And stars to set-but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, oh, Death!

Day is for mortal care,
Eve for glad meetings round the joyous hearth,

Night for the dreams of sleep, the voice of prayer-
But all for thee, thou Mightiest of the Earth!

The banquet hath its hour,
Its feverish hour of mirth, and song, and wine ;

There comes a day for Grief's o'erwhelining power,
A time for softer tears—but all are thine!

Youth and the opening rose
May look like things too glorious for decay,

And smile at thee !-but thou art not of those
That wait the ripen'd bloom to seize their prey!

Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the North-wind's breath,

And stars to set-but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, oh, Death!

We know when moons shall wane,
When summer-birds from far shall cross the sea,

When autumn's hue shall tinge the golden grain
But who shall teach us when to look for thee?

Is it when spring's first gale
Comes forth to whisper where the violets lie?

Is it when roses in our paths grow pale ?
They have one seasonall are ours to die !

Thou art where billows foam,
Thou art where music melts upon the air ;

Thou art around us in our peaceful home,
And the world calls us forth—and thou art there !

Thou art where friend meets friend,
Beneath the shadow of the elm to rest;

Thou art where foe meets foe, and trumpets rend
The skies, and swords beat down the princely crest.

Leaves have their time to fall,
And Aowers to wither at the North-wind's breath,

And stars to set-but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, oh, Death!

F. U.

MY UNCLE:-A PORTRAIT. " This fellow, now, is like an over-ripe melon-rough outside, with much sweetness under it." - The Mountaineers.

IMAGINE a short burly-faced man, in a pepper-and-salt coat, red waistcoat, light kerseymere breeches, and short gaiters; his hat beauishly inclined a slight degree from the perpendicular over his right ear, the left scantily covered with a few grey hairs suspiciously disguised with powder; an eye of varied expression; dignified when glancing at an inferior, courteous in the salutation of an equal, and salaciously amorous when ogling a pretty girl. Imagine too“ a fair round belly with good capon lined,” and that air of consequential importance, which the ever present reflection of being worth a plum never fails to impart; and you have a tolerable camera-lucida portrait of My Uncle, Timothy Tomkins, esq. citizen and bachelor.

Your plodding London tradesmen of the last century never suffered their imaginations to stray to green fields and rural felicity, 'till they had worn out the pith of their existence in the acquisition of a competence. They built substantial mansions in narrow alleys, and immured themselves and their progeny in their brick warrens, till the thirst of money-getting was sufficiently quenched to prompt the wish for retirement; and then they very prudently withdrew from the tur. moils of traffic, to die of ennui and nothing-to-do-ishness in a dull country village. My honoured kinsman, though somewhat tinged with antiquated notions and gone-by prejudices, was yet wise enough to leave off bargain-driving and stock-jobbing, before he had lost all relish for rurality; but having passed the meridian of his life unburthened with connubial cares, he found, after a few months' possession of his snug cottage on Hampstead Heath, that the prattle of children and the music of a woman's tongue might have proved less annoying than chewing the cud of his own musings, nodding over a newspaper, or contemplating the stagnant viridity of a duck-pond. He grew tired of gazing on the Heath, and listening to the cawing of rooks and the tinkling of sheep-bells. The blue sky and the green fields, his grotto and hermitage, his thickset hedges, and his flower-prankt arbours, became alike indifferent to his unpoetical imagination; and he sighed for the busy bustle of Cornhill, and the grateful hum of the Royal Exchange. Pent up in his green solitude, he felt convincingly how dreary a thing it was to lead the life of a bachelor; and then he fell to reflecting how silly it was of him, some twenty years back, to break off his courtship with Miss Biddy Briggs, the rich saddler's đaughter, for disliking his pea-green coat; and that if he had bridled his anger, he might have secured the tender bit for himself, instead of holding the stirrup, like a fool as he was, to fat Ferguson, the fellmonger of Bermondsey, who vaulted in his place, and galloped off with the prize. All this, however, was now "past praying for;" and though he had retired, that was no reason he should be hypped to death with the blue devils on Hampstead Heath. He, therefore, made up his mind to drive to London once a day, that he might look around and see how the world wagged ; scrupulously resolving to drive no bargains either for time or tallow, but merely to " peep at the busy Babel,” and occasionally secure an old friend to share half his gig, and take a dinner and a bed at his rural domicile. Besides, there were other causes beyond the mere sense of loneliness, to induce him to adopt this plan. Among the rest, he missed his morning's sandwich and his comfortable bason of turtle. He had a tolerable cook, to be sure; and those of his old friends, who occasionally enlightened his solitude by dropping in, pronounced her culinary fabrications to be excellent. Their commendations gratified his ear, but did not convince his judgment; and Birch's soups remained ne plus ultras, which her skill could never achieve.

As he had no one to please but himself, his scheme was soon put into practice; and a new gig was ordered ; a vehicle, by-the-bye, he had little fancy for, and in which nothing but the prejudice of the old school against riding in a stage-coach, could have induced him to peril his neck. I had the honour of initiating him in the noble science of driving; an acquirement, he said, which he never thought of living to see a gentleman take a pride in. He was immensely awkward at first; the clumsiest Phaeton that ever had a fancy for horse-flesh. His fat, fleshy knuckles grasped the reins with a most ungraceful air, and he brandished the whip like a carman. However, he was highly delighted with his new_toy; and I shall never forget the glee with which be bundled into Batson's, and shook hands with a dozen of his cronies after a twelvemonth's absence. Even the waiter came in for a share of his regards.--" What, Joe! What, here still, eh, Joe ? Not in business yet, eh? And Kitty the bar-maid, too, I declare! Well, Kitty, bow d'ye do? Not married yet, I see. Joe and you make a match of it, eh? Can set up Joe's coffee-house then, you know.”-A new dawn seemed to have gleamed on the old gentleman's existence. He grew fat and frolicsome, and had snug turtle-dinners and bacchanalian revels at his rus in urbe, 'till, like Sir John Falstaff, he grew“ out of all compass-out of all reasonable compass.” Self-willed, as old bachelors usually are, he would no longer suffer me to drive, and my equestrian services were dispensed with. “ Young, hair-brained fellows like you," he said, " are not fit companions for sedate elderly folks." The fact was, he had no mind I should witness the midnight orgies of his rural retirement, and I had no inclination to partake of them. It happened one morning, after one of his customary devotions at the shrine of good fellowship, that he attempted to drive to town, bis head half muzzy with the last night's debauch. The tit that run in his gig, was a fine blood mare of my own choosing ; and I had more than once told him, that if he did not wish to drive to the devil, the whip and her hide must be kept at a respectful distance. “ Attempt to brush a fly off her neck,” said 1, " and depend on it she'll break yours." Well, what does my sagacious kinsman do, but just as he came to that deep descent on the Hampstead-road, between the Heath and Camden Town, and where any man in his senses would have held tight the reins, he lays half-a-dozen swingeing lashes on the mare's flank. Away she scampered, helter-skelter; off flew the wheel, snap went the shafts, and out tumbled my uncle Timothy. The horse was stopped with difficulty, the gig was dashed to atoms, and uncle was conveyed home to bed. The old boy was more frightened than hurt. All his limbs were sound, and he had no bruises ; but terror performed the work of reality, and introduced him, for the first time in his life, to the pleasures of the, gout. The grossness of his habit, and the irregularities of his living,

« PreviousContinue »