What then remains ? Something which is not in the world's gift. We have a better and more enduring substance, capable of so filling every vacancy, that we should have nothing to repine at, if we would avail ourselves of it. " A shadow that departeth," is legibly written on every created thing around us : this we know; and is it not strange that, having seen the most precious of these shadowy possessions elude our eager hold, and vanish away, wre should rather love to look about for something equally insecure, whereon to lavish our disappointed affections, than turn at once to that which, whether in time or in eternity, fadeth not away ? It is the weightiest part of the curse that so presses our souls into the dust, inclining us to lade ourselves with thick clay, in the face of the acknowledged fact, that it must crumble and fall off. I task myself continually with the difficult work of applying this lesson, so easily learnt in word ; so hard to reduce to practice : but while I treasure up with jealous care the fragments of every broken tie, and would not relinquish one of them, nor forget how the bursting of it rent my inmost heart, I am ever ready to the unwise occupation of forming new ones, to be in like manner served, and to plant an additional pang. It is partly a consciousness of this that sends me to the flowers of my new year's greeting: they are not individualized, like the loved ones of my own race. I can take a Christmas rose, and, in every point, identify it with the first that attracted my childish notice. It seems to be an actual relic of the scene so gay in lengthened distance ; it has, I know not how, outlived the bloom of all, the mortal existence of many, whose laughing countenances shone round me that day. By being the representative of a whole assemblage, some of whom are now on their way rejoicing, together with me, that they have been led to seek a city which hath foundations, the sigh of regret is softened as I gaze on the flower, and I feel an acquiescence in the common lot of my species ; a thankfulness for mercies past ; a cheerful trust in the word of those good promises yet to be fulfilled, and a readiness to go forward, after marking the Eben-ezers that I have been constrained to set up at the close of every fleeting year.
' But this is not a chapter on flowers—it is a chapter on new years, very barren of incident, and too vague to be classed with your floral biography.' Have patience, dear reader ; I will not leave you without singling one from the many cheerful assemblages that the Christmas rose has graced, from time to time, before or since it attracted my especial notice.
Even prior to the period alluded to, while I was yet but a very little girl, I had often been the favourite playfellow of one who had a nearer claim than the tie of mere acquaintanceship. His story is touching ; and T will give it briefly. He was born in a distant country, and came among us to be educated : many years older than myself, I can but remember him as a tall youth, when I was a child : but many little recollections combine to make his image familiar to my mind's eye. Having completed his studies in England, he left our shores, highly accomplished, and returned to the bosom of a family whose pride he was. Not long after, he was unhappily led, by thé influence of some who knew how to work on his chivalric character, to accept a distinguished rank in a wild romantic expedition, planned by some enthusiastic military men, to effect a landing, and to excite a revolution, in the South American territories of Spain.
The result was disastrous : the landing took place ; but in an action with the colonists, a great number of the invading party were killed, some saved themselves by precipitate flight, and the remainder were made captive. Among the latter, was my old playmate and kinsman ; and the intelligence soon reached his distracted parents, that their beloved son was condemned to labour for life, in the mines of Peru !
His father, who possessed high claims on the confidence and consideration of the British government, hastened to make known his afflictive case ; and letters were given to him from various members of the Royal Family, and from distinguished official men, to the court of Spain. Thither sped the anxious father; and by persevering importunity, obtained, though with great difficulty, the precious boon—an order for his son's immediate release—with this he again crossed the Atlantic, and had the unspeakable delight of delivering the poor captive, and conducting him once more to the arms of a rejoicing mother, a fond circle of brothers and sisters, to whom he appeared as one alive from the dead. Very sweet is my recollection of the jubilee among us, when those glad tidings reached his English friends : and our joy was increased, when informed that he considered his happiness incomplete, until he should have received in person the congratulations of those by whom he had been so long regarded as a son and a brother.
With this object in view, he repaired to one of the West Indian Isles; from whence a vessel was about to sail for our shores. She was very unfit, in the judgment of many, for a long voyage; but our young friend's ardent character prevailed over prudential considerations—he would not brook delay. He sailed—and we received tidings of the day and hour when he left the port: but other tidings never, never came, of the vessel or her freight.
Often have we sat round the fire-side of the venerable and venerated individual, who, with maternal fondness looked upon three generations of her numerous progeny : and while the tale of her darling grandson was again and again recounted, we have talked of pirates, and of shipwrecks on desolate places, whence after a long lapse of years the objects who were mourned as dead, have returned to overwhelm their sorrowing friends with unlooked-for joy. We have talked, until a knock at the hall-door, or the sound of a man's voice from without, has sent the thrill of undefined expectation through many a bosom; to be sueceeded by the starting tear, and half-uttered whis per of, ' His poor Mother ! what must she feel V It is true that the outline alone of this sad story is impressed on my mind ; but it is strongly engraven there : and from it I have drawn lessons of thankfulness under all my most trying afflictions. In every case, I had at least a melancholy certainty: I have not been left to endure the long torture of mocking hope—of that wild, obstinate clinging to bare and meagre possibility that the sorrows of my soul might be suddenly turned into unspeakable, worldly, joy. We do not half consider the measure of mercy that is given to sooth our bitterest grief. We do not, as we might, take a survey of what others have had to encounter, when wormwood has been added to their gall. There are some who would barter all the comforts left in their lot, for that which may be our deepest grief —the sight of a quiet grave, where the heart's most cherished treasure peacefully moulders beneath. They could be resigned, if they assuredly knew that all was indeed over: but that cruel phantom of hope for ever flits before their eyes ; and the spirit cannot rest—cannot turn away from the pictures that imagination is constantly pour-traying, of what may be reserved of future discovery, and reunion here. In ordinary cases, the vacated seat is again occupied: and the heart can struggle into acquiescence that so it should be: but alas for those, to whose sight a vacancy ever appears, which they cannot but feel may yet again be filled by the loved object to whom it was appropriated ! There is balm, indeed, for the Christian thus circumstanced : his faith is put into a more trying furnace : and a higher exercise of it demanded : but as his day, so shall his strength be. God doth not willingly afflict; this cross, and none other, was prepared for the individual, with a purpose of mercy for which he shall here glorify God in the fires of tribulation, and hereafter in the felicity of his eternal kingdom. Living or dead, the eye of the Father is upon all : and the sorrowful, the conditional prayer, with its heart-breaking clauses, ' if yet he liveth,' may be receiving an answer little understood by the tearful supplicant; or, should the subject of it have indeed passed beyond this mortal scene, and thus be moved out of the reach of our intercession, such prayer may return to the bosom that breathes it, with a blessing beyond his hopes.
Over his providential dealings, the Lord sometimes draws a thick veil; and upon its surface we discern only these words. " Trust in Him at all times." May He enable the afflicted soul to respond, " Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him".