The changeableness of earthly things has been always a favourite and a fruitful theme, alike with the worldly moralist and the more spiritual instructor. The mutations of vegetable life, in particular, appear to have presented an obvious lesson, known and read of all men. The pagan Homer could tell us—
Like leaves on trees the race of man is found, Now green in youth, now withering on the ground.
Holy scripture abounds with sublime and touching allusions to the same affecting memento of life's transitory bloom. Who has not felt the thrilling power of those words, so appropriately introduced in our funeral service,—" Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble ; he cometh forth and is cut down like a flower?
The pride of my little stand, last winter, was a white Camelia Japonica, gracefully towering above its companions, terminating in one of the richest floral gems that I ever beheld. Summoning, one day, some young friends to admire it, I was startled to find the stalk bare; and, looking down, I saw the petals, not scattered about, but fallen into a half-empty flower-pot, upon the lowest round, where they laid in such a snowy mass of death-like beauty, as perfectly embodied that vague idea— the corpse of a flower.
Yet, in general, the evanescence of these bright and beautiful creations affects me far less than their unchangeableness. Individually, the florets may perish in a day; but succeeding families appear, formed and pencilled, and tinted with such undeviating fidelity, as to bewilder the imagination ; leading it back, step by step, through seasons that have been crowned with the same unfailing wreaths. The flowers of this year come not to me as strangers, never seen before; I can select and group the different species, as of old, and gaze upon them with the eye and the heart of delighted welcome: for surely these are loved companions, revisiting my home, to awaken recollections of the many hours that we have passed together— hours of joy, rendered more joyous by their gladdening smiles; hours of sorrow, when, in silent sympathy, they seemed to droop and to die, because my spirit was wounded, and my visions of worldly bliss fading into hopeless gloom.
May bears many flowers ; but that to which it gives its own bright name—the simple blossom of the common hawthorn—is the flower that I take to my bosom, and water with my tears ; and would fain bid it linger through every changeful season. I cannot even remember the date of the identification which invests this blossom with a character of such fond and sacred endearment : it is coeval with my early infancy. The month of May gave me a beautiful little brother, when I was myself yet but a babe : and it was natural that a thing so sweet, and soft, and fair, should be compared to the lovely bud which usually shed its first fragrance about the very day of his birth, in the middle of the month. I have no earlier recollection, nor any more vivid, than that of standing with my sweet companion under the hedge-row, to us of inaccessible height, eagerly watching the movement of our father's arm, while he bent the lofty branches downward, that we might with our own hands gather the pearly clusters selected to adorn our little flower jars. A bough of larger dimensions was selected, and carefully severed with his pocket-knife, to overspread the hearth, where, planted in a vase, it completely hid the parlour grate, delighting us with its beauty ; which we then verily believed to be bestowed for the express purpose of honouring our domestic fete.
Years rolled over us : to others they were years of mingled cloud and sunshine, but to us they brought no sorrow, for we were not parted. Sheltered in the house of our birth, never transplanted to unlearn in other habitations the sweet lesson of mutual love and confidence, the early link was not broken; other companionship was unsought, undesired. Early associations lost none of their endearing power; and the hawthorn hedge, perfectly accessible to the tall lad and active lass, was visited by them as punctually on the morning of their pleasantest anniversary, as it had been by the lisping babes of three or four short summers.
I never went alone to gather the May-blossoms, until my companion had crossed the sea, and drawn the sword in the battle-fields. I did indeed then go there alone, for this world contained not one who could supply his place to me; and beyond this world I had not learned to look. I was solitary, in the fullest sense of the word, and very sad at heart; but deeply imbued with the same chivalrous spirit which had led my brother from his happy home, to scenes of deadly strife : I strove, by the false glare of imagined glory—that glory which is indeed as a flower of the field—to dazzle my tearful eyes. I intermixed my hawthorn blossom with boughs of laurel, and soothed my agitated feelings with the dreams of martial renown : yet, even then, the voice had spoken to my inmost soul, that vanity of vanities was written on the best of my choice things. I felt, but understood not, and stifled the whisper; and when again the sunburnt soldier, smiling at my pertinacious adherence to the childish commemoration, playfully showered the May-blossoms on my head, I felt as though my home was certainly on earth, and my dwelling-place should abide there for ever.
But my heavenly Father had other views for me, and I was put to school. Very hard to a proud heart and carnal mind was the lesson that I had to learn ; but my Teacher was omnipotent, he subdued my will, and brought me—poor blind rebel! by a way which I knew not. Upon the darkness that overshadowed my painful path he poured light, and opened to my eyes the gates of life and immortality. Then I went on my way rejoicing ; but one thing was wanting, and that one of the dearest of all created things. I was alone : the beloved companion of infancy and childhood was far away under a foreign sky ; earthly ties multiplying around him, and not a voice to proclaim the solemn admonition, 4 This is not your rest: it is polluted'.