The Guernsey Lily may not be known to all my readers; but those who have seen it will admit its claim to rank with the most beautiful of that elegant family. Rising in a slender stem of reddish hue, without the slightest appearance of any thing resembling a leaf, it shoots up, exhibiting a dull-looking sort of blossom, from which, in time, escape as from a cell, numerous other buds, all wearing the same dusky aspect. So far, all is unpromising enough; but on a sudden, out bursts such a display of beauty, as the eye cannot soon weary of. From the top of the single stem, flower-stalks branch off, to the number of eight, each bearing a lily of the most glowing rose-colour, and rivalling in form any production that our parterre or conservatory can bring to compete the prize of elegance. Each flower would be a star with six points, did not the graceful curl of the petals bending backwards, change its character; and when I contrast the splendid magnificence of 25* the expanded cluster with its embryo appearance, I am lost in admiration.
This beautiful lily had long been a favourite, but for years past I had not possessed one. A dear friend in the Lord, though personally a stranger, inhabiting one of the lovely isles where the flower is naturalized, was tempted by the tale of my lost verbena, to send me one of her own rearing, across the sea; while another sister, both loved and known, added half a dozen roots of the Lily, just on the point of throwing out their flower-stalks. I potted the little treasures in a mass, and soon after left home for a few days . Returning, I was delighted to find my Lilies in full expansion: and as I gazed upon the clusters glowing in beauty and grace, I could not but exclaim, " No; Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these".
The transition is so easy and natural, as to be in my mind almost inevitable, from the contemplation of a folded and dusky blossom thus suddenly assuming its station among other plants, a bright and perfect flower, to that of a spirit, bursting its mortal enclosure, and standing, arrayed in celestial glory, among the redeemed ones who encircle the throne of the Most High. Proportioned to the sharpness of their trials, and the gloom of their earthly lot, is the delight that accompanies this consideration ; and if the flower be like my Guernsey Lily, of a very uninviting aspect until it becomes exquisitely beautiful, the mind will revert to some of the abject poor of this world, rich in faith, who were heirs, and are now occupants, of the kingdom of heaven. Such a case is forcibly brought to my recollection at this moment: and I will not withhold it.
About four years and a half ago, I was invited by a young friend of noble family to accompany him into his favourite haunt—St. Giles's. The transition was certainly calculated to strike any mind with double effect; for we left a splendid mansion, in one of the great squares of the extreme west, where all was princely within, and a bright sunshine flashing as we passed into the street from the gay equipages that rolled along, and walked towards Bloomsbury beneath gathering clouds, which, just as we approached the confines of the Irish district, descended on us in a drizzling rain, more uncomfortable than a smart shower would have been. Those, and those alone, who have trod the mazes of St. Giles's, can conceive the effect produced on my feelings, when I found myself within its narrow streets, bordered with their dreary-looking tenements: every fourth or fifth step bringing me on the verge of an abrupt flight of almost perpendicular stairs, terminating in a low-roofed cellar, the abode of as many squalid outcasts as could congregate within its walls ; while above, wretchedness, vice, and desperation looked out, in all their forms, from windows, or rather window-frames, where the little glass that remained seemed but a receptacle for all the filth that could accumulate upon it. There is, at this day, in some of those streets, what may be called an improvement, compared with their aspect four years ago: but strong must be the nerves, or most obdurate the feelings of him who, even now, could pace those dreadful haunts of misery and crime without a shuddering wish to be again beyond their boundary. To me, the scene was not new ; but I had rarely ventured far into it; and it was with a heavy depression of spirits that I followed closely the steps of my conductor, where two could not find space to walk abreast. The state of the pavement, even in fine weather, defies the most circumspect to escape defilement from the mixture of every thing that can render it unclean; and the effect of a shower is any thing but purifying in those regions. St. Giles's enveloped in a drizzling mist immediately after B-Square in the sunshine! Who can describe it ?
At length my friend paused, and to my no small dismay, conducted me into what was evidently a dram-shop of the lowest character. Before the door wrere assembled some half-dozen of ragged wild-looking young men, engaged in a gambling speculation at pitch-and-toss, evidently with excited passions, which found vent in imprecations, uttered in Irish, with an occasional kick or blow. The faces that laughed upon me, from within the low, wide, well-glazed windows, were yet more appalling to my sight: but I was ashamed to draw back, —M. had told me that we were to convey relief to a suffering child of God; and on such a mission, to a sick, persecuted convert from popery too, we might reckon on whatever discouragement the enemy was permitted to cast across our path. We walked hastily through a long passage, leaving the tap-room on our left, and mounted some wide stairs; then turned to a narrow flight, halfway up which, all being dark, M. tapped at a side-door. It was opened by a woman of no very prepossessing countenance, although her manner displayed the excess of servility and adulation. M. passed her, advancing to a low bedstead, where lay an old man, whose noble expansion of forehead, and singularly fine countenance attracted me at once ; but when he put forth his hands, to clasp that of his benefactor, I drew back with horror from a spectacle such as I never before or since beheld. The old man had suffered from rheumatism in so dreadful a degree, that the last joint of each finger was reversed, or bent backward, so as to make the ends stand out in a most frightful manner, the second or middle joint being as firmly fixed in a crooked position, as though the fingers were made of metal: the thumbs also turned back. A pair of large bony hands thus formed, or rather deformed, and stretched out to seize between them the hand of another person, was really a terrific spectacle to one who had never beheld such a thing, and I became so nervous, that M. covered them with a portion of the scanty bedclothes, and gently requested O'Neil not to let me see them again. His feet were, I was told, in a more painful state of distortion.