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UNIVERSITY MAGAZIN E.
Carrigbawn, December 28, 1850. Since last I wrote to you, my dear Anthony, Christmas has come and gone. Gone is the glory of plumb-pudding and mince-pies—the misletoe and the wassail bowl-the holly and the ivy. But the fond hearts that this holy season has brought together part not thus soon again. Ah, no! they have not for this left their distant homes, disentangled themselves from their world-born cares, and come clustering once more around the hallowed hearths of childhood, that they may rush back into the bustle and coil of life, and seal up again the sweet springs of affection that welled forth from their hearts, touched by the wand of Love, as the living streams gushed from the rock at Meribah, beneath the rod of the lawgiver of Israel. In the remote regions of the country, the spirit of primitive hospitality is, thank Heaven, too potent for such a rapid disruption of the social union; and the friends who assemble at Christmas are sure to see the waning year to an end in each other's company, and let the new year dawn upon and sanctify their friendship. Well, then, you may be sure Uncle Saul's mansion is thronged : every chamber has its inhabitant, as every cell in a hive has its particular bee. Each one, during the day, does as he likes, or, if he likes, does nothing at all. There is a greyhound for the hills, if you love coursing; or a rod for the streams, if you are an angler or a day-dreamer. Old Jonathan Freke will join you in a cigar, or, rather, half a dozen of them, and talk transatlantic politics. My uncle will stroll with you through the now leafless woodlands. Will you read? there is a book in the study ; but be sure you replace it when you are done. Matilda will sing for you in the drawing-room, Abigail will canter with you on the sward, and all the girls, God bless them, will talk with you by the bour, anywhere and everywhere! Thus, by day, each is master of his own tine, and may form such combinations as his fancy dictates; but, in the evening, when the chairs are drawn nearer around the fire, and the log burns its brightest, then we are all common property, and each contributes his share to the general stock of pleasure and good humour. Such is the way in which we spend our Christmas holidays in the country, Anthony.
Amongst the guests at Christmas, none holds a more honoured place than our worthy parish pastor. He is Saul's domestic chaplain on all occasions, and the friend and counsellor of every Slingsby. He has christened every boy and girl of the present generation. He has ministered consolation by the bed-side of all of those who have passed away, and committed their dust to its kindred dust, where they now sleep in the old church-yard. He has known the trials from which none who live long can escape: widowed and childless, he bears his cross with the fidelity of a disciple, and waits his summons with the hope of a Christian.
Last evening, we were all circling the old-fashioned fire-place in the drawingroom. The conversation paused for a moment, and, somehow, a feeling of momentary sadness seemed to creep in amongst us. I know not to what I should VOL. XXXVII.-NO. CCXVII.
attribute this, unless to the announcement which my friend Herbert and myself had just made, that we should leave “the Park” next day, and a gentle sigh from a young lady that shall be nameless, responded to by an expiration from Herbert, which he adroitly strangled by a cough, tended not a little to confirm my suspicions. “Well,” said Uncle Saul, at last, “if you must go, there is no help for it; but you will be back soon. We shall meet by New Year's Day, at farthest.” “ Most assuredly,” said I. " Eh, Herbert?" My friend assented emphatically. A deep, long sigh attracted general attention to the pastor; he was slowly coiling his heavy watch-chain with the left hand round the fore finger of the right one. We all knew the old man's habits, and were aware he was ruminating, and would shortly “come out with a homily,” as Saul phrases it, and so we at once assumed the attitude of reverent attention.
“We shall meet by New Year's Day, at farthest,” said the old man, repeating the words, half in musing and half in observation, to those around him. “How many in all ages have so spoken upon whom no New Year's morn ever dawned again! how many who have begun the year in joy and health and hope, who have assured their hearts that it shall be as those that went before it, and even more abundant,' have found it a treasury of sorrows and trials—its sunshine overcast with cloud and tempest—its flowers of hope withered and dead—its fairest promises the forerunners of life's heaviest dispensations ! Yes, let us pause a little, and think upon the year that is now passing away, ere we rejoice in the prospect of that which is so nigh at hand. "Look in upon the homes of your dearest friends now, and count the chairs that were drawn around that most blessed sanctuary of sweet affections, the evening fireside, on last New Year's Day. Are any of them now untenanted—standing lonely against the wall ? Father! is thy honoured form absent? Mother! does thy sweet face of love beam still upon us? Children ! are ye all--all there, smiling, and prattling, and shedding light upon our hearts, like star-beams in a serene midnight ? Alas! alas ! it may not besome one is gone—and we moisten even our festive bread with tears as we think upon the departed. At whose threshold has not Azrael stood within these short twelve months ? whose house has he not entered ? Many a one, erect in strength and high in hope when the year was young, is now bowed down in sickness and shattered in his fortunes ; whose light of life flickers and burns lower hourly, and will scarce struggle through the few days of this old year that still remain. And then, too, what opportunities have been lost—what blessings unvalued what monitions unheeded—what lessons of God's own teaching unread! Ah! let us think of all this when we welcome in the new year, and our gratulations shall be tempered with a profound sense of the responsibilities which this recurring cycle of time brings with it."
** You speak truly, my dear old friend,” said Saul; “ it should be in no spirit of unreflecting gaiety that we should see the old year out, or of heedless festivity that we should usher the new year in; but still it is permitted us to look forward to it with joy as one period more added to that gift of long life which the instincts of our own being, as as the Word of our Creator, assures us is a blessing.”
“Ay," said the pastor, “it is one talent more given to us to be laid up in the napkin, or to gain other talents. Let us take heed how we use it, for we shall have to account when the Lord cometh and reckoneth' with us. The recurrence of a new year is in this, too, a subject of thanks and rejoicing, that it enables us, as it were, to balance the account with the inexorable past, and to bring over into the new leaf the debts against us which would otherwise remain undischarged for ever. We have thus an opportunity afforded us of improving the future by the experience of the past, of setting the advances which we shali make during the new year against the short-comings of the old one, and can. celling, by God's help, the debt that was marked against us. If we shall not thus use the years that are vouchsafed to us, we shall have occupied our allotted space of time in vain, or worse than in vain, though we may count our fourscore years and ten ; and we may say with Simonides, when asked to what time of life he had arrived — I have lived a very short time, though a great many years.
A thoughtful silence of a few moments succeeded the parson's "homily." The spell was broken by Herbert.