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OUR happiness is in the power of One, who can bring it about in a thousand unforeseen ways, that mock our foresight. If example be necessary to prove this, I will give you a story, told us by a grave, though sometimes romancing, historian.
“Matilda was married, very young, to a Neapolitan nobleman of the first quality, and found herself a widow and a mother, at the age of fifteen. As she stood, one day, caressing her infant son, in the open window of an apartment which hung over the river Volturnus, the child, with a sudden spring, leaped from her arms into the flood below, and disappeared in a moment. The mother, struck with instant surprise, and making an effort to save him, plunged in after; but, far from being able to assist the infant, she herself, with great difficulty, escaped to the opposite shore, just when some French soldiers were plundering the country on that side, who immediately made her their prisoner.
“As the war was then carried on, between the French and Italians, with the utmost inhumanity, they were going, at once, to take her life.
This base resolution, however, was opposed by a young officer, who, though their retreat required the utmost expedition, placed her behind him, and carried her in safety to her native city. Her beauty, at first, caught his eye, her merit, soon after, his heart. They were married: he rose to the highest posts: they lived long together, and were happy. But the felicity of a soldier can never be called permanent. After an interval of several years, the troops which he commanded having met with a repulse, he was obliged to take shelter in the city where he had lived with his wife. Here they suffered a siege, and the city, at length, was taken.
“Few histories can produce more various instances of cruelty, than those which the French and Italians at that time exercised upon each other. It was resolved by the victors, upon this occasion, to put all the French prisoners to death; but particularly the husband of the unfortunate Matilda, as he was principally instrumental in protracting the siege. Their determinations were, in general, executed almost as soon as
“ 'The captive soldier was led forth, and the executioner, with his sword, stood ready, while the spectators, in gloomy silence, awaited the fatal blow, which was on'y suspended till the general, who presided as judge, should give the signal. It was in this interval of anguish and expectation, that Matilda came to take her last farewell of her husband and deliverer, deploring her wretched situation, and the cruelty of fate, that had saved her from perishing, by a premature death, in the river Volturnus, to be the spectator of still greater calamities. T'he general, who was a young man, was struck with surprise at her beauty, and pity at her distress; but with still stronger emotions, when he heard her mention her former dangers. He was her son; the infant, for whom she had encountered so much danger. He acknowledged her, at once, as his mother, and fell at her feet. The rest may be easily supposed. The captive was set free, and all the happiness that love, friendship, and duty could confer on each, was enjoyed.” GOLDSMITH.
“LIFE,” says Seneca, “is a voyage, in the progress of which we are perpetually changing our scenes; we first leave childhood behind us, then youth, then the years of ripened manhood, then the better and more pleasing part of old age.”
The perusal of this passage having excited in me a train of reflections on the state of man, the incessant fluctuation of his wishes, the gradual change of his disposition to all external objects, and the thoughtlessness with which he floats along the stream of time, I sunk into a slumber amid my meditations, and, on a sudden, found my ears filled with a tumult of labor, the shouts of alacrity, the shrieks of alarm, the whistle of winds, and the dash of waters.
My astonishment, for a time, repressed my curiosity; but soon recovering myself, so far as to inquire whither we were going, and what was the cause of such clamor and confusion, ] was told that we were launching out into the ocean of life, that
we had already passed the straits of infancy, in which multitudes had perished, some by the weakness and fragility of their vessels, and more by the folly, perverseness, or negligence of those who undertook to steer them; and that we were now on the main sea, abandoned to the winds and billows, without any other means of security than the care of the pilot, whom it was always in our power to choose among the great number that offered their direction and assistance.
I then looked around with anxious eagerness, and first, turning my eyes behind me, saw a stream flowing through flowery islands, which every one that sailed along seemed to behold with pleasure, but no sooner touched, than the current, which, though not noisy or turbulent, was yet irresistible, bore him away. Beyond these islands all was darkness, nor could any of the passengers describe the shore at which he first embarked. Before me, and on each side, was an expanse of waters violently agitated, and covered with so thick a mist, that the most perspicacious eye could see but a little way. It appeared to be full of rocks and whirlpools: for many sunk unexpectedly, while they were courting the gale with full sails, and insulting those whom they had left behind.
So numerous, indeed, were the dangers, and so thick the darkness, that no caution could confer security. Yet there were many, who, by false intelligence, betrayed their followers into whirlpools, or, by violence, pushed those whom they found in their way against the rocks. The current was invariable and insurmountable. But, though it was impossible to sail against it, or to return to the place that was once passed, yet it was not so violent as to allow no opportunities for dexterity or courage, since, though none could retreat from danger, yet they might avoid it by an oblique direction.
It was, however, not very common to steer with much care or prudence; for, by some universal infatuation, every man appeared to think himself safe, though he saw his consorts every moment sinking around him; and no sooner had the waves closed over them, than their fate and their misconduct were forgotten. The voyage was pursued with the same jocund confidence; every man congratulated himself upon the soundness of his vessel, and believed himself able to stem the whirlpool in which his friend was swallowed, or glide over the
rocks on which he was dashed; nor was it often observed that the sight of a wreck made any man change his course; if he turned aside for a moment, he soon forgot the rudder, and left himself again to the disposal of chance. This negligence did not proceed from indifference, or from weariness of their condition; for not one of those, who thus rushed upon destruction, failed, when he was sinking, to call loudly upon his associates for that help which could not now be given him; and many spent their last moments in cautioning others against the folly by which they were intercepted in the midst of their course. Their benevolence was sometimes praised, but their admonitions were unregarded.
In the midst of the current of life was the gulf of Intemperance, a dreadful whirlpool, interspersed with rocks, of which the pointed crags were concealed under water, and the tops covered with herbage, on which Ease spread couches of repose, and with shades where Pleasure warbled the song of invitation. Within sight of these rocks, all who sail on the ocean of life must necessarily pass. Reason, indeed, was always at hand, to steer the passengers through a narrow outlet by which they might escape; but few could, by her entreaties or remonstrances, be induced to put the rudder into her hand, without stipulating that she should approach so near to the rocks of Pleasure, that they might solace themselves with a short enjoyment of that delicious region, after which they always determined to pursue their course without any other deviation.
Reason was too often prevailed upon so far, by these promises, as to venture her charge within the eddy of the gulf of Intemperance, where, indeed, the circumvolution was weak, but yet interrupted the course of the vessel, and drew it, by insensible rotations, toward the center. She then repented her temerity, and, with all her force, endeavored to retreat; but the draught of the gulf was generally too strong to be overcome; and the passenger, having danced in circles, with a pleasing and giddy velocity, was at last overwhelmed and lost.
As I was looking upon the various fate of the multitude about me, I was suddenly alarmed with an admonition from some unknown power: “Gaze not idly upon others, when thou thyself art sinking. Whence is this thoughtless tranquil
lity, when thou and they are equally endangered ?” I looked, and seeing the gulf of Intemperance before me, started and awoke.
THE EMIGRANT'S ABODE. In making remoter journeys from the town, beside the rivulets, and in the little bottoms not yet in cultivation, I discerned the smoke rising in the woods, and heard the strokes of the ax, the tinkling of bells, and the baying of dogs, and saw the newly arrived emigrant either raising his log cabin, or just entered into possession.
It has afforded me more pleasing reflections, a happier train of associations, to contemplate those beginnings of social toil in the wide wilderness, than, in our more cultivated regions, to come in view of the most sumptuous mansion. Nothing can be more beautiful than these little bottoms, upon which these emigrants deposit, if I may so say, their household gods. Springs burst forth in the intervals between the high and low grounds. The trees and shrubs are of the most beautiful kind. The brilliant red-bird is seen flitting among the shrubs, or, perched on a tree, seems welcoming, in her mellow notes, the emigrant to his abode. Flocks of paroquets are glittering among the trees, and gray squirrels are skipping from branch to branch.
In the midst of these primeval scenes, the patient and laborious father fixes his family. In a few weeks they have reared a comfortable cabin, and other out-buildings. Pass this place in two years, and you will see extensive fields of corn and wheat, a young and thrifty orchard, fruit-trees of all kinds, the guarantee of present abundant subsistence, and of future luxury. Pass it in ten years, and the log buildings will have disappeared. The shrubs and forest trees will be gone. The Arcadian
aspect of humble and retired abundance and comfort will have given place to a brick house, with accompaniments like those that attend the same kind of house in the older countries. By this time, the occupant who came there, per