« ZurückWeiter »
in the essence of it nobler than any joy, is the heritage of the Christian. An ancient Roman could not have felt so. Everything runs on smoothly enough so long as Jove wields the thunder. But Venus, Mars, and Minerva are far behind us now; the cross is before us; and self-denial and sorrow for sin, and the remembrance of the poor, and the cleansing of our own hearts, are duties incumbent upon every one of us. If the Christian is less happy than the Pagan, and at times I think he is so, it arises from the reproach of the Christian's unreached ideal, and from the stings of his finer and more scrupulous conscience. His whole moral organisation is finer, and he must pay the noble penalty of finer organisations.
Once again, for the purpose of taking away all solitariness of feeling, and of connecting myself, albeit only in fancy, with the proper gladness of the time, let me think of the comfortable family dinners now being drawn to a close, of the good wishes uttered, and the presents made, quite valueless in themselves, yet felt to be invaluable from the feelings from which they spring; of the little children, by sweetmeats lapped in Elysium; and of the pantomime, pleasantest Christmas sight of all, with the pit a sea of grinning delight, the boxes a tier of beaming juvenility, the galleries, piled up to the far-receding roof, a mass of happy laughter which a clown's joke brings down in mighty avalanches. In the pit, sober people relax themselves, and suck oranges, and quaff ginger-pop ; in the boxes, Miss, gazing through her curls, thinks the Fairy Prince the prettiest creature she ever beheld, and Master, that to be a clown must be the pinnacle of human happiness; while up in the galleries the hard literal world is for an hour sponged out and obliterated; the chimney-sweep forgets, in his delight when the policeman comes to grief, the harsh call of his master, and Cinderella, when the demons are foiled, and the long-parted lovers meet and embrace in a paradise of light and pink gauze, the grates that must be scrubbed to-morrow. All bands and trappings of toil are for one hour loosened by the hands of imaginative sympathy. What happiness a single theatre can contain! And those of maturer years, or of more meditative temperament, sitting at the pantomime, can extract out of the shifting scenes meanings suitable to themselves; for the pantomime is a symbol or adumbration of human life. Have we not all known Harlequin, who rules the roast, and has the pretty Columbine to himself? Do we not all know that rogue of a clown with his peculating fingers, who brazens out of every scrape, and who conquers the world by good humour and ready wit? And have we not seen Pantaloons not a few, whose fate it is to get all the kicks and lose all the halfpence, to fall through all the trap doors, break their shins over all the barrows, and be for ever captured by the policeman, while the true pilferer, the clown, makes his escape with the booty
in his possession ? Methinks I know the realities of which these things are but the shadows; have met with them in business, have sat with them at dinner. But to-night no such notions as these intrude ; and when the torrent of fun, and transformation, and practical joking which rushed out of the beautiful fairy world, is in the beautiful fairy world gathered up again, the high-heaped happiness of the theatre will disperse itself, and the Christmas pantomime will be a pleasant memory the whole year through.
Thousands on thousands of people are having their midriffs tickled at this moment; in fancy I see their lighted faces, in memory I hear their mirth.
By this time I should think every Christmas dinner at Dreamthorp or elsewhere has come to an end. Even now in the great cities the theatres will be dispersing. The clown has wiped the paint off his face. Harlequin has laid aside his wand, and divested himself of his glittering raiment; Pantaloon, after refreshing himself with a pint of porter, is rubbing his aching joints; and Columbine, wrapped up in a shawl, and with sleepy eyelids, has gone home in a cab. Soon, in the great theatre, the lights will be put out, and the empty stage will be left to ghosts. Hark! midnight from the church tower vibrates through the frosty air. I look out on the brilliant heaven, and see a milky way of powdery splendour wandering through it, and clusters and knots of stars and planets shining serenely in the blue frosty spaces; and the armed
apparition of Orion, his spear pointing away into immeasurable space, gleaming overhead; and the familiar constellation of the Plough dipping down into the west; and I think when I go in again that there is one Christmas the less between me and my grave.
MEN OF LETTERS.
M R HAZLITT has written many pleasant essays,
but none pleasanter than that entitled “My First Acquaintance with Poets,” which, in the edition edited by his son, opens the Wintersloe series. It relates almost entirely to Coleridge; containing sketches of his personal appearance, fragments of his conversation, and is filled with a young man's generous enthusiasm, belief, admiration, as with sunrise. He had met Coleridge, walked with him, talked with him, and the high intellectual experience not only made him better acquainted with his own spirit and its folded powers, but—as is ever the case with such spiritual encounters—it touched and illuminated the dead outer world. The road between Wem and Shrewsbury was familiar enough to Hazlitt, but as the twain passed along it on that winter day, it became etherialised, poetic—wonderful, as if leading across the Delectable Mountains to the Golden City, whose gleam is discernible on the horizon. The milestones were mute with attention, the pines upon the hill had ears for the stranger as he passed. Eloquence made