The Collected Works of Theodore Parker/Volume 03/Discourse 13
BEAUTY IN THE WORLD OF MATTER,
CONSIDERED AS A REVELATION OF GOD.
A SERMON PREACHED AT MUSIC HALL, BOSTON, ON SUNDAY, JULY 16, 1856.
In the summer of 1855 I preached a series of discourses treating in an abstract and metaphysical way certain, great matters, which required some severity of attention to master, or even comprehend. When it was nearly finished the weather became exceedingly warm, and it seemed to me not quite fit to lay heavy burthens on the minds of men to be borne in the heat of such days. Surely the wise minister will not change the blessed day of rest into a day of torment for the body as well as the soul. So, taking the hint alike from the season and the handsome things it brought forth so abundantly, I paused a little in my course of abstractions, and taking a theme which was sure to require none but spontaneous attention from any audience, I preached "Of the Lesson of Beauty,—a Sermon for Midsummer Day." The unusual form of the discourse may easily be objected to, and declared unfit to be preached from the pulpit ; but I think the listeners then found it fit to be heard in the pews : and now, when thousands of miles from home, and compelled to be silent, I hope the readers will equally accept the lesson which the Infinite Teacher offers us all in the facts of nature, whence I have tried to translate it into plain human speech.
Had I written the sermon in this fair-skied island of the Holy Cross, the lesson would have been the same, but the illustrations had been quite different. The same truth had ridden forth in like queenly sort, but in another chariot. Here it seems to me to be always midsummer, the weather is so genial by day and night. How clear the skies are! how brilliant the sun! It does not seem to go down and set, but rather to fall down and disappear, so suddenly, in this low latitude, does darkness take the place of. day. But what a night it is; how quick the nobler stars come out; how large they look! The sun is scarcely out of sight, and not only the planets—Jupiter and Mars—appear, but the larger fixed stars, as Sirius and Arcturus, with handsome attendance, have kindled a new day; then all the lesser sons of heaven, the "common people of the skies," rush into the field with democratic swiftness, and yet without indecorous haste. The Great Bear seems like a constellation of twinkling moons. Here, too, are stars I never saw before : on the Southern Cross beauty is for ever "lifted up" for the benediction of the world, and thereby the Father draws the eyes of even savage men and foplings of the street. When the new moon is only a day old, it is plain she carries the old one in her arms. Now she has not been gibbous quite two days, but yet the printer could read this letter by her light, walking in brightness such as northern eyes behold not. Even now the clouds are coloured as by day, only with less brilliant hues, yet quite equal to the day-clouds of a New England winter.
The vegetation astonishes a northern lover of nature; all is so strange. Save the rose, here is not a tree, not a shrub, an herb, nor a weed which I have ever seen growing naturally before. The flora is a conservatory turned out of doors. Our oaks and elms are replaced by tamarinds, cocoa-nuts, mahoganies, and mountain-palms; our apple and pear trees by the sappodilla, the banana, the orange, and the breadfruit; our sweet-scented locust has many a thorny cousin here, but all strangers to me. While the minister, in his surplice, is reading the Episcopal litany, the oleanders, tall as the eaves of his meeting-house, not admitted to the church, solicited by the wind, bend down and reach in through the window — which needs no glass to hedge the flock from cold — and interrupt the artificial service with their natural Lesson of Beauty, not only for that day, bat for all days of the human year. Huge "silk-cotton trees," and "Guinea tamarinds/' mainly leafless now, diversify the landscape with their queer and fantastic look. The hills are mantled with sugar-cane, whose joints contain a sovereign juice, the island's wealth,—where power and sweetness float together for human good or ill; all the estates run with vegetable honey now, as the wind-mills crush the wealthy crop. The "pride of Barbadoes" opens its gorgeous bloom at the top of all the hedges; the false ipecacuanha—a ghastly beauty not less than a ghastly cure—grows by the road-side, with a certain lurid, poisonous look, as have many of her asclepian kindred. There is beauty all around, at least gorgeousness. Even the fish are many-coloured, and look like flowers of the sea, so brilliant and so various are their hues.
You are amazed at the wealth of life in these tropic lands. The ground, the air, the water, are all animated; a dead fruit is quickly transfigured to new life, so soon do insects translate the decaying elements to a higher form of existence.
But after all it seems to me that nature here is not so nearly related to man as at home; vegetation has an unkindly look; you suspect these meretricious flowers, and keep aloof from the acacias and cactuses, and would have an honest homely apple-tree rather than all the prickly pears in all these islands which Columbus named after the eleven thousand virgins of Cologne. Perhaps this may be prejudice and narrow-mindedness on my part—I only tell what appears.
In our cold northern lands we get tired of the winter; a longing for spring affects our literature, and has its influence on the character of all northern civilization. Here it is perpetual summer, and nobody longs for what all enjoy. The absence of grass is not pleasing to one who lives where it comes "creeping, creeping, creeping everywhere." Who would like to be buried under ugly sedges, their solid stems growing a foot apart and six feet high, and never wet with dew ? Grass-clad earth "unto our flesh is kind," and the sods of a New England valley will one day be sweet to us all.
But here as elsewhere the Lesson of Beauty is continual, and the same which is offered in New England. Large hearted Mr Welltodo might spend his Sunday as profitably in Friedriksstad as in his native town, for the Divine in Nature looks out everywhere, and means Love in torrid zones or frigid.
"Then looke, who list thy gazefull eyes to feed
With sight of that is faire, looke on the frame
Of this wyde universe, and therein reed
The endlesse kinds of creatures which by name
Thou canst not count, much less their nature's aime;
All which are made with wondrous wise respect,
And all with admirable beautie deckt"
Friedriksstad, Santa Cruz, March 15, 1859.
All things are double, and he hath made nothing imperfect. —Ecclesiasticus xlii. 24.
Late at night of a Saturday the milliner's girl shuts up the close-pent shop, and, through such darkness as the city allows, walks to her home in the narrow street. All day long, and all the week, she has been busy with bonnets and caps, crowns and fronts, capes and lace and ribbons; with gauze, muslin, tape, wire, bows, and artificial flowers; with fits and misfits, bearings and unbearings, fixings and unfixings, tryings on and takings off; with looking in the glass at "nods, becks, and wreathed smiles,"—till now the poor girl's head swims with the heat of the day and the bad air of the shop, and her heart aches with weary loneliness. Now, thankful for the coming Sunday, she sits down in her little back chamber, opens the blinds, and looks out at the western sky, taking a long breath. Over her head what a spectacle! In the western horizon there yet linger some streaks of day; a pale red hue, toned up with a little saffron-coloured light, lies over Brighton and Cambridge and Watertown,—a reflection it seems from the great sea of day which tosses there far below the horizon, where the people are yet at their work; for with them it is still the hot, bustling Saturday afternoon, and the welcome night has not yet reached them, putting her children to bed with her cradle hymn,—
"Hush, my child, lie still and slumber;
Holy angels guard thy bed;
Heavenly blessings without number
Hover o'er thy infant head!"
One lamp of heavenly light pours its divine beauty into the room. What a handsome thing it is, that evening star! No wonder men used to worship it as a goddess, at once queen of beauty and of love, thinking while unkindly ice tipped the sphere and bounded the Arctic and Antarctic realm, that she ruled into one those two temperate zones of an ideal world, and even the tropic belt between the two. Well, God forgive the poor heathens! they might have worshipped something meaner than that "bright particular star," full of such significance; many a Christian has gone further, and done worse, whom may God also pity and bless! If Kathie's eyes were bright enough, she could see that this interior star has now the shape of the new moon, and is getting fuller every night. But what a blessed influence both of beauty and of love it pours into that little hired chamber! Then all about the heavens there is such wealth of stars of all sizes, all colours,—steel-gray, sapphire, emerald, ruby, white, yellow,—each one "a beauty and a mystery!"
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star" (quoth she),
"How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!"
What a sight it is! yet God charges nothing for the spectacle ; the eye is the only ticket of admission; commonly it is also a season-ticket given for a lifetime, only now and then it is lost, and the darkened soul looks out no more, but only listens for those other stars, which also rise and set in the audible deep—for the ear likewise has its celestial hemisphere and kingdom of heaven. But those stars the poor maiden looks at belong to nobody; the heavens are God's guest-chamber; he lets in all that will.
Our maiden knows a few of the chief lights— great hot Sirius, the three in Orion's, belt, the North star, the Pointers, and some of those others "which outwatch the Bear," and never set.
Well, poor tired girl, here is one thing to be had without money, God's costliest stars to you come cheap as wishing ! All night long this beauty broods over the sleeping town, — a hanging garden, not Babylonian, bub Heavenly, whereof the roses are eternal, and thornless also. How large and beautiful they seem as you stand in dismal lanes and your eyes do not fail of looking upwards; full of womanly reproach as you look at them from amid the riot and uproar and debauchery of wicked men. Yet they cost nothing — everybody's stars. The dew of their influence comes upon her, noiseless and soft and imperceptible, and lulls her wearied limbs.
"Oh sleep! it is a blessed thing,
Beloved from pole to pole !
To Mother God the praise be given !
She sent the blessed sleep from heaven
Which slid into her soul."
At one touch of this wonder-working hand the maiden's brain triumphs over her mere muscles, her mind over the tired flesh; the material sky is transfigured into the spiritual heaven, and the bud of beauty opens into the flower of love. Now she walks, dreamy, in the kingdom of God. What a world of tropic luxuriance springs up around her!—fairer than artists paint, her young "Imagination bodies forth the forms of things unseen," nor needs a poet's pen to give those " airy nothings a local habitation and a name." No garden of Eden did poet ever describe so fair, for God "giveth to his beloved even in their sleep" more than most wakeful artists can reconstruct when "the meddling intellect misshapes the forms of things." What a Kingdom of Heaven she walks in; the poor tired maiden from the shop now become the new Eve in this Paradise of dreams! But forms of earth still tenant there. It is still the daily life, but now all glorified : sleep and love are the] Moses and Elias who work this real and not miraculous transfiguration. The little close-pent shop is a cathedra] now, vaster than St Peter's, richer too than all Genoese marbles in its vari-coloured decoration: the furniture and merchandise are transubstantiated to arches, columns, statues, pictures. Ribbons stretch into fair galleries from pillar to pillar, lighter and more graceful than Cologne or Strasburg can boast in their architectural romance, writ in poetic stone, and the poor tape of the shop is now a stairway climbing round a column of the transept and winding into the dome far out of sight, till the mind, outrunning that other disciple, the eye, takes wing to follow its aerial ramp, which ends only in the lights of day streaming in at the top and colouring the walls, storied all over with the pictured glory of heavenly scenes. The counter has become the choir and chancel; the desk is the great high altar. The roar of the street—where market-wagons, rays, omnibuses, coaches, carts, gigs, mix in one continuous uproar from morn till eve — is now subdued into music, sweeter and sublimer too than the Pope ever heard in his Sistine chapel, nay, though he were composed for by Beethoven and Mozart, and sung to and aided by all the great masters of heroic song, from old Timotheus, who 'raised a mortal to the skies," to St Cecilia, who "drew in angel down." What manly and womanly voices sing forth the psalm of everlasting life, while the spheral melody of heaven is the organ-chant which they all follow! A visionary lover comes forth, — his form a manly fact, seen daily from the window of her shop, his love a maidenly dream of many a natural and waking hour. He comes from the high altar ; it is the Desire of all nations, the Saviour himself, the second Adam, the King of glory. He leads her through this church of love, built of sleep and beauty, takes her within the vail to the holy of holies, where dwells the Eternal ; therein, that which is in part is done away, and the mortal maid and immortal lover are made one for ever and ever.
Sleep on, maiden ! and take thy rest till the morning star usurp the evening's place; nay, till the sexton toll his bell for Sunday prayers! I will not wake thee forth from such a dream, but thank the dear God who watches over those who rise early and sit up late, who giveth to his beloved even in their sleep!
Late on the same Saturday night, Jeremiah Welltodo, senior partner of the firm of Welltodo & Co., a wealthy grocer, now waxing a little old, shuts up his ledger and puts it in the great iron safe of his counting-room. He is tired with the week's work; yet it is not quite done. The rest of the servants of the shop have long since retired to their several homes. He closes the street door—the shutters were let down long ago — and walks toward home. The street is mainly still, save the rumble of a belated omnibus creeping along, and a tired hackman takes off his last faro: for it is late Saturday night; nay, it is almost Sunday morning now,—the two twilights come near each other at this season,—and the red which the young millinery saw has faded out before the deep, dark blue of midnight; the clouds which held up the handsome colours for her to look at, have fallen now and are dropped on meadows newly mown. How they will jewel the grass there to- morrow morning!
Mr Welltodo's work is not quite done : business pursues him still. "Sugars are rising," quoth he, "and my stock is getting light. Flour is falling, the new harvest is coming in pretty heavy, opens rich. What a great flour country the West is. Well, Pll think of that to-morrow. Dr Banbaby won't interrupt me much, except with the hymns. I do like music. How it touches the heart! That will do for devotion. I wish the Dr didn't make such theological prayers, fit only for the assembly of divines at Westminster who are dead and gone, thank God ! I wish some of their works had followed them long ago. Well, in sermon time I can think of the flour and the sugar. Good night, Mr Business, no more talk with you till tomorrow at eleven o'clock."
"What a lucky dog Jacob is, that partner of mine!—smart fellow too ! went up to Charlemont at four o'clock, on the Fitchburg railroad, — bad stock that,—to see his mother; that won't be the first one he stops to see; somebody else waiting for him—not quite so old. Mother not first this time. Well, I suppose it is all right, I used to do just so. Did not forget poor dear old mother; only thought of somebody else then; just at that time thought of dear little Jeannie, so I did, couldn't help it. Mother said nothing about it; she knew; always will be so; always was; one generation goeth away, and another generation cometh, but love remaineth for ever. Well, sugar's rising, flour getting low—think of that to-morrow, How my business chases me!"
But the wind from the country hills comes into town, its arms full of the scents of many a clover-field, where the haymaker with his scythe has just swept up those crumbs which fall from God's table, and stored them as oxen's bread for next winter; but the wind gleans after him, and in advance brings to town the breath of the new-mown hay. It fans his hot temples, shaking his hair, now getting gray, a little prematurely, and to his experienced memory it Jells all the story of summer, and how the farmer is getting on, "What a strange thing the wind is," said he, "seventy-five per cent, nitrogen, twenty-four per cent, oxygen, and one per cent, aqueous vapour flavoured with carbonic acid I What a strange horse to run so swift, long-backed it is too, carrying so many sounds and odours! What a handsome thing the wind is—to the mind I mean. Look there, how it tosses the boughs of this elm tree, and makes the gas light flicker as it passes by! See there, how gracefully" these long, pendulous limbs sway to and fro in the night ! How it patters in the leaves of that great elm tree up at the old place I"
He lifts his hat, half to enjoy the coolness, half also in reverence for the dear God whose wind it is which brings the country in to him, and he fares homeward. All the children are a-bed, and as Jane Welltodo, thriftiest of kind mothers, has taken the " last stitch in time," on the last garment of little Chubby Cheeks, whose blue eyes were all covered up with handsome sleep when she looked at him two hours ago, the good woman lifts her spectacles, and wonders why father does not come home. "Business! business ! it makes me half a widow ; it will kill the good man. His hair is gray now, at fifty-five ; it is not age, only business. 'Care to our coffin adds a nail, no doubt.' Killing himself with business! But he's a good soul, sends home all the young folks; lets Mr Haskell go off courting, 'to see his mother,' I think he calls it."
Just then the pass-key rattled in the door, the bolt was shot into its place, and Mr Welltodo ran into his parlour. "To-morrow," cries he, "let us go out to the old place. You and I will ride in the chaise, and take Bobbie, Edward can go in the carryall, and take Matilda Jane and the rest of the family. He will like to deliver his piece to the trees before he speaks it on commencement day. College wears on Edward ; studies too hard. Let him run out to grass a little up at Gove's Corner; 'twill do him good. I want a little smell of the country; so you do. How red your eyes are! 'Twill do us all good."
So they agree, and both think of the mothers that bore them, and of their own early days in the little country town, poor days, and yet how rich. They remember the little school-house and the mill, the meeting-house and the singing school they went to once, when music was not the most important business they attended to. Going separate, and coming home together; first two, next one, and finally many, in this wonderful human arithmetic!
The next morning before the first bell rung, they were at the old place where his father lived once, and his brother now; her father lives yet the other side of the hill, near the meeting-house. They will go there in the afternoon.
What green beauty there is all around! How handsome is the white clover which the city horse greedily fills his mouth withal, as Mr Welltodo and brother 'Zekiel lead the good-natured creature to the barn! The grocer follows the example, and has a head of clover in his mouth also,—sweeter than the cloves he put there yesterday. How delicate the leaf is; how nicely framed together! No city jeweller unites metals with such nice economy of material, or fits them with such accuracy of joint. What well-finished tracery on the leaf! Nay, the honey-bee who has been feeding thereon flies off in a graceful curve, and on wings of what beauty ! How handsome the old elm tree is ; how lovely the outline of its great round top! "That tree would weigh forty tons," says Mr Welltodo, "89,600 pounds; yet it seems to weigh nothing at all. There ! that robin flies right through it as if it were but a green cloud. How attractive the colour; such a repose for the eye! Dear little bits o'babie is never cradled so soft as my eye reposes on that mass of green. But how pleasantly the colour of the ash-gray bark contrasts with the grass beneath, the boughs above ! Look there, how handsomely the great branches part off from the trunk, and then divide into smaller limbs, then into boughs, into twigs and spray I How the pendulous limbs hang down, and swing in the wind, trailing clouds of greenness close to the ground 1 Look at the leaves, how well made they are! There is cabinet work for you I What joining! How well the colours match! See where the fire-hang-bird has built a nest in one of those pendulous twigs,—just as it used to be fifty years ago! Dr Smith's squirrels will never reach that! What a pretty piece of civil or military engineering it was to put such a dainty nest in such a well-fortified place! How curiously it is made too! Such a nice covering! But here is the father; the mother is in the nest, brooding the little ones — rather late though. Did not marry early, I suppose; could not get ready!
"To choose securely choose in May,
The leaves in autumn fall away."
"There is a hornets' nest,—a young hornets* nest. I used to be afraid of hornets ; now I will let you alone, Mr Stingabee! Look there! city joiners and masons don't build so well in Boston as this country carpenter, who is hod-carrier, architect, and mason, and puts up his summer-house of papier mache under the great limb of the elm. There is a piece of conscientious work! done by the job too,—so he works Sundays,—but done faithfully. What an overseer the good God is! But no, Mr Hornet, your little striped head didn't plan that house; not an artist, only a tool in another Hand!"
In the mill-pond close at hand he sees the water-lilies are all out. How handsomely they lie there, withdrawing the green coverlets lined with white, and turned up with pink, wherein they wrapped themselves up yesterday at noon! What a power of white and saffron colour within their cups! How they breathe their breath into his face, as if he and they were little children ! and are they not of the same Father, who cradles the lily and the man with equal love? The arrowhead and the pickerel weed blossom there, and tall flags grow out of the soft ground, with cardinals redder than Roman Lambruschini. The button-ball is in its glory, swarmed about with little insects, promoting the marriage of the flowers. The swamp honeysuckle has put on its white raiment also, as if to welcome the world, and stands there a candidate for all honours. How handsome is this vegetable tribe who live about the pond! Nay, under his feet is the little pale-blue forget-me-not. Once he used of a Sunday to fold it up in a letter-signed I know you never will, and send it to the dear little maiden, now mother of his tall boys and comely girls. She liked the letter all the more because it contained the handwriting of her lover and her God,—a two in one without mystery. She has the letter now, laid away somewhere, and her granddaughter years hence will come upon it and understand nothing. Like Eliot's Indian Bible, nobody can read it now. No; there must be a resurrection of the spirit to read what the Spirit wrote, —in Bible leaves, in flower leaves. There is the cymbidium he used to send on the same errand, saying, "God meant it for my Arethusa."
Hard by is the kitchen garden; the pumpkin vine, dis daining narrow limits, has climbed over the wall, and puts forth its great yellow flowers. In one of them is a huge bee tumbling about : he does not know it is Sunday, does not hear the bell now tolling its last jow for meeting; does not care what the selectmen are talking of outside the meeting-house, while within the old ladies are fanning themselves, or eating green caraway seeds, or opening their smelling-bottles, in the great, square pews, where on high seats are perched the little uncomfortable children, whose legs do not touch the floor; he cares nothing for all that, nor whether the minister finds a whole new Bible or an old half Bible; he is buzzing and humming and fussing about in the blossom, powdered all over with the flower dust; now he flies off to another, marrying the dioecious blossoms,—the thoughtless priest of nature that he is, who does manifold work while seeking honey for his subterranean hive. Our grocer knows him well. "What a well-built creature that is," quoth he; "how well-burnished is his coat of mail; how nicely it fits; how delicate are those strong wings of his! Sevastopol is not so well armed for offence and defence. What an apparatus for suction! the steam fire-engine rusting out in the city stables is not so well contrived for that, though it did cost the city ten thousand dollars and that famous visit to Cincinnati. But why all this wealth of beauty? Is not use enough, or is God so rich that He can dress up an humble bee in such fine clothes? so benevolent that He will not be content with doing less?"
On the other side, the pasture comes close down to the pond: some of the cows stand there in the water, protecting their limbs from the flies ; others lie ruminant in the shadow of an oak tree. Wild roses come close down to the lilies, and these distant relatives, but near neighbours and good friends, meet in the water, the one looking down and reflected, where the other lies low and looks up. Spiraeas and sweetbriers are about the wall, where also the raspberries are now getting ripe; andromedas shake their little white bells, all musical with loveliness; the elder-bush is also in blossom, its white flowers grateful to the eye, as to the manifold insects living and loving in its hospitable breast. How clean is the trunk of the bass wood ; how large and handsome its leaves; how full it is of flowers! to which the bees,
"with musical delight,
For their sweet gold repair."
A little further off the chestnut trees, also in their late bloom, dot the woods with unexpected beauty,—looking afar off like white roses sprinkled in the grass. How well their great round tops contrast with the tall pines further up on the hill! The grouping of plants is admirable as the several beauty of each. Nature never combines the inappropriate, nor makes a vulgar match. There are no misalliances in that wedlock. How lovely is the shadow of the oak, as it lies there half on land, half in the water! The swallow stoops on the wing, dips her bill, and then flies off to her populous nest in the rafters of the barn; how curiously she clings there, braced by her stiff tail, and wakes up the little ones to fill their mouths ! and then comes such twittering as reminds the city horse of his own colthood in the far-off pastures of Vermont.
"Ah me," says the grocer, "what a world of use here is! see the ground, how rich the clover is! time it was cut too,—running into the ground every day. How the corn comes out! Earth full of moisture, air full of heat, country never looked finer! How the Indian corn, that Mississippi of grain, rolls out that long stream of green leaves; it will tassel this very week I What a fine water power the pond is! only ten foot fall, and yet it is stronger than all the king's oxen, turns 'Zekiel's mill just as it used to father's, sawing in winter and spring, and grinding all the year through; now it does more yet, for he has put the water to 'prentice, and taught it many a trade. How big the trees are! that great pasture white oak, twenty feet in circumference,—Captain McKay would give two hundred dollars for it, take it where it stands, here; it has only one leg to stand on, but so many knees! That hill-side where the cows are, what admirable pasture it is, early and late! see the white clover—a little lime brought that out! what a growth of timber further up! What a useful world it is! what a deal of engineering it took to put it together! only to run such a world after it was set up must take an Infinite Providence. It is a continual creation, as I told Dr Banbaby; but lie could not understand it, for 'it was not in the Bible/ no part of revelation; ' continued creation is a contradiction in the adjective;'—well, well, it is an agreement in the substantive, a fact of nature if not a word of theology. What 'a useful world! But what a power of beauty there is too I How handsome the clover is!—Miss Moolly Cow, you don't care anything about that ; it is grass to you, to the bee it is honey ; it is loveliness also to my eyes. The Indian corn—a Mississippi of use is it? Why, it is the loveliest Amazon that ever ran in all this green world of grains I That millpond grinds use for brother 'Zekiel all day long, makes him a rich man. But what beauty runs over the dam, year out, year in, and comes dripping down from those mosses, on the stones : how much more of it lies there in the pond to feed the lilies, handsome babies on that handsome breast,—and serve as looking-glasses for the clouds all day, the stars all night! This makes all the neighbours rich, if they will only hold up their dish when it rains wealth of handsomeness. Beauty is all grist,— no toll taken out for grinding that. Mill-pond is useful and beautiful' at the same time, a servant and a sister. How that little cat's paw of wind rumples its dress, and those
’Little breezes dusk and shiver,’
just as Matilda Jane read it to me in Tennyson last Sunday afternoon, when her mother was hearing Banbaby preach on the 'Fall of man.’ What an eye that Tennyson has!—he sees the fact; daguerreotypes it into words. If I were a poet, I would sit right down before nature and paint her just as she is; that is the way Tennyson does. So did Shakespeare—did not put nature's hair into I papers; liked the original curl; so do I; so does God. There, it is all gone now, just as still as before ! I used to fish here,—but I only caught the outline of the hills, and the shadows of the trees. How those great round clouds come and look down there, and see their own face! What 1 don't you like it, that you must change it so fast? Well, you keep your beauty, if you do change your shape. What sunny colours! It is Sunday all the time to the Clouds and the pond. How all the hills are reflected in it! and see the linden tree, and the great oak, and the white-faced cow, the house, the wall and the sweetbriers on it, and underneath all are the cloudy! so the last is made first, and the first last. Mr Church, who painted that Andes picture at the Athenaeum, could not come up to this; not he; no, not if he had Titian to help him! Look at the reflection of that great oak tree! Worth two hundred dollars for use is it? Captain McKay shan't have it; no, not for a thousand dollars ! No, no, dear old tree! Grandfather who was shot at Lexington used to tell grandmother, and she told everybody of it, that it was a large, full-grown tree, when his great-great-grandfather built the first log-house in town. Underneath that he first took his pack off his shoulders, and his hat from his head, and stood up straight, and offered his prayer of thanksgiving to God. ' Ebenezer/ said he, 'hitherto hath the Lord helped us,’ and he called his first son by that name—Ebenezer Welltodo. Here the old pilgrim buried Rachel, his first daughter, a tall girl, they say, but delicate. She died when she was only fifteen,—died the first year of their settlement, came over from England. But the garden rose could not stand the rough winters of those times, faded and died. The old pilgrim—he was only thirty-six or eight then, though—buried that rosebud under the great oak. When he was digging the grave, a woodpecker came and walked round on the trunk of the tree, and tapped it with his bill, and then stood close to his head and looked at him with great red eyes. He never had seen such a woodpecker before, nor any wild creature so tame, and called it a bird of paradise sent to tell him that his daughter was safe in the Promised Land. So he finished her grave, and lined it with green twigs which the oak-pruner had cut off from the tree, and covered her young body with the same—they had no other coffin—and filled it up with earth, and planted a wild-rose bush there for headstone. So this Rachel, like the other, was buried under a tree, and this Jacob also had his Oak of Weeping. I don't know how it is, but there has been a wopdpecker in some of the great dead limbs ever since. Dear old oak! if there be ’tongues in trees,’ what stories you could tell! You are as fair to the memory as to the eye. You shall never go to the mill;—a too beautiful for use. you build what is worth more than ships, for there is a heart in you!
"Look there, where the old barn stood! how the ivy and wild grape vine have come and covered np the rock, casting a handsome veil over what man left bare and ugly. So it is on all the roadsides betwixt here and town. One day the railroad embankments will be also green and lovely. First come weeds,—a sort of rough great coat, then grass, then flowers also. So is it with all our destructiveness. Nature walks backward, and from her own shoulders casts the garment of material beauty on the human shame of Waterloo and Balaklava, and all the battlefields of earth. See how the rock is covered with vegetation: houseleek here, celandine there, and saxifrage — how early it comes out, close to the snow ; while mosses and lichens grow everywhere! Beauty pastures even on the rocks — God feeding it out of the clouds: He holds forth a cup, and every little moss comes and drinks out of it and is filled with life.
"What does it all mean ? Is God bo liberal, that, after drawing use for the customers at his universe of a shop, he lets the tap run awhile merely for the beauty of the stream? Use costs us hard work, but the beauty of nature costs nothing. He throws it in as I do the twine and paper with a pound of cheese. No ; for that I get pay for in another way. He gives it, just as I gave little Bosanna Murphy, the Irish girl with the drunken father who went to the house of correction for beating his family — thank God I don't sell rum — just as I gave Bosie an orange last Friday when she came to buy the saltfish. That is it; he gives' it in. 'Don't charge anything for that,’ as I told poor little Bosie, who had been crying for her good-for-nothing father: 'We don't ask anything for that. I give it to you that you may be a good girl and happy, and know there is somebody richer than you who takes an interest in you; to let you know somebody loves you.' How she dried her tears and did thank me!
"Well, it must be a good God who makes such a world as this, and when we only pay for the dry saltfish of use—often with tears in our eyes — pats us on the head, flings in this orange of beauty and makes no charge, ' so that you may be a good girl and happy, and know that some body takes an interest in yon,—that yon have a friend ill the world!'
"'Comes of nothing,’ does it?' ’No plan in the world, no thought,’ is there? 'The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,’—that is, because he is a fool. He must be a fool to think so, a natural born fool, a fool in four letters. Well, I pity him; so does God. Poor fool, he could not help thinking so. I do not believe in Dr Banbaby's God,—a great, ugly devil, sending Elias and two bears—miraculous she-bears—to kill, and ’carry off to hell,’ forty-two babies who laughed at his bald head. I don't believe in such a devilish God as that! it is worse than the fool's no-God. But there is Wisdom and Power somewhere! Think of all this,—sermon on the mount, sermon on the hill, sermon in the pond, in the oak tree—a dear good sermon that is,—sermon in the wild-rose and the lily! Yes, that-swallow twitters away a whole one Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm of praise to God. How all Nature breaks forth into voice as soon as you listen ! I don't blame her; I would if I could. Sing away there, fire-hang-bird! buzz away there, humble bee in the pumpkin blossom! there is an Infinite Goodness somewhere! You don't know it, but you grow out of it, all of you! The world itself is but one little moss, drinking from the cup God holds in his hand. Ah me! if the Rev. Banbaby would come out here and read God's fresh handwriting, and not blear his eyes so continually over the black print of John Calvin and the Synod of Dort; if he would study St Nature only half as much as St Revelation, he would never have preached that sermon on the 'Damnation of the Unbaptized,' and declared that all such were lost, and especially infants, on whom God visits the sins of their parents for ever and ever,—which he did let fly on the Sunday after poor widow Faithful lost her only child, a dear little boy of fifteen months. No wonder she went crazy the next week, and I took her to Worcester!
"This must be the meaning of it all,—it is a Revelation op God's Love. That is what it is. Consider the lilies of the pond,—they all teach this: If God so clothe the lilies in brother Jacob's mill-pond, watch over them, ripen their seed thus curiously under water, sow it there, and keep the race as lasting as the stars, will He not much rather bless every soul of saint or sinner, Rev. Banbaby? Oh, foolish congregations of self-denying men, who think you must believe in all the clerical nonsense and bad-sense which ministers preach at yon 1 where are your eyes, where are your hearts, where are your souls, that you make such a fuss about?
’Why this longing, this for ever sighing
For such doctrines ghastly, hateful, grim,—
While the Beautiful, all round thee lying,
Offers up its low, perpetual hymn?
Would'st thou listen to its gentle teaching,
All that restless longing it would still,—
Flower and pond and laden bee are teaching,
Thy own sphere with natural work to fill.' "
Mr Welltodo is right; that is the meaning of it all. Love sums it up: "All things are double"—use this, beauty that: Old Testament and New Testament are thus bound up in the same volume of Nature. What a revelation of God's goodness this world of beauty is! How it comes to the tired young milliner, soothes her weariness, quickens her imagination, and then laps her in the arms of sleep, till all is joyous, blessed rest ! No, in that rest she longs for another tranquillity, — the soul's rest in the infinite perfections of God.
How this mundane beauty comes to the calculating man, lifts him above his "sugars" and his "flours" he meant to spend all Sunday in thinking over; and shows him the heavenly meaning in this life of ours!
What a revelation it is of the Cause and Providence of all this world! God gives us use! "giveth liberally." You might expect it. But that is not enough for Him. He adds another world, which feeds and cheers the superior faculties. There is use for need and virtue, beauty also as overplus and for delight. We ask corn for bread; God makes it handsome and it feeds the mind. It seems to me as if He could not give enough to satisfy his own benevolence. How he spreads a table with all that is needful for material wants, and then gives this beauty as a musical benediction to the feast,—a grace before and after meat! To a thoughtful man, how the sight of this wakens emotions of reverence, love, and trust! Who can doubt the causal Goodness which makes the fairness? Men tell about "miracles," which prove "the greatness of the Lord " and " His goodness too; " that He was once angry with mankind, and sent a flood, which killed all the living things on earth, from the lowest plant up to the highest man, save only eight men and women and a troop of inferior animals, whom He kept in a great box, which floated for a whole year on this ocean of murder, and then let out the ancestors of all things that now live upon the earth ; that He miraculously confounded the speech of men building a city, and they fled asunder, leaving their abortive work; that He miraculously plagued Egypt with grotesque and awful torments, and by miracle led Israel through a sea of waters closing on their foes, and into a sea of sand, which eat up one generation of the Israelites themselves; nay, that by the ministration of one Hebrew man, continued miracles were wrought for forty years; and then, yet more wonderful, by another, at whose word water was changed to wine, the bread of five sufficed five thousand men, the wanting limb came strong again, the dead returned to life, — nay, at his death, that the very sun stood still, and darkness filled the heavens at high noonday, while the rocks were rent, the graves stood wide, and buried saints came back to light and life. Believe it not! To me such tales are ghastly as Egyptian idols and Hindoo images of God, mixing incongruous limbs of beast and bird and man. In this little leaf there is 'more divinity than in all those monstrous legends, writ in letters or carved out in stone. But the daily wonder of nature, which is no miracle,—that is the actual revelation of God's power and goodness, a diamond of love set in the gold of beauty.
Look all about you! What a ring of handsomeness surrounds the town! What a heaven of loveliness is arched over us! See how earth, air, and water are turning into bread! Out of the ground what daily use and beauty grow! Think of the thousand million men on earth ; the million millions of beast, bird, fish, insect! They all hang on the breasts of Heaven, and are fed by the motherly bounty of infinite perfection. This is a clover blossom at one end of the stalk,—at the other end is God. Yes, all rests in Him, flowers out of Him, lives by Him, leads us to Him. All this material beauty of nature is but one rose on the bosom of Deity, overlooked by the infinite loveliness which is alike its Cause and Providence. Tea, the universe of matter is a revelation of Him,—of his power in its strength, of his wisdom in its plan and law, of his love and his loveliness in that perfume of the world which we call beauty. Earth beneath and Heaven above are greater and lesser prophets, gospel and epistle, and all unite in one grand Psalm, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and goodwill to men."