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which are less directly connected with the organism of our mysterious frame, in which are concentrated all the wonders of the material world. The earth itself, producing, by its revolutions, those constant yet beneficent changes of “seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night,” presents an emblem of human life, with its ever-recurring vicissitudes, by which the mind is chastened, tempered, and improved, and is enriched with knowledge and experience. The seasons have long been recognised as emblematical of the successive periods of human life; the spring, the summer, the autumn, and the winter, presenting images so striking and beautiful of youth, manhood, declining years, and old age, that poets have sung and moralists have enforced the truths and lessons which they teach.
But these truths and practical lessons, just as they are, apply only to human life in the world. Viewed in the light of revelation, they instruct us concerning states of spiritual life, and show the progression of regeneration from its beginning to its end. The year of the spiritual life includes all the periods and states of the regenerate life. And the year is most usefully and satisfactorily ended when, during its progress, the duties of religion have been faithfully performed, its times improved, and the results waited for with patient expectation and humble dependence on the divine bounty. We cannot enter on the consideration of all these periods and states of life, but may usefully advert to them, especially to that in which its labours are rewarded with their spiritual and temporal results.
The present season invites us to such contemplations. It calls upon us to acknowledge the divine mercy which has brought us to the beginning of another year, during which we have experienced so much of His goodness. And should we not render thanks for even temporal blessings, and more especially when we reflect on the unworthiness of those to whom they are given ? Considered as children of so good and kind a Parent, we are, both individually and generally, far from being worthy of such great goodness. Were our temporal mercies dispensed according to our deserts, our land would be turned into barrenness ; not only disease and pestilence, but famine also, would
Such is the natural state of man, that his evils, if permitted to produce all their natural effects in the world, would bring upon him the most fearful afflictions. It is true, naturally as well as spiritually, that it is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. No doubt some of the consequences of evil are permitted to come upon us, to restrain, correct, and humble us. Yet it is a matter of almost
universal experience that in life the joyous greatly preponderates over the sorrowful, and is even more deeply imprinted on the memory. The world was made and life is given for joy, because for enjoyment. Sorrow is the offspring of sin. Every period of life has its own peculiar delights ; every season of the year has its own peculiar beauties, and its power of producing pleasurable sensations and leading to useful reflection.
In spring we are charmed with the freshness of the landscape ; and all the impressions we receive from it have their power of delighting us, chiefly in their containing the qualities which please us so much in those who are yet in the age of childhood or youth-simplicity, joyousness, freshness, progression. Among the many pleasures we derive from spring are the pleasures of hope. That beautiful season would not charm us were it fixed and altogether separate from the other seasons; and its ultimate use did it not look and tend to summer and autumn, and have relation to winter. No doubt the perfection of external nature would be a season of perpetual spring. But perpetual spring would not be a distinct aud separate season, as it now presents itself to our knowledge and experience. Perpetual spring is a season produced by the mingling together of all the seasons. Such a season would exist if the revolution of the earth were so rapid as to prevent any one season from attaining a distinct existence and maturity. The heat of summer would be carried into the cold of winter, and the freshness of spring into fruitfulness of autumn. In heaven there is perpetual spring; but it is not the spring of freshness and seed-time only, but the spring of beauty and harvest also ; it is not the spring-time of hope only, but also of fruition. It is spring in its perfection—the blending of all the beauties and uses, and consequently of all the joys and delights of the four seasons of life. Yet it is not a season of sameness. There are alternation and succession ; but these are vicissitudes that never pass into anything that does not take its character from spring. The spring which prevails forever in heaven is the perfection of the seasons—it is one that combines the excellences of them all.
In our earth, and especially in our climate, we contemplate and enjoy the seasons distinctly, and to some extent separately, and from their contrast as well as from their harmony. And it is, we presume, from this that we have such distinct sensations from the different seasons of the year, and form such distinct preference for one more than for another. Every one, however, who can appreciate the beauties of nature, sees beauties in all the seasons, huwever decided his prefer
ence may be for one. Every one admires the freshness of spring, the rich beauty of summer, the sober loveliness of autumn, and the hoary grandeur of winter. How much more would he admire a scene that united all these beauties, and yet presented them under a form of everchanging freshness, beauty, and fruitfulness ! To such an experience every one should look forward and strive after.
It should contain in itself the knowledge and the experience of all the previous periods of life. It should be a state in which all that has existed successively exists simultaneously, a state, spiritually considered, which combines the innocence of infancy, the science of youth, the intelligence of manhood; and these united and formed into one, produce the wisdom of advanced years, the perpetual spring of moral and intellectual life.
To such a life let us look forward, if we have not already attained it. Then shall we be prepared to enter into that region where “ lasting spring abides.”
IX.-COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE.- Continued. UNHAPPILY, the marriages of modern times do not always afford a reliable proof of love. They certainly are not its universal illustrations. Thousands of men marry merely because they are temporarily charmed with a pretty face. Thousands of womeu marry simply to secure a home and maintenance. It is, as Mrs. Child observes, “ the most tedious of all ways in which a woman can earn her board, lodging, and clothes !” Thousands marry solely because the worldly circumstances of the bride or bridegroom offer a prospect of an improved social position, and the person and character of the other are simply "not disagreeable !" Thousands more marry merely because it is customary to marry, and to set up housekeeping on their own account: they find somebody " they like," and rush headlong into contracting the most serious responsibilities which either sex can incur! Officious friends sometimes almost force young couples together, and “the customs of society” render retreat very difficult. Those “customs of society” are great tyrants; and, like all tyrants, are shortsighted. Young people have but few facilities for becoming really acquainted with each other's character; of seeing each other in every day garb; of knowing whether there are in both of them the elements of a happy life-long union. They do not even begin to understand each other's character till they “ become engaged ;” and then, if prudence or repentance does not come altogether too late, a broken engagement damages the reputation of both. Every wise father should say to the young aspirant for the affections of his daughter, “ Wait a while. Visit us. Freely mingle with my children. See the girl at home. Get to know her, and give her a chance of knowing you, before you begin to talk of any engagement. Then, if you suit each other, well : if not, equally well. Every betrothal should end in marriage ; but be careful not to become betrothed till all question as to whether you together can be happy in marriage is settled.”
Every young man and woman should be put upon probation before any engagement should be even proposed. A more healthy social feeling would be the result. Hundreds of hasty and ill-considered marriages would be prevented; and the social stigma of having “jilted,” or of having“ been jilted,” would also be prevented. As things now are, the even indecent haste of some parents to get their daughters " settled in life," and the impetuosity of some young men to secure the charmer who has been the last to fascinate them, are the causes of much of the domestic misery that prevails, culminating too often in the horrors revealed by divorce courts. In lashing with incomparable sarcasm the match-making mothers, and the marriages in which beautiful girls are sold like slaves, and bought at a slave's price by the passion-smitten bridegroom, or in which both bride and bridegroom are made the victims of an outrageous social system, Thackeray has done real service to public morality. The virus has so infected the minds of marriageable girls, and those too of almost all classes, that they are quite willing to be thus bought. One who dares to proclaim that marriage unsanctified by mutual love is only legalized concubinage, is regarded as a fanatic or a charlatan. Yet the violated law will assert itself: domestic iniseries, or even domestic horrors, will visit on the transgressors the penal consequences of their sin or folly. The most sacred of human relationships cannot be prostituted to worldly gain, or to jealous pique, or merely to the gratification of a transient passion, with impunity. A confirmed match-maker is a social nuisance, a dangerous and detestable character. If domestic quarrels and the ruin of marital happiness can be said to be a recompense, verily, they have their reward !
The sins of parents, imperilling their children's happiness for the sake of equipage, establishments, settlements, or social position, arise from a degraded view of marriage, and the wretched desire for wealth
which is fast sapping the foundations of social morality. “A good marriage” means, not that the couple are thoroughly well suited to each other, nor that they are likely to prove soul-companions through the remainder of their life-journey, nor that the man is pure and good, but that he is rich ! The possession of wealth or a title compensates all deficiencies, covers all defects. What is too often the rest of the squalid story is known to all.
A still more frightful consequence of our vicious social system lemands to be noticed. Of an increasing proportion of newly-married couples, not only is the bride the purer being of the two, but she is the only pure one of the two. The number of bachelor bridegrooms of thirty years of age, who bring to the marriage union an unsullied soul and a previously blameless life, is yearly diminishing. Startling to say, it is hardly expected by many. Indeed, by many masculine virginity is a thing not accounted of. Especially are these serious charges true in our cities and great industrial centres. If not contaminated in boyhood, or in school-life by vile habits, comparatively few young men pass quite unscathed through the seductions of places of amusement, the temptations of having money, leisure, and unregulated appetites, or the dangers of the streets. The number of domestic servants who swell the cancerous blotch styled the Social Evil, is not more alarming to contemplate, than the reflection as to the moral ruin they may have wrought in the household before discovery, dismissal, and disgrace. The feet of youths and young men are beset with snares. The risks are increasing every year. Society in despair is becoming almost content thus to wallow. It is secretly believed, if not openly expressed, by many, that “
young men will be young men ;" that “ young men will sow their wild oats.” So surely as they do, they shall reap a harvest of deteriorated moral character, of future compunction and remorse! If they bring away from their “wildness” no pernicious physical consequences, to be entailed in unnameable horrors on their future offspring, they will lose their power of thinking purely of the other sex; the moral corruption will gangrene their souls and deprave their tastes. Hard indeed shall their future struggles become to regain a comparative mental purity : their forfeited innocence shall be sought with tears, and even then be sought in vain !
Young men are not alone to be blamed in the matter. Our social system panders to luxury in every possible way. It discourages the young from marrying till they can imitate the style of household expenditure of their parents, though their parents are enjoying, in the