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ed its rays through the -njiice, inviting the passenger to raise the latch,' and joir .he gossip knot huddled round the hearth, beguiling the long evening with legendary jokes, and oft-told Christmas tales.
One of the least pleasing effects of modern refinement, is the havoc it has made among the hearty old holyday customs. It has completely taken off the sharp touchings and spirited reliefs of these embellishments of life, and has worn down society into a more smooth and polished, but certainly a less characteristic surface.
Many of the games and ceremonials of Christmas have entirely disappeared, and, like the sherris sack of old FalstafT, are become matters of speculation and dispute among commentators. They flourished in times full of spirit and lustihood, when men enjoyed life roughly, but heartily and vigorously: times wild and picturesque, which have furnished poetry with its richest materials, and the drama with its most attractive variety of characters and manners.
The world has become more worldly. There is more of dissipation, and less of enjoyment. Pleasure has expanded into a broader, but a shallower stream, and has forsaken many of those deep and quiet channels, where it flowed sweetly through the calm bosom of domestic life. Society has acquired a more enlightened and elegant tone; but it has lost many of its strong local peculiarities, its homebred feelings, its honest fireside delights.
The traditionary customs of golden-hearted antiquity, its feudal hospitalities, and lordly wassailings, have passed away with the baronial castles and stately manor-house3, in which they were celebrated. They comported with the shadowy hall, the great oaken gallery, and the tapestried parlor, but are unfitted for the light showy saloons and gay drawing-rooms of the modern villa.
Shorn, however, as it is, of its ancient and festive honors, Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England. It is gratifying to see that home feeling completely aroused, which holds so powerful a place in every English bosom.
The preparations making on every side for the social Soard, that is again to unite friends and kindred—the presents of good cheer passing and repassing, those tokens of regard and quickeners of kind feelings—the evergreens distributed about houses and churches, emblems of peace and gladness—all these have the most pleasing effect in producing fond associations, and kindling benevolent sympathies.
Even the sound of the waits, rude as may be their minstrelsy, breaks upon the midwatches of a winter night with the effect of perfect harmony. As I have been awakened by them in that still and solemn hour, 'when deep sleep falleth upon man,' I have listened with a hushed delight, and connecting them with the sacred and joyous occasion, have almost fancied them into another celestial choir, announcing peace and good-will to mankind.
How delightfully the imagination, when wrought upon by these moral influences, turns every thing to melody and beauty! The very crowing of the cock, heard sometimes in the profound repose of the country, 'telling the nightwatches to his feathery dames,' was thought by the common people to announce the approach of this sacred festival:
'Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes,
Amidst the general call to happiness, the bustle of the spirits, and stir of the affections, which prevail at this period, what bosom can remain insensible? It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling—the season for kindling not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart. The scene of early love again rises gieen to memory beyond the sterile waste of years, and the idea of home, fraught with the fragrance of home-dwelling joys, reanimates the drooping spirit—as the Arabian breeze will sometimes waft the freshness of the distant fields to the weary pilgrim of the desert.
Sports of JVew Year's Day.—Paulding.
The morning was still, clear, and frosty. The sun shone with the lustre, though not with the warmth, of summer, and his bright beams were reflected, with indescribable splendor from the glassy, smooth expanse of ice, that spread across, and up and down the broad river, far as the eye could see.
'The smoke of the village chimneys rose straight into the air, looking like so many inverted pyramids, spreading gradually broader and broader, until they melted away, and mixed imperceptibly with ether. Scarce was the sun above the horizon, ,when the village was alive with rosy boys and girls, dressed in their new suits, and going forth with such warm anticipations of happiness, as time and experience imperceptibly fritter away into languid hopes, or strengthening apprehensions.
'Happy New Year!' came from every mouth and every heart. Spiced beverages and lusty cakes were given away with liberal, open hand; everybody was welcomed to every house; all seemed to forget their little heart-burnings and disputes of yore; all seemed happy, and all were so; and the Dominie, who always wore his coat with four groat pockets on new-year day, came home and emptied them seven times of loads of new-year cookies.
When the gay groups had finished their rounds in the village, the ice in front was seen all alive with the small fry of Elsingburgh, gamboling and skating, sliding and tumbling, helter-skelter, and making the frost-bit ears of winter glad with the sounds of mirth and revelry. In one place, was a group playing at hurley with crooked sticks, with which they sometimes hit the ball, and sometimes each other's shins; in another, a knot of sliders, following in a row, so that, if the foremost fell, the rest were sure to tumble over him.
A little farther might be seen a few, that had the good fortune to possess a pair of skates, luxuriating in that most graceful of all exercises, and emulated by some half a dozen little urchins, with smooth bones fastened to their feet, in imitation of the others, skating away with a gravity and perseverance worthy of better implements. All was rout, laughter, revelry and happiness, and that day the icy mirror of the noble Delaware, reflected as light hearts as ever beat together in the new world.
At twelve o'clock, the jolly Heer, according to his immemorial custom, went forth from the edge of the river, distributing apples, and other dainties, together with handfuls of wampum, which, rolling away on the ice in different directions, occasioned innumerable contests and squabbles among the fry, whose disputes, tumbles, and occasional bufferings for the prizes, were inimitably ludicrous upon the slippery element.
Among the most obstreperous and mischievous of the crowd was that likely fellow Cupid, who made more noise, and tripped up more heels, that day, than any half a dozen of his contemporaries. His voice could be heard above all the rest, especially after the arrival of the Heer, before whom he seemed to think it his duty to exert himself, while his unrestrained, extravagant laugh, exhibited that singular hilarity of spirit, which distinguishes the deportment of the African slave, from the invariable gravity of the free red man of the western world.
All day, and until after the sun had set, and the shadows of night succeeded, the sports of the ice continued, and the merry sounds rung far and near, occasionally interrupted by those loud noises, which sometimes shoot across the ice like a rushing earthquake, and are occasioned by its cracking, as the water rises or falls.
LESSON XLVIII. Anecdote of Sir Matthew Hale.—Anonymous.
A Gentleman of considerable independence in England nad two sons, the eldest of whom caused him much anxiety from his dissipated character and conduct: the young man nimself, tired of restraint, asked permission of his father to go to some foreign clime, which was readily granted, and a sum of money advanced him for that purpose.
He had not, however, long left home, before the ship he was on board of was taken by the Algerines, and consequently he was taken prisoner to Algiers, where he remained a considerable number ofyears, without the least opportunity offering of his sending, or hearing from home; at length, however, he fortunately effected his escape, and returned to his native land, almost destitute of clothing, and entirely pennyless; when he arrived at the village where he drew his first breath, in answer to his first inquiry, he was informed that his father had been dead many years, and his younger brother in full possession of the estates; on this information he proceeded immediately to his brother's house, where on his arrival, he stated who he was, and recounted his misfortunes.
He was at first received with evident tokens of surprise; but what was his astonishment, after his brother had a little recovered himself, to find that he (the younger brother) was determined to treat him as an impostor, and ordered him to quit the house, for that he had a number of witnesses to prove the death of his elder brother abroad!
Being thus received, he returned to the village, but met with no success, as those who would have been likely to give him assistance were either dead, or gone away; in this predicament, he succeeded in finding an attorney at u little distance, to whom he related the circumstances exactly as they stood, and requested his advice.
The attorney seeing the desperate state in which the affair stood, observed that as his brother was in possession, he would be likely to have recourse to every unjust means, by suborning witnesses, &c.; but, however, he would undertake to advocate his cause, on condition that if he proved successful, he should be paid a thousand pounds; if the contrary, said the attorney, (as you have nothing to give) I shall demand nothing. To this proposal, of course, the elder brother agreed.
It should be remarked that at this time, bribery and corruption were at such a pitch, that it was no uncommon circumstance for judge, jury, in short, the whole court, to be perverted on one side or the other; the lawyer naturally concluded, this being the case, that the elder brother stood but a very indifferent chance, although he himself had no doubt of the validity of his claim.
In this dilemma he resolved to take a journey to London and lay the case before Sir Matthew Hale, then Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench, a character no less conspicuous for his abilities, than for his unshaken integrity and strict impartiality.
Sir Matthew heard the relation of the circumstances with patience, as likewise the attorney's suspicions of the means, that would be adopted to deprive the elder brother of his right. He (Sir Matthew) desired him to go on with the regular process of the law, and leave the rest to him.
Thus matters rested until the day of trial came on; a few days previous to which, Sir Matthew left home, and travelled till he came within a short distance of the town where the matter was to be decided, when passing a miller's house,