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A thousand trivialities of common life not altogether omissible--not altogether, as I hope, umpardonable in narration, formed part of these spiritual experiences; and by the subtle intercurrents of being, passed into the mind, or whatever it may be, which is the silent and sequestered centre of our individuality.
A thousand perplexed thoughts on human life, thoughts not novel, but the oldest of the old, and so gifted with perpetual youth, grew with advancing years, menaced often life itself with overshadowing terror, and found in passion a contrasting peace, or a consolatory resolution. Some account, therefore, of mental progress, the steps of study and the teachings of man and nature, is a necessary portion of an undertaking, which will interest none but those — and better for mankind were they the majority — from whom nothing human is alien.
III There is a time in the life of all men so forgotten, that we can hardly call it part of life.
• It is dead', Augustine has observed,' and we are alive'. We accept our own infancy on the faith of others. It never came within the range of recollection. It lay beyond the sphere of personal identity. The mind of Plato himself or Shakspeare was then, so far as we can imagine, only a thing future and possible. It was a land of darkness where we were, and knew it not, and were unconscious that ourselves had any real existence; till some accident, the society of other children, or childish prayer, or death in the house, lifted the veil, and our position in this strange earth became partially cognizable. It is often the same with the earlier days of what is to be the friendship, the passion, the real life of life. We were with angels, and we knew it not: the · Presence which is not to be put by' was over us, but our eyes were sealed. Thus
an interval, how long I cannot remember, during which I knew Désirée, but had not learned the lesson of her name. We must have met; for the parents on both sides were friends of old standing: but, like the first sunrise seen in infancy, the earlier meetings are forgotten. For what I now recall is that my friendship, as a thing of old and familiarly recognized, was claimed by Désirée, as she rode by a field where I was playing in the thoughtlessness of childhood and ignorance, who might be this bright creature. An impression of the 'crespe chiome d'or puro lucente', of the animated voice, the frank and noble nature, remains: how she welcomed me as a friend; how she boasted of some recent exploit in riding. Twenty years, alas ! have effaced further remembrance, if any further was in truth left: indeed, I see perhaps with most distinctness, a sapling elm, and the palings that bounded a field where we stood talking. The sun had not seemed to rise brighter that day, nor was the summer evening of more than common beauty.
IV But the birthtime of the new life was now approaching unawares: I was already taking a child's sleep and dreamless on the threshold of Paradise. Presently the golden doors open—the angel child is within. Yet I have few circumstances to tell of that beatification. It is the thought of those past years, as Wordsworth expressed it, for which we feel a benediction dashed with regret. Nature refuses to preserve what was so fugitive—what so little merited preservation,-as the acts of childhood.
In most memories, however retentive, three or four scenes alone maintain, or seem to maintain, something of their original vivacity : these rise up when we say, 'I recollect "everything that happened when I was a child, but I do not. care to trouble you with those trivialities'. And even
these, perhaps, we see through a mist that enchants and glorifies. I think could we by any Medean magic revive them in their first sunshine, we should most wisely refrain: who can say what that child's heart would be, when judged by the man's experience; brought rudely into the light of common day from the domain and shadow of tender memory'? Whether we should find in our ancient selves an angel now lost, or the father of the man we know with his shames and errors, the vision could not be the truth of what we were then; why should we undo that remembrance ? At the best, however fair, it would be yet "another Yarrow'.
Indeed I do not doubt the acts of those years partook in the littleness of the actors. But the feelings with which at a few critical moments such circumstances were associated, I do not hold trivial. Their influence has been with me, and with many men, a power for life : be they what they may, ridiculous to the crowd perhaps or unintelligible, they are still the master light of all my seeing'. As such, they merit record : or it is at least a diminution of pain, an hour's pause from the fire and the worm to record them.
V Such influences, however, did not, as already noticed, attend my first years of acquaintance with Désirée : these had not made her the starting-point for the memories of a new life :-a crisis described with his own mysterious grace by Virgil :
Sepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala
I was not many months older when the day came,
fated to begin the passion of desire and of reverence which, if individuality pursues us there, will attend one soul through eternity But he cannot realize in words the absolute separation this hour made in the child's life; the
; new creation, the birth which seemingly wrought a change greater than that from the first nothingness to human existence; the trembling, the great delight, the inner music of crowned triumph, the peace' (to quote words of sofamiliar sublimity which the world cannot give'. Nor can I describe the early steps in that Eden : 'non so ben ridir', like Dante wandering into the wood where he was to hear tidings of Beatrice, com'i' v' entrai’. I suppose this is so with all men.
Love, who leads us blindfold, keeps himself the secret of that labyrinth to which he is at once the clue and the perplexity. He says, ' Ask no more: I did 'it': he whispers the warning not to search too curiously ; that his enchantment perhaps gave the freshness to the grass and the glory to the flower, holiness to the shrine, and faith to the pilgrim. There is a special mystery
. about many beginnings, and none more than this : a veil not wisely lifted : a reverential fear which tells us that faith on some things is more secure than knowledge.
If, in truth, I could retrace the looks, words, and doings of that spring afternoon, they would be nothing : two children together in a room ; others coming and going; furniture around and the things of the most every day ; laughter and trivial syllables, bright hair and bright features, and animation, and the golden atmosphere of youth; childly inconsecutiveness of discourse, perhaps, plans for future meeting suggested and left incomplete even in words; a gay farewell, quick steps of departure ; and then As the angel's medicinal touch at the pools of Bethesda, a moment's alchemy had transmuted earth to heaven. But that this miracle should be narrowed to one-that I had gone down alone into what was in after years to be bitter with a more than Marah bitterness—could I have mistrusted Providence so far as to believe such calamity possible? Where two children had
? met for an hour's play and laughter, and no further thought, an old scene and calamity had renewed itself : Ida and Toggenburg : Dante and Beatrice: Eros and Anteros. Alas, what I drank of, was it the “ fountains of God', or the mocking and illusive waters of Gadara ?
VI Immediately the object of existence was to see this lady, or to muse on her after seeing. Any clear sense of pursuit, of ultimate triumph, I had not : these desires, the first thoughts of later and less ideal passion, presented themselves dimly as yet, matters that roused no paramount interest: the joy of the day was all-sufficient. Thought of Désirée seemed to glorify the simple sense of life into a pure organic pleasure', a delight sublime in its senselessness': but if seeing her, hearing, sitting by her, at the touch of her hand or dress, I may truly say, I felt love in every limb. . . . One can hardly put these things into words : if I could, I would hope that some few, here and there, would recognize the truth of the description. My entrance on school life, commenced a few months before, and then the main event of my little experience, how trivial did it now appear! It had seemed, of course, at the time, the beginning of man's estate: now these matters merged themselves in what had suddenly become the dark ages of childhood, the days of which I could willingly have said, that I was as one of the heathen, and ignorant then of heaven. Whilst to others' eyes remaining, no doubt, miserably childish, love at least so far raised me already to more manly thoughts, that