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Its Origin, Celebration and Significance as Related in Prose and Verse
Editor: Robert Haven Schauffler
Release Date: July 25, 2006 [eBook #18908]
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***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHRISTMAS***
OUR AMERICAN HOLIDAYS
ROBERT HAVEN SCHAUFFLER
A series of anthologies for the use of students and teachers in schools and colleges; consisting of the best verse, plays, stories, addresses, special articles, orations, etc. Applicable to the holidays listed as follows:
|EASTER||March or April|
|GOOD WILL DAYS|
|INDEPENDENCE DAY||July 4th|
|LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY||February 12th|
|THE MAGIC OF BOOKS||Book Week|
|THE MAGIC OF MUSIC||Music Week|
|MEMORIAL DAY||May 30th|
|MOTHER'S DAY||Second Sunday in May|
|PAN-AMERICAN DAY||April 14th|
|ROOSEVELT DAY||October 27th|
|THANKSGIVING||Last Thursday in November|
|WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY||February 22nd|
|Is There a Santa Claus?||F.P. Church|
|O Little Town of Bethlehem||Phillips Brooks|
|The Glad Evangel||Kate Douglas Wiggin|
|The Shepherds||William Drummond|
|A Christmas Carol||James Russell Lowell|
|A Christmas Hymn||Alfred Domett|
|Sons of the Morning||Reginald Heber|
|God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen||Dinah Maria Mulock|
|The Christmas Silence||Margaret Deland|
|A Christmas Lullaby||John Addington Symonds|
|Hymn for the Nativity||Edward Thring|
|Masters in this Hall||Anonymous|
|The Adoration of the Wise Men||Cecil Frances Alexander|
|The Shepherds in Judea||Mary Austin|
|Christmas Carol||James S. Park|
|Neighbors of the Christ Night||Nora Archibald Smith|
|Cradle Hymn||Isaac Watts|
|An Ode on the Birth of Our Saviour||Robert Herrick|
|Christmas Song||Edmund Hamilton Sears|
|A Hymn on the Nativity of My Saviour||Ben Jonson|
|The Shepherd's Song||Edmund Bolton|
|A Christmas Carol||Aubrey de Vere|
|A Christmas Hymn||Anon|
|Christmas Day||Charles Wesley|
|"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night"||Margaret Deland|
|Colonial Christmases||Alice Morse Earle|
|The Angels||William Drummond|
|Hymn for Christmas||Felicia Hemans|
|New Prince, New Pomp||Robert Southwell|
|The Three Kings||Henry Wadsworth Longfellow|
|Hymn on the Nativity||John Milton|
|Christmas Eve at Mr. Wardle's||Charles Dickens|
|A Visit from St. Nicholas||Clement C. Moore|
|A Christmas Piece||Fred S. Cozzens|
|Wassailer's Song||Robert Southwell|
|Christmas Eve||Hamilton Wright Mabie|
|Christmas In The Olden Time||Walter Scott|
|Sly Santa Claus||Mrs. C.S. Stone|
|The Waits||Margaret Deland|
|The Knighting of the Sirloin||Anonymous|
|The Christmas Goose at the Cratchits'||Charles Dickens|
|God Bless Us Every One||James Whitcomb Riley|
|Bells Across the Snow||Frances Ridley Havergal|
|Christmas Bells||Henry Wadsworth Longfellow|
|Minstrels and Maids||William Morris|
|Inexhaustibility of the Subject of Christmas||Leigh Hunt|
|Song of the Holly||William Shakespeare|
|Under the Holly-Bough||Charles Mackay|
|Ceremonies for Christmas||Robert Herrick|
|The Ceremonies for Christmas Day||Robert Herrick|
|December||Harriet F. Blodgett|
|The Festival of St. Nicholas||Mary Mapes Dodge|
|The Christmas Holly||Eliza Cook|
|To the Fir-Tree||From the German|
|The Mahogany-Tree||William Makepeace Thackeray|
|Church Decking at Christmas||William Wordsworth|
|So, Now is Come Our Joyful'st Feast||George Wither|
|A Merry Christmas to You||Theodore Ledyard Cuyler|
|The Birth of Christ||Alfred Tennyson|
|The Christmas Carol||William Wordsworth|
|Christmas at Fezziwig's Warehouse||Charles Dickens|
|Christmas Bells||John Keble|
SIGNIFICANCE AND SPIRIT
|A Christmas Carmen||John G. Whittier|
|The Spirit Of Christmas||Charles Dickens|
|On Good Wishes at Christmas||Friswell|
|A Christmas Song||William Cox Bennett|
|Sery||Richard Watson Gilder|
|A Christmas Song||Tudor Jenks|
|Christmas Carol||Phillips Brooks|
|The End of the Play||William Makepeace Thackeray|
|Christ's Nativity||Henry Vaughan|
|Christmas Dreams||Christopher North|
|Keeping Christmas||Henry Van Dyke|
|Mark Well My Heavy, Doleful Tale||Anonymous|
|A Christmas Carol||Christina G. Rossetti|
|The Glorious Song of Old||Edmund H. Sears|
|A Christmas Carol for Children||Martin Luther|
|On Santa Claus||George A. Baker, Jr|
|A Christmas Carol||Josiah Gilbert Holland|
|An Offertory||Mary Mapes Dodge|
|Christmas Song||Lydia A.C. Ward|
|A Christmas Carol||Christian Burke|
|A Simple Bill of Fare for a Christmas Dinner||H.H|
|A Ballade of Old Loves||Carolyn Wells|
|Ballade of Christmas Ghosts||Andrew Lang|
|Hang Up the Baby's Stocking||[Emily Huntington Miller]|
|The Newest Thing in Christmas Carols||Anonymous|
|A Christmas Letter from Australia||Douglas Sladen|
|Christmas||Rose Terry Cooke|
|The Fir Tree||Hans Christian Andersen|
|Little Roger's Night in the Church||Susan Coolidge|
|Mr. Bluff's Experiences of Holidays||Oliver Bell Bunce|
|Santa Claus at Simpson's Bar||Bret Harte|
OLD CAROLS AND EXERCISES
|God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen|
|Old Christmas Returned|
|In Excelsis Gloria|
|The Boar's Head Carol|
|A Christmas Insurrection||Anne P.L. Field|
|The Night After Christmas||Anne P.L. Field|
|When the Stars of Morning Sang||Anne P.L. Field|
|A Prayer at Bethlehem||Anne P.L. Field|
|The Christmas Fires||Anne P.L. Field|
|The Mother (A Story)||Robert Haven Schauffler|
The Publishers desire to acknowledge the kindness of Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons; Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Little, Brown and Company; Dodd, Mead and Company; Bobbs-Merrill Company and others, who have granted us permission to reproduce selections from works bearing their copyright.
Christmas is our most important holiday, and its literature is correspondingly rich. Yet until now no adequate bundle of Christmas treasures in poetry and prose has found its way into the library of Santa Claus.
While this book brings to children of all ages, in school and at home, the best lyrics, carols, essays, plays and stories of Christmas, its scope is yet wider. For the Introduction gives a rapid view of the holiday's origin and development, its relation to cognate pagan festivals, the customs and symbols of its observance in different lands, and the significance and spirit of the day. This Introduction endeavors to be as suggestive as possible to parents and teachers who are personally conducted and introduced to the host of writers learned and quaint, human and pedantic, humorous and brilliant and profound, who have dealt technically with this fascinating subject.
It was the habit of him whose birthday we celebrate to take what was good in men and remould it to higher uses. And so it is peculiarly fitting that the anniversary of Christmas, when it was first celebrated in the second century of our era should have taken from heathen mythology and customs the more beautiful parts for its own use. "Christmas," says Dean Stanley, "brings before us the relations of the Christian religion to the religions which went before; for the birth at Bethlehem was itself a link with the past."
The pagan nations of antiquity[A] always had a tendency to worship the sun, under different names, as the giver of light and life. And their festivals in its honor took place near the winter solstice, the shortest day in the year, when the sun in December begins its upward course, thrilling men with the first distant promise of spring. This holiday was called Saturnalia among the Romans and was marked by great merriment and licence which extended even to the slaves. There were feasting and gifts and the houses were hung with evergreens. A more barbarous form of these rejoicings took place among the rude peoples of the north where great blocks of wood blazed in honor of Odin and Thor, and sacrifices of men and cattle were made to them. Mistletoe was cut then from the sacred oaks with a golden sickle by the Prince of the Druids, between whom and the Fire-Worshippers of Persia there was an affinity both in character and customs.
[A] An account of the early history of Christmas may be found in Chamber's Book of Days.
The ancient Goths and Saxons called this festival Yule, which is preserved to us in the Scottish word for Christmas and also in the name of the Yule Log. The ancient Teutons celebrated the season by decking a fir tree, for they thought of the sun, riding higher and higher in the heavens, as the spreading and blossoming of a great tree. Thus our own Christmas fir was decked as a symbol of the celestial sun tree. The lights, according to Professor Schwartz, represent the flashes of lightning overhead, the golden apples, nuts and balls symbolize the sun, the moon and the stars, while the little animals hung in the branches betoken sacrifices made in gratitude to the sun god.[B]
[B] A delightful account of the origin of the Christmas tree may be found in Elise Traut's Christmas in Heart and Home.
As Christianity replaced paganism, the Christians, in the tolerant spirit of their Master, adopted these beautiful old usages, merely changing their spirit. So that the Lord of Misrule who long presided over the Christmas games of Christian England was the direct descendant of the ruler who was appointed, with considerable prerogatives, to preside over the sports of the Saturnalia. In this connection the narrow Puritan author of the "Histrio-Mastix" laments: "If we compare our Bacchanalian Christmasses with these Saturnalia, we shall find such a near affinitye between them, both in regard to time and in manner of solemnizing, that we must needs conclude the one to be but the very issue of the other."
"Merrie old England," writes Walsh,[C] "was the soil in which Merrie Christmas took its firmest root." Even in Anglo-Saxon days we hear of Alfred holding high revelry in December, 878, so that he allowed the Danes to surprise him, cut his army to pieces and send him a fugitive. The court revelries increased in splendor after the conquest. Christmas, it must be remembered was not then a single day of sport. It had the preliminary novena which began December 16, and it ended on January 6, or Twelfth Night. All this period was devoted to holiday making.
[C] Curiosities of Popular Customs.
It was a democratic festival. All classes mixed in its merry-makings. Hospitality was universal. An English country gentleman of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries held open house. With daybreak on Christmas morning the tenants and neighbors thronged into the hall. The ale was broached. Blackjacks and Cheshire cheese, with toast and sugar and nutmeg, went plentifully round. The Hackin, or great sausage, must be boiled at daybreak, and if it failed to be ready two young men took the cook by the arm and ran her around the market-place till she was ashamed of her laziness.
With the rise of Puritanism the very existence of Christmas was threatened. Even the harmless good cheer of that season was looked upon as pagan, or, what was worse, Popish. 'Into what a stupendous height of more than pagan impiety,' cried Prynne (...) 'have we not now degenerated! Prynne's rhetoric, it will be seen, is not without an unconscious charm of humor. He complained that the England of his day could not celebrate Christmas or any other festival 'without drinking, roaring, healthing, dicing, carding, dancing, masques and stage-plays (...) which Turkes and Infidels would abhor to practise.'
Puritanism brought over with it in the Mayflower the anti-Christmas feeling to New England. So early as 1621 Governor Bradford was called upon to administer a rebuke to 'certain lusty yonge men' who had just come over in the little ship Fortune. 'On ye day called Christmas day,' says William Bradford, 'ye Govr caled them out to worke (as was used), but ye most of this new company excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to worke on ye day. So ye Govr tould them that if they made it matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away ye rest, and left them; but when they came home at noone from their worke, he found them in ye streete at play, openly: some pitching ye barr, and some at stoole-ball and such like sports. So he went to them and tooke away their implements, and tould them that it was against his conscience that they should play and others worke. If they made ye keeping of it matter of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in ye streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly.'
In England the feeling culminated in 1643, when the Roundhead Parliament abolished the observance of saints' days and "the three grand festivals" of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, "any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding." The king protested. But he was answered. In London, nevertheless, there was an alarming disposition to observe Christmas. The mob attacked those who by opening their shops flouted the holiday. In several counties the disorder was threatening. But Parliament adopted strong measures, and during the twelve years in which the great festivals were discountenanced there was no further tumult, and the observance of Christmas as a general holiday ceased.
The General Court of Massachusetts followed the example of the English Parliament in 1659 when it enacted that 'anybody who is found observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting, or any other way, any such day as Christmas day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings.'
The restoration of English royalty brought about the restoration of the English Christmas. It was not till 1681, however, that Massachusetts repealed the ordinance of 1659. But the repeal was bitter to old Puritanism, which kept up an ever attenuating protest even down to the early part of the present century.
There are many superstitions connected with the coming of Christmas itself. The bees are said to sing, the cattle to kneel, in honor of the manger, and the sheep to go in procession in commemoration of the visit of the angel to the shepherds.
Howison in his "Sketches of Upper Canada" relates that on one moonlit Christmas Eve he saw an Indian creeping cautiously through the woods. In response to an inquiry, he said. 'Me watch to see deer kneel. Christmas night all deer kneel and look up to Great Spirit.'
In the German Alps it is believed that the cattle have the gift of language on Christmas Eve. But it is a sin to attempt to play the eavesdropper upon them. An Alpine story is told of a farmer's servant who did not believe that the cattle could speak, and, to make sure, he hid in his master's stable on Christmas Eve and listened. When the clock struck twelve he was surprised at what he heard. 'We shall have hard work to do this day week,' said one horse. 'Yes; the farmer's servant is heavy,' answered the other horse. 'And the way to the churchyard is long and steep,' said the first. The servant was buried that day week.
There is a beautiful superstition about the cock that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Marcellus, in Hamlet—"Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
No other holiday has so rich an heritage of old customs and observances as Christmas. The Yule Log has from time immemorial been haled to the open fire-place on Christmas Eve, and lighted with the embers of its predecessor to sanctify the roof-tree and protect it against those evil spirits over whom the season is in everyway a triumph. Then the wassail bowl full of swimming roasted apples, goes its merry round. Then the gift-shadowing Christmas tree sheds its divine brilliance down the path of the coming year; or stockings are hung for Santa Claus (St. Nicholas) to fill during the night. Then the mistletoe becomes a precarious shelter for maids, and the Waits—descendants of the minstrels of old—go through the snow from door to door, singing their mellow old carols, while masquerades and the merry Christmas game of Snapdragon are not forgotten.[D]
[D] An exhaustive study of the history and customs of Christmas has been made by W.F. Dawson in "Christmas and its Associations."
Even the Christmas dinner has its special observances. In many an English hall the stately custom still survives of bearing in a boar's head to inaugurate the meal, as a reminder of the student of Queens College, Oxford, who, attacked by a boar on Christmas day, choked him with a copy of Aristotle and took his head back for dinner. The mince pie, sacred to the occasion, is supposed to commemorate in its mixture of oriental ingredients the offerings made by the wise men of the East. As for turkey and plum pudding, they have a deep significance, but it is clearer to the palate than to the brain.
Elise Traut relates the legend that on every Christmas eve the little Christ-child wanders all over the world bearing on its shoulders a bundle of evergreens. Through city streets and country lanes, up and down hill, to proudest castle and lowliest hovel, through cold and storm and sleet and ice, this holy child travels, to be welcomed or rejected at the doors at which he pleads for succor. Those who would invite him and long for his coming set a lighted candle in the window to guide him on his way hither. They also believe that he comes to them in the guise of any alms-craving, wandering person who knocks humbly at their doors for sustenance, thus testing their benevolence. In many places the aid rendered the beggar is looked upon as hospitality shown to Christ.
This legend embodies the true Christmas spirit which realizes, with a rush of love to the heart, the divinity in every one of "the least of these" our brethren. Selfishness is rebuked, the feeling of universal brotherhood is fostered, while the length of this holiday season by encouraging the reunion of families and of friends, provides a wonderful rallying place for early affections. A wholesome and joyous current of religious feeling flows through the entire season to temper its extravagance and regulate its mirth.
"Under the sanctions of religion," writes Hervey,[E] "the covenants of the heart are renewed.... The lovers of Earth seem to have met together."
[E] For a beautiful and extended discussion of the significance of the day, see Hervey's "The Book of Christmas."
Christmas is the birthday of one whose chief contribution to the human heart and mind was his message of boundless, universal love, He brought to the world the greatest thing in the world and that is why the season of his birth has won such an intimate place in our hearts and why its jubilant bells find this echo there:"Ring out the old, ring in the new,
IS THERE A SANTA CLAUS?
The following, reprinted from the editorial page of the New York Sun, was written by the late Mr. Frank P. Church:
We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
When the Child of Nazareth was born, the sun, according to the Bosnian legend, "leaped in the heavens, and the stars around it danced. A peace came over mountain and forest. Even the rotten stump stood straight and healthy on the green hill-side. The grass was beflowered with open blossoms, incense sweet as myrrh pervaded upland and forest, birds sang on the mountain top, and all gave thanks to the great God."
It is naught but an old folk-tale, but it has truth hidden at its heart, for a strange, subtle force, a spirit of genial good-will, a new-born kindness, seem to animate child and man alike when the world pays its tribute to the "heaven-sent youngling," as the poet Drummond calls the infant Christ.
When the Three Wise Men rode from the East into the West on that "first, best Christmas night," they bore on their saddle-bows three caskets filled with gold and frankincense and myrrh, to be laid at the feet of the manger-cradled babe of Bethlehem. Beginning with this old, old journey, the spirit of giving crept into the world's heart. As the Magi came bearing gifts, so do we also; gifts that relieve want, gifts that are sweet and fragrant with friendship, gifts that breathe love, gifts that mean service, gifts inspired still by the star that shone over the City of David nearly two thousand years ago.
Then hang the green coronet of the Christmas-tree with glittering baubles and jewels of flame; heap offerings on its emerald branches; bring the Yule log to the firing; deck the house with holly and mistletoe,"And all the bells on earth shall ring
WILLIAM DRUMMOND, OF HAWTHORNDEN
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
DINAH MARIA MULOCK
JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS
CECIL FRANCES ALEXANDER
JAMES S. PARK
NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
EDMUND HAMILTON SEARS
AUBREY DE VERE
Written in the Chapel of the Manger, in the Convent Church of Bethlehem, Palestine:In the fields where, long ago,
ALICE MORSE EARLE
[From "Customs and Fashions in Old New England."]
The first century of colonial life saw few set times and days for pleasure. The holy days of the English Church were as a stench to the Puritan nostrils, and their public celebration was at once rigidly forbidden by the laws of New England. New holidays were not quickly evolved, and the sober gatherings for matters of Church and State for a time took their place. The hatred of "wanton Bacchanallian Christmasses" spent throughout England, as Cotton said, in "revelling, dicing, carding, masking, mumming, consumed in compotations, in interludes, in excess of wine, in mad mirth," was the natural reaction of intelligent and thoughtful minds against the excesses of a festival which had ceased to be a Christian holiday, but was dominated by a lord of misrule who did not hesitate to invade the churches in time of service, in his noisy revels and sports. English Churchmen long ago revolted also against such Christmas observance.
Of the first Pilgrim Christmas we know but little, save that it was spent, as was many a later one, in work....
By 1659 the Puritans had grown to hate Christmas more and more; it was, to use Shakespeare's words, "the bug that feared them all." The very name smacked to them of incense, stole, and monkish jargon; any person who observed it as a holiday by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way was to pay five shillings fine, so desirous were they to "beate down every sprout of Episcopacie." Judge Sewall watched jealously the feeling of the people with regard to Christmas, and noted with pleasure on each succeeding year the continuance of common traffic throughout the day. Such entries as this show his attitude: "Dec. 25, 1685. Carts come to town and shops open as usual. Some somehow observe the day, but are vexed I believe that the Body of people profane it, and blessed be God no authority yet to compel them to keep it." When the Church of England established Christmas services in Boston a few years later, we find the Judge waging hopeless war against Governor Belcher over it, and hear him praising his son for not going with other boy friends to hear the novel and attractive services. He says: "I dehort mine from Christmas keeping and charge them to forbear."
Christmas could not be regarded till this century as a New England holiday, though in certain localities, such as old Narragansett—an opulent community which was settled by Episcopalians—two weeks of Christmas visiting and feasting were entered into with zest by both planters and slaves for many years previous to the revolution.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
CHRISTMAS EVE AT MR. WARDLE'S
From "Pickwick Papers"
From the center of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended with his own hands a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which Mr. Pickwick with a gallantry which would have done honour to a descendant of Lady Trollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum. The old lady submitted to this piece of practical politeness with all the dignity which befitted so important and serious a solemnity, but the younger ladies not being so thoroughly imbued with a superstitious veneration of the custom, or imagining that the value of a salute is very much enhanced if it cost a little trouble to obtain it, screamed and struggled, and ran into corners, and threatened and remonstrated, and did everything but leave the room, until some of the less adventurous gentlemen were on the point of desisting, when they all at once found it useless to resist any longer, and submitted to be kissed with a good grace. Mr. Winkle kissed the young lady with the black eyes, and Mr. Snodgrass kissed Emily; and Mr. Weller, not being particular about the form of being under the mistletoe, kissed Emma and the other female servants, just as he caught them. As to the poor relations, they kissed everybody, not even excepting the plainer portion of the young-lady visitors, who, in their excessive confusion, ran right under the mistletoe, directly it was hung up, without knowing it! Wardle stood with his back to the fire, surveying the whole scene, with the utmost satisfaction; and the fat boy took the opportunity of appropriating to his own use, and summarily devouring, a particularly fine mince-pie, that had been carefully put by for somebody else.
Now the screaming had subsided, and faces were in a glow and curls in a tangle, and Mr. Pickwick, after kissing the old lady as before mentioned, was standing under the mistletoe, looking with a very pleased countenance on all that was passing around him, when the young lady with the black eyes, after a little whispering with the other young ladies, made a sudden dart forward, and, putting her arm around Mr. Pickwick's neck, saluted him affectionately on the left cheek; and before Mr. Pickwick distinctly knew what was the matter, he was surrounded by the whole body, and kissed by every one of them.
It was a pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick in the centre of the group, now pulled this way, and then that, and first kissed on the chin and then on the nose, and then on the spectacles, and to hear the peals of laughter which were raised on every side; but it was a still more pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick, blinded shortly afterwards with a silk-handkerchief, falling up against the wall, and scrambling into corners, and going through all the mysteries of blind-man's buff, with the utmost relish of the game, until at last he caught one of the poor relations; and then had to evade the blind-man himself, which he did with a nimbleness and agility that elicited the admiration and applause of all beholders. The poor relations caught just the people whom they thought would like it; and when the game flagged, got caught themselves. When they were all tired of blind-man's buff, there was a great game at snapdragon, and when fingers enough were burned with that, and all the raisons gone, they sat down by the huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mighty bowl of wassail, something smaller than an ordinary washhouse copper, in which the hot apples were hissing and bubbling with a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly irresistible.
"This," said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, "this is, indeed, comfort."
"Our invariable custom," replied Mr. Wardle. "Everybody sits down with us on Christmas eve, as you see them now—servants and all; and here we wait till the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and wile away the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire."
Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred, and the deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated into the furthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint on every face.
"Come," said Wardle, "a song—a Christmas song. I'll give you one, in default of a better."
"Bravo," said Mr. Pickwick.
"Fill up," cried Wardle. "It will be two hours good, before you see the bottom of the bowl through the deep rich colour of the wassail; fill up all round, and now for the song."
Thus saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round, sturdy voice, commenced without more ado—
CLEMENT C. MOORE
A CHRISTMAS PIECE
Of garnered rhyme, from hidden stores of olden time that since the language did begin, have welcomed merry Christmas in, and made the winter nights so long, fleet by on wings of wine and song; for when the snow is on the roof, the house within is sorrow proof, if yule log blazes on the hearth, and cups and hearts o'er-brim with mirth. Then bring the wassail to the board, with nuts and fruit—the winter's hoard; and bid the children take off shoe, to hang their stockings by the flue; and let the clear and frosty sky, set out its brightest jewelry, to show old Santa Claus the road, so he may ease his gimcrack load. And with the coming of these times, we'll add some old and lusty rhymes, that suit the festive season well, and sound as sweet as Christmas bell.
Now just bethink of castle gate, where humble midnight mummers wait, to try if voices, one and all, can rouse the tipsy seneschal, to give them bread and beer and brawn, for tidings of the Christmas morn; or bid each yelper clear his throat, with water of the castle moat, for thus they used, by snow and torch, to rear their voices at the porch:Fred S. Cozzens
And here's a Christmas carol meant for children, and most excellent, and though the monk that wrote it was hung, yet still his verses may be sung.
HAMILTON WRIGHT MABIE
[From "My Study Fire."]
The world has been full of mysteries to-day; everybody has gone about weighted with secrets. The children's faces have fairly shone with expectancy, and I enter easily into the universal dream which at this moment holds all the children of Christendom under its spell. Was there ever a wider or more loving conspiracy than that which keeps the venerable figure of Santa Claus from slipping away, with all the other oldtime myths, into the forsaken wonderland of the past? Of all the personages whose marvelous doings once filled the minds of men, he alone survives. He has outlived all the great gods, and all the impressive and poetic conceptions which once flitted between heaven and earth; these have gone, but Santa Claus remains by virtue of a common understanding that childhood shall not be despoiled of one of its most cherished beliefs, either by the mythologist, with his sun myth theory, or the scientist, with his heartless diatribe against superstition. There is a good deal more to be said on this subject, if this were the place to say it; even superstition has its uses, and sometimes, its sound heart of truth. He who does not see in the legend of Santa Claus a beautiful faith on one side, and the naive embodiment of a divine fact on the other, is not fit to have a place at the Christmas board. For him there should be neither carol, nor holly, nor mistletoe; they only shall keep the feast to whom all these things are but the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.
Rosalind and myself are thoroughly orthodox when it comes to the keeping of holidays; here at least the ways of our fathers are our ways also. Orthodoxy generally consists in retaining and emphasizing the disagreeable ways of the fathers, and as we are both inclined to heterodoxy on these points, we make the more prominent our observance of the best of the old-time habits. I might preach a pleasant little sermon just here, taking as my text the "survival of the fittest," and illustrating the truth from our own domestic ritual; but the season preaches its own sermon, and I should only follow the example of some ministers and get between the text and my congregation if I made the attempt. For weeks we have all been looking forward to this eventful evening, and the still more eventful morrow. There have been hurried and whispered conferences hastily suspended at the sound of a familiar step on the stair; packages of every imaginable size and shape have been surreptitiously introduced into the house, and have immediately disappeared in all manner of out-of-the-way places; and for several weeks past one room has been constantly under lock and key, visited only when certain sharp-sighted eyes were occupied in other directions. Through all this scene of mystery Rosalind has moved sedately and with sealed lips, the common confidant of all the conspirators, and herself the greatest conspirator of all. Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!
After dinner, eaten, let it be confessed, with more haste and less accompaniment of talk than usual, the parlor doors were opened, and there stood the Christmas tree in a glow of light, its wonderful branches laden with all manner of strange fruits not to be found in the botanies. The wild shouts, the merry laughter, the cries of delight as one coveted fruit after another dropped into long-expectant arms still linger in my ears now that the little tapers are burnt out, the boughs left bare, and the actors in the perennial drama are fast asleep, with new and strange bedfellows selected from the spoils of the night. Cradled between a delightful memory and a blissful anticipation, who does not envy them?
After this charming prelude is over, Rosalind comes into the study, and studies for the fortieth time the effect of the new design of decoration which she had this year worked out, and which gives these rather somber rows of books a homelike and festive aspect. It pleases me to note the spray of holly that obscures the title of Bacon's solemn and weighty "Essays," and I get half a page of suggestions for my notebook from the fact that a sprig of mistletoe has fallen on old Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy." Rosalind has reason to be satisfied, and if I read her face aright she has succeeded even in her own eyes in bringing Christmas, with its fragrant memories and its heavenly visions, into the study. I cannot help thinking, as I watch her piling up the fire for a blaze of unusual splendor, that if more studies had their Rosalinds to bring in the genial currents of life there would be more cheer and hope and large-hearted wisdom in the books which the world is reading to-day.
When the fire has reached a degree of intensity and magnitude which Rosalind thinks adequate to the occasion, I take down a well-worn volume which opens of itself at a well-worn page. It is a book which I have read and re-read many times, and always with a kindling sympathy and affection for the man who wrote it; in whatever mood I take it up there is something in it which touches me with a sense of kinship. It is not a great book, but it is a book of the heart, and books of the heart have passed beyond the outer court of criticism before we bestow upon them that phrase of supreme regard. There are other books of the heart around me, but on Christmas Eve it is Alexander Smith's "Dreamthorp" which always seems to lie at my hand, and when I take it up the well-worn volume falls open at the essay on "Christmas." It is a good many years since Rosalind and I began to read together on Christmas Eve this beautiful meditation on the season, and now it has gathered about itself such a host of memories that it has become part of our common past. It is, indeed, a veritable palimpsest, overlaid with tender and gracious recollections out of which the original thought gains a new and subtle sweetness. As I read it aloud I know that she sees once more the familiar landscape about Dreamthorp, with the low, dark hill in the background, and over it "the tender radiance that precedes the moon"; the village windows are all lighted, and the "whole place shines like a congregation of glowworms." There are the skaters still "leaning against the frosty wind"; there is the "gray church tower amid the leafless elms," around which the echoes of the morning peal of Christmas bells still hover; the village folk have gathered, "in their best dresses and their best faces"; the beautiful service of the church has been read and answered with heartfelt responses, the familiar story has been told again simply and urgently, with applications for every thankful soul, and then the congregation has gone to its homes and its festivities.
All these things, I am sure, lie within Rosalind's vision, although she seems to see nothing but the ruddy blaze of the fire; all these things I see, as I have seen them these many Christmas Eves agone; but with this familiar landscape there are mingled all the sweet and sorrowful memories of our common life, recalled at this hour that the light of the highest truth may interpret them anew in the divine language of hope. I read on until I come to the quotation from the "Hymn to the Nativity," and then I close the book, and take up a copy of Milton close at hand. We have had our commemoration service of love, and now there comes into our thought, with the organ roll of this sublime hymn, the universal truth which lies at the heart of the season. I am hardly conscious that it is my voice which makes these words audible: I am conscious only of this mighty-voiced anthem, fit for the choral song of the morning stars:"Ring out, ye crystal spheres,
Like a psalm the great Hymn fills the air, and like a psalm it remains in the memory. The fire has burned low, and a soft and solemn light fills the room. Neither of us speaks while the clock strikes twelve. I look out of the window. The heavens are ablaze with light, and somewhere amid those circling constellations I know that a new star has found its place, and is shining with such a ray as never before fell from heaven to earth.
MRS. C.S. STONE
THE CHRISTMAS GOOSE AT THE CRATCHITS'
You might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course; and in truth, it was something like it in that house. Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready before-hand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigor; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner, at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long-expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all around the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone on the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eye-brows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses—to take the pudding up, and bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the backyard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose; a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry cook's next door to each other, with a laundress next door to that! That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered, flushed, but smiling proudly, with the pudding like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for so large a family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass—two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
"A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
FRANCES RIDLEY HAVERGAL
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
INEXHAUSTIBILITY OF THE SUBJECT OF CHRISTMAS
So many things have been said of late years about Christmas, that it is supposed by some there is no saying more. O they of little faith! What! do they suppose that every thing has been said that can be said about any one Christmas thing?About beef, for instance?
Esto perpetua,—that is, faith, hope and charity, and endeavor; and plum-pudding enough by and by, all the year round, for everybody that likes it. Why that should not be the case, we cannot see,—seeing that the earth is big, and human kind teachable, and God very good, and inciting us to do it. Meantime, gravity apart, we ask anybody whether any of the above subjects are exhausted; and we inform everybody, that all the above customs still exist in some parts of our beloved country, however unintelligible they may have become in others. But to give a specimen of the non-exhaustion of any one of their topics.
Beef, for example. Now, we should like to know who has exhausted the subject of the fine old roast Christmas piece of beef, from its original appearance in the meadows as part of the noble sultan of the herd, glorious old Taurus,—the lord of the sturdy brow and ponderous agility, a sort of thunderbolt of a beast, well chosen by Jove to disguise in, one of Nature's most striking compounds of apparent heaviness and unencumbered activity,—up to its contribution to the noble Christmas-dinner, smoking from the spit, and flanked by the outposts of Bacchus. John Bull (cannibalism apart) hails it like a sort of relation. He makes it part of his flesh and blood; glories in it; was named after it; has it served up, on solemn occasions, with music and a hymn, as it was the other day at the royal city dinner:—"Oh the roast beef of old England!
"And oh!" observe, not merely "oh!" again; but "and" with it; as if, though the same piece of beef, it were also another,—another and the same,—cut, and come again; making two of one, in order to express intensity and reduplication of satisfaction:—"Oh the roast beef of old England!
We beg to assure the reader, that a whole Seer might be written on this single point of the Christmas-dinner; and "shall we be told" (as orators exclaim), "and this, too, in a British land," that the subject is "exhausted"!
Then plum-pudding! What a word is that! how plump and plump again! How round and repeated and plenipotential! (There are two p's, observe, in plenipotential; and so there are in plum-pudding. We love an exquisite fitness,—a might and wealth of adaptation). Why, the whole round cheek of universal childhood is in the idea of plum-pudding; ay, and the weight of manhood, and the plenitude of the majesty of city dames. Wealth itself is symbolized by the least of its fruity particles. "A plum" is a city fortune,—a million of money. He (the old boy, who has earned it)—"Puts in his thumb,
videlicet, into his pocket,And pulls out a plum,
Observe a little boy at a Christmas-dinner, and his grandfather opposite him. What a world of secret similarity there is between them! How hope in one, and retrospection in the other, and appetite in both, meet over the same ground of pudding, and understand it to a nicety! How the senior banters the little boy on his third slice! and how the little boy thinks within himself that he dines that day as well as the senior! How both look hot and red and smiling, and juvenile. How the little boy is conscious of the Christmas-box in his pocket! (of which, indeed, the grandfather jocosely puts him in mind); and how the grandfather is quite as conscious of the plum, or part of a plum, or whatever fraction it may be, in his own! How he incites the little boy to love money and good dinners all his life! and how determined the little boy is to abide by his advice,—with a secret addition in favor of holidays and marbles,—to which there is an analogy, in the senior's mind, on the side of trips to Hastings, and a game at whist! Finally, the old gentleman sees his own face in the pretty smooth one of the child; and if the child is not best pleased at his proclamation of the likeness (in truth, is horrified at it, and thinks it a sort of madness), yet nice observers, who have lived long enough to see the wonderful changes in people's faces from youth to age, probably discern the thing well enough, and feel a movement of pathos at their hearts in considering the world of trouble and emotion that is the causer of the changes. That old man's face was once like that little boy's! That little boy's will be one day like that old man's! What a thought to make us all love and respect one another, if not for our fine qualities, let at least for the trouble and sorrow which we all go through!
Ay, and joy too; for all people have their joys as well as troubles, at one time or another,—most likely both together, or in constant alternation: and the greater part of troubles are not the worst things in the world, but only graver forms of the requisite motion of the universe, or workings towards a better condition of things, the greater or less violent according as we give them violence, or respect them like awful but not ill-meaning gods, and entertain them with a rewarded patience. Grave thoughts, you will say, for Christmas. But no season has a greater right to grave thoughts, in passing; and, for that very reason, no season has a greater right to let them pass, and recur to more light ones.
So a noble and merry season to you, my masters; and may we meet, thick and three-fold, many a time and oft, in blithe yet most thoughtful pages! Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the 25th of this month, that the divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day: and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making, and wondrous was the wine-drinking at Galilee.
HARRIET F. BLODGETT
THE FESTIVAL OF ST. NICHOLAS
MARY MAPES DODGE
We all know how, before the Christmas-tree began to flourish in the home-life of our country, a certain "right jolly old elf," with "eight tiny reindeer," used to drive his sleigh-load of toys up to our housetops, and then bound down the chimney to fill the stockings so hopefully hung by the fireplace. His friends called him Santa Claus; and those who were most intimate ventured to say, "Old Nick." It was said that he originally came from Holland. Doubtless he did; but, if so, he certainly, like many other foreigners, changed his ways very much after landing upon our shores. In Holland, St. Nicholas is a veritable saint, and often appears in full costume, with his embroidered robes glittering with gems and gold, his mitre, his crosier, and his jewelled gloves. Here Santa Claus comes rollicking along on the 25th of December, our Holy Christmas morn; but in Holland, St. Nicholas visits earth on the 5th, a time especially appropriated to him. Early on the morning of the 6th, which is St. Nicholas Day, he distributes his candies, toys and treasures, and then vanishes for a year.
Christmas Day is devoted by the Hollanders to church-rites and pleasant family visiting. It is on St. Nicholas Eve that their young people become half wild with joy and expectation. To some of them it is a sorry time; for the saint is very candid, and, if any of them have been bad during the past year, he is quite sure to tell them so. Sometimes he carries a birch-rod under his arm, and advises the parents to give them scoldings in place of confections, and floggings instead of joys.
It was well that the boys hastened to their abodes on that bright winter evening; for, in less than an hour afterwards, the saint made his appearance in half the homes of Holland. He visited the king's palace, and in the self-same moment appeared in Annie Bouman's comfortable home. Probably one of our silver half-dollars would have purchased all that his saintship left at the peasant Bouman's. But a half-dollar's worth will sometimes do for the poor what hundreds of dollars may fail to do for the rich: it makes them happy and grateful, fills them with new peace and love.
Hilda van Gleck's little brothers and sisters were in a high state of excitement that night. They had been admitted into the grand parlor: they were dressed in their best, and had been given two cakes apiece at supper. Hilda was as joyous as any. Why not? St. Nicholas would never cross a girl of fourteen from his list, just because she was tall and looked almost like a woman. On the contrary, he would probably exert himself to do honor to such an august-looking damsel. Who could tell? So she sported and laughed and danced as gayly as the youngest, and was the soul of all their merry games. Father, mother and grandmother looked on approvingly; so did grandfather, before he spread his large red handkerchief over his face, leaving only the top of his skull-cap visible. This kerchief was his ensign of sleep.
Earlier in the evening, all had joined in the fun. In the general hilarity, there had seemed to be a difference only in bulk between grandfather and the baby. Indeed, a shade of solemn expectation, now and then flitting across the faces of the younger members, had made them seem rather more thoughtful than their elders.
Now the spirit of fun reigned supreme. The very flames danced and capered in the polished grate. A pair of prim candles, that had been staring at the astral lamp, began to wink at other candles far away in the mirrors. There was a long bell-rope suspended from the ceiling in the corner, made of glass beads, netted over a cord nearly as thick as your wrist. It generally hung in the shadow, and made no sign; but to-night it twinkled from end to end. Its handle of crimson glass sent reckless dashes of red at the papered wall, turning its dainty blue stripes into purple. Passers-by halted to catch the merry laughter floating through curtain and sash into the street, then skipped on their way with the startled consciousness that the village was wide awake. At last matters grew so uproarious that the grandsire's red kerchief came down from his face with a jerk. What decent old gentleman could sleep in such a racket! Mynheer van Gleck regarded his children with astonishment. The baby even showed symptoms of hysterics. It was high time to attend to business. Mevrouw suggested that, if they wished to see the good St. Nicholas, they should sing the same loving invitation that had brought him the year before.
The baby stared, and thrust his fist into his mouth, as Mynheer put him down upon the floor. Soon he sat erect, and looked with a sweet scowl at the company. With his lace and embroideries, and his crown of blue ribbon and whalebone (for he was not quite past the tumbling age), he looked like the king of babies.
The other children, each holding a pretty willow basket, formed at once in a ring, and moved slowly around the little fellow, lifting their eyes meanwhile; for the saint to whom they were about to address themselves was yet in mysterious quarters.
Mevrouw commenced playing softly upon the piano; soon the voices rose,—gentle, youthful voices, rendered all the sweeter for their tremor,—"Welcome, friend! St. Nicholas, welcome!
During the chorus, sundry glances, half in eagerness, half in dread, had been cast towards the polished folding-doors. Now a loud knocking was heard. The circle was broken in an instant. Some of the little ones, with a strange mixture of fear and delight, pressed against their mother's knee. Grandfather bent forward, with his chin resting upon his hand; grandmother lifted her spectacles; Mynheer van Gleck, seated by the fireplace, slowly drew his meerschaum from his mouth; while Hilda and the other children settled themselves beside him in an expectant group.
The knocking was heard again.
"Come in," said the mevrouw, softly.
The door slowly opened; and St. Nicholas, in full array, stood before them. You could have heard a pin drop. Soon he spoke. What a mysterious majesty in his voice! what kindliness in his tone!
"Karel van Gleck, I am pleased to greet thee, and thy honored vrouw, Kathrine, and thy son, and his good vrouw, Annie.
"Children, I greet ye all,—Hendrick, Hilda, Broom, Katy, Huygens and Lucretia. And thy cousins,—Wolfert, Diedrich, Mayken, Voost and Katrina. Good children ye have been, in the main, since I last accosted ye. Diedrich was rude at the Haarlem fair last fall; but he has tried to atone for it since. Mayken has failed, of late, in her lessons; and too many sweets and trifles have gone to her lips, and too few stivers to her charity-box. Diedrich, I trust, will be a polite, manly boy for the future; and Mayken will endeavor to shine as a student. Let her remember, too, that economy and thrift are needed in the foundation of a worthy and generous life. Little Katy has been cruel to the cat more than once. St. Nicholas can hear the cat cry when its tail is pulled. I will forgive her, if she will remember from this hour that the smallest dumb creatures have feeling, and must not be abused."
As Katy burst into a frightened cry, the saint graciously remained silent until she was soothed.
"Master Broom," he resumed, "I warn thee that boys who are in the habit of putting snuff upon the foot-stove of the school-mistress may one day be discovered, and receive a flogging—"
(Master Broom colored, and stared in great astonishment.)
"But, thou art such an excellent scholar, I shall make thee no further reproof.
"Thou, Hendrick, didst distinguish thyself in the archery match last spring, and hit the doel,[A] though the bird was swung before it to unsteady thine eye. I give thee credit for excelling in manly sport and exercise; though I must not unduly countenance thy boat-racing, since it leaves thee too little time for thy proper studies.
"Lucretia and Hilda shall have a blessed sleep to-night. The consciousness of kindness to the poor, devotion in their souls, and cheerful, hearty obedience to household rule, will render them happy.
"With one and all I avow myself well content. Goodness, industry, benevolence and thrift have prevailed in your midst. Therefore, my blessing upon you; and may the New Year find all treading the paths of obedience, wisdom and love! To-morrow you shall find more substantial proofs that I have been in your home. Farewell!"
With these words came a great shower of sugar-plums upon a linen sheet spread out in front of the doors. A general scramble followed. The children fairly tumbled over each other in their eagerness to fill their baskets. Mevrouw cautiously held the baby down upon the sheet till the chubby little fists were filled. Then the bravest of the youngsters sprang up and threw open the closed doors. In vain they searched the mysterious apartment. St. Nicholas was nowhere to be seen.
Soon they all sped to another room, where stood a table, covered with the whitest of linen damask. Each child, in a flutter of pleasure, laid a shoe upon it, and each shoe held a little hay for the good saint's horse. The door was then carefully locked, and its key hidden in the mother's bedroom. Next followed good-night kisses, a grand family procession to the upper floor, merry farewells at bedroom doors, and silence, at last, reigned in the Van Gleck mansion.
Early the next morning, the door was solemnly unlocked and opened in the presence of the assembled household; when, lo! a sight appeared, proving good St. Nicholas to be a saint of his word.
Every shoe was filled to overflowing; and beside each stood a many-colored pile. The table was heavy with its load of presents,—candies, toys, trinkets, books and other articles. Every one had gifts, from grandfather down to the baby.
FROM THE GERMAN
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
WASHINGTON IRVINGBut is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair on
There is nothing in England that exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life, when as yet I only knew the world through books, and believed it to be all that poets had painted it; and they bring with them the flavor of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more homebred, social, and joyous than at present. I regret to say that they are daily growing more and more faint, being gradually worn away by time, but still more obliterated by modern fashion. They resemble those picturesque morsels of Gothic architecture, which we see crumbling in various parts of the country, partly dilapidated by the waste of ages, and partly lost in the additions and alterations of latter days. Poetry, however, clings with cherishing fondness about the rural game and holiday revel, from which it has derived so many of its themes—as the ivy winds its rich foliage about the Gothic arch and mouldering tower, gratefully repaying their support, by clasping together their tottering remains, and, as it were, embalming them in verdure.
Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment. The services of the church about this season are extremely tender and inspiring: they dwell on the beautiful story of the origin of our faith, and the pastoral scenes that accompanied its announcement; they gradually increase in fervor and pathos during the season of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on the morning that brought peace and good-will to men. I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and the pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony.
It is a beautiful arrangement, also, derived from the days of yore, that this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of kindred hearts, which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the children of a family, who have launched forth in life, and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementos of childhood.
There is something in the very season of the year, that gives a charm to the festivity of Christmas. At other times, we derive a great portion of our pleasures from the mere beauties of Nature. Our feelings sally forth and dissipate themselves over the sunny landscape, and we "live abroad and everywhere." The song of the bird, the murmur of the stream, the breathing fragrance of spring, the soft voluptuousness of summer, the golden pomp of autumn; earth with its mantle of refreshing green, and heaven with its deep, delicious blue and its cloudy magnificence,—all fill us with mute but exquisite delight, and we revel in the luxury of mere sensation. But in the depth of winter, when Nature lies despoiled of every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and desolation of our landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly disposed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other's society, and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart, and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.
The pitchy gloom without makes the heart dilate on entering the room filled with the glow and warmth of the evening fire. The ruddy blaze diffuses an artificial summer and sunshine through the room, and lights up each countenance with a kindlier welcome. Where does the honest face of hospitality expand into a broader and more cordial smile—where is the shy glance of love more sweetly eloquent—than by the winter fireside? and as the hollow blast of wintry wind rushes through the hall, claps the distant door, whistles about the casement, and rumbles down the chimney, what can be more grateful than that feeling of sober and sheltered security, with which we look around upon the comfortable chamber, and the scene of domestic hilarity?
The English, from the great prevalence of rural habits throughout every class of society, have always been fond of those festivals and holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life; and they were in former days particularly observant of the religious and social rights of Christmas. It is inspiring to read even the dry details which some antiquaries have given of the quaint humors, the burlesque pageants, the complete abandonment to mirth and good fellowship, with which this festival was celebrated. It seemed to throw open every door, unlock every heart. It brought the peasant and the peer together, and blended all ranks in one warm generous flow of joy and kindness. The old halls of castles and manor-houses resounded with the harp and the Christmas carol, and their ample boards groaned under the weight of hospitality. Even the poorest cottage welcomed the festive season with green decorations of bay and holly—the cheerful fire glanced its rays through the lattice, inviting the passenger to raise the latch, and join the 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 holiday 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 Falstaff, 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 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-houses 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 board 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 everything to melody and beauty! The very crowing of the cock, heard sometimes in the profound repose of the country, "telling the night-watches to his feathery dames," was thought by the common people to announce the approach of the 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 green 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.
Stranger and sojourner as I am in the land—though for me no social hearth may blaze, no hospitable roof throw open its doors, nor the warm grasp of friendship welcome me at the threshold—yet I feel the influence of the season beaming into my soul from the happy looks of those around me. Surely happiness is reflective, like the light of heaven; and every countenance bright with smiles, and glowing with innocent enjoyment, is a mirror transmitting to others the rays of a supreme and ever-shining benevolence. He who can turn churlishly away from contemplating the felicity of his fellow-beings, and can sit down darkling and repining in his loneliness when all around is joyful, may have his moments of strong excitement and selfish gratification, but he wants the genial and social sympathies which constitute the charm of a merry Christmas.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU
THEODORE LEDYARD CUYLER
My own boyhood was spent in a delightful home on one of the most beautiful farms in Western New York—an experience that any city-bred boy might envy. We had no religious festivals except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, and the latter was especially welcome, not only on account of the good fare but its good gifts. Christmas was sacred to Santa Claus, the patron saint of good boys and girls. We counted the days until its arrival. If the night before the longed-for festival was one of eager expectation in all our houses, it was a sad time in all barn-yards and turkey-coops and chicken-roosts; for the slaughter was terrible, and the cry of the feathered tribes was like "the mourning of Hadadrimmon." As to our experiences within doors, they are portrayed in Dr. Clement C. Moore's immortal lines, "The Night Before Christmas," which is probably the most popular poem for children ever penned in America. As the visits of Santa Claus in the night could only be through the chimney, we hung our stockings where they would be in full sight. Three score and ten years ago such modern contrivances as steam pipes, and those unpoetical holes in the floor called "hot-air registers," were as entirely unknown in our rural regions as gas-burners or telephones. We had a genuine fire-place in our kitchen, big enough to contain an enormous back-log, and broad enough for eight or ten people to form "a circle wide" before it and enjoy the genial warmth.
The last process before going to bed was to suspend our stockings in the chimney jambs; and then we dreamed of Santa Claus, or if we awoke in the night, we listened for the jingling of his sleigh-bells. At the peep of day we were aroused by the voice of my good grandfather, who planted himself in the stairway and shouted in a stentorian tone, "I wish you all a Merry Christmas!" The contest was as to who should give the salutation first, and the old gentleman determined to get the start of us by sounding his greeting to the family before we were out of our rooms. Then came a race for the chimney corner; all the stockings came down quicker than they had gone up. What could not be contained in them was disposed upon the mantelpiece, or elsewhere. I remember that I once received an autograph letter from Santa Claus, full of good counsels; and our colored cook told me that she awoke in the night and, peeping into the kitchen, actually saw the veritable old visitor light a candle and sit down at the table and write it! I believed it all as implicitly as I believed the Ten Commandments, or the story of David and Goliath. Happy days of childish credulity, when fact and fiction were swallowed alike without a misgiving! During my long life I have seen many a day-dream and many an air-castle go the way of Santa Claus and the wonderful "Lamp of Aladdin."
In after years, when I became a parent, my beloved wife and I, determined to make the Christmastide one of the golden days of the twelve months. In mid-winter, when all outside vegetation was bleak and bare, the Christmas-tree in our parlor bloomed in many-colored beauty and bounty. When the tiny candles were all lighted the children and our domestics gathered round it and one of the youngsters rehearsed some pretty juvenile effusion; as "they that had found great spoil." After the happy harvesting of the magic tree in my own home, it was my custom to spend the afternoon or evening in some mission-school and to watch the sparkling eyes of several hundreds of children while a huge Christmas-tree shed down its bounties. Fifty years ago, when the degradation and miseries of the "Five-Points" were first invaded by pioneer philanthropy, it was a thrilling sight to behold the denizens of the slums and their children as they flocked into Mr. Pease's new "House of Industry" and the "Brewery Mission" building. The angelic host over the hills of Bethlehem did not make a more welcome revelation to them "who had sat in darkness and the shadow of death." In these days the squalid regions of our great cities are being explored and improved by various methods of systematic beneficence. "Christian Settlements" are established; Bureaus of Charity are formed and Associations for the relief of the poor are organized. A noble work; but, after all, the most effective "bureau" is one that, in a water-proof and a stout pair of shoes, sallies off on a wintry night to some abode of poverty with not only supplies for suffering bodies, but kind words of sympathy for lonesome hearts. A dollar from a warm hand with a warm word is worth two dollars sent by mail or by a messenger-boy. The secret of power in doing good is personal contact. Our incarnate "Elder Brother" went in person to the sick chamber. He anointed with His own hand the eyes of the blind man and He touched the loathsome leper into health. The portentous chasm between wealth and poverty must be bridged by a span of personal kindness over which the footsteps must turn in only one direction. The personal contact of self sacrificing benevolence with darkness, filth and misery—that is the only remedy. Heart must touch heart. Benevolence also cannot be confined to calendars. Those good people will exhibit the most of the spirit of our Blessed Master who practice Christmas-giving and cheerful, unselfish and zealous Christmas-living through all the circling year.
CHRISTMAS AT FEZZIWIG'S WAREHOUSE
"Yo ho! my boys," said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night; Christmas Eve, Dick! Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up," cried old Fezziwig with a sharp clap of his hands, "before a man can say Jack Robinson...."
"Hilli-ho!" cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk with wonderful agility. "Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Cheer up, Ebenezer!"
Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life forevermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room as you would desire to see upon a winter's night.
In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk and made an orchestra of it and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast, substantial smile. In came the three Misses Fezziwig, beaming and lovable. In came the six followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business In came the housemaid with her cousin the baker. In came the cook with her brother's particular friend the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master, trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping, old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them.
When this result was brought about the fiddler struck up "Sir Roger de Coverley." Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too, with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pairs of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been thrice as many—Oh, four times as many—old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted at any given time what would become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire; both hands to your partner, bow and courtesy, corkscrew, thread the needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig "cut"—cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.
When the clock struck eleven the domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually, as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas!
JOHN G. WHITTIER
THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS
From "Pickwick Papers."
And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then re-united, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual good-will, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight, and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilized nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future state of existence, provided for the blest and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!
We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throb so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstance connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday. Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days, that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!
ON GOOD WISHES AT CHRISTMAS
At Christmas, which is a good holiday for most of us, but especially for that larger and better half of us, the young, there is, as everybody knows, a profusion of good things. The final cause of a great many existences is Christmas Day. How many of that vast flock of geese, which are now peacefully feeding over the long, cold wolds of Norfolk, or are driven gabbling and hissing by the gozzard to their pasture—how many of those very geese were called into being simply for Christmas Day! In the towns, with close streets and fetid courts, where the flaring gas at the corner of an alley marks the only bright spot, a gin-palace, there a goose-club is held; and there, for a short time, is the resting-place, side by side with a bottle of gin, of one of those wise-looking and self-concentrated gobblers, whose name men have generally, and, as we think, unjustly, applied to the silly one amongst themselves.
But it is only the profusion of good things, of cakes, puddings, spices, oranges, and fruits, from sunny Italy and Spain, from India and from Asia, from America, North and South, and even from distant Australia; it is not that amongst us, as long ago with the Franklin in Chaucer, that at this time—"It snowës in our house
it is not that we have huge loads of beef chines, ribs, sirloins, legs, necks, breasts, and shoulders of mutton, fillets of veal, whole hogs, and pigs in various stages, from the tender suckling to the stiff-jointed father of a family, whose "back hair" makes good clothes-brushes, and whose head is brought in at college feasts; it is not that the air gives up its choicest fowl, and the waters yield their best fish: plentiful as these are with us, they are nothing in profusion to the kindly greeting and good wishes that fly about in the cold weather, and that circulate from land's end to land's end. The whole coast of England is surrounded by a general "shake hands." The coast-guard on their wintry walks do not greet each other more surely than old friends all over England do: one clasps another, and another a third, till from Dover to London and so on to York, from Yarmouth on the east to Bristol on the west, from John O'Groat's house at the extreme north to the Land's End, the very toe-nail of England on the south—a kindly greeting, we may be sure, will pass. And a cheerful thing it is, on this day of universal equality, on this day which—"To the cottage and the crown,
to think that we can touch and hold each other with friendly hands all over our land. We all of us shake hands on Christmas Day. Leigh Hunt had a quaint fancy that he had, as it were, by lineal descent, shaken hands with Milton. He would argue thus: he knew a man who had shaken hands with Dr. Johnson, who had clasped the hand of him who had shaken Dryden's right hand, who himself had thus greeted Andrew Marvell, who knew Master Elwood, the Quaker friend of Milton, who knew Milton himself; and thus, though our Sovereign has her hand kissed, not shaken, by her subjects, yet doubtless she will clasp the hands of her children, who, shaking those of others, will let the greeting and the good wishes descend to the lowest on that ladder of society which we are all trying to climb.
As for hearty good wishes, spoken in all kinds of voices, from the deepest bass to the shrillest treble, we are sure that they circulate throughout the little island, and are borne on the wings of the post all over the seas. Erasmus, coming to England in Henry VIII's time, was struck with the deep heartiness of our wishes—good, ay, and bad too; but he most admired the good ones. Other nations ask in their greetings how a man carries himself, or how doth he stand with the world, or how doth he find himself; but the English greet with a pious wish that God may give one a good morning or a good evening, good day, or "god'd'en," as the old writers have it; and when we part we wish that "God may be with you," though we now clip it into "Good b'ye."
WILLIAM COX BENNETT
RICHARD WATSON GILDER
(A Selection from "Dreamthorp")
Sitting here, I incontinently find myself holding a levee of departed Christmas nights. Silently, and without special call, into my study of imagination come these apparitions, clad in snowy mantles, brooched and gemmed with frosts. Their numbers I do not care to count, for I know they are the numbers of many years. The visages of two or three are sad enough, but on the whole 'tis a congregation of jolly ghosts. The nostrils of my memory are assailed by a faint odor of plum-pudding and burnt brandy. I hear a sound as of light music, a whisk of women's dresses whirled round in dance, a click as of glasses pledged by friends. Before one of these apparitions is a mound, as of a new-made grave, on which the snow is lying. I know, I know! Drape thyself not in white like the others, but in mourning stole of crape; and instead of dance music, let there haunt around thee the service for the dead! I know that sprig of mistletoe, O Spirit in the midst! Under it I swung the girl I loved—girl no more now than I am a boy—and kissed her spite of blush and pretty shriek. And thee, too, with fragrant trencher in hand, over which blue tongues of flame are playing, I do know—most ancient apparition of them all. I remember thy reigning night. Back to very days of childhood am I taken by the ghostly raisins simmering in a ghostly brandy flame. Where now the merry boys and girls that thrust their fingers in thy blaze? And now, when I think of it, thee also would I drape in black raiment, around thee also would I make the burial service murmur.- - - - -
This, then, is Christmas, 1862. Everything is silent in Dreamthorp. The smith's hammer reposes beside the anvil. The weaver's flying shuttle is at rest. Through the clear wintry sunshine the bells this morning rang from the gray church tower amid the leafless elms, and up the walk the villagers trooped in their best dresses and their best faces—the latter a little reddened by the sharp wind: mere redness in the middle aged; in the maids, wonderful bloom to the eyes of their lovers—and took their places decently in the ancient pews. The clerk read the beautiful prayers of our Church, which seem more beautiful at Christmas than at any other period. For that very feeling which breaks down at this time the barriers which custom, birth, or wealth have erected between man and man, strikes down the barrier of time which intervenes between the worshipper of to-day and the great body of worshippers who are at rest in their graves. On such a day as this, hearing these prayers, we feel a kinship with the devout generations who heard them long ago. The devout lips of the Christian dead murmured the responses which we now murmur; along this road of prayer did their thoughts of our innumerable dead, our brothers and sisters in faith and hope, approach the Maker, even as ours at present approach Him. Prayers over, the clergyman—who is no Boanerges, of Chrysostom, golden-mouthed, but a loving, genial-hearted, pious man, the whole extent of his life from boyhood until now, full of charity and kindly deeds, as autumn fields with heavy wheaten ears; the clergyman, I say—for the sentence is becoming unwieldy on my hands, and one must double back to secure connexion—read out in that silvery voice of his, which is sweeter than any music to my ear, those chapters of the New Testament that deal with the birth of the Saviour. And the red-faced rustic congregation hung on the good man's voice as he spoke of the Infant brought forth in a manger, of the shining angels that appeared in the mid-air to the shepherds, of the miraculous star that took its station in the sky, and of the wise men who came from afar and laid their gifts of frankincense and myrrh at the feet of the child. With the story every one was familiar, but on that day, and backed by the persuasive melody of the reader's voice, it seemed to all quite new—at least, they listened attentively as if it were. The discourse that followed possessed no remarkable thoughts; it dealt simply with the goodness of the Maker of heaven and earth, and the shortness of time, with the duties of thankfulness and charity to the poor; and I am persuaded that every one who heard returned to his house in a better frame of mind. And so the service remitted us all to our own homes, to what roast-beef and plum-pudding slender means permitted, to gatherings around cheerful fires, to half-pleasant, half-sad remembrances of the dead and the absent.
From sermon I have returned like the others, and it is my purpose to hold Christmas alone. I have no one with me at table, and my own thoughts must be my Christmas guests. Sitting here, it is pleasant to think how much kindly feeling exists this present night in England. By imagination I can taste of every table, pledge every toast, silently join in every roar of merriment. I become a sort of universal guest. With what propriety is this jovial season, placed amid dismal December rains and snows! How one pities the unhappy Australians, with whom everything is turned topsy-turvy, and who holds Christmas at midsummer! The face of Christmas glows all the brighter for the cold. The heart warms as the frost increases. Estrangements which have embittered the whole year, melt in to-night's hospitable smile. There are warmer handshakings on this night than during the by-past twelve months. Friend lives in the mind of friend. There is more charity at this time than at any other. You get up at midnight and toss your spare coppers to the half-benumbed musicians whiffling beneath your windows, although at any other time you would consider their performance a nuisance, and call angrily for the police. Poverty, and scanty clothing, and fireless grates, come home at this season to the bosoms of the rich, and they give of their abundance. The very red-breast of the woods enjoys his Christmas feast. Good feeling incarnates itself into plum-pudding. The Master's words, "The poor ye have always with you," wear at this time a deep significance. For at least one night on each year over all Christendom there is brotherhood. And good men, sitting amongst their families, or by a solitary fire like me, when they remember the light, that shone over the poor clowns huddling on the Bethlehem plains eighteen hundred years ago, the apparition of shining angels overhead, the song "Peace on earth and good-will toward men," which for the first hallowed the midnight air,—pray for that strain's fulfilment, that battle and strife may vex the nations no more, that not only on Christmas eve, but the whole year round, men shall be brethren owning one Father in heaven.- - - - -
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 forever 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 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 see 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.
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
To-morrow is Merry Christmas; and when its night descends there will be mirth and music, and the light sounds of the merry-twinkling feet within these now so melancholy walls—and sleep now reigning over all the house save this one room, will be banished far over the sea—and morning will be reluctant to allow her light to break up the innocent orgies.
Were every Christmas of which we have been present at the celebration, painted according to nature—what a Gallery of Pictures! True that a sameness would pervade them all—but only that kind of sameness that pervades the nocturnal heavens. One clear night always is, to common eyes, just like another; for what hath any night to show but one moon and some stars—a blue vault, with here a few braided, and there a few castellated, clouds? yet no two nights ever bore more than a family resemblance to each other before the studious and instructed eye of him who has long communed with Nature, and is familiar with every smile and frown on her changeful, but not capricious, countenance. Even so with the Annual Festivals of the heart. Then our thoughts are the stars that illumine those skies—and on ourselves it depends whether they shall be black as Erebus, or brighter than Aurora.
"Thoughts! that like spirits trackless come and go"—is a fine line of Charles Lloyd's. But no bird skims, no arrow pierces the air, without producing some change in the Universe, which will last to the day of doom. No coming and going is absolutely trackless; nor irrecoverable by Nature's law is any consciousness, however ghostlike; though many a one, even the most blissful, never does return, but seems to be buried among the dead. But they are not dead—but only sleep; though to us who recall them not, they are as they had never been, and we, wretched ingrates, let them lie for ever in oblivion! How passing sweet when of their own accord they arise to greet us in our solitude!—as a friend who, having sailed away to a foreign land in our youth, has been thought to have died many long years ago, may suddenly stand before us, with face still familiar and name reviving in a moment, and all that he once was to us brought from utter forgetfulness close upon our heart.
My Father's House! How it is ringing like a grove in spring, with the din of creatures happier, a thousand times happier, than all the birds on earth. It is the Christmas Holidays—Christmas Day itself—Christmas Night—and Joy in every bosom intensifies Love. Never before were we brothers and sisters so dear to one another—never before had our hearts so yearned towards the authors of our being—our blissful being! There they sat—silent in all that outcry—composed in all that disarray—still in all that tumult; yet, as one or other flying imp sweeps round the chair, a father's hand will playfully strive to catch a prisoner—a mother's gentler touch on some sylph's disordered symar be felt almost as a reproof, and for a moment slacken the fairy flight. One old game treads on the heels of another—twenty within the hour—and many a new game never heard of before nor since, struck out by the collision of kindred spirits in their glee, the transitory fancies of genius inventive through very delight. Then, all at once, there is a hush, profound as ever falls on some little plat within a forest when the moon drops behind the mountain, and small green-robed People of Peace at once cease their pastime, and vanish. For she—the Silver-Tongued—is about to sing an old ballad, words and air alike hundreds of years old—and sing she doth, while tears begin to fall, with a voice too mournfully beautiful long to breathe below—and, ere another Christmas shall have come with the falling snows, doomed to be mute on earth—but to be hymning in Heaven.
Of that House—to our eyes the fairest of earthly dwellings—with its old ivyed turrets, and orchard-garden bright alike with fruit and with flowers, not one stone remains. The very brook that washed its foundations has vanished along with them—and a crowd of other buildings, wholly without character, has long stood where here a single tree, and there a grove, did once render so lovely that small demesne; which, how could we, who thought it the very heart of Paradise, even for one moment have believed was one day to be blotted out of being, and we ourselves—then so linked in love that the band which bound us altogether was, in its gentle pressure, felt not nor understood—to be scattered far and abroad, like so many leaves that after one wild parting rustle are separated by roaring wind-eddies, and brought together no more! The old Abbey—it still survives; and there, in that corner of the burial-ground, below that part of the wall which was last in ruins, and which we often climbed to reach the flowers and nests—there, in hopes of a joyful resurrection, lie the Loved and Venerated—for whom, even now that so many grief-deadening years have fled, we feel, in this holy hour, as if it were impiety so utterly to have ceased to weep—so seldom to have remembered!—And then, with a powerlessness of sympathy to keep pace with youth's frantic grief, the floods we all wept together—at no long interval—on those pale and placid faces as they lay, most beautiful and most dreadful to behold, in their coffins.
We believe that there is genius in all childhood. But the creative joy that makes it great in its simplicity dies a natural death or is killed, and genius dies with it. In favored spirits, neither few nor many, the joy and the might survive; for you must know that unless it be accompanied with imagination, memory is cold and lifeless. The forms it brings before us must be inspired with beauty—that is, with affection or passion. All minds, even the dullest, remember the days of their youth; but all cannot bring back the indescribable brightness of that blessed season. They who would know what they once were, must not merely recollect but they must imagine, the hills and valleys—if any such there were—in which their childhood played, the torrents, the waterfalls, the lakes, the heather, the rocks, the heaven's imperial dome, the raven floating only a little lower than the eagle in the sky. To imagine what he then heard and saw, he must imagine his own nature. He must collect from many vanished hours the power of his untamed heart, and he must, perhaps, transfuse also something of his maturer mind into these dreams of his former being, thus linking the past with the present by a continuous chain, which, though often invisible, is never broken. So is it too with the calmer affections that have grown within the shelter of a roof. We do not merely remember, we imagine our father's house, the fireside, all his features then most living, now dead and buried; the very manner of his smile, every tone of his voice. We must combine with all the passionate and plastic power of imagination the spirit of a thousand happy hours into one moment; and we must invest with all that we ever felt to be venerable such an image as alone can satisfy our filial hearts. It is thus that imagination, which first aided the growth of all our holiest and happiest affections, can preserve them to us unimpaired—"For she can give us back the dead,
Then came a New Series of Christmases, celebrated, one year in this family, another year in that—none present but those whom Charles Lamb the Delightful calleth the "old familiar faces;" something in all features, and all tones of voice, and all manners, betokening origin from one root—relations all, happy, and with no reason either to be ashamed or proud of their neither high nor humble birth, their lot being cast within that pleasant realm, "the Golden Mean," where the dwellings are connecting links between the hut and the hall—fair edifices resembling manse or mansion-house, according as the atmosphere expands or contracts their dimensions—in which Competence is next-door neighbor to Wealth, and both of them within the daily walk of Contentment.
Merry Christmases they were indeed—one Lady always presiding, with a figure that once had been the stateliest among the stately, but then somewhat bent, without being bowed down, beneath an easy weight of most venerable years. Sweet was her tremulous voice to all her grandchildren's ears. Nor did these solemn eyes, bedimmed into a pathetic beauty, in any degree restrain the glee that sparkled in orbs that had as yet shed not many tears, but tears of joy or pity. Dearly she loved all those mortal creatures whom she was soon about to leave; but she sat in sunshine even within the shadow of death; and the "voice that called her home" had so long been whispering in her ear, that its accents had become dear to her, and consolatory every word that was heard in the silence, as from another world.
Whether we were indeed all so witty as we thought ourselves—uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, cousins, and "the rest," it might be presumptuous in us, who were considered by ourselves and a few others not the least amusing of the whole set, at this distance of time to decide—especially in the affirmative; but how the roof did ring with sally, pun, retort, and repartee! Ay, with pun—a species of impertinence for which we have therefore a kindness even to this day. Had incomparable Thomas Hood had the good fortune to have been born a cousin of ours, how with that fine fancy of his would he have shone at those Christmas festivals, eclipsing us all! Our family, through all its different branches, has ever been famous for bad voices, but good ears; and we think we hear ourselves—all those uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, and cousins—singing now! Easy it is to "warble melody" as to breathe air. But we hope harmony is the most difficult of all things to people in general, for to us it was impossible; and what attempts ours used to be at Seconds! Yet the most woful failures were rapturously encored; and ere the night was done we spoke with most extraordinary voices indeed, every one hoarser than another, till at last, walking home with a fair cousin, there was nothing left it but a tender glance of the eye—a tender pressure of the hand—for cousins are not altogether sisters, and although partaking of that dearest character, possess, it may be, some peculiar and appropriate charms of their own; as didst thou, Emily the "Wild-cap!"—That soubriquet all forgotten now—for now thou art a matron, nay a Grandam, and troubled with an elf fair and frolicsome as thou thyself wert of yore, when the gravest and wisest withstood not the witchery of thy dancings, thy singings, and thy showering smiles.
On rolled Suns and Seasons—the old died—the elderly became old—and the young, one after another, were wafted joyously away on the wings of hope, like birds almost as soon as they can fly, ungratefully forsaking their nests and the groves in whose safe shadow they first essayed their pinions; or like pinnaces that, after having for a few days trimmed their snow-white sails in the land-locked bay, close to whose shores of silvery sand had grown the trees that furnished timber both for hull and mast, slip their tiny cables on some summer day, and gathering every breeze that blows, go dancing over the waves in sunshine, and melt far off into the main. Or, haply, some were like fair young trees, transplanted during no favorable season, and never to take root in another soil, but soon leaf and branch to wither beneath the tropic sun, and die almost unheeded by those who knew not how beautiful they had been beneath the dews and mists of their own native climate.
Vain images! and therefore chosen by fancy not too plainly to touch the heart. For some hearts grew cold and forbidding with selfish cares—some, warm as ever in their own generous glow, were touched by the chill of Fortune's frowns, ever worst to bear when suddenly succeeding her smiles—some, to rid themselves of painful regrets, took refuge in forgetfulness, and closed their eyes to the past—duty banished some abroad, and duty imprisoned others at home—estrangements there were, at first unconscious and unintended, yet erelong, though causeless, complete—changes were wrought insensibly, invisibly, even in the innermost nature of those who being friends knew no guile, yet came thereby at last to be friends no more—unrequited love broke some bonds—requited love relaxed others—the death of one altered the conditions of many—and so—year after year—the Christmas Meeting was interrupted—deferred—till finally it ceased with one accord, unrenewed and unrenewable. For when Some Things cease for a time—that time turns out to be forever.
Survivors of those happy circles! wherever ye be—should these imperfect remembrances of days of old chance, in some thoughtful pause of life's busy turmoil, for a moment to meet your eyes, let there be towards the inditer a few throbs of revived affection in your hearts—for his, though "absent long and distant far," has never been utterly forgetful of the loves and friendships that charmed his youth. To be parted in body is not to be estranged in spirit—and many a dream and many a vision, sacred to nature's best affections, may pass before the mind of one whose lips are silent. "Out of sight out of mind" is rather the expression of a doubt—of a fear—than a belief or a conviction. The soul surely has eyes that can see the objects it loves, through all intervening darkness—and of those more especially dear it keeps within itself almost undimmed images, on which, when they know it not, think it not, believe it not, it often loves to gaze, as on relics imperishable as they are hallowed.
All hail! rising beautiful and magnificent through the mists of morning—ye Woods, Groves, Towers, and Temples, overshadowing that famous Stream beloved by all the Muses! Through this midnight hush—methinks we hear faint and far-off sacred music—"Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,
How steeped now in the stillness of moonlight are all those pale, pillared Churches, Courts and Cloisters, Shrines and Altars, with here and there a Statue standing in the shade, or Monument sacred to the memory of the pious—the immortal dead. Some great clock is striking from one of many domes—from the majestic Tower of St. Mary Magdalen—and in the deepened hush that follows the solemn sound, the mingling waters of the Cherwell and the Isis soften the severe silence of the holy night.
Remote from kindred, and from all the friendships that were the native growth of the fair fields where our boyhood and our youth had roamed and meditated and dreamed, those were indeed years of high and lofty mood which held us in converse with the shades of great Poets and ages of old in Rhedicyna's hallowed groves, still, serene, and solemn, as that Attic Academe where divine Plato, with all Hybla on his lips, discoursed such excellent music that his life seemed to the imagination spiritualized—a dim reminiscence of some former state of being. How sank then the Christmas Service of that beautiful Liturgy into our hearts! Not faithless we to the simple worship that our forefathers had loved; but Conscience told us there was no apostasy in the feelings that rose within us when that deep organ began to blow, that choir of youthful voices so sweetly to join the diapason,—our eyes fixed all the while on that divine Picture over the Altar, of our Saviour"Bearing his cross up rueful Calvary."
The City of Palaces disappears—and in the setting sunlight we behold mountains of soft crimson snow! The sun hath set, and even more beautiful are the bright-starred nights of winter, than summer in all its glories beneath the broad moons of June. Through the woods of Windermere, from cottage to cottage, by coppice-pathways winding up to dwellings among the hill-rocks where the birch-trees cease to grow—"Nodding their heads, before us go,
They sing a salutation at every door, familiarly naming old and young by their Christian names; and the eyes that look upward from the vales to the hanging huts among the plats and cliffs, see the shadows of the dancers ever and anon crossing the light of the star-like window, and the merry music is heard like an echo dwelling in the sky. Across those humble thresholds often did we on Christmas-week nights of yore—wandering through our solitary silvan haunts, under the branches of trees within whose hollow trunks the squirrel slept—venture in, unasked perhaps, but not unwelcome, and, in the kindly spirit of the season, did our best to merrify the Festival by tale or song. And now that we behold them not, are all those woods, and cliffs, and rivers, and tarns, and lakes, as beautiful as when they softened and brightened beneath our living eyes, half-creating, as they gazed, the very world they worshipped! And are all those hearths as bright as of yore, without the shadow of our figure! And the roofs, do they ring as mirthfully, though our voice be forgotten. We hang over Westmoreland, an unobserved—but observant star. Mountains, hills, rocks, knolls, vales, woods, groves, single trees, dwelling—all asleep! O Lakes! but we are indeed, by far too beautiful! O fortunate Isles! too fair for human habitation, fit abode for the Blest! It will not hide itself—it will not sink into the earth—it will rise; and risen, it will stand steady with its shadow in the overpowering moonlight, that ONE TREE! that ONE HOUSE!—and well might the sight of ye two together—were it harder—break our heart. But hard at all it is not—therefore it is but crushed.
Can it be that there we are utterly forgotten! No star hanging higher than the Andes in heaven—but sole-sitting at midnight in a small chamber—a melancholy man are we—and there seems a smile of consolation, O Wordsworth! on thy sacred Bust.
Alas! how many heavenly days, "seeming immortal in their depth of rest," have died and been forgotten! Treacherous and ungrateful is our memory even of bliss that overflowed our being as light our habitation. Our spirit's deepest intercommunion with nature has no place in her records—blanks are there that ought to have been painted with imperishable imagery, and steeped in sentiment fresh as the morning on life's golden hills. Yet there is mercy in this dispensation—for who can bear to behold the light of bliss re-arising from the past on the ghastlier gloom of present misery? The phantoms that will not come when we call on them to comfort us, are too often at our side when in our anguish we could almost pray that they might be reburied in oblivion. Such hauntings as these are not as if they were visionary—they come and go like forms and shapes still imbued with life. Shall we vainly stretch out our arms to embrace and hold them fast, or as vainly seek to intrench ourselves by thought of this world against their visitation? The soul in its sickness knows not whether it be the duty of love to resign itself to indifference or to despair. Shall it enjoy life, they being dead? Shall we, the survivors, for yet a little while, walk in other companionship out into the day, and let the sunbeams settle on their heads as they used to do, or cover them with dust and ashes, and show to those in heaven that love for them is now best expressed by remorse and penitence?
Sometimes we have fears about our memory—that it is decaying; for, lately, many ordinary yet interesting occurrences and events, which we regarded at the time with pain or pleasure, have been slipping away almost into oblivion, and have often alarmed us of a sudden by their return, not to any act of recollection, but of themselves, sometimes wretchedly out of place and season, the mournful obtruding upon the merry, and worse, the merry upon the mournful—confusion, by no fault of ours, of piteous and gladsome faces—tears where smiles were a duty as well as a delight, and smiles where nature demanded, and religion hallowed, a sacrifice of tears.
For a good many years we have been tied to town in winter by fetters as fine as frost-work filigree, which we could not break without destroying a whole world of endearment. That seems an obscure image; but it means what the Germans would call in English—our winter environment. We are imprisoned in a net; yet we can see it when we choose—just as a bird can see, when he chooses, the wires of his cage, that are invisible in his happiness, as he keeps hopping and fluttering about all day long, or haply dreaming on his perch with his poll under his plumes—as free in confinement as if let loose into the boundless sky. That seems an obscure image too; but we mean, in truth, the prison unto which we doom ourselves no prison is; and we have improved on that idea, for we have built our own—and are prisoner, turnkey, and jailer all in one, and 'tis noiseless as the house of sleep. Or what if we declare that Christopher North is a king in his palace, with no subjects but his own thoughts—his rule peaceful over those lights and shadows—and undisputed to reign over them his right divine.
The opening year in a town, now answers in all things to our heart's desire. How beautiful the smoky air! The clouds have a homely look as they hang over the happy families of houses, and seem as if they loved their birthplace;—all unlike those heartless clouds that keep stravaiging over mountain-tops, and have no domicile in the sky! Poets speak of living rocks, but what is their life to that of houses? Who ever saw a rock with eyes—that is, with windows? Stone-blind all, and stone-deaf, and with hearts of stone; whereas who ever saw a house without eyes—that is, windows? Our own is an Argus; yet the good old Conservative grudges not the assessed taxes—his optics are as cheerful as the day that lends them light, and they love to salute the setting sun, as if a hundred beacons, level above level, were kindled along a mountain side. He might safely be pronounced a madman who preferred an avenue of trees to a street. Why, trees have no chimneys; and, were you to kindle a fire in the hollow of an oak, you would soon be as dead as a Druid. It won't do to talk to us of sap, and the circulation of sap. A grove in winter, hole and branch—leaves it has none—is as dry as a volume of sermons. But a street, or a square, is full of "vital sparks of heavenly flame" as a volume of poetry, and the heart's blood circulates through the system like rosy wine.
But a truce to comparisons; for we are beginning to feel contrition for our crime against the country, and, with humbled head and heart, we beseech you to pardon us—ye rocks of Pavey-Ark, the pillared palaces of the storms—ye clouds, now wreathing a diadem for the forehead of Helvellyn—ye trees, that hang the shadows of your undying beauty over the "one perfect chrysolite," of blessed Windermere!
Our meaning is transparent now as the hand of an apparition waving peace and good-will to all dwellers in the land of dreams. In plainer but not simpler words (for words are like flowers, often rich in their simplicity—witness the Lily, and Solomon's Song)—Christian people all, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New-Year, in town or in country—or in ships at sea.
Romans, xiv, 6: He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord,
HENRY VAN DYKE
[From "The Spirit of Christmas."]
It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.
But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.
Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellowmen are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness—are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you keep it for a day, why not always?
But you can never keep it alone.
CHRISTINA G. ROSSETTI
EDMUND H. SEARS
ON SANTA CLAUS
GEORGE A. BAKER, JR.
Brave old times those were. In the first half of the seventeenth century, we mean; before there was any such place as New York and Manhattan Island was occupied mostly by woods, and had a funny little Dutch town, known as New Amsterdam, sprouting out of the southern end of it. Those were the days of solid comfort, of mighty pipes, and unctuous doughnuts. Winter had not yet been so much affected by artificiality as he is now-a-days, and was contented to be what he is, not trying to pass himself off for Spring; and Christmas—well, it was Christmas. Do you know why? Because in those times Santa Claus used to live in a great old house in the midst of an evergreen forest, just back of the Hudson, and about half-way between New Amsterdam and Albany. A house built out of funny little Dutch bricks, with gables whose sides looked like stair-cases, and a roof of red tiles with more weathercocks and chimneys sticking out of it than you could count. Phew, how cold it was there! The wind roared and shouted around the house, and the snow fell steadily half the year, so that the summers never melted it away till winter came again. And Santa Claus thought that was the greatest pleasure in life: for he loved to have enormous fires in the great fire-places, and the colder it was, the bigger fires he would have, and the louder the winds roared around his chimney. There he sat and worked away all the year round, making dolls, and soldiers, and Noah's arks, and witches, and every other sort of toy you can think of. When Christmas Eve came he'd harness up his reindeers, Dasher, and Prancer, and Vixen, and the rest of them, and wrap himself up in furs, and light his big pipe, and cram his sled full of the doll-babies and Noah's arks, and all the other toys he'd been making, and off he'd go with a great shout and tremendous ringing of sleigh-bells. Before morning he'd be up and down every chimney in New Amsterdam, filling the stout grey yarn stockings with toys, and apples, and ginger-bread, laughing and chuckling so all the while, that the laughs and chuckles didn't get out of the air for a week afterwards.
But the old house has gone to ruin, and Santa Claus doesn't live there any longer. You see he married about forty years ago; his wife was a Grundy, daughter of old Mrs. Grundy, of Fifth Avenue, of whom you've all heard. She married him for his money, and couldn't put up with his plain way of living and his careless jollity. He is such an easy-going, good natured old soul, that she manages him without any trouble. So the first thing she did was to make him change his name to St. Nicholas; then she made him give up his old house, and move into town; then she sent away the reindeers, for she didn't know what Ma would say to such an outlandish turn-out; then she threw away his pipe because it was vulgar, and the first Christmas Eve that he went off and stayed out all night she had hysterics, and declared she'd go home to her Ma, and get a divorce if he ever did such a thing again. She'd have put a stop to his giving away toys every year, too, only she thought it looked well, and as it was, she wouldn't let him make them himself any more, but compelled him to spend enormous sums in bringing them from Paris, and Vienna, and Nuremberg.
So now Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, and lives in a brown stone house on Fifth Avenue, a great deal handsomer than he can afford, and keeps a carriage, not because he wants it, but because Mrs. Shoddy, next door, keeps one; and loves, not to be jolly himself and to make everybody else so, but to please his wife's mother. He has to give an awful pull, what with his wife's extravagance, and the high prices of Parisian and Viennese toys, to make both ends meet, although he does speculate in stocks, and is very lucky. Instead of looking forward to Christmas with pleasure, and thinking what a good time he will have, he pulls out his ledger, and groans, and wonders how on earth he's going to make his presents this year, and thinks he would stop giving them entirely, only he's so mortally afraid of his mother-in-law, and he knows what she'd say if he did. So he borrows money wherever he can, and sends over to Paris for fans, and opera-glasses, and bon-bon boxes, and jewelry, and when they come he sits down in his parlor and lets his wife tell him just what to do with them. So she takes out her list and runs over the names; she has all the rich people down, for she is a religious woman, and the Bible says "unto him that hath, it shall be given." This is the way she talks: "The little Croesuses must have some very elegant things, of course; their mother's a horrid old cat, but Croesus could help you very much in business. And there are the Centlivres; we must pick out something magnificent for them; they give a party Christmas night: of course the presents will be on exhibition, and I shall sink with shame if any one else's are handsomer than ours." So she goes on, until all the rich people are disposed of. Then Santa Claus asks: "How about the Brinkers, my dear?" The Brinkers are great favorites of his. "Good gracious, dearest! How often have I told you, you mustn't manifest such an interest in those Brinkers? What would Ma say if she knew you associated with such common people!" "But, I'm Dutch myself, pet." "Of course you are, darling, but there's no need of letting every one know it!" St. Nicholas hardly dares to do it, but he finally suggests very meekly: "The poor children, my darling." "Bother the poor children, my dear!" They're a most affectionate couple, you know. Then St. Nicholas sighs and sighs, and sends for his messengers, and they all come in with long faces, and take off big packages to the Croesuses and the Centlivres, and the rest of them. The messengers do their work entirely as a matter of business, so there isn't a sign of a laugh, nor a symptom of a chuckle in the air next day. The little Croesuses first cry, because they haven't received more, and then fight over what they have; then they eat too much French candy, and get sick and cross, and the whole house is filled with their noise. So mamma has a headache; and papa longs for his office, and misses the tick-tick of the stock telegraph, and thinks what a confounded nuisance holidays are. That is what Christmas is like in good society.
But I must tell you a secret. Away up in the fourth-story of his grand house, where his wife never goes, St. Nicholas has a little workshop, and there he sits whenever he gets a chance, making the most wonderful dolls, and gorgeous soldiers, and miraculous jumping-jacks, and tin horns—such quantities of tin horns! Some one ought to speak to him about those tin horns. But after all they please the poor children, so we suppose it's all right. Now do you know what he does with these things? On Christmas Eve he gets his old sled down from the stable away up by the North Pole, and as soon as his wife is fast asleep, he puts on his old furs and gets out from under his shirts in his bureau drawer a Dutch pipe, three times as big as the one his wife threw away, and off he goes. He tumbles down all the poor people's chimneys, and fills up the stockings to overflowing, and plants gorgeous Christmas trees in all the Mission schools.
He has a glorious good time, and laughs and chuckles tremendously, except when, once in a while, he thinks of what would happen if his wife found him out.
So there's a little fun going on after all.
Do you know, if it were not for this performance of his, we should wish with all our heart that St. Nicholas were dead and buried. But we must say, we wish his wife would die, and that all the Grundy family would follow her good example, for between them they've spoiled a good many jolly people besides St. Nicholas.
JOSIAH GILBERT HOLLAND
MARY MAPES DODGE
LYDIA A.C. WARD
A SIMPLE BILL OF FARE FOR A CHRISTMAS DINNER
All good recipe-books give bills of fare for different occasions, bills of fare for grand dinners, bills of fare for little dinners; dinners to cost so much per head; dinners "which can be easily prepared with one servant," and so on. They give bills of fare for one week; bills of fare for each day in a month, to avoid too great monotony in diet. There are bills of fare for dyspeptics; bills of fare for consumptives; bills of fare for fat people, and bills of fare for thin; and bills of fare for hospitals, asylums, and prisons, as well as for gentlemen's houses. But among them all, we never saw the one which we give below. It has never been printed in any book; but it has been used in families. We are not drawing on our imagination for its items. We have sat at such dinners; we have helped prepare such dinners; we believe in such dinners; they are within everybody's means. In fact, the most marvellous thing about this bill of fare is that the dinner does not cost a cent. Ho! all ye that are hungry and thirsty, and would like so cheap a Christmas dinner, listen to this:BILL OF FARE FOR A CHRISTMAS DINNER
This must be served hot. No two housekeepers make it alike; no fixed rule can be given for it. It depends, like so many of the best things, chiefly on memory; but, strangely enough, it depends quite as much on proper forgetting as on proper remembering. Worries must be forgotten. Troubles must be forgotten. Yes, even sorrow itself must be denied and shut out. Perhaps this is not quite possible. Ah! we all have seen Christmas days on which sorrow would not leave our hearts nor our houses. But even sorrow can be compelled to look away from its sorrowing for a festival hour which is so solemnly joyous at Christ's Birthday. Memory can be filled full of other things to be remembered. No soul is entirely destitute of blessings, absolutely without comfort. Perhaps we have but one. Very well; we can think steadily of that one, if we try. But the probability is that we have more than we can count. No man has yet numbered the blessings, the mercies, the joys of God. We are all richer than we think; and if we once set ourselves to reckoning up the things of which we are glad, we shall be astonished at their number.
Gladness, then, is the first item, the first course on our bill of fare for a Christmas dinner.
Entrées—Love garnished with Smiles.
GENTLENESS, with sweet-wine sauce of Laughter.
GRACIOUS SPEECH, cooked with any fine, savory herbs, such as Frollery, which is always in season, or Pleasant Reminiscence, which no one need be without, as it keeps for years, sealed or unsealed.
The precise form of this also depends on individual preferences. We are not undertaking here to give exact recipes, only a bill of fare.
In some houses Hospitality is brought on surrounded with Relatives. This is very well. In others, it is dished up with Dignitaries of all sorts; men and women of position and estate for whom the host has special likings or uses. This gives a fine effect to the eye, but cools quickly, and is not in the long-run satisfying.
In a third class, best of all, it is served in simple shapes, but with a great variety of Unfortunate Persons,—such as lonely people from lodging-houses, poor people of all grades, widows and childless in their affliction. This is the kind most preferred; in fact, never abandoned by those who have tried it.
For Dessert—MIRTH, in glasses.
GRATITUDE and FAITH beaten together and piled up in snowy shapes. These will look light if run over night in the moulds of Solid Trust and Patience.
A dish of the bonbons Good Cheer and Kindliness with every-day mottoes; Knots and Reasons in shape of Puzzles and Answers; the whole ornamented with Apples of Gold in Pictures of Silver, of the kind mentioned in the Book of Proverbs.
This is a short and simple bill of fare. There is not a costly thing in it; not a thing which cannot be procured without difficulty.
If meat be desired, it can be added. That is another excellence about our bill of fare. It has nothing in it which makes it incongruous with the richest or the plainest tables. It is not overcrowded by the addition of roast goose and plum-pudding; it is not harmed by the addition of herring and potatoes. Nay, it can give flavor and richness to broken bits of stale bread served on a doorstep and eaten by beggars.
We might say much more about this bill of fare. We might, perhaps, confess that it has an element of the supernatural; that its origin is lost in obscurity; that, although, as we said, it has never been printed before, it has been known in all ages; that the martyrs feasted upon it; that generations of the poor, called blessed by Christ, have laid out banquets by it; that exiles and prisoners have lived on it; and the despised and forsaken and rejected in all countries have tasted it. It is also true that when any great king ate well and throve on his dinner, it was by the same magic food. The young and the free and the glad, and all rich men in costly houses, even they have not been well fed without it.
And though we have called it a Bill of Fare for a Christmas Dinner, that is only that men's eyes may be caught by its name, and that they, thinking it a specialty for festival, may learn and understand its secret, and henceforth, laying all their dinners according to its magic order, may "eat unto the Lord."
[Emily Huntington Miller]
A CHRISTMAS LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA
DOUGLAS SLADEN'Tis Christmas, and the North wind blows; 'twas two years yesterday
ROSE TERRY COOKE
THE FIR TREE
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
Out in the forest stood a pretty little Fir Tree. It had a good place; it could have sunlight, air there was in plenty, and all around grew many larger comrades—pines as well as firs. But the little Fir Tree wished ardently to become greater. It did not care for the warm sun and the fresh air; it took no notice of the peasant children, who went about talking together, when they had come out to look for strawberries and raspberries. Often they came with a whole pot-full, or had strung berries on a straw; then they would sit down by the little Fir Tree and say, "How pretty and small that one is!" and the Tree did not like to hear that at all.
Next year he had grown a great joint, and the following year he was longer still, for in fir trees one can always tell by the number of rings they have how many years they have been growing.
"Oh, if I were only as great a tree as the others!" sighed the little Fir, "then I would spread my branches far around, and look out from my crown into the wide world. The birds would then build nests in my boughs, and when the wind blew I could nod just as grandly as the others yonder."
He took no pleasure in the sunshine, in the birds, and in the red clouds that went sailing over him morning and evening.
When it was winter, and the snow lay all around, white and sparkling, a hare would often come jumping along, and spring right over the little Fir Tree. Oh! this made him so angry. But two winters went by, and when the third came the little Tree had grown so tall that the hare was obliged to run around it.
"Oh! to grow, to grow, and become old; that's the only fine thing in the world," thought the Tree.
In the autumn woodcutters always came and felled a few of the largest trees; that was done this year too, and the little Fir Tree, that was now quite well grown, shuddered with fear, for the great stately trees fell to the ground with a crash, and their branches were cut off, so that the trees looked quite naked, long, and slender—they could hardly be recognized. But then they were laid upon waggons, and horses dragged them away out of the wood. Where were they going? What destiny awaited them?
In the spring, when the swallows and the Stork came, the Tree asked them, "Do you know where they were taken? Did you not meet them?"
The swallows knew nothing about it, but the Stork looked thoughtful, nodded his head, and said,
"Yes, I think so. I met many new ships when I flew out of Egypt; on the ships were stately masts; I fancy that these were the trees. They smelt like fir. I can assure you they're stately—very stately."
"Oh that I were only big enough to go over the sea! What kind of thing is this sea, and how does it look?"
"It would take too long to explain all that," said the Stork, and he went away.
"Rejoice in thy youth," said the Sunbeams; "rejoice in thy fresh growth, and in the young life that is within thee."
And the wind kissed the Tree, and the dew wept tears upon it; but the Fir Tree did not understand that.
When Christmas-time approached, quite young trees were felled, sometimes trees which were neither so old nor so large as this Fir Tree, that never rested but always wanted to go away. These young trees, which were almost the most beautiful, kept all their branches; they were put upon wagons, and horses dragged them away out of the wood.
"Where are they all going?" asked the Fir Tree. "They are not greater than I—indeed, one of them was much smaller. Why do they keep all their branches? Whither are they taken?"
"We know that! We know that!" chirped the Sparrows. "Yonder in the town we looked in at the windows. We know where they go. Oh! they are dressed up in the greatest pomp and splendor that can be imagined. We have looked in at the windows, and have perceived that they are planted in the middle of the warm room, and adorned with the most beautiful things—gilt apples, honey-cakes, playthings, and many hundreds of candles."
"And then?" asked the Fir Tree, and trembled through all its branches. "And then? What happens then?"
"Why, we have not seen anything more. But it was incomparable."
"Perhaps I may be destined to tread this glorious path one day!" cried the Fir Tree rejoicingly. "That is even better than traveling across the sea. How painfully I long for it! If it were only Christmas now! Now I am great and grown up, like the rest who were led away last year. Oh, if I were only on the carriage! If I were only in the warm room, among all the pomp and splendor! And then? Yes, then something even better will come, something far more charming, or else why should they adorn me so? There must be something grander, something greater still to come; but what? Oh, I'm suffering, I'm longing! I don't know myself what is the matter with me!"
"Rejoice in us," said Air and Sunshine, "Rejoice in thy fresh youth here in the woodland."
But the Fir Tree did not rejoice at all, but it grew and grew; winter and summer it stood there, green, dark green. The people who saw it said, "That's a handsome tree!" and at Christmas-time it was felled before any one of the others. The axe cut deep into its marrow, and the tree fell to the ground with a sigh: it felt a pain, a sensation of faintness, and could not think at all of happiness, for it was sad at parting from its home, from the place where it had grown up: it knew that it should never again see the dear old companions, the little bushes and flowers all around—perhaps not even the birds. The parting was not at all agreeable.
The Tree only came to itself when it was unloaded in a yard, with other trees, and heard a man say,
"This one is famous; we only want this one!"
Now two servants came in gay liveries, and carried the Fir Tree into a large beautiful saloon. All around the walls hung pictures, and by the great stove stood large Chinese vases with lions on the covers; there were rocking-chairs, silken sofas, great tables covered with picture-books, and toys worth a hundred times a hundred dollars, at least the children said so. And the Fir Tree was put into a great tub filled with sand; but no one could see that it was a tub, for it was hung round with green cloth, and stood on a large many-colored carpet. Oh, how the Tree trembled! What was to happen now? The servants, and the young ladies also, decked it out. On one branch they hung little nets, cut out of colored paper; every net was filled with sweetmeats; golden apples and walnuts hung down as if they grew there, and more than a hundred little candles, red, white, and blue, were fastened to the different boughs. Dolls that looked exactly like real people—the Tree had never seen such before—swung among the foliage, and high on the summit of the Tree was fixed a tinsel star. It was splendid, particularly splendid.
"This evening," said all, "this evening it will shine."
"Oh," thought the Tree, "that it were evening already! Oh that the lights may be soon lit up! When may that be done? I wonder if trees will come out of the forest to look at me? Will the sparrows fly against the panes? Shall I grow fast here, and stand adorned in summer and winter?"
Yes, he did not guess badly. But he had a complete backache from mere longing, and the backache is just as bad for a Tree as the headache for a person.
At last the candles were lighted. What a brilliance, what splendor! The Tree trembled so in all its branches that one of the candles set fire to a green twig, and it was scorched.
"Heaven preserve us!" cried the young ladies; and they hastily put the fire out.
Now the Tree might not even tremble. Oh, that was terrible! It was so afraid of setting fire to some of its ornaments, and it was quite bewildered with all the brilliance. And now the folding doors were thrown open, and a number of children rushed in as if they would have overturned the whole Tree; the older people followed more deliberately. The little ones stood quite silent, but only for a minute; then they shouted till the room rang: they danced gleefully round the Tree, and one present after another was plucked from it.
"What are they about?" laughed the Tree. "What's going to be done?"
And the candles burned down to the twigs, and as they burned down they were extinguished, and then the children received permission to plunder the Tree. Oh! they rushed in upon it, so that every branch cracked again: if it had not been fastened by the top and by the golden star to the ceiling, it would have fallen down.
The children danced about with their pretty toys. No one looked at the Tree except one old man, who came up and peeped among the branches, but only to see if a fig or an apple had not been forgotten.
"A story! a story!" shouted the children: and they drew a little fat man towards the Tree; and he sat down just beneath it,—"for then we shall be in the green wood," said he, "and the tree may have the advantage of listening to my tale. But I can only tell one. Will you hear the story of Ivede-Avede, or of Klumpey-Dumpey, who fell down stairs, and still was raised up to honor and married the Princess?"
"Ivede-Avede!" cried some, "Klumpey-Dumpey!" cried others, and there was a great crying and shouting. Only the Fir Tree was quite silent, and thought, "Shall I not be in it? shall I have nothing to do in it?" But he had been in the evening's amusement, and had done what was required of him.
And the fat man told about Klumpey-Dumpey, who fell down stairs, and yet was raised to honor and married the Princess. And the children clapped their hands, and cried, "Tell another! tell another!" for they wanted to hear about Ivede-Avede; but they only got the story of Klumpey-Dumpey. The Fir Tree stood quite silent and thoughtful; never had the birds in the wood told such a story as that. Klumpey-Dumpey fell down stairs, and yet came to honor and married the Princess!
"Yes, so it happens in the world!" thought the Fir Tree, and believed it must be true, because that was such a nice man who told it. "Well, who can know? Perhaps I shall fall down stairs too, and marry a Princess!" And it looked forward with pleasure to being adorned again, the next evening, with candles and toys, gold and fruit. "To-morrow I shall not tremble," it thought. "I will rejoice in all my splendor. To-morrow I shall hear the story of Klumpey-Dumpey again, and, perhaps, that of Ivede-Avede too."
And the Tree stood all night quiet and thoughtful.
In the morning the servants and the chambermaid came in.
"Now my splendor will begin afresh," thought the Tree. But they dragged him out of the room, and up stairs to the garret, and here they put him in a dark corner where no daylight shone.
"What's the meaning of this?" thought the Tree. "What am I to do here? What is to happen?"
And he leaned against the wall, and thought, and thought. And he had time enough, for days and nights went by, and nobody came up; and when at length some one came, it was only to put some great boxes in a corner. Now the Tree stood quite hidden away, and the supposition was that it was quite forgotten.
"Now it's winter outside," thought the Tree. "The earth is hard and covered with snow, and people cannot plant me; therefore I suppose I'm to be sheltered here until spring comes. How considerate that is! How good people are! If it were only not so dark here, and so terribly solitary!—not even a little hare! That was pretty out there in the wood, when the snow lay thick and the hare sprang past; yes, even when he jumped over me; but then I did not like it. It is terribly lonely up here!"
"Piep! piep!" said a little Mouse, and crept forward, and then came another little one. They smelt at the Fir Tree, and then slipped among the branches.
"It's horribly cold," said the two little Mice, "or else it would be comfortable here. Don't you think so, you old Fir Tree?"
"I'm not old at all," said the Fir Tree. "There are many much older than I."
"Where do you come from?" asked the Mice. "And what do you know?" They were dreadfully inquisitive. "Tell us about the most beautiful spot on earth. Have you been there? Have you been in the store-room, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from the ceiling, where one dances on tallow candles, and goes in thin and comes out fat?"
"I don't know that!" replied the Tree; "but I know the wood, where the sun shines, and where the birds sing."
And then it told all about its youth.
And the little Mice had never heard anything of the kind; and they listened and said,
"What a number of things you have seen! How happy you must have been!"
"I?" said the Fir Tree; and it thought about what it had told. "Yes, those were really quite happy times." But then he told of the Christmas-eve, when he had been hung with sweetmeats and candles.
"Oh!" said the little Mice, "how happy you have been, you old Fir Tree!"
"I'm not old at all," said the Tree. "I only came out of the wood this winter. I'm only rather backward in my growth."
"What splendid stories you can tell!" said the little Mice.
And next night they came with four other little Mice, to hear what the Tree had to relate; and the more it said, the more clearly did it remember everything, and thought, "Those were quite merry days! But they may come again. Klumpey-Dumpey fell down stairs, and yet he married the Princess. Perhaps I may marry a Princess too!" And then the Fir Tree thought of a pretty little birch tree that grew out in the forest: for the Fir Tree, that birch was a real Princess.
"Who's Klumpey-Dumpey?" asked the little Mice.
And then the Fir Tree told the whole story. It could remember every single word: and the little Mice were ready to leap to the very top of the tree with pleasure. Next night a great many more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats even appeared; but these thought the story was not pretty, and the little Mice were sorry for that, for now they also did not like it so much as before.
"Do you only know one story?" asked the Rats.
"Only that one," replied the Tree. "I heard that on the happiest evening of my life; I did not think then how happy I was."
"That's a very miserable story. Don't you know any about bacon and tallow candles—a store-room story?"
"No," said the Tree.
"Then we'd rather not hear you," said the Rats.
And they went back to their own people. The little Mice at last stayed away also; and then the Tree sighed and said,
"It was very nice when they sat round me, the merry little Mice, and listened when I spoke to them. Now that's past too. But I shall remember to be pleased when they take me out."
But when did that happen? Why, it was one morning that people came and rummaged in the garret: the boxes were put away, and the Tree brought out; they certainly threw him rather roughly on the floor, but a servant dragged him away at once to the stairs, where the daylight shone.
"Now life is beginning again," thought the Tree.
It felt the fresh air and the first sunbeams, and now it was out in the courtyard. Everything passed so quickly that the Tree quite forgot to look at itself, there was so much to look at all round. The courtyard was close to a garden, and here everything was blooming; the roses hung fresh and fragrant over the little paling, the linden trees were in blossom, and the swallows cried, "Quinze-wit! quinze-wit! my husband's come!" But it was not the Fir Tree that they meant.
"Now I shall live!" said the Tree, rejoicingly, and spread its branches far out; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow; and it lay in the corner among nettles and weeds. The tinsel star was still upon it, and shone in the bright sunshine.
In the courtyard a couple of the merry children were playing, who had danced round the tree at Christmas-time, and had rejoiced over it. One of the youngest ran up and tore off the golden star.
"Look what is sticking to the ugly old fir tree," said the child, and he trod upon the branches till they cracked again under his boots.
And the Tree looked at all the blooming flowers and the splendor of the garden, and then looked at itself, and wished it had remained in the dark corner of the garret; it thought of its fresh youth in the wood, of the merry Christmas-eve, and of the little Mice which had listened so pleasantly to the story of Klumpey-Dumpey.
"Past! past!" said the old Tree. "Had I but rejoiced when I could have done so! Past! past!"
And the servant came and chopped the Tree into little pieces; a whole bundle lay there, it blazed brightly under the great brewing copper, and it sighed deeply, and each sigh was like a little shot: and the children who were at play there ran up and seated themselves at the fire, looked into it, and cried, "Puff! puff!" But at each explosion, which was a deep sigh, the Tree thought of a summer day in the woods, or of a winter night there, when the stars beamed; he thought of Christmas-eve and of Klumpey-Dumpey, the only story he had ever heard or knew how to tell; and then the Tree was burned.
The boys played in the garden, and the youngest had on his breast a golden star, which the Tree had worn on its happiest evening. Now that was past, and the Tree's life was past, and the story is past too: past! past!—and that's the way with all stories.
LITTLE ROGER'S NIGHT IN THE CHURCH
The boys and girls had fastened the last sprig of holly upon the walls, and then gone to their homes, leaving the old church silent and deserted. The sun had set in a sky clear and yellow as topaz. Christmas eve had fairly come, and now the moon was rising, a full moon, and all the world looked white in the silver light. Every bough of every tree sparkled with a delicate coating of frost, the pines and cedars were great shapes of dazzling snow, even the ivy on the gothic tower hung a glittering arabesque on the gray wall. Never was there a lovelier night.
That light that you see yonder comes from the window of old Andrew, the sexton, and inside sits his grandson, little Roger, eating his supper of porridge. The kitchen is in apple-pie order, chairs and tables have been scrubbed as white as snow, the tins on the dresser shine like silver, the hearth is swept clean, and Grandfather's chair is drawn into the warmest corner. Grandfather is not sitting in it though; he has gone to the church to put the fire in order for the night, lock up the doors, and make all safe.
Grandmother, in her clean stuff gown and apron, is mounted upon a chair to stick a twig of holly on the tall clock in the corner. And now, as she turns round, what a pleasant face she shows us, does she not? Old and wrinkled, to be sure, but so good-natured and gentle that she is prettier than many a young girl even now. Is it any wonder that little Roger there is so fond of her?
Now another bit of holly is wanted on the chimney-piece; and it is while putting this up that the dear old dame gives sign that something has gone wrong. "Ts, ts, ts,—deary me!"
"What's the matter, Granny?" said Roger.
"Why, Roger," replied Granny, carefully dismounting from her chair, "look here, Grandfather has gone off and forgot his keys. He took 'em from the door this morning, because last year some of the young folks let 'em drop in the snow, and had a sad time hunting for them. He knew they would be in and out all day, so he just opened the door and brought the keys home. Deary me! it's a cold night for old bones to be out of doors. Would'st be afeard, little 'un, to run up with them?"
"Not a bit," said Roger, stoutly, as he crammed the last spoonful of porridge in his mouth, and seized hat and mittens from the table. "I'll take 'em down in a minute. Granny, and then run home. Mother'll want me in the morning, likely."
For Roger's parents lived in a cottage near the old people, and the boy often said that he had two homes, and belonged half in one and half in the other, and the small press-bed in Granny's loft seemed as much his own as the cot in the corner of his mother's sleeping-room, and was occupied almost as often. So, after a good-night hug from Granny, off he ran. The church was near, and the moon light as day, so he never thought of being afraid, not even when, as he brushed by the dark tower, something stirred overhead, and a long, melancholy cry came shuddering from the ivy. Roger knew the owls in the belfry well, and now he called out to them cheerily: "To-whit-whit-whoo!"
"Whoo-whoo-whit!" answered the owls, startled by the cry. Roger could hear them fluttering in the nest.
The church-door stood ajar, and he peeped in. The glow from the open door of the stove showed Grandfather's figure, red and warm, stooping to cover the fire with ashes for the night. He was so busy he never knew the boy was there till he got close to him and jingled the keys in his ear; but after one start he laughed, well pleased.
"I but just missed them," he said. "Thou'rt a good boy to fetch them up. Art going home with me to-night?"
"No, I'm to sleep at my mother's," said Roger, "but I'll wait and walk with you, Grandfather." So he slipped into a pew, and sat down till the work should be finished, and they ready to go; and as he looked up he saw all at once how beautiful the old church was looking.
The moon outside was streaming in so brightly, that you hardly missed the sun, Roger could see distinctly way up to the carved beams of the roof, and trace the figures on the great arched windows over the altar, whose colors had so often dazzled him on Sundays. The colors were soft and dim now, but the figures were there. Roger could see them plainly,—the sitting figure of the Lord Christ, with St. Matthew and two other apostles, and the fisher-lad with his basket of fish. He had often asked Granny to read him the story.
That gleam at the further end of the nave came from the organ-loft, where the moonbeams had found out the great brass pipes, and were playing all manner of tricks with them. Almost the red of the holly-berries could be seen, and every pointed ivy-leaf and spike of evergreen in the wreathings of the windows stood out in bold relief against the shining panes. With this beautiful whiteness the red glow of the fire blended, and flooded the chancel with a lovely pink light, in which shone the gilded letters on the commandment-tables, and the brasses of the tablets on the walls. It was a wonderful thing to see.
To study the roof better, Roger thought he would lie flat on the cushion awhile, and look straight up. So he arranged himself comfortably, and somehow—it will happen, even when we are full of enjoyment and pleasure—his eyes shut, and the first thing he knew he was rubbing them open again, only a minute afterward, as it seemed; but Grandfather was gone. There was the stove closed for the night, and the great door at the end of the aisle was shut. He jumped up in a fright, as you can imagine, and ran to see, and shook it hard. No: it was locked, and poor Roger was fastened in for the night.
He understood it all in a moment. The tall pew had hidden him from sight. Grandfather had thought him gone home; his mother would ever doubt that he was safe at the other cottage; no one would miss him, and there was no chance of being let out before morning.
He was only six years old, so no wonder that at first he felt choked and frightened, and inclined to cry. But he was a brave lad, and that idea soon left him. He began to think that he was not badly off, after all,—the church was warm, the pew-cushion as soft as his bed. No one could get in to harm him. In fact, after the first moment, there was something so exciting and adventurous in the idea of spending the night in such a place, that he was almost glad the accident had happened. So he went back to the pew, and tried to go to sleep again.
That was not so easy. Did you ever get thoroughly waked up in the night by a sudden fright? Do you remember how your eyes wouldn't stay shut afterward, even when you closed them tight, but jerked open almost against your will, as if a string was fastened to them and some one was twitching it? Just so poor Roger felt. He lay still and kept himself quiet for a moment, and then some little noise would come, and his heart beat and his eyes be wide open in a minute. It was a coal dropping from the fire, or a slight crack on the frosty panes: once a little mouse crept out from the chancel, glaring shyly about with his bright eyes, nibbled a moment at a leaf on the carpet and then crept back again. No other living thing disturbed the quiet.
He had heard the clock strike eleven a long time since, and was lying with eyes half shut, gazing at the red fire-grate, and feeling at last a little drowsy, when all at once a strange rush and thrill seemed to come to him in the air, like a cool clear wind blowing through the church, and in one minute he was wide awake and sitting upright, with ears strained to catch some sound afar off. It was too distant and faint for ordinary sense, but a new and sharper power of hearing seemed given him. Little voices were speaking high in the air, outside the church,—very odd ones, like birds' notes, and yet the words were plain. He listened and listened, and made out at last that it was the owls in the tower talking together.
"Hoo, hoo, why don't you lie still there?" said one.
"Whit-whoo-whit," said the other, "I can't. I know what is coming too well for that."
"What is coming,—what, what?" said two voices together.
"Ah! you'll see soon," replied the first. "The elves are coming, the hateful Christmas elves. You'll not get a wink of sleep to-night."
"Why not? What will they do to us?" chirped the young ones.
"You'll see," hooted the old owl. "You'll see! They'll pull your tails, and tickle your feathers, and prick you with thorns. I know them, the tricksy, troublesome things! I've been here many a long year. You were only hatched last summer. To-whoo, to-whoo!"
Just at this moment the church-clock began to strike twelve. At the first clang the owls ceased to hoot, and Roger listened to the deep notes, almost awe-struck, as they sounded one by one. He knew the voice of the clock well, but it never before sounded so loud or so solemn: five—six—seven—eight—nine—ten—eleven—twelve. It was Christmas Day.
As the last echo died away, a new sound took its place. From afar off came the babble of tiny voices drawing nearer. Anything so gay and charming was never dreamed of before,—half a laugh, half a song, the tones blended into an enchanting peal, like bells on a frolic. Above the old tower the sounds clustered and increased,—then a long, distressed cry came from the owl, and a bubbling laugh floated in on the wind. Roger could not stand it. Wild to see, he flew to the window, and tried to stretch his neck in such a way as to catch what was going on above; but it was a vain attempt, and just then the church-bells began to ring all together, a chime, a Christmas chime, only the sounds were infinitely small, as if baby hands had laid hold on the ropes. But his sharpened senses brought every note and change to Roger's ears, and they were so merry and so lovely that he felt he must get nearer or die; and almost before he knew it he was climbing the dark belfry-stairs as fast as his feet could carry him, never thinking of fear or darkness, only of the elfin bells which were pealing overhead.
Up, up, through the long slits in the tower the moon could be seen sailing in the cold, clear blue. Higher, higher,—at last he gained the belfry. There hung the four great bells, but nobody was pulling at their heavy ropes. On each iron tongue was perched a fay; on the chains which suspended them clustered others, all keeping time by the swaying of their bodies as they swung to and fro, just grazing either side, and bringing forth a clear, delicate stroke, sweet as laughter,—just loud enough for fairy ears.
Through the windows the crowd of floating fays could be seen whirling about in the moonlight like glittering gossamer. They floated in and out of the tower, they mounted the great bells and sat atop in swarms, they chased and pushed each other, playing all sorts of pranks. Below, others were attacking the owl's nest. Roger could hear their hoots and grunts and the gleeful laughter of the elves. The moon made the tower light as noon; all the time the elves sang or talked,—which, he could not tell; there were words, but all so blent with laughs and mirthful trills that it was nothing less than music.
To and fro, to and fro, keeping time to a fairy rhythm, they swayed in unison with the tiny peal they rang. Little quarrels arose. Once Roger watched an elf trying to mount the clapper, and whenever he neared the top a mischievous comrade pushed him off again. Then the elf pouted, and, flying away, he returned with a holly-leaf. Small as it was, it curled over his head like a huge umbrella. With the spiky point he slyly pricked the elf above; and he, taken by surprise, lost his hold, and came tumbling down, while the other danced for glee and clapped his hands mockingly. Pretty soon, however, all was made up again,—they kissed and were friends,—and Roger saw them perched opposite each other, and moving to and fro like children in a swing.
How long the pretty sight lasted he could not tell. So fearful was he of marring the sport that he never stirred a finger; but all at once there came a strain of music in the air, solemn, and sweeter than ever mortal heard before. In a moment the elves left their sports; they clustered like bees together in the window, and then flew from the tower in one sparkling drift, and were gone, leaving Roger alone, and the owls hooting below in the ivy.
And then he felt afraid,—which he had not been as long as the fays were there,—and down he ran in a fright over the stone steps of the stairs, and entered the church again. The red glow of the fire was grateful to him, for he was shivering with cold and excitement; but hardly had he regained his old seat, when, lo! a great marvel came to pass. The wide window over the altar swung open, and a train of angels slowly floated through. How he knew them to be angels, Roger could not have told; but that they were, he was sure,—Christmas angels, with faces of calm, glorious beauty, and robes as white as snow. Over the altar they hovered, and a wonderful song rose and filled the church—no bird's strain was ever half so sweet. The words were few, but again and again and again they came: "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men!"
Roger knew the oft-repeated words,—they were those of the great evergreen motto which overarched the chancel; but I think he never forgot the beautiful meaning they seemed to bear as the angels sang them over and over. It was so wondrous sweet that he could not feel afraid,—he could only gaze and gaze, and hold his breath lest he should lose a note.
And the song rang on, clear and triumphant, even as the white-robed choir parted and floated like soft summer clouds to and fro in the church, pausing ever and anon as in blessing. They touched the leaves of the Christmas green as they passed; they hung over the organ and brushed the keys with their wings; a long time they clustered above the benches of the poor, as if to leave a fragrance in the air; and then they rested before a tablet which had been put up but a few months before, and which bore the name of the rector's eldest son, and the dates of his birth and death. Roger had been told of this brave lad, and how he had lost his life in plunging from his ship to save the drowning child of an emigrant; and now the angel-song seemed sweeter than ever, as over and again they chanted, "Good-will to men,—good-will to men."
At last one of the white-winged ones left the others, and hovered awhile above the Squire's pew, near which our little boy was hidden. A prayer-book lay open on the rail, and over this the fair angel bent as in benediction. A girl had sat there once,—the Squire's only daughter. Roger remembered her well, and the mourning of the whole parish when, only a twelvemonth ago, the lovely child had been buried from their sight; and now, as he timidly glanced into the glorious face above him, it seemed to him to have the same look, only so ineffably beautiful that he closed his dazzled eyes to shut out the vision and the light that shone from the white wings,—only for a moment, then he opened them again, as a gentle rustling filled the air, and he saw the bending figure stoop, leave a kiss or a blessing on the pages of the open book, and then glide away with the others. Again the group hovered above the altar,—louder and clearer rose the triumphant strain, and, noiseless as a cloud, the snowy train floated to the window. For one moment their figures could be seen against the sky, then the song died away,—they were gone, and Roger saw them no more.
And now the light of dawn began to creep into the windows, twittering sounds showed the birds awakening outside, and a pink streak appeared in the sky. Too much rapt by his vision to feel impatience, the boy sat and waited; and by and by a jingling in the lock showed Grandfather at hand,—the door opened, and he came in.
You can guess his surprise when his little grandson flew to meet him with his wonderful story. As for the story, he pooh-poohed that,—sleeping in such a strange place might well bring about a queer dream, he said; but he took the boy home to the cottage, and Granny, full of wonderment and sympathy, speedily prepared a breakfast for her darling after his adventure. But, even with his mouth full of scalding bread and milk, Roger would go on telling of angels and fairies, and the owls' talk in their nest, till both grandparents began to think him bewitched.
Perhaps he was, for to this day he persists in the story. And though the villagers that morning exclaimed that at no time had their old church, in its Christmas dress, looked so beautiful before, and though the organ sent forth a rarer, sweeter music than fingers had ever drawn from it, still nobody believed a word of it. And though the poor mother, kneeling in her lonely pew, and missing her darling from beside her, felt a strange peace and patience enter her heart, and came away calmed and blessed, still no one listened to the story. "Roger had dreamed it all," they said; and perhaps he had,—only the owls knew.
MR. BLUFFS EXPERIENCES OF HOLIDAYS
OLIVER BELL BUNCE
"I hate holidays," said Bachelor Bluff to me, with some little irritation, on a Christmas a few years ago. Then he paused an instant, after which he resumed: "I don't mean to say that I hate to see people enjoying themselves. But I hate holidays, nevertheless, because to me they are always the dreariest and saddest days of the year. I shudder at the name of holiday. I dread the approach of one, and thank Heaven when it is over. I pass through, on a holiday, the most horrible sensations, the bitterest feelings, the most oppressive melancholy; in fact, I am not myself at holiday-times."
"Very strange," I ventured to interpose.
"A plague on it!" said he, almost with violence. "I'm not inhuman. I don't wish anybody harm. I'm glad people can enjoy themselves. But I hate holidays all the same. You see, this is the reason: I am a bachelor; I am without kin; I am in a place that did not know me at birth. And so, when holidays come around, there is no place anywhere for me. I have friends, of course; I don't think I've been a very sulky, shut-in, reticent fellow; and there is many a board that has a place for me—but not at Christmas-time. At Christmas, the dinner is a family gathering; and I've no family. There is such a gathering of kindred on this occasion, such a reunion of family folk, that there is no place for a friend, even if the friend be liked. Christmas, with all its kindliness and charity and good-will, is, after all, deuced selfish. Each little set gathers within its own circle; and people like me, with no particular circle, are left in the lurch. So you see, on the day of all the days in the year that my heart pines for good cheer, I'm without an invitation.
"Oh, it's because I pine for good cheer," said the bachelor, sharply, interrupting my attempt to speak, "that I hate holidays. If I were an infernally selfish fellow, I wouldn't hate holidays. I'd go off and have some fun all to myself, somewhere or somehow. But, you see, I hate to be in the dark when all the rest of the world is in light. I hate holidays, because I ought to be merry and happy on holidays, and can't.
"Don't tell me," he cried, stopping the word that was on my lips; "I tell you, I hate holidays. The shops look merry, do they, with their bright toys and their green branches? The pantomime is crowded with merry hearts, is it? The circus and the show are brimful of fun and laughter, are they? Well, they all make me miserable. I haven't any pretty-faced girls or bright-eyed boys to take to the circus or the show, and all the nice girls and fine boys of my acquaintance have their uncles or their grand-dads or their cousins to take them to those places; so, if I go, I must go alone. But I don't go. I can't bear the chill of seeing everybody happy, and knowing myself so lonely and desolate. Confound it, sir, I've too much heart to be happy under such circumstances! I'm too humane, sir! And the result is, I hate holidays. It's miserable to be out, and yet I can't stay at home, for I get thinking of Christmases past. I can't read—the shadow of my heart makes it impossible. I can't walk—for I see nothing but pictures through the bright windows, and happy groups of pleasure-seekers. The fact is, I've nothing to do but to hate holidays.—But will you not dine with me?"
Of course, I had to plead engagement with my own family circle, and I couldn't quite invite Mr. Bluff home that day, when Cousin Charles and his wife, and Sister Susan and her daughter and three of my wife's kin, had come in from the country, all to make a merry Christmas with us. I felt sorry, but it was quite impossible, so I wished Mr. Bluff a "merry Christmas," and hurried homeward through the cold and nipping air.
I did not meet Bachelor Bluff again until a week after Christmas of the next year, when I learned some strange particulars of what occurred to him after our parting on the occasion just described. I will let Bachelor Bluff tell his adventure for himself:
"I went to church," said he, "and was as sad there as everywhere else. Of course, the evergreens were pretty, and the music fine; but all around me were happy groups of people, who could scarcely keep down merry Christmas long enough to do reverence to sacred Christmas. And nobody was alone but me. Every happy paterfamilias in his pew tantalized me, and the whole atmosphere of the place seemed so much better suited to every one else than me that I came away hating holidays worse than ever. Then I went to the play, and sat down in a box all alone by myself. Everybody seemed on the best of terms with everybody else, and jokes and banter passed from one to another with the most good-natured freedom. Everybody but me was in a little group of friends. I was the only person in the whole theater that was alone. And then there was such clapping of hands, and roars of laughter, and shouts of delight at all the fun going on upon the stage, all of which was rendered doubly enjoyable by everybody having somebody with whom to share and interchange the pleasure, that my loneliness got simply unbearable, and I hated holidays infinitely worse than ever.
"By five o'clock the holiday became so intolerable that I said I'd go and get a dinner. The best dinner the town could provide. A sumptuous dinner. A sumptuous dinner for one. A dinner with many courses, with wines of the finest brands, with bright lights, with a cheerful fire, with every condition of comfort—and I'd see if I couldn't for once extract a little pleasure out of a holiday!
"The handsome dining-room at the club looked bright, but it was empty. Who dines at this club on Christmas but lonely bachelors? There was a flutter of surprise when I ordered a dinner, and the few attendants were, no doubt, glad of something to break the monotony of the hours.
"My dinner was well served. The spacious room looked lonely; but the white, snowy cloths, the rich window-hangings, the warm tints of the walls, the sparkle of the fire in the steel grate, gave the room an air of elegance and cheerfulness; and then the table at which I dined was close to the window, and through the partly-drawn curtains were visible centers of lonely, cold streets, with bright lights from many a window, it is true, but there was a storm, and snow began whirling through the street. I let my imagination paint the streets as cold and dreary as it would, just to extract a little pleasure by way of contrast from the brilliant room of which I was apparently sole master.
"I dined well, and recalled in fancy old, youthful Christmases, and pledged mentally many an old friend, and my melancholy was mellowing into a low, sad undertone, when, just as I was raising a glass of wine to my lips, I was startled by a picture at the window-pane. It was a pale, wild, haggard face, in a great cloud of black hair, pressed against the glass. As I looked, it vanished. With a strange thrill at my heart, which my lips mocked with a derisive sneer, I finished the wine and set down the glass. It was, of course, only a beggar-girl that had crept up to the window and stole a glance at the bright scene within; but still the pale face troubled me a little, and threw a fresh shadow on my heart. I filled my glass once more with wine, and was again about to drink, when the face reappeared at the window. It was so white, so thin, with eyes so large, wild, and hungry-looking, and the black, unkempt hair, into which the snow had drifted, formed so strange and weird a frame to the picture, that I was fairly startled. Replacing, untasted, the liquor on the table, I rose and went close to the pane. The face had vanished, and I could see no object within many feet of the window. The storm had increased, and the snow was driving in wild gusts through the streets, which were empty, save here and there a hurrying wayfarer. The whole scene was cold, wild, and desolate, and I could not repress a keen thrill of sympathy for the child, whoever it was, whose only Christmas was to watch, in cold and storm, the rich banquet ungratefully enjoyed by the lonely bachelor. I resumed my place at the table; but the dinner was finished, and the wine had no further relish. I was haunted by the vision at the window, and began, with an unreasonable irritation at the interruption, to repeat with fresh warmth my detestation of holidays. One couldn't even dine alone on a holiday with any sort of comfort, I declared. On holidays one was tormented by too much pleasure on one side, and too much misery on the other. And then, I said, hunting for justification of my dislike of the day, 'How many other people are, like me, made miserable by seeing the fullness of enjoyment others possessed!
"Oh, yes, I know," sarcastically replied the bachelor to a comment of mine; "of course, all magnanimous, generous, and noble-souled people delight in seeing other people made happy, and are quite content to accept this vicarious felicity. But I, you see, and this dear little girl—"
"Dear little girl!"
"Oh, I forgot," said Bachelor Bluff, blushing a little, in spite of a desperate effort not to do so, "I didn't tell you. Well, it was so absurd! I kept thinking, thinking of the pale, haggard, lonely little girl on the cold and desolate side of the window-pane, and the over-fed, discontented, lonely old bachelor on the splendid side of the window-pane; and I didn't get much happier thinking about it, I can assure you. I drank glass after glass of the wine—not that I enjoyed its flavor any more, but mechanically, as it were, and with a sort of hope thereby to drown unpleasant reminders. I tried to attribute my annoyance in the matter to holidays, and so denounced them more vehemently than ever. I rose once in a while and went to the window, but could see no one to whom the pale face could have belonged.
"At last, in no very amiable mood, I got up, put on my wrappers, and went out; and the first thing I did was to run against a small figure crouching in the doorway. A face looked up quickly at the rough encounter, and I saw the pale features of the window-pane. I was very irritated and angry, and spoke harshly; and then, all at once, I am sure I don't know how it happened, but it flashed upon me that I, of all men, had no right to utter a harsh word to one oppressed with so wretched a Christmas as this poor creature was. I couldn't say another word, but began feeling in my pocket for some money, and then I asked a question or two, and then I don't quite know how it came about—isn't it very warm here?" exclaimed Bachelor Bluff, rising and walking about, and wiping the perspiration from his brow.
"Well, you see," he resumed nervously, "it was very absurd, but I did believe the girl's story—the old story, you know, of privation and suffering, and all that—and just thought I'd go home with the brat and see if what she said was all true. And then I remembered that all the shops were closed, and not a purchase could be made. I went back and persuaded the steward to put up for me a hamper of provisions, which the half-wild little youngster helped me carry through the snow, dancing with delight all the way.—And isn't this enough?"
"Not a bit, Mr. Bluff. I must have the whole story."
"I declare," said Bachelor Bluff, "there's no whole story to tell. A widow with children in great need, that was what I found; and they had a feast that night, and a little money to buy them a load of wood and a garment or two the next day; and they were all so bright, and so merry, and so thankful, and so good, that, when I got home that night, I was mightily amazed that, instead of going to bed sour at holidays, I was in a state of great contentment in regard to holidays. In fact, I was really merry. I whistled. I sang. I do believe I cut a caper. The poor wretches I had left had been so merry over their unlooked-for Christmas banquet that their spirits infected mine.
"And then I got thinking again. Of course, holidays had been miserable to me, I said. What right had a well-to-do, lonely old bachelor hovering wistfully in the vicinity of happy circles, when all about there were so many people as lonely as he, and yet oppressed with want? 'Good gracious!' I exclaimed, 'to think of a man complaining of loneliness with thousands of wretches yearning for his help and comfort, with endless opportunities for work and company, with hundreds of pleasant and delightful things to do! Just to think of it!' It put me in a great fury at myself to think of it. I tried pretty hard to escape from myself and began inventing excuses and all that sort of thing, but I rigidly forced myself to look squarely at my own conduct. And then I reconciled my conscience by declaring that, if ever after that day I hated a holiday again, might my holidays end at once and forever!
"Did I go and see my protégés again? What a question! Why—well, no matter. If the widow is comfortable now, it is because she has found a way to earn without difficulty enough for her few wants. That's no fault of mine. I would have done more for her, but she wouldn't let me. But just let me tell you about New Year's—the New-Year's-day that followed the Christmas I've been describing. It was lucky for me there was another holiday only a week off. Bless you! I had so much to do that day that I was completely bewildered, and the hours weren't half long enough. I did make a few social calls, but then I hurried them over; and then hastened to my little girl, whose face had already caught a touch of color; and she, looking quite handsome in her new frock and her ribbons, took me to other poor folk, and—well, that's about the whole story.
"Oh, as to the next Christmas. Well, I didn't dine alone, as you may guess. It was up three stairs, that's true, and there was none of that elegance that marked the dinner of the year before; but it was merry, and happy, and bright; it was a generous, honest, hearty, Christmas dinner, that it was, although I do wish the widow hadn't talked so much about the mysterious way a turkey had been left at her door the night before. And Molly—that's the little girl—and I had a rousing appetite. We went to church early; then we had been down to the Five Points to carry the poor outcasts there something for their Christmas dinner; in fact, we had done wonders of work, and Molly was in high spirits, and so the Christmas dinner was a great success.
"Dear me, sir, no! Just as you say. Holidays are not in the least wearisome any more. Plague on it! When a man tells me now that he hates holidays, I find myself getting very wroth. I pin him by the button-hole at once, and tell him my experience. The fact is, if I were at dinner on a holiday, and anybody should ask me for a sentiment, I should say, God bless all holidays!"
SANTA CLAUS AT SIMPSON'S BAR
It was nearly midnight when the festivities were interrupted. "Hush!" said Dick Bullen, holding up his hand. It was the querulous voice of Johnny from his adjacent closet: "Oh, dad!"
The Old Man arose hurriedly and disappeared in the closet. Presently he reappeared. "His rheumatiz is coming on agin bad," he explained, "and he wants rubbin'." He lifted the demijohn of whiskey from the table and shook it. It was empty. Dick Bullen put down his tin cup with an embarrassed laugh. So did the others. The Old Man examined their contents, and said hopefully, "I reckon that's enough; he don't need much. You hold on, all o' you, for a spell, and I'll be back;" and vanished in the closet with an old flannel shirt and the whiskey. The door closed but imperfectly, and the following dialogue was distinctly audible:—
"Now, sonny, whar does she ache worst?"
"Sometimes over yar and sometimes under yer; but it's most powerful from yer to yer. Rub yer, dad."
A silence seemed to indicate a brisk rubbing. Then Johnny:—
"Hevin' a good time out yar, dad?"
"Tomorrer's Chrismiss,—ain't it?"
"Yes, sonny. How does she feel now?"
"Better. Rub a little furder down. Wot's Chrismiss, anyway? Wot's it all about?"
"Oh, it's a day."
This exhaustive definition was apparently satisfactory, for there was a silent interval of rubbing. Presently Johnny again:—
"Mar sez that everywhere else but yer everybody gives things to everybody Chrismiss, and then she jist waded inter you. She sez thar's a man they call Sandy Claws, not a white man, you know, but a kind o' Chinemin, comes down the chimbley night afore Chrismiss and gives things to chillern,—boys like me. Puts 'em in their butes! Thet's what she tried to play upon me. Easy, now, pop, whar are you rubbin' to,—thet's a mile from the place. She jest made that up, didn't she, jest to aggrewate me and you? Don't rub thar—Why, dad!"
In the great quiet that seemed to have fallen upon the house the sigh of the near pines and the drip of leaves without was very distinct. Johnny's voice, too, was lowered as he went on: "Don't you take on now, for I'm gettin' all right fast. Wot's the boys doin' out thar?"
The Old Man partly opened the door and peered through. His guests were sitting there sociably enough, and there were a few silver coins and a lean buckskin purse on the table. "Bettin' on suthin',—some little game or 'nother. They're all right," he replied to Johnny, and recommenced his rubbing.
"I'd like to take a hand and win some money," said Johnny reflectively, after a pause.
The Old Man glibly repeated what was evidently a familiar formula, that if Johnny would wait until he struck it rich in the tunnel, he'd have lots of money, etc., etc.
"Yes," said Johnny, "but you don't. And whether you strike it or I win it, it's about the same. It's all luck. But it's mighty cur'o's about Chrismiss,—ain't it? Why do they call it Chrismiss?"
Perhaps from some instinctive deference to the overhearing of his guests, or from some vague sense of incongruity, the Old Man's reply was so low as to be inaudible beyond the room.
"Yes," said Johnny, with some slight abatement of interest, "I've heerd o' him before. Thar, that'll do dad. I don't ache near so bad as I did. Now wrap me tight in this yer blanket. So. Now," he added in a muffled whisper, "sit down yer by me till I go asleep." To assure himself of obedience he disengaged one hand from the blanket, and, grasping his father's sleeve, again composed himself to rest.
For some moments the Old Man waited patiently. Then the unwonted stillness of the house excited his curiosity, and without moving from the bed he cautiously opened the door with his disengaged hand, and looked into the main room. To his infinite surprise it was dark and deserted. But even then a smoldering log on the hearth broke, and by the upspringing blaze he saw the figure of Dick Bullen sitting by the dying embers.
Dick started, rose, and came somewhat unsteadily toward him.
"Whar's the boys?" said the Old Man.
"Gone up the canon on a little pasear. They're coming back for me in a minit. I'm waitin' round for 'em. What are you starin' at, Old Man?" he added, with a forced laugh; "do you think I'm drunk?"
The Old Man might have been pardoned the supposition, for Dick's eyes were humid and his face flushed. He loitered and lounged back to the chimney, yawned, shook himself, buttoned up his coat and laughed. "Liquor ain't so plenty as that, Old Man. Now don't you git up," he continued, as the Old Man made a movement to release his sleeve from Johnny's hand. "Don't you mind manners. Sit jest whar you be; I'm goin' in a jiffy. Thar, that's them now."
There was a low tap at the door. Dick Bullen opened it quickly, nodded "Good-night" to his host, and disappeared. The Old Man would have followed him but for the hand that still unconsciously grasped his sleeve. He could have easily disengaged it; it was small, weak and emaciated. But perhaps because it was small, weak and emaciated he changed his mind, and, drawing his chair closer to the bed, rested his head upon it. In this defenceless attitude the potency of his earlier potations surprised him. The room flickered and faded before his eyes, reappeared, faded again, went out, and left him—asleep.
Meantime Dick Bullen, closing the door, confronted his companions. "Are you ready?" said Staples. "Ready," said Dick; "what's the time?" "Past twelve," was the reply; "can you make it?—it's nigh on fifty miles, the round trip hither and yon." "I reckon," returned Dick shortly. "Whar's the mare?" "Bill and Jack's holdin' her at the crossin'." "Let 'em hold on a minit longer," said Dick.
He turned and reentered the house softly. By the light of the guttering candle and dying fire he saw that the door of the little room was open. He stepped toward it on tiptoe and looked in. The Old Man had fallen back in his chair, snoring, his helpless feet thrust out in a line with his collapsed shoulders, and his hat pulled over his eyes. Beside him, on a narrow wooden bedstead, lay Johnny, muffled tightly in a blanket that hid all save a strip of forehead and a few curls damp with perspiration. Dick Bullen made a step forward, hesitated, and glanced over his shoulder into the deserted room. Everything was quiet. With a sudden resolution he parted his huge mustaches with both hands, and stooped over the sleeping boy. But even as he did so a mischievous blast, lying in wait, swooped down the chimney, rekindled the hearth, and lit up the room with a shameless glow, from which Dick fled in bashful terror.
His companions were already waiting for him at the crossing. Two of them were struggling in the darkness with some strange misshapen bulk, which as Dick came nearer took the semblance of a great yellow horse.
It was the mare. She was not a pretty picture. From her Roman nose to her rising haunches, from her arched spine hidden by the stiff machillas of a Mexican saddle, to her thick, straight, bony legs, there was not a line of equine grace. In her half blind but wholly vicious white eyes, in her protruding under-lip, in her monstrous color, there was nothing but ugliness and vice.
"Now, then," said Staples, "stand cl'ar of her heels, boy, and up with you. Don't miss your first holt of her mane, and mind ye get your off stirrup quick. Ready!"
There was a leap, a scrambling, a bound, a wild retreat of the crowd, a circle of flying hoofs, two springless leaps that jarred the earth, a rapid play and jingle of spurs, a plunge, and then the voice of Dick somewhere in the darkness. "All right!"
"Don't take the lower road back onless you're pushed hard for time! Don't hold her in down hill. We'll be at the ford at five. G'lang! Hoopa! Mula! GO!"
A splash, a spark struck from the ledge in the road, a clatter in the rocky cut beyond, and Dick was gone.- - - - -
Sing, O Muse, the ride of Richard Bullen! Sing, O Muse, of chivalrous men! the sacred quest, the doughty deeds, the battery of low churls, the fearsome ride and gruesome perils of the Flower of Simpson's Bar! Alack! she is dainty, this Muse! She will have none of this bucking brute and swaggering, ragged rider, and I must fain follow him in prose, afoot!
It was one o'clock, and yet he had only gained Rattlesnake Hill. For in that time Jovita had rehearsed to him all her imperfections and practised all her vices. Thrice had she stumbled. Twice had she thrown up her Roman nose in a straight line with the reins, and, resisting bit and spur, struck out madly across country. Twice had she reared, and, rearing, fallen backward; and twice had the agile Dick, unharmed, regained his seat before she found her vicious legs again. And a mile beyond them, at the foot of a long hill, was Rattlesnake Creek. Dick knew that here was the crucial test of his ability to perform his enterprise, set his teeth grimly, put his knees well into her flanks, and changed his defensive tactics to brisk aggression. Bullied and maddened, Jovita began the descent of the hill. Here the artful Richard pretended to hold her in with ostentatious objurgation and well-feigned cries of alarm. It is unnecessary to add that Jovita instantly ran away. Nor need I state the time made in the descent; it is written in the chronicles of Simpson's Bar. Enough that in another moment, as it seemed to Dick, she was splashing on the overflowed banks of Rattlesnake Creek. As Dick expected, the momentum she had acquired carried her beyond the point of balking, and, holding her well together for a mighty leap, they dashed into the middle of the swiftly flowing current. A few moments of kicking, wading, and swimming, and Dick drew a long breath on the opposite bank.
The road from Rattlesnake Creek to Red Mountain was tolerably level. Either the plunge into Rattlesnake Creek had dampened her baleful fire, or the art which led to it had shown her the superior wickedness of her rider, for Jovita no longer wasted her surplus energy in wanton conceits. Once she bucked, but it was from force of habit; once she shied, but it was from a new, freshly-painted meeting-house at the crossing of the country road. Hollows, ditches, gravelly deposits, patches of freshly-springing grasses, flew from beneath her rattling hoofs. She began to smell unpleasantly, once or twice she coughed slightly, but there was no abatement of her strength or speed. By two o'clock he had passed Red Mountain and begun the descent to the plain. Ten minutes later the driver of the fast Pioneer coach was overtaken and passed by a "man on a Pinto hoss,"—an event sufficiently notable for remark. At half past two Dick rose in his stirrups with a great shout. Stars were glittering through the rifted clouds, and beyond him, out of the plain, rose two spires, a flagstaff, and a straggling line of black objects. Dick jingled his spurs and swung his riata, Jovita bounded forward, and in another moment they swept into Tuttleville, and drew up before the wooden piazza of "The Hotel of All Nations."
What transpired that night at Tuttleville is not strictly a part of this record. Briefly I may state, however, that after Jovita had been handed over to a sleepy ostler, whom she at once kicked into unpleasant consciousness, Dick sallied out with the barkeeper for a tour of the sleeping town. Lights still gleamed from a few saloons and gambling houses; but, avoiding these, they stopped before several closed shops, and by persistent tapping and judicious outcry roused the proprietors from their beds, and made them unbar the doors of their magazines and expose their wares. Sometimes they were met by curses, but oftener by interest and some concern in their needs. It was three o'clock before this pleasantry was given over, and with a small waterproof bag of India rubber strapped on his shoulders Dick returned to the hotel. And then he sprang to the saddle, and dashed down the lonely street and out into the lonelier plain, where presently the lights, the black line of houses, the spires, and the flagstaff sank into the earth behind him again and were lost in the distance.
The storm had cleared away, the air was brisk and cold, the outlines of adjacent landmarks were distinct, but it was half-past four before Dick reached the meeting-house and the crossing of the country road. To avoid the rising grade he had taken a longer and more circuitous road, in whose viscid mud Jovita sank fetlock deep at every bound. It was a poor preparation for a steady ascent of five miles more; but Jovita, gathering her legs under her, took it with her usual blind, unreasoning fury, and a half hour later reached the long level that led to Rattlesnake Creek. Another half hour would bring him to the Creek. He threw the reins lightly upon the neck of the mare, chirruped to her, and began to sing.
Suddenly Jovita shied with a bound that would have unseated a less practised rider. Hanging to her rein was a figure that had leaped from the bank, and at the same time from the road before her arose a shadowy horse and rider. "Throw up your hands," commanded the second apparition, with an oath.
Dick felt the mare tremble, quiver, and apparently sink under him. He knew what it meant, and was prepared.
"Stand aside, Jack Simpson. I know you, you d——d thief! Let me pass, or—"
He did not finish the sentence. Jovita rose straight in the air with a terrific bound, throwing the figure from her bit with a single shake of her vicious head, and charged with deadly malevolence down on the impediment before her. An oath, a pistol-shot, horse and highwayman rolled over in the road, and the next moment Jovita was a hundred yards away. But the good right arm of her rider, shattered by a bullet, dropped helplessly at his side.
Without slacking his speed he lifted the reins to his left hand. But a few moments later he was obliged to halt and tighten the saddle-girths that had slipped in the onset. This in his crippled condition took some time. He had no fear of pursuit, but, looking up, he saw that the eastern stars were already paling, and that the distant peaks had lost their ghostly whiteness, and now stood out blackly against a lighter sky. Day was upon him. Then completely absorbed in a single idea, he forgot the pain of his wound, and, mounting again, dashed on towards Rattlesnake Creek. But now Jovita's breath came broken by gasps, Dick reeled in his saddle, and brighter and brighter grew the sky.
Ride, Richard; run, Jovita; linger, O day!
For the last few rods there was a roaring in his ears. Was it exhaustion from a loss of blood, or what? He was dazed and giddy as he swept down the hill, and did not recognize his surroundings. Had he taken the wrong road, or was this Rattlesnake Creek?
It was. But the brawling creek he had swam a few hours before had risen, more than doubled its volume, and now rolled a swift and resistless river between him and Rattlesnake Hill. For the first time that night Richard's heart sank within him. The river, the mountain, the quickening east, swam before his eyes. He shut them to recover his self-control. In that brief interval, by some fantastic mental process, the little room at Simpson's Bar and the figures of the sleeping father and son rose upon him. He opened his eyes wildly, cast off his coat, pistol, boots, and saddle, bound his precious pack tightly to his shoulders, grasped the bare flanks of Jovita with his bared knees, and with a shout dashed into the yellow water. A cry arose from the opposite bank as the head of a man and horse struggled for a few moments against the battling current, and then were swept away amidst uprooted trees and whirling driftwood.- - - - -
The Old man started and woke. The fire on the hearth was dead, the candle in the outer room flickering in its socket, and somebody was rapping at the door. He opened it, but fell back with a cry before the dripping, half-naked figure that reeled against the doorpost.
"Hush! Is he awake yet?"
"No; but Dick—"
"Dry up, you old fool! Get me some whiskey, quick!" The Old Man flew, and returned with—an empty bottle! Dick would have sworn, but his strength was not equal to the occasion. He staggered, caught at the handle of the door, and motioned to the Old Man.
"Thar's suthin' in my pack yer for Johnny. Take it off. I can't."
The Old Man unstrapped the pack, and laid it before the exhausted man.
"Open it, quick."
He did so with trembling fingers. It contained only a few poor toys,—cheap and barbaric enough, goodness knows, but bright with paint and tinsel. One of them was broken; another, I fear, was irretrievably ruined by water; and on the third—ah me! there was a cruel spot.
"It don't look like much, that's a fact," said Dick ruefully ... "But it's the best we could do.... Take 'em Old Man, and put 'em in his stocking, and tell him—tell him, you know—hold me, Old Man—" The Old Man caught at his sinking figure. "Tell him," said Dick, with a weak little laugh,—"tell him Sandy Claus has come."
And even so, bedraggled, ragged, unshaven and unshorn, with one arm hanging helplessly at his side, Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar, and fell fainting on the first threshold. The Christmas dawn came slowly after, touching the remoter peaks with the rosy warmth of ineffable love. And it looked so tenderly on Simpson's Bar that the whole mountain, as if caught in a generous action, blushed to the skies.
(Sung at Queen's College, Oxford.)
ANNE P.L. FIELD
ANNE P.L. FIELD
ANNE P.L. FIELD
ANNE P.L. FIELD
ANNE P.L. FIELD
ROBERT HAVEN SCHAUFFLER
All day her watch had lasted on the plateau above the town. And now the sun slanted low over the dull, blue sheen of the western sea, playing changingly with the angular mountain which rose abruptly from its surge.
The young matron did not heed the magic which was transforming the theater of hills to the north and lingering lovingly at last on the eastern summit. Nor had she any eyes for the changing hue of the ivy-clad cubes of stone that formed the village over which her hungry gaze passed, sweeping the length and breadth of the plain below.
She seemed not much above thirty: tall, erect and lithe. Her throat, bared to the breeze, was of the purest modeling; her skin of a whiteness unusual in that warm climate. Her head, a little small for her rounded figure, was crowned with a coil of chestnut hair, and her eyes glowed with a look strange to the common light of every day. It was her soul that was scanning that southward country.
From time to time she would fondle a small object hidden beneath the white folds of her robe. Once she threw her arms out in a passionate gesture toward the plain, and tears overflowed the beautiful eyes. Again she fell on her knees, and the throes of inner prayer found relief at her lips:
"Father, my Father, grant me to see him ere the dusk!"
Once again she sank down, moaning:
"He is in Thine everlasting arms. But Thou, who knowest times and seasons, give him to me on this day of days!"
Under the curve of a shielding hand her vision strained through the clear, pure air,—strained and found at last two specks far out in the plain, and followed them breathlessly as they crept nearer. One traveler was clad in a dark garment, and stopped presently, leaving his light-robed companion to hasten on alone toward the hungry-eyed woman on the plateau.
All at once she gathered her skirt with a joyous cry and ran with lithe, elastic steps down through the village.
They met on a low, rounded hill near the plain.
"My son, my darling!" she cried, catching him passionately to her bosom. "We have searched, and waited, and agonized," she continued after a pause, smiling at him through her happy tears. "But it matters nothing now. I have thee again."
"My mother," said the boy as he caressed her cheek, looking at her dreamily, "I have been with my cousin. Even now he waits below for me. I must bid thee farewell. I must pass from thy face forever."
His lip trembled a little, but he smiled bravely. "For it is the will of God, the Father."
The mother's face went ashen. She tottered and would have fallen but for his slender arm about her.
Her thoughts were whirling in wild confusion, yet she knew that she must decide calmly, wisely, quickly.
Her lips moved, but made no sound.
"Oh, lay Thy wise and gracious hand upon me!" was what she breathed in silence.
Then her voice sounded rich and happy and fresh, as it had always sounded for him.
"His will be done. Thou comest to bid farewell to thy brothers and father?"
"It may not be," he answered. "My lot henceforth is to flee the touch of the world, the unsympathetic eye, the ribald tongue of those like my brothers—the defilement of common life."
The mother pressed him closer.
"Say all that is in thine heart," she murmured. "We will bide here."
They sank down together on the soft, bright turf, facing the brilliance of the west, she holding her child as of old in the hollow of her arm.
He began to speak.
"For long and long a voice within me said, 'Go and seek thy cousin.' So I sought and found, and we abode together in the woods and fields, and were friends with our dear brothers the beasts, and the fishes, and the birds. There, day by day, my cousin would tell me of the dream that filled his soul and of the holy men who had put the dream there."
The mother's eyes grew larger with a swift terror, but she held her peace.
"And at the last, when the beauty, the wind, the sun, the rain, and the voice of God, had purified me in some measure, my cousin brought me to visit these holy men."
The clear, boyish voice rose and began to vibrate with enthusiasm.
"Ah, mother, they are the chosen ones of God! Sweet and grave and gentle they are, and theirs is the perfect life. They dwell spotless and apart from the world. They own one common purse, and spend their lives working with their hands and pondering and dreaming on purity, goodness, and the commands of the great law."
He sprang up in his excitement from her encircling arm and stood erect and wide-eyed before her.
"Ah, mother, they are so good that they would do nothing on the Sabbath, even to saving their own lives or the lives of their animals, or their brothers. They bathe very often in sacred water. They have no wives, and mortify the flesh, and—"
"What is their aim in this?" the mother interrupted gently.
The boy was aflame with his subject.
"Ah, that is it—the great goal toward which they all run," he cried. "They are doing my Father's work, and I must help! Hear, hear what is before me: When a young novice comes to them they give him the symbols of purity: a spade, an apron, and a white robe to wear at the holy meals. In a year he receives a closer fellowship and the baths of purification. After that he enters the state of bodily purity. Then little by little he enters into purity of the spirit, meekness, holiness. He becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, and prophesies. Ah, think, mother, how sweet it would be to lie entranced there for days and weeks in an earthly paradise, with no rough world to break the spell, while the angels sing softly in one's ears! I, even I, have already tasted of that bliss."
"Say on," she breathed. "What does the holy man do then?"
"Then," the inspired, boyish tones continued—"then he performs miracles, and finally—" he clasped her hand convulsively—"he becomes Elias, the forerunner of the Messiah!"
From far out in the wilderness came a melancholy cry.
"It is John, my cousin," said the boy, radiant, half turning himself at the sound. "I must go to him."
She drew in her breath sharply, and rose to her feet.
"Bear a message to John," she said. "Not pourings of water, nor white robes; not times and seasons, nor feasts in darkness and silence, shall hasten the kingdom of heaven; neither formulas, nor phylacteries, nor madness on the Sabbath. Above all, no selfish, proud isolation shall usher in the glorious reign of the Messiah. These holy men,—these Essenes,—are but stricter, sterner, nobler Pharisees. Tell thy cousin to take all the noble and fine, to reject all the selfish and unmeaning, in their lives. Doctrine is not in heaven. Not by fasts and scourgings, not by vigils and scruples about the law; not by selfishly shutting out the world, but by taking all poor, suffering, erring, striving humanity into his heart will he become the true Elias."
There was a breathless, thrilling moment of perfect silence as the glowing eyes of the mother looked deep into the astonished, questioning eyes of the son.
Then she rested both hands on his shoulders and spoke almost in a whisper.
"As for thee, the time is now come. Does my son know what this day means?"
He looked at her wonderingly and was silent.
The mother spoke:
"For many years I have kept these things and pondered them in my heart. Now, now the hour is here when thou must know them."
She bent so close that a strand of loosened hair swept his forehead.
"In the time before thou wert born came as in a dream a wondrous visitor to me straight from the Father. And that pure, ecstatic messenger announced that the power of the Highest would overshadow me, and that my child was to be the son of the Highest, who should save His people from their sins—the Prince of Peace—the Messiah!"
From the wilderness came a long, melancholy cry, but the rapt boy heard not.
The mother continued in the soft, tender voice that began to tremble with her in her ecstasy.
"This day is thy birthday. Twelve years ago this eventide, when thou camest into the world of men, men came to worship and praise God for thee,—the lowliest and the highest,—as a token that thou wert to be not only Son of God but Son of Man as well. Poor, ignorant shepherds crowded about us in that little stable where we lay, and left the sweet savor of their prayers, and tears, and rejoicings. And great, wise kings from another part of the earth came also."
From beneath the folds of her robe she drew forth by a fine-spun chain an intricately chased casket of soft, yellow gold.
The boy took it dreamily into his hands, and as his fingers opened it, there floated forth upon the air of the hills of Nazareth the sacred odor of incense mingled with a perfume indescribably delicate and precious.
"Read!" whispered the mother.
The boy held his breath suddenly.
There, on the lower surface of the lid, graven in rude characters, as if on the inspiration of the moment, stood the single word
She flung wide her arms as if to embrace the universe.
"Love! Love! Love!" she cried in her rich mother's voice. "It is the greatest thing in the world! It is the message of the Messiah!"
The heavens over the sea were of molten gold, and a golden glow seemed to radiate from the boyish face that confronted them. In their trance-like ecstasy the wonderful eyes gazed full into the blinding west—gazed on and on until day had passed into night.
One iterant sound alone, as it drew closer, stirred the silence of that evening: it was the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
1. There is an editorial error in the original edition of this book: "The Star Song" by Robert Herrick is listed in the Table of Contents but not included in the text. For this edition "The Star Song" was removed from the Table of Contents.
2. In the "Inexhaustibility of the Subject of Christmas" by Leigh Hunt the following sentence:"There are two p's, observe, in plenipotential; and so there are in
is transcribed:(There are two p's, observe, in plenipotential; and so there are in
3. In "Christmas Holly:"I sing the holly, and who can breathe
was changed as follows to correct an error and to preserve the symmetrical verse structure [4,8,8,8,4]:I sing the holly, and who can breathe
4. In "Sery" by Richard Watson Gilder:At a very queer sight
was changed to:At a very queer sight
5. In Christmas Dreams, the word "stravaigging" was corrected to "stravaiging."
6. "Hang up the Baby's Stocking" was not attributed in the Table of Contents or in the text in the original edition. For clarity this edition attributed both as follows: [Emily Huntington Miller]. Attribution makes the text more readable. Without it one could believe the poem to have been written by Andrew Lang; especially after Haven inserts an extra poem by Southwell, "A Carol" following "The Wassailer's Song," which is unlisted in the contents.
7. Finally, the 1907 edition includes a story called "Golden Cobwebs" at the close of section IV that was not included in the 1968 edition used for this transcription.
***END OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHRISTMAS***
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