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Continental Monthly, Vol. III, No IV, April 1863 Devoted to Literature and National Policy   By:

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First Page:

THE

CONTINENTAL MONTHLY:

DEVOTED TO

LITERATURE AND NATIONAL POLICY.

VOL. III. APRIL, 1863. No. IV.

THE WONDERS OF WORDS.

Every nation has its legend of a 'golden age' when all was young and fresh and fair ' comme les couleurs primitives de la nature ' even before the existence of this gaunt shadow of Sorrow the shadow of ourselves that ever stalks in company with us; an epoch of Saturnian rule, when gods held sweet converse with men, and man primeval bounded with all the elasticity of god given juvenility:

('Ah! remember, This all this was in the olden Time long ago.')

And even now, in spite of our atheism and our apathism, amid all the overwhelming world influences of this great 'living Present' the ghost of the dead Past will come rushing back upon us with its solemn voices and its infinite wailings of pity: but soft and faint it comes; for the wild jarrings of the Now almost prevent us from hearing its still, small voices. It

'Is but a dim remembered story Of the old time entombed.'

Besides, what is History but the story of the bygone? The elegy, too, comes to us as the last lamenting, sadly solemn swan song of that glorious golden time. And, indeed, are not all poesies but various notes of that mighty diapason of Thought and Feeling, that has, through the ages, been singing itself in jubilee and wail?

So it is in the individual (for is not the individual ever the rudimental, formula like expression of that awful problem which nations and humanity itself are slowly and painfully working out?): in the 'moonlight of memory' these sorrowful mementos revisit every one of us; and

'But I am not now That which I have been '

and vanitas vanitatum! are not only the satisfied croakings of blasé Childe Harolds, but our universal experience; while from childhood's gushing glee even unto manhood's sad satiety, we feel that all are nought but the phantasmagoria

'of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized .'

Listen now to a snatch of melody:

'The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose, The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, wherever I go, That there hath passed away a glory from the earth!'

So saith the mild Braminical Wordsworth. Now it will be remembered that Wordsworth, in that glorious ode whence we extract the above, develops the Platonic idea (shall we call Platonic that which has been entertained by the wise and the feeling of all times?) of a shadowy recollection of past and eternal existence in the profundities of the Divine Heart. 'It sounds forth here a mournful remembrance of a faded world of gods and heroes as the echoing plaint for the loss of man's original, celestial state, and paradisiacal innocence.' And then we have those transcendent lines that come to us like aromatic breezes blowing from the Spice Islands:

'Hence in a season of calm weather, Though inland far we be, Our souls have sight of that immortal sea, Which brought us hither, Can in a moment travel thither, And see the Children sport upon the shore, And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.'

But,

'descending From these imaginative heights that yield Far stretching views into eternity,'

what have the golden age and Platonic dicta to do with our word ramble? A good deal. For we will endeavor to show that words, being the very sign manual of man's convictions, contain the elements of what may throw light on both. To essay this:

Why is it that we generally speak of death as a 'return,' or a 'return home'? And how is it that this same idea has so remarkably interwoven itself with the very warp and woof of our language and poetry? so that in our fervency, we can sing:

'Jerusalem, my glorious home ,' etc... Continue reading book >>




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