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forests were pleasure parks, and all the isles were Fortunate Isles, and all the fields were Elysian, and all eyes were full of joy, oh ! then- But no: then the Infinite Being must have assured us that such felicity would be perpetual. But now that so many houses are houses of mourning, so many fields are fields of battle, so many faces are pale, so many eyes are dulled with tears and closed; when things are thus, how can the tomb be the end of all ?”
There are times when the mind and heart are weary of everything life has given, and like Solomon who tried learning and folly, who builded houses, and planted vineyards, and made gardens and orchards, and pools of water, who got servants and maidens, and great possessions of great and small cattle, and gathered gold and silver, and tried men singers and women singers, the heart is forced to exclaim with him, “Whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy, and then I looked on all the works my hands had wrought, and on the labours that I had laboured to do: and behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit. Wherefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”1 And this disgust arises, not because the things enjoyed are in themselves bad, but simply and solely because the imagination transcends them, and its ideal is not as yet attained, and for that reason only it falls sick with disappointed hope. It accepts what is; it distinguishes what is good in it from what is base. It takes the good as an earnest of the very good; but it insists on every comparative necessitating a superlative; and it is for that superlative in the future that it pines.
1 Eccles. ii. 1-17.
The leaf of life on which man has been crawling about and feeding like a caterpillar, falls behind him a skeleton leaf. The desire for something higher becomes a painthat heavenly home-sickness of which the writings of the great Catholic saints are redolent, but which every heart probably feels with more or less intensity.
“ Through night and darkness from between the clouds
Looks down the moon, and countless sparkles gleam
How strangely on my heart
It is a common-place to say that fruition never satisfies. There is always something wanting to make happiness perfect. Duration, but not duration only, perfection also. By a wonderful faculty man's ideas always transcend what is attainable, and thence that weariness of spirit which falls upon him, when he has roved from pleasure to pleasure, and has not found what he has seen in vision. And then again, there is in us a want of capacity for en
, joying what is beautiful as fully as we desire. Why is it that, as Goethe says, a work of high art always pains us at first sight? It is because we feel ourselves so unable to grasp it, it is like a full blaze on an eye accustomed to the dark, there is a sensation of distress produced till the mind has been modulated upwards into harmony with the object. We feel this with great intensity when exquisite music, or very beautiful poetry is wafted in on our sensitive mind
i Hebel : Allemannische Gedichte. Leipz. 1853, p. 186.
plate. The eye fills with tears. Why does that which is very lovely sadden the heart, sadden it with a pleasing pain? Why, but because it awakens a desire for something beyond the flat horizon of the everyday life we are doomed to live. I well remember, as a boy, being overcome by a sudden glimpse up the Val d'Azun in the Pyrenees. A soft haze which had obscured the mountains rose and dissolved into floss silver in the sky, and through it the sun poured a subdued glory over the snows of the Pic de Gabizos. The scene was more beautiful than I could bear, and I burst into sobs. I have felt the same pain in coming
I suddenly on a grey rock clustered over with wild pinks above the Lake of Thun. Beauty, like light, is sometimes too overpowering to be borne.
I find the same sensation described by Mr. Gosse, the naturalist, whose feeling for natural beauties breathes out of every page he writes. He says, "Perhaps many have felt-I have often—that there are occasions in which the sense of the beautiful in nature becomes almost painfully overpowering. I have gazed on some very lovely prospects, bathed perhaps in the last rays of the evening sun, till my soul seemed to struggle with a very peculiar undefinable sensation, as if longing for a power to enjoy, which I was conscious I did not possess, and which found relief only in tears. I have felt conscious that there were elements of enjoyment and admiration there which went far beyond my capacity of enjoying and admiring, and I have delighted to believe that, by and by, when in the millennial kingdom of Jesus, and still more in the remote future, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, the earth—the new earth -shall be endowed with a more than paradisaical glory, there will be given to redeemed man a greatly increased power and capacity for drinking in and enjoying the augmented loveliness.” 1
It is the same with music. An elegant writer thus expresses the same sensation. “A stirring poem will occasionally move one even to tears, but I have known men to lose consciousness whilst listening to a simple melody. Its effect upon the mind and senses is indescribable. I refer now to persons who hold the rare gift of appreciating the genius of music, not to those who merely fancy they possess it. . . . I often wonder what the effect will be upon those who are unable to comprehend its soul-stirring element when they first hear the strains in the next world? when the spiritual shall be all in all, and they shall see and understand no longer as through a glass darkly. If it is given to us there to remember the thoughts and emotions of mortality, they will wonder how it came to pass that in the years of their earthly life they were so dead to the deepest power the world contained. As everything in heaven will exceed earth as the glory of the Almighty exceeds that of man, so is it impossible to conceive the effect that shall be wrought on us when, for the first time, we hear those strains of celestial melody spoken of by S. John in the New Testament. My friend, but that the soul has thrown off its bonds, its limits of earthly endurance, we should close our ears to the sound, as Moses veiled his face before the Children of Israel when he came down from the mountain."
It is the same with that which is very good. A saintly life, a beautiful example, touch the soul with a longing which causes an ache-an ache because the consciousness of inequality arises within, and a desire is born to rise to
1 Gosse: Romance of Natural History, 2nd Series, 1861, pp. 303, 343. ? Buried Alone, p. 61-3.
the same level; there is a travail of the soul, forgotten in its joy when fruition is attained, but full of exquisite suffering at the time.
It is this pain which is felt by the spirits in purgatory; they see the perfection of goodness, and feeling their disaccord with it, they suffer, till the harmony is produced which alone can give them rest. A pain full of sweetness, but a pain for all that.
“ Take me away, and in the lowest deep
There let me be,
Told out for me.
Lone, not forlorn,-
Until the morn.
Which ne'er can cease
Of its Sole Peace.”2
And this indeed is Christian contrition, the sense of the purity and goodness of Christ, contrasted with the stained and blemished nature of man.
Every sigh of contrition then, as every tear dropped before beauty passing assimilation and virtue as yet un
1 Longfellow's Santa Filomena. 2 Newman: Dream of Gerontius.