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To My Familiar Spirit.

Upon Little Things.

That “great oaks from little acorns grow,” is a maxim which was, I doubt not, early impressed by Adam upon the mind of his eldest born; and, from Adam down to “ poor Richard,” many wise men have made the same observation. If, then, you should wonder that I should come pretending to dispense radiance, while in reality I but reflect that of these suns, I would answer, that we may, by custom, cease to observe the most brilliant light; but should its colour be changed, for instance, by passing through a different medium, our attention would be attracted. Allow me then to throw a few rays which have passed through my atmosphere upon the subject with which I have headed my chapter.

It appears to me, that it is in this, as in many other things, that which every man admits to be true in theory, few will prove to be so by their own experience. Day by day men trample upon their acorns, and wonder why oaks do not grow up around them; or suffer noxious seeds to sink into the soil, and then complain that briers and weeds are springing up in their paths. And I cannot help thinking that if past thoughts and words and deeds, which we have deemed too trifling to note, could be brought back to give an account of themselves, there would be much less murmuring against “the fickleness of Fortune;” fewer men there would be who were “born to be miserable;” and not quite so much work for the recording angel, whose duty it is to take note of complaints of “the injustice of <<250>>Providence.”

What man can look back upon his past life with­out observing that he has, more than once, lost the very object of which he was in the most earnest pursuit, not because it was beyond his reach, but because (as it must appear to a spectator, on purpose to avoid stumbling upon it), he has, kangaroo-like, leaped far beyond the object; for he sees in the distance, a “will o’ the wisp” of surpassing brightness? Why, my friend, do you not see, that a giant who strides over the world in seven-league boots, will never observe the flowers which form its carpet? and yet one of these same modest blossoms may hold within its cup a perfume which would gladden his existence. In plain language, I would call your attention to the question, whether it would .not be wiser for those who, under one form or another, are all engaged in the pursuit of happiness, to seize as they fly the lessons and the pleasures which the passing moments offer, instead of awaiting what the years shall bring; forgetting that seconds are the materials of which centuries are built.

Whether it would not be better, instead of living in expectation of one day coming upon something great, because undefined in the future,—to live in the actual material present; to make yourself at home in it; to take it as you find it, or make it better if you can, but use it. Remember as you pass through life, whatever situation it may be your lot to fill, that you are there for a purpose; that every act of yours, no matter how trifling, has its widespread influence; and that you are responsible if it is an evil one; and notice, too, how, although you should separate yourself from the world, you have a mind, formed from the minds of all who have lived and thought before you, from which you cannot separate yourself. Recollect how often it must have happened that a word, spoken perhaps by a child, a sentence from the most commonplace book, has given a direction to your thoughts which has coloured your whole character. Think how often a word of kind encouragement has strengthened your heart and your arm, for the great work of life; and how, on the contrary, even an implied disapprobation of the Medusa-headed monster, opinion, has almost petrified you,—forgetful as you are, that those serpents are harmless if you will but grasp them: and <<251>> then, tell me, if words, freely as we throw them from are not of great importance. And, yet less in appearance, but greater “Stay, winged Thought, I fain would question thee.”

Where, from Alexander to Napoleon, has there ever been a conqueror like thee? with dominions so extended, with power so absolute; yet what so silent? No one hears when the philosopher, in his closet, feels for the first time, the glorious truths which will guide the world in the next generation, which, like the stars afar off, showing but like points of fire, but really worlds in themselves and in their influences, bear the same relation to the so-called “ great events,” which, like comets, sometimes burst upon our view, to dazzle and depart. Treasure, then, your thoughts, and make companionship with them; for neglected, their fruit may be, like that of the peach in the deserts of Persia, bitter and poisonous. It rests with you to make them your good or evil spirits. Pass not a sunny spot in life without pausing, if only to note the beauty of the picture. Do so, and you may rest assured that the sunshine will enter your heart, and make you a happier and wiser man.

Listen when you hear one, who has received injury at the hands of another, come with the soft answer which turneth away wrath, to take noble revenge. Listen when the repentant heart, making itself heard above the whisperings of self-love, finds words to ask forgiveness. Listen when friends are parting, and feel with them the sorrow of separation.

Smile with the joyful, and feel it no disgrace to your manhood, if a tear dim your eye in sympathy with those who weep. So may you preserve your heart in its youth, when your eyes grow dim, and your step feeble. For know, the heart grows the stronger the more you use it, and if you will but keep it always open, there are many good and beautiful things scattered in our daily walks, which will help to fill it.

Do not ridicule any expression of feeling, as sentimental. Too much cause there has been, I know, to doubt its truth, since the world has been deluged with novels filled with sickly sentiment, and would-be-poets and false philosophers have seemed to think that, if they could but show that they were the most miserable of human beings, at the same time that they expressed their con‑<<252>>tempt for the rest of the world, they fully earned their right to bear those titles. But all are not pretenders, and it is easy to distinguish the true from the false, if you will but take the trouble. Do so, if you would not become dead to the true joys of life, those which reside within ourselves, and cannot be taken from us without our consent.

This is called a practical age; avoid none of these little things, which make you more capable of loving fellowship with the world, and cause you to be less like a very perfect automaton, warranted to read, speak, or work, but not to feel. What seek you in life for a resting-place, when your mind takes a flight into the regions of the future? Is it wealth? I hope you do not covet riches for their own sake; but if you would have them, the proverb says, “take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves.” Do you wish to acquire fame? Is it necessary to your happiness that the voice of multitudes shall call you great? Why, then, strive to be great, and that you may mount to the height which Ambition occupies, build your way up with little things, so that you may know every step which led you thither, and thus, when the opportunity comes, you may be able to answer to its calls, “Ready, aye ready.”

For instance, if you are a student, and it is to literature you look for the means of becoming known, you may look upon a line read without your having seized its sense, a thought passed by without your having followed it out, as so many delays to your advancement; but even though you should see no present use for the knowledge you acquire, yet you should be prepared for the time when it will be needed, so that you may at once take advantage of it. Do you long for kindness, and friendship, and love, from those who may chance to journey with you? Why, then, it rests with you to have all these; smiles have always their reflections, and kind words and friendly deeds are sure to reproduce themselves. Are you, my friends, subject to fits of melancholy, when you feel angry with yourself and every one else, and are almost determined that it is of no use trying to live in such an ill-natured world? Just walk into the street, where you may chance to see some living assertion that there is some good left; or look into <<253>> some good book, where you may see that others have felt as you do, and have found comfort in looking out from the contemplation of their own real or imaginary causes of complaint, into some of the pleasant aisles which open up through the wilderness of life, and have found upon nearer approach, that there are indeed but few spots so dark that no sunbeam has found its way through them to warm into life same flower or blade of grass.

A word, a thought, a kind smile, a noble impulse, a friendly action, things in themselves “trifles light as air,” seem then to me to bear the same relation to great things, as the alphabet to language; and when I see men listening with admiration when events announce themselves with the sound of the trumpet, while they disregard “the still small voice,”

I long to remind them of the answer of that clergyman, who, being asked, how he came to alter his manner, from the loud, ranting style he had formerly used, replied: “When I was young, I used to think that it was the thunder which killed the people, but as I grew older, I found that it was the lightning; so I resolved to thunder less and lighten more.” One more illustration: the cackling of a goose saved Rome; and though you should smilingly declare this effusion to be something upon the same order, I will not complain if I shall have reminded you, that it would be wise to “despise not the day of small things.”

L. R. J.