Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the cane-fields and the plantain gardens, and the cocoagroves which fringe the shores; above the rocks which throbbed with earthquakes, and the peaks of old volcanoes, cinder-strewn; while, far beneath, the ghosts of their dead sisters hurried home upon the northeast breeze.

8. Wild deeds they did, as they rushed onward, and struggled and fought among themselves, up and down, and round and backward, in the fury of their blind, hot youth. They tired themselves by struggling with each other, and by tearing the heavy water into waves; and their wings grew clogged with sea-spray, and soaked more and more with steam.

9. At last, the sea grew cold beneath them, and their clear stream shrank to mist; and they saw themselves and each other wrapped in dull rain-laden clouds. Then they drew their white cloud garments around them, and veiled themselves for very shame; and said, “ We have been wild and wayward; and, alas ! our pure youth is gone. But we will do one good deed yet, before we die, and so we shall not have lived in vain. We will glide onward to the land, and weep there, and refresh all things with soft, warm rain, and make the grass grow, and the buds burst; we will quench the thirst of man and beast, and wash the soiled world clean."

10. So they are wandering past us, the air-mothers, to weep the leaves into their graves; to weep the seeds into their seed-beds, and to weep the soil into the plains; to get the rich earth ready for the winter, and then creep northward to the ice-world, and there die.

But will they live again ? Yes; they must live again. For all things move forever; and not even ghosts can rest.

11. The corpses of their sisters, piling on them from above, press them onward, press them southward toward the sun, once more, across the floes, and round the icebergs, — weeping tears of snow and sleet, — while men hear their wild, harsh voices, and shrink before their bitter breath. They know not that the cold, bleak snow-storms, as they hurtle from the black northeast, bear back the ghosts of the soft air-mothers, as penitents, to their father, the great sun.

12. But as they fly southward warm life thrills them, and they drop their loads of sleet and snow, and meet their young live sisters from the south, and greet them with flash and thunder-peal. Men call them the southwest wind, those air-mothers; and their ghosts, the northeast trade ; and value them, and rightly, because they bear the traders out and back across the sea.

CHARLES KINGSLEY.

LXXIV. - THE WONDERS OF THE HEAVENS.

1. The great object of all knowledge is to enlarge and purify the soul, to fill the mind with noble contemplations, and to furnish a refined pleasure. Considering this as the ultimate end of science, no branch of it can surely claim precedence of astronomy. No other science

furnishes such a palpable embodiment of the abstractions which lie at the foundation of our intellectual system — the great ideas of time, and space, and extension, and magnitude, and number, and motion, and power.

2. How grand the conception of the ages on ages required for several of the secular equations of the solar system ; of distances from which the light of a fixed star will not reach us in twenty millions of years ; of magnitudes, compared with which the earth is but a football; of starry hosts, suns like our own, numberless as the sands on the shore; of worlds and systems shooting through the infinite spaces, with a velocity compared with which the cannon-ball is a way-worn, heavy-paced traveler!

3. I had occasion, a few weeks since, to take the early train from Providence to Boston, and for this purpose rose at two o'clock in the morning. Everything around was wrapped in darkness and hushed in silence, broken only by what seemed at that hour the unearthly clank and rush of the train. It was a mild, serene midsummer's night; the sky was without a cloud; the winds were whist.

4. The moon, then in the last quarter, had just risen, and the stars shone with a spectral lustre but little affected by her presence. Jupiter, two hours high, was the herald of the day; the Pleiades, just above the horizon, shed their sweet influence in the east; Lyra sparkled near the zenith; Andromeda veiled her newly discovered glories from the naked eye, in the south; the

steady pointers, far beneath the pole, looked meekly up from the depths of the north to their sovereign.

5. Such was the glorious spectacle as I entered the train. As we proceeded, the timid approach of twilight became more perceptible; the intense blue of the sky began to soften; the smaller stars, like little children, went first to rest; the sister-beams of the Pleiades soon melted together; but the bright constellations of the west and north remained unchanged. Steadily the wondrous transfiguration went on. Hands of angels, hidden from mortal eyes, shifted the scenery of the heavens; the glories of night dissolved into the glories of dawn.

6. The blue sky now turned more softly gray; the great watch-stars shut up their holy eyes; the east began to kindle. Faint streaks of purple soon blushed along the sky; the whole celestial concave was filled with the inflowing tides of the morning light, which came pouring down from above in one great ocean of radiance ; till at length, as we reached the Blue Hills, a flash of purple fire blazed out from above the horizon, and turned the dewy tear-drops of flower and leaf into rubies and diamonds. In a few seconds the everlasting gates of the morning were thrown wide open, and the lord of day, arrayed in glories too severe for the gaze of man, began his state.

7. I do not wonder at the superstition of the ancient Magians, who in the morning of the world went up to the hill-tops of Central Asia, and, ignorant of the true God, adored the most glorious work of his hand. But I

am filled with amazement when I am told that, in this enlightened age and in the heart of the Christian world, there are persons who can witness this daily manifestation of the power and wisdom of the Creator, and yet say in their hearts, “ There is no God.”

8. But it is when we turn our observation and our thoughts from our own system to the systems which lie beyond it in the heavenly spaces, that we approach a more adequate conception of the vastness of creation. All analogy teaches us that the sun which gives light to us is but one of those countless stellar fires which deck the firmament, and that every glittering star in that shining host is the centre of a system, as vast and as full of subordinate luminaries as our own. Of these suns -- centres of planetary systems — thousands are visible to the naked eye, millions are discovered by the telescope.

9. Sir John Herschel, in the account of his operations at the Cape of Good Hope, calculates that about five and a half millions of stars are visible enough to be distinctly counted in a twenty-foot reflector in both hemispheres. He adds, “ That the actual number is much greater, there can be little doubt." His illustrious father estimated on one occasion, that one hundred and twentyfive thousand stars passed through the field of his fortyfoot reflector in a quarter of an hour. This would give twelve millions for the entire circuit of the heaven in a single telescopic zone; and this estimate was made under the assumption that the nebulæ were masses of luminous matter not yet condensed into suns.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »