THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB.
I HAVE made the discovery of new heavens and a new earth. Who has not felt the need of them ? Who has not said to himself, “ I have seen this whole thing over and over again. This world, which is ‘ round like an orange,’ has, like an orange, now been effectually squeezed. Give me new worlds, not to conquer, but to live in.” When the impulse to turn over a new leaf, to break with the past, to begin life all over again, is strong upon us, we look around in vain for “ fresh woods and pastures new ” in which to begin it. How put a new soul of existence into an old body of circumstances ? But we are no longer driven to this dilemma. I do not mind making public, at least to all those choice spirits who read a Certain Magazine, the chart of my newly discovered world.
It is the world of the dawn. “ Oh, that ! ” cries my young friend scornfully, and is about to turn away. But let me ask you, in confidence, When have you seen the dawn, the whole of it, from silvery beginning to golden end ? It was not long ago that an ingenuous maid asked me, looking up from her favorite poet, “ Is the sunrise so much, any way?” No, I might have said; not if you burst in on it rudely, jumping out of bed, or sleepily fumbling aside a curtain. You only get, in that case, the flash of an angry glare. But go quietly at very daybreak, steal to some rock, or hill, or only to some housetop, and lie in wait for its delicate first footsteps in the eastern sky. You must stalk your sunrise.
How often do we hear somebody say, “ I had to get up early this morning, and I wondered why we don’t always do it ! But the chances are it was a very inadequate experience. There was some invalid to be tended, or some owl-train to be caught. Taken deliberately, and provided for beforehand by a full night’s sleep, the wonder why we do not always do it would be vastly increased. Why we do not, however, is plain enough. It is because we cannot afford to burn our candle at both ends. “ Early to bed and early to rise,” the whole prescription reads. It does not do to take half of it alone. If we are to see the morning-star properly, the evening-star must draw on our night-cap with its own.
The dawn, then, is protected from the throng of sacrilegious sight-seers by a great barrier. That barrier is the difficulty of going to bed. Our civilization has become a gaslight civilization. We try to turn night into day, and only succeed in turning night wrong side out; getting the harsh and wiry side that rasps the jaded nerves, in place of the gentle touches of “ the welcome, the thrice prayed for ” mantle of peaceful dreams.
It is diverting, to say the least, to take now and then a point of view outside of all our most cherished customs, even those that seem to us most “ natural, ’ because our patient natures have been so completely twisted into them, as the jar to the jar-bred Chinese dwarf. Casting such a glance from outside at our gaslight habits, we suddenly see something absurd in them. Standing in a crowded and brilliantly glaring room, half deafened by the horrid discord of a hundred jabbering tongues, we find it a relic of barbarism. We see the dancing rings of savages, yelling and beating tom-toms around a blazing fire. How much better off all these people would be, we think (supposing the din and confusion permit us to hear ourselves think), if they were all comfortably in bed, preparing their nervous machinery for a sane and energetic day to-morrow! For my part, I should be glad if I could go back and cut away from my life all that ever occurred in it beyond early bedtime, as the cook goes round a pieplate and shears off the outlying dough. Mere ragged and formless shreds of existence those gaslight hours have been, containing, on the whole, far more evil than good ; far more yawns, and the dreadful pangs of yawns suppressed, than refreshing eye-beams and voices.
Then there is another thing: could not the act of going to bed be made, from childhood up, a less depressing operation ? The one daily torture of my own otherwise kindly handled childhood was the going to bed in the dark. I hated the dark, and have always hated it. Why could not some softly shaded light have been left for me to go to sleep by, and then withdrawn, instead of crashing down on my wide-awake eyes that horrible club of blackness ? Or how much better to have “ cuddled doon ” in the still faintly glimmering twilight, and let the slowly coming starlight draw the child to sleepiness, and softly “ kiss his eyelids down ” !
And why must one assume a garb for the night that even the child feels to be ridiculously unsuitable ? To take off one’s warm and comfortably fitting garments, and barely cover the shrinking pudency of the limbs with some brief apology of flapping inadequateness, — it is an insult to the Angel of Sleep. They do this better, I am told, in Japan. There the man has a night-suit of entire and comely garments. He does not unclothe and then half clothe himself, and sneak in mortified helplessness underneath a weight of vein-compressing sheets and blankets and uncomfortable “ comfortables,” squeezing him out as if he had covered himself with the cellar-door. He lies down in his complete warm suit, and throws over him some light affair of gossamer silk. It only needs a sudden cry of “ fire ” in the house to make us realize the preposterous condition we are every one of us in.
The time of Going to Bed ought in some way to be made the pleasantest, and most decorous, and most dignified, even — if you like — the most picturesque, and certainly the most comfortable hour of the whole twenty-four. Then it would need no polite euphemism of “retiring” to veil its horrors. Then the child would no longer hold back from it, as if he were being thrust into a hideous cave of darkness, to be seized by all the nightmares of Dreamdom.
And then, best of all, we should be ready to rise at the whistle of the first chirping bird, perfectly rested, thoroughly refreshed, with the brain vocal only with light echoes of the wholesome day before, instead of still jangling with the cultured rumpus of a “ social evening,” or an “ evening of amusement,” or the uncanny, fevered visions which are only such evenings gone to seed. We should see the heavens at their purest, on earth peace, the big white stars at their best, unconfused by the haze of smaller stars and star-dust, and shining alone in the faintly illumined sky. We should know how our earth and its robe of ambient air appear to other planets, — a morning-star to the morning-stars. For the whole east, as it pales the planets in its growing light, is itself of pure and starry brightness. But if I am going to write of the dawn, I may as well do it in verse, and have done with it: —
AT EARLY MORN.
Or stroll fantastic in the moon;
I would take the morning earth,
New as at creation’s birth,
Air unbreathed, and grass untrod ;
Where I cross the dawn-lit sod,
Makinggreen paths in the gray
Of the dew that’s brushed away.
Sacred with its starry light,
Over all my breast might roll,
Bringing dawn unto my soul,
That its consecrated dew
Might refresh and make me new!
Then that thou and I might pace
Some far planet, poised in space,
Fresh as children innocent,
In each other’s love content!
There our feet should recommence,
Lightened of experience,
Morning ways on dewy slope,
Winged with wonder and with hope;
All the things we ’d thought, or done,
Or felt before, forgot — save one !