MY candlelight self was laying the table for tea. I say my candlelight self, because I am not at all the same person by candlelight that I am by day. I assure you that mentally and spiritually, and even physically, I am a different person. Experiment has proved, physiologists will say, that we are actually shorter in the evening than we were in the morning, that our spinal column becomes jolted down by the day’s wear and tear. But not all kinds of growth can be measured in terms of inches and centimetres. The physiologist does not take into account the change in my mental attitude and its effect upon other people. I feel taller by candlelight, and therefore I look taller, — for others, after all, take us pretty much at our own valuation, — and so, for all practical purposes, I am taller.
This increase in stature is quite fitting, for it indicates, in some slight degree, the greater growth that has taken place within the mind. With the coming of night and the lighting of candles, my mind has expanded and grown until, like Vergil’s Fama, I walk with my head in the clouds.
My eyes, too, which are open wider than they were in the morning, speak of the opening of my spirit. Not until the bats awake, it seems, do I really awake. At no time during the day am I so vitally awake as I am in the early evening — the time of candlelight. The increase in my vitality, the quickening of my pulses, shows itself in my heightened color — and candlelight intensifies the color of red.
No wonder that the Sangreal shone gloriously crimson when it appeared to the knights of Arthur, for was it not always accompanied by a ‘fair clean candlestick, which bare six great candles’? The mediævals were discerning enough to realize that the beauty of red samite was enhanced by candlelight.
Similarly our personalities are either intensified or subdued by our light. We have been not inaptly called children of light. Bridget who hangs the washing out in the morning and Bridget who brings it in in the evening have different personalities. The white hands and calm eyes of her who comes down the garden path at twilight, her arms filled with fragrant starchiness, are an exterior indication of her transformed spirit.
When the sun goes down, our prosaic workaday selves withdraw — go to roost, as it were, with the stupid hens; and when, in the twilight, the evening primrose opens its pollen-laden blossoms, then our souls open too, and all their golden treasure, which has been invisible during the day, is disclosed to those who have owl’s eyes to see it. All day long the bumblebees have been buzzing in the hollyhocks. Noisy bees, gaudy flowers! Our spirits were stupefied by their noise and color. But when the phlox gleams white in the starlight, and the silent-winged moth is astir, then our wilted spirits revive, and their cells grow turgid in the dewy air as do the cells of the plants.
For my head is filled with dew,
My locks with the drops of the night.
While the sun shines, both plants and men must work and lay up provision against the rainy day. Not until night comes is there time to grow. Growth takes place in both man and herb by the lesser light of stars and moon, and candles.
As for the stars — what are they but the heavenly counterparts of our earthly candles? ‘The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.’ Perhaps the stars have a closer relation to our world than we are wont to believe. Is not the music of the spheres the music of our world as well? And by their harmony are men and beasts and trees attuned to each other. With the coming of the stars there is a fluttering of flowers, birds, and human hearts. When the sun goes down, we who have blinked in its light all day open our eyes as do the owls, or as the primroses open wide their petals. ‘The night has a thousand eyes,’ and our eyes are of the thousand. Our minds, which have been a pillar of cloud by day, become a pillar of fire by night.
We love our friend, says Cicero, ‘quod in eo quasi lumen aliquod probitatis et virtutis perspicere videamur,’ because in him we seem to see a certain light, as it were, of goodness and worth. ‘The Owl and the PussyCat’ who went to sea ‘in a beautiful pea-green boat’ — were they after all such an ill-mated pair? They had, in common, eyes rich in rod cells, eyes adjusted to lights of night. Doubtless, therefore, it was in perfect harmony that they ‘danced by the light of the moon.’
Since we are the children of light, and since we seem to require the more subdued lights for growth, in this age of electricity is it any wonder that spiritually we have failed to keep pace with our civilization? We can work at any hour by merely turning on the electric switch. Therefore we take too little time to sit quietly and reflect. We never withdraw long enough from the fray to see life objectively. If our evenings were spent in the dimness of candlelight, so that when night came we had to lay aside the strenuous duties of the day, should we not then have keener sight and grow faster mentally and morally?
What was the secret of spiritual vigor in the Middle Ages? I am wondering how much their light had to do with that strength. The mediæval cloisters were lighted by candles. Thus these religious men of old kept constantly before them the symbol of the spirit: ‘ I have seen, and behold, a candlestick,’ writes Zechariah, ‘all of gold, with its bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon. . . . And I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my ford? . . . Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.’ The mediævals, at least those of them ‘who attained,’ took these words to heart.
Some such thoughts as these on candlelight — though, of course, less articulate and less well organized — came to my mind as I was laying the supper table for Cousin Jane. As I unfolded the tablecloth and smoothed out its satiny surface in the soft light, I wished earnestly that electricity had never been discovered. If I was guilty of ingratitude that night for our modern conveniences, it ought to be remembered, in justice to me, that it is very easy to feel enthusiasm for the ‘good old times’ when you are in Cousin Jane’s dining-room, because it is such a beautiful old-fashioned room. At night it is irresistible. The white wainscoting and paneling about the fireplace — if these are fair by day, by candlelight they are a dream of loveliness; while the pewter on the dresser glows, at night, with that subdued silvery lustre which is like nothing in the world. I discovered that night the answer to the complaint that early American interiors lacked color. They did not need color — they had light. They had firelight and candlelight, with pewter and brass to reflect it.
Old brass, I have noticed, has a glow that new brass does not have. Its color is a kind of silvery gold — it is less yellow than that we see in the shops to-day. I observed this difference the first time I had slept in Cousin Jane’s west chamber. Cousin Jane was passing through the room with a candle in her hand, when suddenly the warming pan in the corner caught the rays of her candle and gleamed with a lustre half silver, half gold. There is an undeniable charm in the old.
As I laid Cousin Jane’s spoons on the table, how they gleamed from the white cloth — thin as eggshells they were, with sharply pointed bowls. Those spoons had belonged to our grandmother, a wedding gift from a certain Cousin Phœbe.
Years ago, as my mother — then a little girl — was walking along the country road to school one morning, she met a strange lady, a stately Quakeress, rustling along in drabcolored taffeta. The stranger gazed quietly at the little girl and said, ‘Thee looks like thy mother!’ That was all. The lady was Cousin Phœbe.
To my yearning for old loveliness was added, that night at Cousin Jane’s, my yearning for an old friend. We were expecting Anne. Anne, whose bright hair makes an aureole about her face, is not unlike a candle herself. She was late in coming. The supper had been ready for the last half-hour. Snatches of poetry came to me as I waited.
A hundred times before;
Oh, come you in at last
And close the open door.
How deep a night is this,
And light our common dark
With the candle of your kiss.
And, as if in answer to my yearning, the clack of the knocker was heard through the house. At last Anne had come to put an end to my reflections on candlelight.