Except by making earth more worthy heaven?
Just stewardship the master hoped from thee:
Harvests from Time to bless Eternity.
THANKSGIVING is peculiarly the festival day of New-England. Elsewhere, other celebrations rival its attractions, but in that region where the Puritans first returned thanks that some among them had been sustained by a great hope and earnest resolve amid the perils of the ocean, wild beasts and famine, the old spirit which hallowed the day still lingers, and forbids that it should be entirely devoted to play and plum-pudding.
And yet, as there is always this tendency; as the twelfth-night cake is baked by many a hostess who would be puzzled if you asked her, “Twelfth night after or before what?” and the Christmas cake by many who know no other Christmas service, so it requires very serious assertion and proof from the minister to convince his parishioners that the turky and plum-pudding, which are presently to occupy his place in their attention, should not be the chief objects of the day.
And, in other regions, where the occasion is observed, it is still more [illegible] one for a meeting of families and friends to the enjoyment of a good dinner, than for any higher purpose.
This, indeed, is one which we want not to depreciate. If this manner of keeping the day be likely to persuade the juniors of the party that the celebrated Jack Horner is the prime model for brave boys, and that grand parents are chiefly to be respected as the givers of grand feasts, yet a meeting in the spirit of kindness, however dull and blind, is not wholly without use in healing differences and promoting good intentions. The instinct of family love, intended by Heaven to make those of one blood the various and harmonious organs of one mind, is never wholly without good influence. Family love, I say, for family pride is never without bad influence, and it too often takes the place of its mild and healthy sister.
Yet where society is at all simple, it is cheering to see the family circle thus assembled, if only because its patriarchal form is in itself so excellent. The presence of the children animates the old people, while the respect and attention they demand refines the gaiety of the young. Yes, it is cheering to see, in some large room, the elders talking near the bright fire, while the cousins of all ages are amusing themselves in knots. Here is almost all the good, and very little of the ill, that can be found in society, got together merely for amusement.
Yet how much nobler, more exhilarating and purer would be the atmosphere of that circle if the design of its pious founders were remembered by those who partake this festival! If they dared not attend the public jubilee till private retrospect of the past year had been taken in the spirit of the old rhyme, which we all bear in mind if not in heart—
And what pursued that’s worth pursuing?
What sought thou knew’st that thou shouldst shun.
What done thou shouldst have left undone?”
and a crusade been vowed into the wild places of the bosom, which should take for its device, “Lord, cleanse thou me from secret faults”—“Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins”—would not that circle be happy as if music, from invisible agents, floated through it—if each member of it considered every other member as a bequest from heaven—if he supposed that the appointed nearness in blood or lot was a sign to him that he must exercise his gifts of every kind as given peculiarly in their behalf—that if richer in temper, in talents, in knowledge, or in worldly goods, here was the innermost circle of his poor-that he must clothe these naked, whether in body or mind, soothing the perverse, casting light into the narrow chamber, or, most welcome task of all! extending a hand at the right moment to one uncertain of his way. It is this spirit that makes the old man to be revered as a Nestor, rather than put aside like a worn-out garment. It is such a spirit that sometimes has given to the young child a ministry as of a parent in the house.
But, if charity begin at home, it must not end there; and while purifying the innermost circle, let us not forget that it depends upon the great circle, and that again on it; that no home can be healthful in which are not cherished seeds of good for the world at large. Thy child, thy brother are given to thee only as an example of what is due from thee to all men. It is true that, if you, in anger, call your brother fool, no deeds of so-called philanthropy shall have you from the punishment; for your philanthropy must be from the love of excitement, not the love of man, or of goodness. But then you must visit the Gentiles also, and take time for knowing what aid the woman of Samaria may need.
A noble Catholic writer, in the true sense as well as by name a Catholic, describes a tailor as giving a dinner on an occasion which had brought honor to his house, which, though humble, was not a poor house. In his glee, the tailor was boasting a little of the favors and blessings of his lot, when suddenly a thought stung him. He stopped, and cutting away half the fowl that lay before him, sent it in a dish with the best knives, bread, and napkin, and a brotherly message that was better still, to a widow near, who must, he knew, be sitting in sadness and poverty among her children. His little daughter was the messenger. If parents followed up the indulgences heaped upon their children at Thanksgiving dinners with similar messages, there would not be danger that children should think enjoyment of sensual pleasures the only occasion that demands Thanksgiving.
And suppose while the children were absent on their errands of justice, as they could not fail to think them, if they compared the hovels they must visit with their own comfortable homes, their elders, touched by a sense of right, should be fed from discussion of the rivalries of trade or fashion to whether they could not impart of all that was theirs, not merely one poor dinner once a year, but all their mental and material wealth for the benefit of all men. If they do not sell it all at once, as the rich young man was bid to do as a test of his sincerity, they may find some way in which it could be invested so as to show enough obedience to the Law and the Prophets to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And he who once gives himself to such thoughts will find it is not merely moral gain for which he shall return thanks another year with the return of this day. In the present complex state of human affairs, you cannot be kind unless you are wise. Thoughts of amaranthine bloom will spring up in the fields plowed to give food to suffering men. It would, indeed, seem to be a simple matter at first glance. “Lovest thou me?”—“Feed my lambs.” But now we have not only to find pasture, but to detect the lambs under the disguise of wolves, and restore them by a spell, like that the Shepherd used, to their natural form and whiteness.
And for this present day appointed for Thanksgiving, we may say that if we know of so many wrongs, woes, and errors is the world yet unredressed; if in this nation recent decisions have shown a want of moral discrimination on important subjects, that make us pause and doubt whether we can join in the formal congratulations that we are still bodily alive, unassailed by the ruder modes of warfare, and enriched with the fatness of the land; yet on the other side, we know of causes not so loudly proclaimed why we should give thanks. Abundantly and humbly we must render them for the movement, now sensible in the heart of the civilized world, although it has not pervaded the entire frame. For that movement of contrition and love which forbids men of earnest thought to eat, drink, or be merry, while other men are steeped in ignorance, corruption and wo; which calls the King from his throne of gold, and the Poet from his throne of Mind to lie with the beggar in the kennel, or raise him from it; which says to the Poet, “You must reform rather than create a world,” and to him of the golden crown, “You cannot long remain a King unless you are also a Man.”
Wherever this impulse of social or political reform darts up its rill through the crusts of selfishness, scoff and dread arise and hang like a heavy mist above it. But the voice of the rill penetrates far enough for those who have ears to hear. And, sometimes, it is the case that ‘those who came to scoff remain to pray.’ In two articles of reviews, one foreign and one domestic, which have come under our eye within the last fortnight, the writers who began by jeering at the visionaries, seemed as they wrote to be touched by a sense that without a high and pure faith none can have the only true vision of the intention of God as to the Destiny of Man.
We recognized as a happy omen that there is cause for thanksgiving and that our people may be better than they seem, the meeting last week to organize an Association for the benefit of Prisoners. We shall not, then, be wholly Pharisees. We shall not ask the blessing of this day in the mood of “Lord, I thank thee that I, and my son, and [illegible] brother, ure not as other men are,—not as these publicans imprisoned there,” while the still, small voice cannot make us hear its evidence that, but for instruction, example, and the “preventing God,” every sin that can be named might riot in our hearts. The prisoner, too, may become a man. Neither his open nor our secret faults, must utterly dismay us. We will treat him as if he had a soul. We will not dare to hunt him into a beast of prey, or trample him into a serpent. We will give him some crumbs from the table which grace from above and parent love below have spread for us, and, perhaps, he will recover from these ghastly ulcers that deform him now.
We were much pleased with the spirit of the meeting. It was simple, business-like, in a serious, affectionate temper. The speakers did not make phrases or compliments; did not slur over the truth. The audience showed a ready vibration to the touch of just and tender feeling. The time was evidently ripe for this moment. We doubt not that many now darkened souls will give thanks for the ray of light that will have been let in by this time next year. It is but a grain of mustard seed, but the promised tree will grow swiftly if tended in a pure spirit; and the influence of good measures in any one place will be immediate in this province, as has been the case with every attempt in behalf of the insane.
While reading a notice of a successful attempt to have musical performances carried through in concert by the insane at Rouen, we were forcibly reminded of a similar performance we heard a few weeks ago at Sing Sing. There the female prisoners joined in singing a hymn, or rather choral, which describes the last thoughts of a spirit about to be enfranchised from the body; each stanza of which ends with the words, “All is well;” and they sang it—those suffering, degraded children of society—with as gentle and resigned an expression as if they were sure of going to sleep in the arms of a pure mother. The good spirit that dwelt in the music made them its own. And shall not the good spirit of religious sympathy make them its own also, and more permanently? We shall see. Should the morally insane, by wise and gentle care, be won back to health, as the wretched bedlamites have been, will not the angels themselves give thanks? And will any man dare take the risk of opposing plans that afford even a chance of such a result?
Apart, then, from good that is public and many-voiced, do not each of us know, in private experience, much to be thankful for? Not only the innocent and daily pleasures that we have prized according to our wisdom; of the sun and starry skies, the fields of green, or snow scarcely less beautiful, the loaf eaten with an appetite, the glow of labor, the gentle signs of common affection. But have not some, have not many of us cause to be thankful for enfranchisement from error or infatuation; a growth in knowledge of outward things, and instruction within the soul from a higher source. Have we not acquired a sense of more refined enjoyments; clear convictions; sometimes a serenity in which, as in the first days of June, all things grow, and the blossoms give place to fruit? Have we not been weaned from what was unfit for us, or unworthy our care? and have not those ties been drawn more close, and are not those objects seen more distinctly, which shall for ever be worthy the purest desires of our souls? Have we learned to do any thing, the humblest, in the service and by the spirit of the power which meaneth all things well? If so we may give thanks, and, perhaps, venture to offer our solicitations in behalf of those as yet less favored by circumstances. When even a few shall dare do so with the whole heart-for only a pure heart can “avail much” in such prayers—then ALL shall soon be well. *
“Thanksgiving.” New York Daily Tribune, 12 December 1844, p. 2.