I recently ran across this beautiful essay, published by the UK’s The Manchester Guardian Newspaper in the year 1840. It was written by a contributing editor identified only as “Alison.”
I found it to be overwhelmingly emotive and befitting of the meloncholic mood I’m now in, as Autumn takes hold more and more with each passing day, and since we just passed the anniversary of the date my son, Zachariah, changed his address to “heaven.”
For as many seasons as I have left on the earth before our heavenly reunion, autumn time will fill me with mixed feelings of such sadness in the missing of my boy and such joy knowing that he is in the arms of Our Father.
I wanted to share it with you all, in the hope that you might find some solace in Alison’s words, just as I have.
There is an "even-tide" in the year - a season when the sun withdraws his propitious light - when the winds arise, and the leaves fall, and nature around us seems to sink into decay. It is said to be the season of melancholy; and if by this word be meant that it is the time of solemn and serious thought, it is undoubtedly the season of melancholy; yet it is a melancholy so soothing, so gentle in its approach, and so prophetic in its influence, that they who have known it feel, as if instinctively, that it is the doing of God, and that the heart of man is not thus finely touched but to fine issues.
It is a season which tends to wean us from the passions of the world. Every passion, however base or unworthy, is yet eloquent. It speaks to us of present enjoyment; it tells us of what men have done, and what men may do, and it supports us everywhere by the example of many around us. When we go out into the fields in the evening of the year, a different voice approaches us. We regard, even in spite of our selves, the still but steady advances of time.
A few days ago, and the summer of the year was grateful, and every element was filled with life, and the sun of heaven seemed to glory in his ascendant. He is now enfeebled in his power; the desert no more "blossoms like the rose;" the song of joy is no more heard among the branches; and the earth is strewed with that foliage which once bespoke the magnificence of summer. Whatever may be the passions which society has awakened, we pause amid this apparent desolation of nature. We sit down in the lodge "of the wayfaring man in the wilderness," and we feel that all we witness is the emblem of our own fate. Such, in a few years, will be our own condition. The blossoms of our spring, the pride of our summer, will fade into decay; and the pulse that now beats high, with virtuous or with vicious desire, will gradually sink, and then must stop for ever.
We rise from our meditations with hearts softened and subdued, and we return into life as into a shadowy scene, where we have “disquieted ourselves in vain.” Such is the first impression which the present scene of nature is fitted to make upon us. It is this first impression which intimidates the thoughtless and the gay; and indeed, if there were no other reflection that followed, I know not that it would be the business of wisdom to recommend such meditations. It is the consequences, however, of such precious thought which are chiefly valuable; and among these there are two which may well deserve our consideration.
It is the particular character of the melancholy which such seasons excite, that it is general. It is not an individual remonstrance; it is not the harsh language of human wisdom, which too often insults while it instructs us. When the winds of autumn sigh around us, their voice speaks not to us only, but to our kind; and the lesson they teach us is not that we alone decay, but that such also is the fate of all the generations of man. “They are the green leaves of the tree of the desert, which perish and are renewed.”
In such a sentiment there is a kind of sublimity mingled with its melancholy; our tears fall, but they fall not for ourselves; and, although the train of our thoughts may have begun with the selfishness of our own concerns, we feel that, by the ministry of some mysterious power, they end in awakening our concern for every being that lives. Yet a few years, and all that now bless, or all that now convulse humanity, will also have perished. The mightiest pageantry of life will pass, the loudest notes of triumph or of conquest will be silent in the grave; the wicked, wherever active, "will cease from troubling," and the weary, wherever suffering, "will be at rest."
Under an impression so profound, we feel our own hearts better. The cares, the animosities, the hatreds, which society may have engendered, sink unperceived from our bosoms. In the general desolation of nature, we feel the littleness of our own passions; we look forward to that kindred evening which time must bring to all; we anticipate the graves of those we hate, as of those we love. Every unkind passion falls with the leaves that fall around us; and we return slowly to our homes and to the society which surrounds us, with the wish only to enlighten or to bless them.
If there were no other effects of such appearances of nature upon our minds, they would still be valuable, - they would teach us humility, - and with it they would teach us charity. In the same hour in which they taught us our own fragility, they would teach us commiserations for the whole family of man. But there is a further sentiment which such scenes inspire, more valuable than all; and we know little the designs of Providence when we do not yield ourselves in such hours to the beneficent instincts of our imagination.
It is the unvarying character of nature, amid all its scenes, to lead us at last to its Author; and it is for this final end that all its varieties have such dominion upon our minds. We are led by the appearances of spring to see His bounty and we are lead by the splendours of summer to see His greatness. In the present hours we are led to a higher sentiment; and, what is most remarkable, the very circumstances of melancholy are those which guide us most securely to put our trust in Him.
We are witnessing the decay of the year; we go back in imagination, and find that such, in every generation, has been the fate of man; we look forward, and we see that to such ends all must come at last; we lift our desponding eyes in search of comfort, and we see above us One “who is ever the same, and to whose years there is not end.’ Amidst the vicissitudes of nature we discover that central Majesty, “in whom there is not variableness nor shadow of turning.” We feel that there is a God; and from the tempestuous sea of life we hail that polar star of nature, to which a sacred instinct had directed our eyes, and which burns with undecaying ray to lighten us among all the darkness of the deep.
From this great conviction there is another sentiment which succeeds. Nature, indeed, yearly perishes; but it is yearly renewed. Amid all it’s changes, the immortal spirit of Him that made it remains; and the same sun, which now marks with his receding ray the autumn of the year will again rise in his brightness and bring along with it the promise of he spring, and all the magnificence of summer.
Under such convictions, hope dawns upon the sadness of the heart. The melancholy of decay becomes the very herald of renewal; the magnificent circle of nature opens up our view. We anticipate the analogous resurrection of our being; we see beyond the grave a greater spring, and people it with those who have given you to that which is passed. With such final impressions, we submit ourselves gladly to the dusting of our being. While the sun of mortality sinks, we hail the rising Sun of Righteousness, and in hours when all the honours of nature are perishing around us, we prostrate ourselves in adoration before Him who “sitteth upon it’s throne.”
Let, then, the young go out, under the descending sun of the year, into the fields of nature. Their hearts are now ardent with hope - with the hopes of fame, of honour, or of happiness; and in the long perspective which is before them, their imagination creates a world where all may be enjoyed. Let the scene which they now may witness moderate, but not extinguish, their ambition. While they see the yearly desolation of nature, let them see it as the emblem of mortal hope; while they feel the disproportion between the powers they possess, and the time they are to be employed, let them carry their ambitious eye beyond the world; and while, in these sacred solitudes, a voice in their own bosom correspond to the voice of decaying nature, let them take that high decision which becomes those who feel themselves tho inhabitants of a greater world, and who look to a Being incapable of decay.