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TO A FRIEND IN LOVE.
BELIEVE me, dearest friend, 'twere nobler far
ON GOING HOME.
[WRITTEN IN INDIA, JANUARY, 1835.]
The Hooghly is now covered with the stately ships of England. It is the season for going home! They whom fortune has blessed, and whose term of exile is expired, are anticipating the joy of once more greeting the faces of early friends, and the green hills and valleys on which the morning of existence shed its cheerful light. They are preparing for an eventful but happy change. They are entering upon a fresh chapter of the book of life. Oh! with what yearning hearts do we turn to those yet unread pages to which the finger of Hope directs us! I hear around me many voices that speak of home and happiness. I shall soon cease to hear them—perhaps for ever! They will pass, like the wind, into happier regions, and breathe in other ears their old familiar music. The fate of these emancipated exiles awakens no ungenerous feeling in my heart, and yet it aches with sorrow when I listen to their home-anticipations. They are intoxicated with delight, while I sicken with despair. They are like boys at school when their long-looked-for holidays have arrived. But he who still lingers on this distant shore, is like an unhappy child who remains in the same dreary and detested place, when his more fortunate playmates have departed homewards.
But amidst all the pleasurable excitements that stir the heart of the exile when about to revisit his native land, there are moments of occasional thoughtfulness and sadness and apprehension which render his fate far less enviable than that of the homereturning school-boy. The spirit of the latter is bright and buoyant. His hopes are unclouded, his pleasure is unalloyed, The former, on the other hand, has seen too much of human life to trust entirely to its enchantments. He is afraid of his own happiness. He can scarcely believe it real or well founded. It is too like a dream. There is something strange and ominous in the unaccustomed elation of his heart, and he varies and mingles his emotions like a child that laughs and cries in the same breath. These mixed feelings are sometimes succeeded by an unqualified mistrust and forlorn forebodings. He reverts to the innumerable disappointments that have already darkened his path, and arrives at a reluctant conviction that it is weak and unreasonable to ima. gine that the course of life can alter. As in the natural world the frequent interchange of sunshine and of shadow forbids us to anticipate the long duration of pleasant weather, so his past experience of human life leads him to regard all prospects of true and lasting happiness as idle dreams. He has reached too many of those once distant scenes, so gorgeously clad in colors of the air, to trust again to the soft illusions which fade at our approach. He has learnt that the many-tinted bow of heaven is nothing but the junction of light and vapour, and that the scenes that charm us afar off
To those who journey near
In this mistrustful mood of mind a thousand melancholy images rise up before him. Instead of the bright countenances of the living he sees the shrouded faces of the dead. The forms that cheered his childhood and smiled upon his later dreams are enveloped in the shadows of the grave. His early home is emptythe hearth of his infancy is cold! The sweet flower-garden, in which he once toiled with eager pleasure beneath the summer sun, is now a dreary wilderness. Or if the halls and lands of his fathers are not lonely and neglected, they are perhaps in the possession of the stranger, and his own birth-place is like a scene
in a foreign land. He recalls the beautiful Arabic exclamation“I came to the place of my youth and cried, my friends, where are they ? and Echo answered, where are they ?” Even Nature herself seems changed. The once familiar hills and valleys have a strange look, like the face of an altered friend. He has heard, but too often, of such miserable mutations and disappointments, and he trembles as he reflects that his own fancy may prove prophetic. Besides all these gloomy fears and meditations, there are other drawbacks to that felicity which the home-seeking exile might enjoy if he were more sanguine and less reflective. He has perhaps formed many friendships with his fellow-countrymen in India, and it is impossible to break social ties, however slight, without some degree of sadness and regret. In the case of longtried and faithful friendships the parting hour--especially when the separation is probably an eternal one-is a dreadful trial. In the latter case it is like the farewell we take of the dying. Our last affectionate look at a familiar face is accompanied with a feeling that it is impossible to describe. The lowest depths of the human heart are stirred, and that convulsive movement with which we tear ourselves away for ever from the dear associates of many years seems to wrench some palpable and necessary support, and leave us bare and lacerated. Even the very spots that we have long wished to quit are hallowed when the time of parting is arrived. Like old acquaintances who had once but little of our love, or perhaps even something of our hatred, they present at such a moment a softer aspect, and we almost wonder that we should ever have regarded them with coldness or dislike. They have become a portion of our associations, and these, of whatever nature they may be, can hardly pass through the mists of memory without receiving that tender and dream-like hue which makes the past so precious. The coldest and coarsest mind is touched and elevated on such occasions. The finest points of our common nature are then developed ; and never is the human
countenance so informed with beauty, with intellect and with sensibility, as in parting for ever from old friends and familiar scenes. At such a time every one is a poet, and looks upon human life and external nature with a deep and solemn feeling. They who are apt in ordinary seasons to take a literal and vulgar view of all things, assume a higher tone, and see something to feel, to admire, and to cherish beyond the range of their daily thoughts and avocations.
But let us pass over the trial of separation, and trace the after progress
of the friends who leave us. The hurry and excitement of embarkation, and the novelty of their position, are circumstances well calculated to shorten the pain of parting, and give a fresh impulse to the mind. When they are once fairly launched on the wide blue ocean, the relief from all common cares and duties--the holiday feeling—the exultation of spirit occasioned by a change of air and scene—all dispose them to give a ready welcome to cheerful thoughts, and to banish every unpleasing recollection. Then grave men become as frolicksome as children, and take a deep interest in those trifles and amusements which during their long weary exile and amidst far higher cares were either forgotten or despised. They seem as if they had taken a new lease of life. The fountain of early pleasure is unlocked. Their first fresh feelings return upon their hearts, and they become as frank and social, and as sanguine and as willing to be pleased, as in the generous ardor of their boyhood. Each new occurrence in their progress-a change of wind or weather—the capture of a fish or bird—the discovery of a ship, like a speck of cloud on the far horizon-a dinner or a dance with the strangers, when the two little oaken worlds in the vast space of waters, arrive in contact-the touching at some small uninhabited island, as solitary and romantic as the residence of Robinson Crusoe-and finally the first pale glimmering of the snow-white cliffs of Albion, make their hearts bound within them, and they feel as they have often thought that they should never feel again!