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A Seed from the Tomb.
The story of my life, And the particular accidents gone by.
Tempest, Act V.
ST. SYLVESTER'S EVE.
ANNO DOMINI Eighteen Hundred and Forty-two. In the heart of Silesia, in the good town of Breslau, any body you may meet in the streets there will be able to show you the way to the doctor's house; and if you care to see again an old acquaintance, come here. Come winter or summer, when you will, sure of welcome. The guest-chamber is ever ready. You shall have the best room in the house; not without a gust of apple-blossoms at the window if you come when the swallows are here, nor a merry twitter of redbreasts (old accustomed guests of mine) if you wait for the snow and frost. The best room in the house, did I say? nay, but you shall have the two best rooms in the house, if you will bring your wife with you; for since we parted at Paris, oh very dear Reader, I, at least, am no longer a bachelor. My life is quieted and completed by the peaceful presence of a wise, kind woman-face-a face that makes itself more felt than seen. And there are little chirping voices about the rooms here. So, then, if you also bring with you any of that pleasant, provoking, noisy, busy little baggage, so much the better. We will shut it all up in
the nursery, where all day long it is full of the most important business, jumping and skipping up and down, and sliding about with sprawling foot and hand, and building palaces with chairs and cushions, and driving coaches, and blowing trumpets, and making to itself a hundred Iliads. For this is the Heroic Age.
Only, in truth, I would not have had you choose for the date of your visit that wild night of St. Sylvester, when this year of our Lord Eighteen Hundred and Forty-two was knocking, in snow and storm, at the creaking doors of Time. Sharply and bitterlynot in welcome, not in love-the Old Year, in his dying hour, snorted with icy breath in the face of his young usurper. Well may he have been muttering from his chappy lip, "Turn back! turn back, ill-omened brother! Set not thy fatal foot upon this poor distracted planet, for in thy dry and shining eyes I sec the glare of fire and of famine. Thy hands are empty of the tilth, and the tithe thou hast consecrated to Death!"
But the New Year turned not back.
It turned not back before the gates of Hamburg, where the blithe bells rang with unsuspicious peals its treacherous entry into that devoted town-bells soon made to ring far other music, when the midnight was bright with the glare and hot with the breath of the Destroying Angel; for then, swung fiercely by the unseen hands of the Spirits of Fire, they rang the own death-knell; rang till, from their pious habitations and pure lives of gentle motion and sweet sound, they dropped, deformed dumb things; rang till the
burning metal trickled and crawled like boiling blood among their ruined homes, and became again dead earthy ore in earth.*
The New Year turned not back. It turned not back before the snow-capped forest-hills of Bohemia, whose greenest saplings had but lately shed such merry lustre in cottage and in palace, decked by young hands, to celebrate the blessed Christmas-time. Less merry a light was yours, old father pines, that rested in the forest! For nine days long the smoke of your burning overshadowed two kingdoms, and for nine nights long the glare of your fires made pale the stars of heaven, while the timid deer sought willingly the hunter's door.
It turned not back, that stern New Year, before many a threshold which Death had marked for sorrow. My own it passed with mourning and a mother's loss.
Long here in German land shall we remember thee, not lovingly, ill-fated year! Ay! till bells on Hamburg towers rebuilt ring in some better time; ay! till the ashes of those burnt forests pass again to living green; ah me! till Death with other kinder touchings has stopped the bleeding wounds in hearts which thou hast stricken.
Not upon this Sylvester's night, then, would I have had thee come, dear Reader, to test my hospitality. Not here, indeed, wouldst thou have found me, but by the lonely sick-bed of a dying man; not amid
* One of the strangest phenomena of the great fire of Hamburg was the seemingly spontaneous ringing of the bells, occasioned by the disturbance of the heated air.