28 DECEMBER 1878, Page 10


TT is a mere common-place to say that the world is quick to 1. forget. Of course it is true, so true, that if we could be tired of repeating common-places, one would think we might take this one for granted, and say no more about it. "Out of sight, out of mind," applies to most men and things, and it must always be so, since life cannot be spent in remembering, and the ever- multiplying claims on memory would swallow up a thousand lives. But instead of echoing this charge of fickleness, there are times when one is rather disposed to complain of the world's remorseful efforts to prove that it is constant, and that it really does re- member. Inevitable as forgetfulness may be, it yet leaves us ashamed and uneasy. We are pursued by newspaper paragraphs reminding us of the anniversary of this or that event, and centenary festivals increase in popularity, till we are wearied with dates of birth and death. Perhaps we have discovered that an anniversary duly celebrated is like a knot in a handkerchief, or a note in a pocket-book,—a licence to forget with a clear conscience till the appointed time comes round. Unfortunately, though we may save ourselves some trouble in this way, the memory which is thus kept alive is always more or less painful. There is no such reproachful reading in the world as one of the little almanacks, so plentifully showered upon us when the New-year approaches, which, not content with telling us the day of the month and the changes of the moon, must needs remind us of some fact con- nected with every date. One would say they made a pitiful appeal on behalf of all those whose names are there recorded, asking a daily dole of memory as a beggar asks alms. These claims on our remem- brance are so closely packed, that they are apt to elbow each other in the tiny pages in a rather incongruous fashion, and Good- Friday may make an occasional appearance, thrust between the death of Judge Jeffreys and the birth of Napoleon III. But a modest brevity is the one characteristic which is common to all. There is something at once humble and persistent in the careful abbreviations, which seem to assure us that they ask no more of our valuable time than is their rightful due. A glance is amply sufficient for the occurrence of the day, however startling it may be. "Ly. J. Grey, behd. 1554,"—was ever tragedy more briefly told ? Unless, perhaps, Bishop Hooper, with the statement that he was " brnt. 1555," may compete even with her. Or to take some less ghastly record, if we have occasion to refer to the calendar early in October, and find ourselves confronted with a notice of Zimmermann, does not its very simplicity convey a tacit reproach to those who have passed the 8th of October so many times, yet never remembered that "Zimmermann d. 1795," when a moment once a year is all he asks. Our shortcomings are the more unpardonable, because everything is made so easy for us. There is no doubtful questioning about dates, no hesitation of any kind. The early history of printing, for instance, is summed up in a line, like everything else,—" August 14th, printing invent., 1436 ;" as if it occurred as a happy-thought to some one that morning, and he jotted it down in his diary before he went to bed. Surely, with all our books and newspapers about us, it would beungracious to refuse to remember August 14th, 1436. Still, we do not -refer to our almanacks every. olay, and even when we do, we may be hardened enough to ignore their queer processions of festivals, inventions, -and battles, and their dead men who glance at us, each through his specialloophole, as-we go our way. But we cannot easily ignore the celebrations which make some noise in the world, and fill our daily papers with speeches, descriptions, and biographies. -Now it is Vol- taire, who has been dead a hundred years, and 'must be honoured, reviled, and wrangled over in Paris. A few months later, it is four hundred years since Giorgione was born, and they give him a statue, and illuminations, and glowing speeches in his native Castelfranco. Next April it appears that Cannes is to be impelled by gratitude to celebrate the centenary of Lord Brougham's birth, seven months after date, while Penzance makes arrangements to recognise the claims of Sir Humphry Davy. If, however, we cannot ignore these things, neither can we say much against them. It would be churlish to complain of so small a tribute, demanded but once in a century. And in all cases where our heroes have been dead and gone at least a hundred years, -there is the pleasure of magnifyingtheir merits, and perhaps of expressing an opinion concerning some of our contemporaries, without any painful sense of loss. There is a gulf between us and them. No men who knew them can possibly survive to bring the greyness and melancholy of extreme old age into our commemoration of the dead. There is no heart- ache in looking back, when we look beyond the limit of a lifetime. But why must we be for ever dwelling on such anniversaries as make us "feel chilly and grown old ?" It is impossible to escape from those dreary little paragraphs which lurk obscurely in corners of our newspapers, and take our glances unawares. We look back to Trafalgar, for instance, as to a red gleam a little above the distant horizon of the century. Our blood runs quicker at the thought of Nelson and the Victory,' and we feel as if a cold hand were laid upon us when we are informed in small type that it is the seventy-third anniversary of the battle, and that seven men yet survive who fought on that great day. Admiral this, and Commander the other, all well advanced on their journey towards ninety, linger like ghosts in the world which Nelson quitted more than seventy years ago. A blight of old age falls on the triumph at the mere thought of that knot of feeble survivors, and one shivers at the remembrance of that long succession of ordinary days and nights, by which the fearless little midshipmen of 1805 have been transformed into the infirm and helpless heroes of our newspapers of 1878. If they could have known of the fate reserved for them, one is inclined to think that they would have needed the bravest hearts at Trafalgar that day, to face it without flinching. A long life may be beautiful and harmonious in its gradual change, but there is something jarring in this matching together of its extreme ends, and ignoring, all that is of true significance. They were not half-way through their 'teens at Trafalgar, and we fix our eyes on that, as if they had done nothing since then but grow old. It is the same with our Waterloo men, till the very name of Waterloo reminds us of an ever-dwindliag band of grey-headed soldiers, whose deaths are noted as they pass away, one by one. And it will be the same with the riders in the Balaklava charge. They are numerous enough as yet to dine cheerfully at the Alex- andra Palace, to make loyal speeches, and to drink, in solemn silence, to the memory of Lord Cardigan. But they will be dogged by that terrible anniversary as years grow many and numbers few, till some three or four worn-out old men remain to be pointed out as the sole representatives of the unquestioning readiness and valour of that day. It is the same with everything. No great deed is done that is not followed by this long line of melancholy shadows growing more and more unlike their original as they fade away, this sequence of lingering echoes, which faintly mock the first strong sound.

It is natural that it should be so, for it is precisely the same in our own lives. We rouse our sluggish memories with contrasts, the more violent the better, as if we would assure ourselves that we possessed an ear for music by the pain of discords. This is sufficiently shown by the way in which the fashion of celebrating the golden wedding-day has been made welcome among us. On such an occasion the change from youth to old age, which is so tender and gradual, is glaringly emphasised by dragging a day from its surroundings in the quiet autumn of life, to set it by a day in early summer. "Chill October," or even late November, may be beautiful, but the beauty is not most truly appreciated by those who mix it in one picture with the skies of June. It may be all very well for the grandchildren, who can use the old people's experience of long life to quicken their own delightful consciousness of youth. But for the principal performers, unless

memory and imagination have grown dull, it must surely be the dreariest of festivals, calling up the ghosts of a wedding-party, long since scattered and dead, and echoes of good old-fashioned jokes and congratulations. And something of the same kind shows itself at the dose of every twelvemonth, when we see the Old-year out with a great parade of melancholy. Its successes and failures are summed up in all the newspapers, we are reminded in sermons that another year is gone, and. we write the familiar date for the last time as sadly as if we were saying goodbye to a friend. The Old-year has parted company with hope, and is given up to regretful memories. There is nothing more to be done in it ; but, by way of compensation, the air is full of the best resolutions, and all the young people are going to take to industry, economy, early-rising, and keeping diaries, as soon as the clock strikes twelve. It may be that we have some time ago begun to suspect, after repeated trials, that January 1st is not unlike December 31st, and that there is no transforming magic in a change of date. Yet though we are thus deprived of our share of the counter-balancing hopefulness, we can hardly escape from the influence of the solemn talk which accompanies the last days of the year like the hollow tolling of a bell. It is bad enough in ordinary years, but it is terrible to think of the stir we shall all make, and the deliberate way in which we shall harrow our own and everybody's feelings in a little over twenty years' time, when we have to bid farewell to the century. What comparisons we shall make, what lessons we shall draw, and how impressively we shall all talk as the great moment draws near. When the last harvest is reaped, and there is no time for further enterprises before the year 1900 arrives, it will really seem hardly worth while to live out the fag-end of a century whose accounts are made up, and whose characteristics have been exhaustively described by the critics. The boys and girls who have their lives in their hands, and can freight the new ship with all their hopes, can afford to wait till they may welcome its advent ; but it is enough to make one's heart ache to think of the elderly people who will look sadly back to the century which held all their beat days and warmest friendships, as to a golden age. This sharp division of time will cut them cruelly apart from their youth, and they will feel themselves old and lonely in a century which bears a new name, and is the inheritance of another generation. There is so much to which they will seem to say farewell, as the last hours run out. It is enough to make one's heart ache to think of it, arid that none the less, if we remember the unreality of the whole thing. These gulfs and barriers are of our own devising. We have dwelt on these anniversaries so constantly, that we have learned to picture Time, our smoothly-flowing river of moments, as a theatrical figure taking its strides of a year or a century.