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THE HAPPY LIFE OF A PARISH PRIEST IN
BY JEAN PAUL.
WILL begin with winter, and I will suppose it to be
Christmas. The priest, whom we shall imagine to be a German, and summoned from the southern climate of Germany upon presentation to the church of a Swedish hamlet lying in a high polar latitude, rises in cheerfulness about seven o'clock in the morning; and till half past nine he burns his lamp.
At nine o'clock the stars are still shining, and the unclouded moon even yet longer. This prolongation of starlight into the forenoon is to him delightful; for he is a German, and has a sense of something marvellous in a starry forenoon. Methinks I behold the priest and his flock moving towards the church with lanterns : the lights dispersed amongst the crowd connect the congregation into the appearance of some domestic group or larger household, and carry the priest back to his childish years during the winter season and Christmas matins, when every hand bore its candle. Arrived at the pulpit, he declares to his audience the plain truth, word for word, as it stands in the Gospel : in the presence of God, all intellectual pretensions are called upon to be silent; the very reason ceases to be reas able ; nor is anything reasonable in the sight of God but a sincere and upright heart.
Just as he and his flock are issuing from the church, the
bright Christmas sun ascends above the horizon, and shoots his beams upon their faces. The old men, who are numerous in Sweden, are all tinged with the colors of youth by the rosy morning-lustre; and the priest, as he looks away from them to mother earth lying in the sleep of winter, and to the churchyard, where the flowers and the men are all in their graves together, might secretly exclaim with the poet : “ Upon the dead mother, in peace and utter gloom, are reposing the dead children. After a time, uprises the everlasting sun ; and the mother starts up at the summons of the heavenly dawn with a resurrection of her ancient gloom: - And her children? — Yes: but they must wait awhile.”
At home he is awaited by a warm study, and a “longlevelled rule of sunlight upon the book-clad wall.
The afternoon he spends delightfully; for, having before him such a perfect flower-stand of pleasures, he scarcely knows where he should settle. Supposing it to be Christmas day, he preaches again : he preaches on a subject which calls up images of the beauteous Eastern land, or of eternity. By this time, twilight and gloom prevail through the church : only a couple of wax lights upon the altar throw wondrous and mighty shadows through the aisles : the angel that hangs down from the roof above the baptismal font is awoke into a solemn life by the shadows and the rays and seems almost in the act of ascension : through the windows, the stars or the moon are beginning to peer: aloft, in the pulpit, which is now hid in gloom, the priest is inflamed and possessed by the sacred burden of glad tidings which he is announcing: he is lost and insensible to all besides; and from amidst the darkness which surrounds him he pours down his thunders, with tears and agitation, reasoning of future worlds, and of the heaven of heavens, and whatsoerer else can most powerfully shake the heart and the affections.
Descending from his pulpit in these holy fervors, he now, perhaps, takes a walk: it is about four o'clock: and he walks beneath a sky lit up by the shifting northern lights, that to his eye appear but an Aurora striking upwards from the eternal morning of the south, or as a forest composed of saintly thickets, like the fiery bushes of Moses, that are round the throne of God.
Thus, if it be the afternoon of Christmas day: but if it be any other afternoon, visitors, perhaps, come and bring their well-bred grown-up daughters; like the fashionable world in London, he dines at sunset; that is to say, like the un-fashionable world of London, he dines at two o'clock ; and he drinks coffee by moonlight; and the parsonage-house becomes an enchanted palace of pleasure, gleaming with twilight, starlight, and moonlight. Or, perhaps, he goes over to the schoolmaster, who is teaching his afternoon school : there, by the candlelight, he gathers round his knees all the scholars, as if — being the children of his spiritual children — they must therefore be his own grandchildren ; and with delightful words he wins their attention, and pours knowledge into their docile hearts.
All these pleasures failing, he may pace up and down in his library, already, by three o'clock, gloomy with twilight, but fitfully enlivened by a glowing fire, and steadily by the bright moonlight; and he needs do no more than taste at every turn of his walk a little orange marmalade, to call up images of beautiful Italy, and its gardens and orange groves, before all his five senses, and, as it were, to the very tip of his tongue. Looking at the moon, he will not fail to recollect that the very same silver disk hangs at the very same moment between the branches of the laurels in Italy. It will delight him to consider that the Æolian harp and the lark, and indeed music of all kinds, and the stars and children, are just the same in hot climates and in cold. And when the post-boy, that rides in with news from Italy,
winds his horn through the hamlet, and with a few simple notes raises up on the frozen window of his study a vision of flowery realms; and when he plays with treasured leaves of roses and of lilies from some departed summer, or with plumes of a bird of Paradise, the memorial of some distant friend; when further, his heart is moved by the magnificent sounds of Lady-day, Salad-season, Cherry-time, TrinitySundays, the rose of June, &c., how can he fail to forget that he is in Sweden by the time that his lamp is brought in ? and then, indeed, he will be somewhat disconcerted to recognize his study in what had now shaped itself to his fancy as a room in some foreign land. However, if he would pursue this airy creation, he need but light at his lamp a wax-candle-end, to gain a glimpse through the whole evening into that world of fashion and splendor from which he purchased the said wax-candle-end. For I should suppose, that at the court of Stockholm, as elsewhere, there must be candle-ends to be bought of the state-footmen.
But now, after the lapse of half a year, all at once there strikes
upon his heart something more beautiful than Italy, where the sun sets so much earlier in summer-time than it does at our Swedish hamlet: and what is that? It is the longest day, with the rich freight that it carries in its bosom, and leading by the hand the early dawn, blushing with rosy light and melodious with the carolling of larks at one o'clock in the morning. Before two, that is, at sunrise, the elegant party that we mentioned last winter arrive in gay clothing at the parsonage; for they are bound on a little excursion of pleasure in company with the priest. At two o'clock they are in motion ; at which time all the flowers are glittering, and the forests are gleaming with the mighty light. The warm sun threatens them with no storm nor thunder-showers ; for both are rare in Sweden. The priest, in common with the rest of the company, is attired in the
costume of Sweden; he wears his short jacket with a broad scarf, his short cloak above that, his round hat with floating plumes, and shoes tied with bright ribbons : like the rest of the men, he resembles a Spanish knight, or a provençal, or other man of the South ; more especially when he and his gay company are seen flying through the lofty foliage luxuriant with blossom, that within so short a period of weeks has shot forth from the garden-plots and the naked boughs.
That a longest day like this, bearing such a cornucopia of sunshine, of cloudless ether, of buds and bells, of blossoms and of leisure, should pass away more rapidly than the shortest, is not difficult to suppose. As early as eight o'clock in the evening the party breaks up; the sun is now burning more gently over the half-closed, sleepy flowers : about nine he has mitigated his rays, and is beheld bathing, as it were, naked in the blue depths of heaven: about ten, at which hour the company reassemble at the parsonage, the priest is deeply moved, for throughout the hamlet, though the tepid sun, now sunk to the horizon, is still shedding a sullen glow upon the cottages and the window-panes, everything reposes in profoundest silence and sleep: the birds even are all slumbering in the golden summits of the woods: and at last, the solitary sun himself sets, like a moon, amidst the universal quiet of nature. To our priest, walking in his romantic dress, it seems as though rosy-colored realms were laid open, in which fairies and spirits range ; and he would scarcely feel an emotion of wonder, if, in this hour of golden vision, his brother, who ran away in childhood, should suddenly present himself as one alighting from some blooming heaven of enchantment.
The priest will not allow his company to depart: he detains them in the parsonage garden, — where, says he, every one that chooses may slumber away in beautiful bowers the brief, warm hours until the reappearance of