“I saw the
leaves gliding down a brook;
Swift the brook ran, and bright the sun burned:
The sere and the verdant, the same course they took—
And sped gayly and fast—but they never returned.
And I thought how the years of a man pass away—
Threescore and ten—and then where are they?”
“Threescore years and ten,” thought I to myself, as I walked, one rainy morning, as a sailor walks the quarter-deck, up and down a short alcove, extending before the windows of a modern house. It was one of those days in June, in which our summer-hopes take umbrage at what we call unseasonable weather, though no season was ever known to pass without them. Unlike the rapid and delightful showers of warmer days, suddenly succeeding to the sunshine, when the parched vegetables and arid earth seize with avidity, and imbibe the moisture ere it becomes unpleasant to our feelings, there had fallen a drizzling rain throughout the night; the saturated soil returned to the atmosphere the humidity it could no longer absorb; and there it hung, in chilling thickness, between rain and fog. The birds did not sing, and the flowers did not open, for the cold drop was on their cheek, and no sunbeam was there to expand them. Nature itself wore the garb of sadness, and man’s too dependent spirits were ready to assume it—those, at least, that were not so happy as to find means of forgetting it. Such was the case with my unfortunate self.
I had descended to the breakfast-room, at the usual hour, but no one appeared; I looked for a book, but found none but an almanac. The books were kept in the library—beyond all dispute their proper place, had I not been in a humor to think otherwise. The house was too hot, and the external air was too cold; and I was fain to betake myself to that last resort of the absolutely idle—a mechanical movement of the body up and down a given space. And, from the alcove where I walked, I heard the ticking of the timepiece; and, as I passed the window, I saw the hands advance; every time I had returned, they had gone a little farther. “Threescore years and ten,” said I to myself; “and a third or fourth of it is nature’s claim for indispensable repose—and many a day consumed on the bed of sickness—and many a year by the infirmities of age—and some part of all necessarily sacrificed to the recruiting of the health by exercise. And what do we with the rest?” Nothing answered me but the ticking of the clock, of which the hands were traversing between eight and nine. They had nearly met, at the appointed hour, when the party began to assemble within; and each one commenced, for aught I could discover, the functions of the day, for neither their appearance nor their remarks gave any intimation that they had been previously employed. One, indeed, declared the weather made her so idle she had scarcely found strength to dress herself; another confessed he had passed an additional hour in bed, because the day promised him so little to do up. One by one, as they dropped in, the seats at the breakfast-table were filled; and, as a single newspaper was all the apparent means of mental occupation, I anticipated some interesting conversation.