The liquid kindling of the twilight, the western glow of clear-burning fires, bringing no weariness of heat but the exquisite coolness of darkling airs, is of all the ceremonial of the day the most solemn and sacred moment. The dawn has its own splendours, but it brightens out of secret mists and folded clouds into the common light of day, when the burden must be resumed and the common business of the world renewed again. But the sunset wanes from glory and majesty into the stillness of the star-hung night, when tired eyes may close in sleep, and rehearse the mystery of death; and so the dying down of light, with the suspension of daily activities, is of the nature of a benediction. Dawn brings the consecration of beauty to a new episode of life, bidding the soul to remember throughout the toil and eagerness of the day that the beginning was made in the innocent onrush of dewy light; but when the evening comes, the deeds and words of the daylight are irrevocable facts, and the mood is not one of forward-looking hope and adventure, but of unalterable memory, and of things dealt with so and not otherwise, which nothing can henceforward change or modify. If in the morning we feel that we have power over life, in the evening we know that, whether we have done ill or well, life’s power over ourselves has been asserted, and that thus and thus the record must stand.
And so the mood of evening is the larger and the wiser mood, because we must think less of ourselves and more of God. In the dawn it seems to us that we have our part to play, and that nothing, not even God, can prevent us from exercising our will upon the life about us; but in the evening we begin to wonder how much, after all, we have the strength to effect; we see that even our desires and impulses have their roots far back in a past which no restlessness of design or energy can touch; till we end by thankfulness that we have been allowed to feel and to experience the current of life at all. I sat the other day by the bedside of an old and gracious lady, the widow of a great artist, whose works with all their shapely form and dusky flashes of rich colour hung on the walls of her room. She had lived for many years in the forefront of a great fellowship of art and endeavour; she had seen and known intimately all the greatest figures in the art and literature of the last generation; and she was awaiting with perfect serenity and dignity the close. She said to me with a deep emotion, “Ah, the only thing that I desire is that I may continue to feel—that brings suffering in abundance with it, but while we suffer we are at least alive. Once or twice in my life I have felt the numbness of anguish, when a blow had fallen, and I could not even suffer. That is the only thing which I dread—not death, nor silence, but only the obliteration of feeling and love.” That was a wonderful saying, full of life and energy. She did not wish to recall the old days, nor hanker after them with an unsatisfied pain; and I saw that an immortal spirit dwelt in that frail body, like a bird in an outworn cage.