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9. An Eclipse of the Sun.

   BALMAIN, MARCH 26th, 1857.

“IF you're waking, call me early, call me early, Bridget dear,” was my poetical appeal last night to my Hibernian handmaiden; and Bridget, for a wonder, chancing to wake before seven, I was called in time to see—

“The sunlight sheathed and gently charmed,
Of all its sparkling rays disarmed,
And as in slumber laid.”

Calling to mind how often I had been “in slumber laid” at the unsheathing of his light, I hardly liked to look the sun in the face before his obscuration. It seemed so ridiculous in me, so rude to him, to be getting up at that unseasonable hour not to see him. An eclipse of the sun is a rare phenomenon, but so to most of us is his rising. I am almost ashamed to say that, in the whole course of my life, I have only once witnessed his levee. I was sleeping on the deck of the little “Vivid”—darting through the calm summer waters, from Calais to Dover, swift and graceful as a mackerel—when I was roused by the gruff old steersman with a “Look at that, sir! It's a sight, I'm thinking, you don't often see.” The eastern sky was mottled with a mantling red, recalling the sweet old-world myth of the rose-sprinkling hours. The bridegroom was about to come forth from his chamber. A segment of the golden disc was just above the waves, and as it ascended in kingly stateliness, “unhasting, unresting” majesty, its dazzling glory, shooting horizontally along the sea, turned the water into blushing wine—as though in sacramental memory of the “beginning of miracles” wrought by the transmuter's sacred Antitype, the Sun of Righteousness—itself an emblem of the enriching change His mission was to work in the whole life of Man. The blush vanished, but myriad spangles glittered on the gently heaving waves; and the wheeling sea-bird's wing, and here and there a streak of cloud—left, white and lonely as a lingering snow-wreath, on the deep-blue sky—exchanged their spotless purity of hue for burnished brilliance. The cliffs on both sides


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of the channel—waking, as it seemed—drew back their veils of lavender mist, and smiled a sisterly “good morrow” to each other across the mirror that reflected their fair forms. And over all the sun glowed grandly beautiful, graciously sublime, as though it were the visible, all-seeing eye of God. Like a Persian, I could have fallen down and worshipped. And yet a sight like this we might see almost every morning if we chose. “The science of an untutored age,” says Ferrier, and the indolence of every age, add I, “passes by unheeded the ordinary appearances of nature; but our interest is easily aroused, our attention is readily enchained, by such mysterious portents as the earthquake and the eclipse. She is blind to the common and familiar phenomena of light; she is deaf to the common and familiar phenomena of sound; she has eyes only for the lightning; ears only for the thunder. She asks with eager curiosity—

Quæ fulminis esset origo,—
Jupiter, an venti, discussâ nube tonarent?

But she leaves unquestioned the normal or every day presentments of the senses and the universe; she pays the tribute of admiration to nature's exception far more promptly than to her majestic rule.” However, it is “nature's exception,” or rather widely revolving rule, with which we are now concerned.

The chimney-tops and gables are brightening in the sunlight, as I dress; its red beams bronze the foliage above which they peer, and window-panes flash out like laughing eyes. But when I reach my post of observation, a promontory towering high above the harbour,—the sky is muffled up in clouds. A patch of watery orange in the east, faintly flecked with distant spars, alone points out the position of the sun. A sickly shimmer, a fading memory of light—the very ghost of dawn—plays on the leaden waters; wherein dark ships float motionless, circled with shadow. The city on the opposite shore, as its coverlet of mist is slowly rolled aside, has a raw, dreary, half-awakened look. St. James's steeple, for a moment tipped with gold, points like a finger to the heavens; but a huge chimney belches forth its smoke, and blots the memento of supernal things, with an infernal eagerness, from the view—meet type of the influences of foul and busy city-life. Groups, silent and awe-struck, like those Defoe has painted in his History of the Plague, stand looking up into the sky. Suddenly a gloom spreads through the air like ink dropped into water. The out-cropping rocks beneath me put on a sterner frown. The forge-fire yonder blossoms into ruddy glow like a gigantic rhododendron flower. The church-bell ringing for morning prayers tolls dismal as a knell. The workman ceases from his labour, and stops his laugh and song. There is


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a wintry coldness in the whispering wind. And then—“at one stride comes the dark.” The sea turns livid—ghastly-blue as the face of a cholera-victim. Houses and trees discharge their colour, and crouch unseen beneath the pall of blackness, with lurid fringe of tawny dusk, that hangs over earth and hides the heaven. Gradually, like the look of life returning to the face of one who has fainted, light steals again over land and sea; grows momentarily brighter, and yet more bright. Nature has recovered from her syncope, and scores of cocks with their shrill clarions trumpet the advent of the second dawn.

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