( Originally Published 1879 )
IT is true to nature, although it be expressed in a figurative form, that a mother is both the morning and the evening star of life. The light of her eye is always the first to rise, and often the last to set upon man's day of trial. She wields a power more decisive far than syllogisms in argument, or courts of last appeal in authority. Nay, in cases not a few, where there has been no fear of God before the eyes of the young—where His love has been unfelt and His law outraged, a mother's affection or her tremulous tenderness has held transgressors by the heart-strings, and been the means of leading them back to virtue and to God.
Woman's charms are certainly many and powerful. The expanding rose, just bursting into beauty, has an irresistible bewitchingness;—the blooming bride, led triumphantly to the hymeneal altar, awakens admiration and interest, and the blush of her cheek fills with delight;—but the charm of maternity is more sublime than all these.
Heaven has imprinted in the mother's face something beyond this world, something which claims kindred with the skies-the angelic smile, the tender look, the waking, watchful eye, which keeps its fond vigil over her slumbering babe.
Mother ! ecstatic sound so twined round our hearts that they must cease to throb ere we forget it ! 'tis our first love; 'tis part of religion. Nature has set the mother upon such a pinnacle, that our infant eyes and arms are first uplifted to it; we cling to it in manhood; we almost worship it in old age. He who can enter an apartment and behold the tender babe feeding on its mother's beauty—nourished by the tide of life which flows through her generous veins, without a panting bosom and a grateful eye, is no man, but a monster.
"Can a mother's love be supplied?" No! a thou-sand times no ! By the deep, earnest yearning of my spirit for a mother's love; by the weary, aching void in my heart; by the restless, unsatisfied wanderings of my affections, ever seeking an object on which to rest; by our instinctive discernment of the true maternal love from the false—as we would discern between a lifeless statue and a breathing man; by the hallowed emotions with which we cherish in the depths of our hearts the vision of a grass-grown mound in a quiet graveyard among the mountains; by the reverence, the holy love, the feeling akin to idolatry with which our thoughts hover about an angel form among the seraphs of Heaven—by all these, we answer, no!
Often do I sigh in my struggles with the hard, uncaring world, for the sweet, deep security I felt when, of an evening, nestling in her bosom, I listened to some quiet tale, suitable to my age, read in her tender and untiring voice. Never can I forget her sweet glance cast upon me when I appeared asleep; never her kiss of peace at night. Years have passed away since we laid her beside my father in the old church-yard; yet, still her voice whispers from the grave, and her eye watches over me, as I visit spots long since hallowed to the memory of my mother.
Oh! there is an enduring tenderness in the love of a mother to her son that transcends all other affections of the heart. It is neither to be chilled by selfishness, nor daunted by danger, nor weakened by worthlessness, nor stifled by ingratitude. She will sacrifice every comfort to his convenience; she will surrender every pleasure to his enjoyment; she will glory in his fame and exult in his prosperity; and if misfortune overtake him, he will be the dearer to her from misfortune; and if disgrace settle upon his name, she will still love and cherish him in spite of his disgrace; and if all the world beside, cast him off, she will be all the world to him.
Alas ! how little do we appreciate a mother's tenderness while living. How heedless are we in youth of all her anxieties and kindness? But when she is dead and gone, when the cares and coldness of the world come withering to our hearts, when we experience how hard it is to find true sympathy, how few to love us for ourselves, how few will befriend us in misfortune, then it is that we think of the mother we have lost.
Over the grave of a friend, of a brother, or a sister, I would plant the primrose, emblematical of youth; but over that of a mother, I would let the green grass shoot up unmolested, for there is something in the simple covering which nature spreads upon the grave, that well becomes, the abiding place of decaying age. O, a mother's grave ! Earth has some sacred spots, where we feel like loosing shoes from our feet, and treading with reverence; where common words of social converse seem rude, and friendship's hands have lingered in each other; where vows have been plighted, prayers offered, and tears of parting shed. Oh! how thoughts hover around such places, and travel back through unmeasured space to visit them! But of all spots on this green earth none is so sacred as that where rests, waiting the resurrection, those we have once loved and cherished—our brothers, or our children. Hence, in all ages, the better part of mankind have chosen and loved spots of the dead, and on these spots they have loved to wander at eventide. But of all places, even among the charnel-houses of the dead, none is so sacred as a mother's grave. There sleeps the nurse of infancy, the guide of our youth, the counselor of our riper years—our friend when others deserted us; she whose heart was a stranger to every other feeling but love—there she sleeps and we love the very earth for her sake.
In what Christian country can we deny the influence which -a mother exerts over the whole life of her children. The roughest and hardest wanderer, while he is tossed on the ocean, or while he scorches his feet on the desert sands, recurs in his loneliness and suffering to the smiles which maternal affection shed over his infancy; the reckless sinner, even in his hardened career, occasionally hears the whisperings of those holy precepts instilled by a virtuous mother, and, although they may, in the fullness of guilt, be neglected, there are many instances of their having so stung the conscience, that they have led to a deep and lasting repentance; the erring child of either sex will then, if a mother yet exists, turn to her for that consolation which the laws of society deny, and in the lasting purity of a mother's love will find the way to heaven. How cheerfully does a virtuous son labor for a poverty-stricken mother ! How alive is he to her honor and high standing in the world ! And should that mother be deserted—be left in "worse than widowhood," how proudly he stands forth her comforter and protector ! Indeed, the more we reflect upon the subject, the more entirely are we convinced, that no influence is so lasting, or of such wide extent, and the more extensively we do feel the necessity of guiding this sacred affection, and perfecting that being from whom it emanates.
Science has sometimes tried to teach us that if a pebble be cast into the sea on any shore, the effects are felt, though not perceived by man, over the whole area of the ocean. Or, more wonderful still, science has tried to show that the effects of all the sounds ever uttered by man or beast, or caused by inanimate things, are still floating in the air: its present state is just the aggregate result of all these sounds; and if these things be true, they furnish an emblem of the effects produced by a mother's power—effects which stretch into eternity, and operate there forever, in sorrow or in joy.
The mother can take man's whole nature under her control. She becomes what she has been called, "The Divinity of Infancy." Her smile is its sunshine, her word its mildest law, until sin and the world have steeled the heart. She can shower around her the most genial of all influences, and from the time when she first laps her little one in Elysium by clasping him to her bosom—" its first paradise "—to the moment when that child is independent of her aid, or perhaps, like Washington, directs the destinies of millions, her smile, her word, her wish, is an inspiring force. A sentence of encouragement or praise is a joy for a day. It spreads light upon all faces, and renders a mother's power more and more charm-like, as surely as cease-less accusing, rebuking, and correcting, chafes, sours, and disgusts. So intense is her power that the mere remembrance of a praying mother's hand, laid on the head in infancy, has held back a son from guilt when passion had waxed strong.
The mother is the angel-spirit of home. Her tender yearnings over the cradle of her infant babe, her guardian care of the child and youth, and her bosom companionship with the man of her love and choice, make her the personal center of the interests, the hopes and the happiness of the family. Her love glows in her sympathies and reigns in all her thoughts and deeds. It never cools, never tires, never dreads, never sleeps, but ever glows and burns with increasing ardor, and with sweet and holy incense upon the altar of home-devotion. And even when she is gone to her last rest, the sainted mother in heaven sways a mightier influence over her wayward husband or child, than when she was present. Her departed spirit still hovers over his affections, overshadows his path, and draws him by unseen cords to herself in heaven.
But in glancing at a mother's position in our homes, we should not overlook the sorrows to which she is often exposed. A mother mourning by the grave of her first-born is a spectacle of woe. A mother watching the palpitating frame of her child, as life ebbs slowly away, must evoke the sympathy of the sternest. A mother closing the dying eye of child after child, till it seems as if she were to be left alone in the world again, is one of the saddest sights of earth: when the cradle-song passes into a dirge, the heart is laden indeed.
Not long ago two friends were sitting together en-gaged in letter writing. One was a young man' from India, the other a female friend part of whose family resided in that far-off land. The former was writing to his mother in India. When the letter was finished his friend offered to enclose it in hers, to save postage. This he politely declined, saying: "If it be sent separately, it will reach her sooner than if sent through a friend; and, perhaps, it may save her a tear." His friend was touched at his tender regard for his mother's feelings, and felt with him, that it was worth paying the postage to save his mother a tear. Would that every boy and girl, every young man and every young woman were equally saving of a mother's tears.
The Christian mother especially can deeply plant and genially cherish the seeds of truth. Is her child sick? that is a text from which to speak of the Great Physician. Is it the sober calm of evening, when even children grow sedate? She can tell of the Home where there is no night. Is it morning, when all are buoyantly happy? The eternal day is suggested, and its glories may be told. That is the wisdom which wins souls even more than the formal lesson, the lecture, or the task.
There is one suggestion more. Perhaps the saddest sentence that can fall upon the ear regarding any child is—"He has no mother; she is dead!" It comes like a voice from the sepulchre, and involves the consummation of all the sorrows that can befall the young. In that condition they are deprived of their most tender comforter, and their wisest counselor. They are left a prey to a thousand temptations or a thousand ills, and freed from the restraint of one who could curb without irritating, or guide without affecting superiority. Now will mothers live with their children as if they were thus to leave them in a cold and inhospitable world? Will they guide their little ones to Him who is pre-eminently the God of the orphan, and who inspired his servant to say—" Though father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up."