To a population like that of Lowell, the weekly respite from monotonous in-door toil afforded by the first day of the week is particularly grateful. Sabbath comes to the weary and overworked operative emphatically as a day of rest. It opens upon him somewhat as it did upon George Herbert, as he describes it in his exquisite little poem:–
“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky!”
Apart from its soothing religious associations, it brings with it the assurance of physical comfort and freedom. It is something to be able to doze out the morning from daybreak to breakfast in that luxurious state between sleeping and waking in which the mind eddies slowly and peacefully round and round instead of rushing onward,–the future a blank, the past annihilated, the present but a dim consciousness of pleasurable existence. Then, too, the satisfaction is by no means inconsiderable of throwing aside the worn and soiled habiliments of labor and appearing in neat and comfortable attire. The moral influence of dress has not been overrated even by Carlyle’s Professor in his Sartor Resartus. William Penn says that cleanliness is akin to godliness. A well-dressed man, all other things being equal, is not half as likely to compromise his character as one who approximates to shabbiness. Lawrence Sterne used to say that when he felt himself giving way to low spirits and a sense of depression and worthlessness,– a sort of predisposition for all sorts of little meannesses,–he forthwith shaved himself, brushed his wig, donned his best dress and his gold rings, and thus put to flight the azure demons of his unfortunate temperament. There is somehow a close affinity between moral purity and clean linen; and the sprites of our daily temptation, who seem to find easy access to us through a broken hat or a rent in the elbow, are manifestly baffled by the “complete mail” of a clean and decent dress. I recollect on one occasion hearing my mother tell our family physician that a woman in the neighborhood, not remarkable for her tidiness, had become a church-member. “Humph!” said the doctor, in his quick, sarcastic way, “What of that? Don’t you know that no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of heaven?”
“If you would see” Lowell “aright,” as Walter Scott says of Melrose Abbey, one must be here of a pleasant First day at the close of what is called the “afternoon service.” The streets are then blossoming like a peripatetic flower-garden; as if the tulips and lilies and roses of my friend W.’s nursery, in the vale of Nonantum, should take it into their heads to promenade for exercise. Thousands swarm forth who during week- days are confined to the mills. Gay colors alternate with snowy whiteness; extremest fashion elbows the plain demureness of old- fashioned Methodism.
Fair pale faces catch a warmer tint from the free sunshine and fresh air. The languid step becomes elastic with that “springy motion of the gait” which Charles Lamb admired. Yet the general appearance of the city is that of quietude; the youthful multitude passes on calmly, its voices subdued to a lower and softened tone, as if fearful of breaking the repose of the day of rest. A stranger fresh from the gayly spent Sabbaths of the continent of Europe would be undoubtedly amazed at the decorum and sobriety of these crowded streets.
I am not over-precise in outward observances; but I nevertheless welcome with joy unfeigned this first day of the week,–sweetest pause in our hard life-march, greenest resting-place in the hot desert we are treading. The errors of those who mistake its benignant rest for the iron rule of the Jewish Sabbath, and who consequently hedge it about with penalties and bow down before it in slavish terror, should not render us less grateful for the real blessing it brings us. As a day wrested in some degree from the god of this world, as an opportunity afforded for thoughtful self-communing, let us receive it as a good gift of our heavenly Parent in love rather than fear.