“I AM not a very old man,” said a venerable friend to me, one day, “yet my head has become whitened and my cheeks furrowed:–and often, as I pause and lean upon my staff, at the corners of the streets, the present reality gives place to dreams of the past, and I see here, instead of the massive pile of brick and marble, the low frame dwelling, and there, in place of the lines of tall warehouses, humble tenements. If, in my aimless wanderings about the city, I turn my steps towards the suburbs, I find that change, too, has been there. I miss the woods and fields where once, with the gay companions of early years, I spent many a summer hour. Beautiful dwellings have sprung up, it seems to me as if by magic, where but yesterday I plucked fruit from overladen branches, or flung myself to rest among the tall grass or ripening grain.
“But other changes than this have marked the passage of time. Changes that cause them to sink into obscurity in comparison. Thousands in our goodly city have passed from the cradle to the grave, during the years that have been allotted to me; and thousands have proved that all the promises of early years were vain. All external mutations would attract but little attention, did they not recall other and more important changes. Thought and feeling have put on forms, as new and strange, but not, alas! so full of happy indications. Prosperity has crowned the toil and enterprise of our citizens; but how few of the many who were prosperous when I was in my prime are among the wealthy now! How few of the families that filled the circles of fashion then, have left any of their scattered members to grace the glittering circles now! The wheel of fortune has ceased not its revolutions for a moment. Hopes that once spread their gay leaves to the pleasant airs have been blighted and scattered by the chilling winds of adversity.
“Pausing and leaning upon my staff, as I have said, I often muse thus, when some object recalls the memory of one and another who have finished their course and been gathered to their fathers. In every city and village, wherever there is human life, with its evil passions and good affections, there are histories to stir the heart and unseal the fountains of tears. Truth, it is said, is strange, stranger than fiction; and never was there a truer sentiment uttered. In all the fictions that I have read, nothing has met my eye so strange and heart-stirring as the incidents in real life that have transpired in the families of some of our own citizens. Any one, of years and observation, in any city, will bear a like testimony. The circumstance of their actual occurrence, and the fact that the present reality diminishes, from many causes, our surprise at events, tend to make us think lightly of what is going on around us. And, besides this, we ordinarily see only the surface of society. The writer of fiction unveils the mind and heart of those he brings into action, and we see all. We perceive their thoughts and feel their emotions. But, if we could look into the bosoms of those we meet daily, and read there the hopes and fears that excite or depress, we should perceive all around us living histories of human passion and emotion that would awaken up our most active sympathies. All this, however, is hidden from our eyes. And it is only, in most instances, when the present becomes the past, that we are permitted to lift the veil, and look at the reality beneath.”
We were sitting near a window overlooking one of the principal streets of our city, and a slight noise without, at this time, attracted our attention.