Edward Hitchcock.

Religious lectures on peculiar phenomena in the four seasons ... delivered to the students in Amherst college, in 1845, 1847, 1848 and 1849 online

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Online LibraryEdward HitchcockReligious lectures on peculiar phenomena in the four seasons ... delivered to the students in Amherst college, in 1845, 1847, 1848 and 1849 → online text (page 7 of 8)
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colors pass into one another, and thus witness the rich in-
termediate shades. I have seen many splendid groups
of precious stones, wrought and unwrought, in the large
collections of our land ; and until I witnessed this scene,
they seemed of great beauty. But it is now literally true,
that they appear to me comparatively dull and insignfi-
cant. In short, it seemed as if I was gazing upon a land-
scape which had before existed only in a poet's imagina-
tion. It is what he would call a fairy land : but a more
Christian designation would be, a celestial land.

On Monday it was cloudy, and the phenomena present-
ed no new aspect. On Tuesday, there was a storm of fine
rain and snow, and the beautiful transparency of the icy
coat was changed into the aspect of ground glass. This
gave to the trees a new and more delicate appearance.
They resembled enchased work, formed of pure unbur-
nished silver ; and had the sun shone upon them, they
must have been intensely beautiful. I now supposed
that the most brilliant part of this scene, — its golden pe-
riod, — had passed : and that the silver period of Tuesday,



■would soon be succeeded b;y the usual iron reign of win-
ter ; especially as there fell several inches of snow, du-
ring the night. But the cold restored the ice upon the
trees to more than its original transparency, and the sun
rose on Wednesday morning upon a cloudless sky ; and
a wind scattered the snow from the branches, and all the
phenomena opened upon us with more than their Sabbath
day glories.

" 'Tis winter's jubilee, — this day
His stores their countless treasures yield.
See how the diamond glances play
In ceaseless blaze from tree and field.

A shower of gems is strewed around,
The flowers of winter, rich and rare ;
Eubies and sapphires deck the ground,
The topaz, emerald, all are there."

As the sun approached the meridian, one had only to
receive his rays at a certain angle, refracted through the
crystal covering of a tree, in order to witness gems more
splendid than art ever prepared. Four fifths of them
were diamonds : but the sapphires were numerous ; the
topaz and the beryl not unfrequent ; and occasionally the
chrysolite and the hyacinth shone with intense brilliancy.
There was wind also on that day ; and as the branches
waved to and fro, these various gems appeared and van-
ished and re-appeared in endless variety ; chaining the
eye to the spot, until the overpowered optic nerve shrunk
from its office. But the rich vision did not cease through


all that cloudless day. Nor did it terminate when the
sun went down. For then the full orbed moon arose, and
gave another most bewitching aspect to the scene. Du-
ring the day the light had often been painfully intense.
But the softness of moonlight permitted the eye to gaze
and gaze untired, and yet the splendor seemed hardly
less than during the day. Most of the bright points were
of a mild topaz yellow, and when seen against the hea-
vens, tbey could hardly be distinguished from the stars ;
or when seen in the forest, especially as one passed rap-
idly along, it seemed as if countless fire-flies were moving
among the branches. Yet occasionally I saw other col-
ors of the spectrum, especially the bluish green of the
beryl. Through that live long night did these indescrib-
able glories meet the eye of the observer. And on
Thursday another cloudless morning and clear shining
sun brought back the glories of Wednesday ; Nay, to my
eye, this last day of the spectacle seemed the most splen-
did of all ; and one could hardly realize that he was not
translated to some celestial region. A second glorious
evening set in. But ere morning the clouds overspread
the sky, and the powerful rain of Friday and Friday
night left the trees without a vestige of ice, and conse-
quently ended the enchanting phenomenon, to be seen
again we know not when. In some places trees have
been injured by the weight of the ice ; and this feature is
noticed and complained of by men. But taste and piety


might well be contented to see the vegetable world deci-
mated, if necessary to so ei\chanting an exhibition,

Exegfctical writers upon the Bible, sometimes tell ns of
what they call anai ?.syauEva; — that is, words used only
once in the whole Scriptures. In human life too, there
are events, which we may call anag (panousra; — thiit is, ap-
pearing only once during a generation. He who has
seen one transit of a planet over the sun, or one Novem-
ber shower of meteors, or one splendid comet, or one Lu-
nar ivh. or one volcanic eruption, may be satisfied, and
cannot hope for a second sight. — I reckon this glacial
phenomenon among these unique revelations of nature,
whose repetition may be reserved for posterity. To
those who have not witnessed all the features of this ex-
hibition which I have described, I may seem enthusiastic
and extravagant in my estimates. But there are those
present, I trust, who can testify that they are not exag-
geration : and on whose memories they have made as in-
delible an impression as a total eclipse of the sun, or a
splendid comet, or the transit of Venus, or Mercury ; and
will be looked back upon as a pleasant oasis along the
journey of life.*

* Since tlie period of the glacial phenomenon described in the
text, I have seen only one analogous exhibition, and that partial,
and far inferior to the first. On Mount Holyoke, however, there was
a very splendid display of the gems ; but the ice was mostly confined
to the mountain.

It may not be generally known, thac there are two circumstances of
frequent occurrence, in which a person can see a beautiful, though


But let me hasten to consider some of the more stri-
king religious applications of the phenomena under con-

Ill the first place^ they lead us to infer what a splendid
world this might have been, even with the present laws of
nature, had sin never entered it.

When God foresaw that man would sin, he decreed
that death must follow in the train. Kor would it be con-
sistent with infinite holiness to place a sinful mortal be-
ing in a world as perfect and as full of splendid exhi-
bitions of divine skill, as might exist in the residence of
innocence and holiness. The laws and operations of na-
ture, therefore, must be so cramped and adjusted, that
while they would j^resent many exquisite evidences of the
wisdom and benevolence of the Deity, they should not
bring out the most perfect and splendid exhibition. This
world might easily have been so made, that its rocks

inferior exhibition of gems by the refraction of the sun's rays. One
such opportunity occurs in the morning, when the grass and the trees
are covered with frost work: and anotlier, when a heavy dew or a
shower in the night has produced a multitude of drops of water.
The most fixvorable position to see the gems, is to face the rising
sun : when the observer will perceive upon the grass before him, a
parabolic curve, strung with all the colored and uncolored gems des-
cribed in the text, though of smaller size. The same may be seen
upon the shrubs and trees. " nd they might be observed in other
directions, though more scattered. And one who will take the pains
to look out for this phenomenon, will be quite often gratified by wit«
njssing a vic'i variety of diamonds, sapphires, ber_) Is, topazes, &c., giv-
ing him a faint idea of the splendid example described in this volume.


sliould have been composed wholly of the most beautiful
gems, and every landscape have shone with the glory of
Eden. And it does seem as if God had so balanced and
adjusted the agencies of nature, that once or twice in a
generation he allows some splendid development of un-
earthly beauty to teach us what might perhaps have been
a settled order of things, had not sin impressed her harpy
fingers upon the face of nature. While, therefore, we are
grateful for what is left us, — so much superior to what we
deserve, — let us be reminded, when we witness such exhi-
bitions as the one under consideration, how much more
glorious might have been our lot, had not sin brought in
death, and made the whole creation groan and travail togeth-
er in pain until now. Let us loathe the hateful tyrant,
who has thus degraded ns— Let us break asunder his
chains, and wait in humble hope for the manifestation of
the sons of God, — and for the glories of the new heavens
and the neio earth, ivherein dwelleth righteousness.

In the second place, with what exquisite skill must the
agencies of nature be balanced, in order to bring about
such an exhibition as ice have witnessed !

It was found necessary to allow the agents of atmos-
pheric changes some latitude, or oscillation, in their opera-
tion : and this is what gives &\Mki an appearance of con-
fusion and irregularity to meteorological phenomena:
and this also rendered it more difficult so to balance these
agencies, that they should bring about a certain result
with infallible certainty ; in a case too, where a great

HOW WELL balanced! 123

many of them are concerned. Had any of these varied
in their intensity, by an infinitesimal quantity, it would
have been fatal in the present instance, to such results
as we have witnessed. Had the temperature varied du-
ring forty-eight hours, from what it was, a single degree
higher or lower,^had it been higher at all, either at the
beginning or end of the storm, — had the descent of the
rain been more rapid or in greater quantity, or in larger
drops,— had the wind, as is common in storms, been high-
er ; or had the more recondite agencies that produce and
regulate storms, such as electricity, been in a slightly dif-
ferent state, some of the exquisite features of the phe-
nomena must have been marred, and the whole have re-
sulted in an ordinary case of rain, hail or snow. Job
speaks of the balancings of the clouds, as among the mys-
teries of ancient philosophy. But how much nicer the
balancing and counterbalancing of the complicated agen-
cies of the atmosphere, in order to bring out this glacial
miracle in full perfection ! — What wisdom and power
short of infinite, could have brought it about ! And when
we may ask, shall it be witnessed again ! As easily
might we answer the question of one gazing on a splen-
did figure in the Kaleidoscope, when that precise exhibi-
tion will reappear in the course of its revolutions. It is
possible that the next turn of the instrument may pre-
sent it ; but almost certain that a whole life of labor, in
turning it round, would not bring it again. Nor can we
hardly dare hope again, during our short lives, to see the


time when all the requisite contingencies shall conspire
to bring this identical phenomenon before us, that we may-
feast our eyes with its beauties. Let us be thankful that
we have seen it once ; and for so many days, and under
so many phases ; and let us not fail to learn from it a new
and impressive lesson of the infinite skill and benevolence
of the Author of Nature.

In the third place ^ hoiu strihinghj emblematical has this
scene been, of human life !

As we set forward in the morning of our days, how
brilliant and enticing is the prospect before us ! The sun
of hope throws its full radiance over the landscape, and
the rays come reflected to us in rainbow colors ; and with
buoyant spirits and elastic step, we bound forward in pur-
suit of the splendid gems that glitter in our horizon.
Many a golden path opens before us, to fortune, to fame,
or to pleasure ; and though we hear behind us the warn-
ing voice of experience, bidding us moderate our expecta-
tions, and not centre all our hopes upon what may disap-
point and deceive us, we are too sure that the visions be-
fore us are realities, and can be obtained, to be willing to
falter in our course. Life seems to us as full of splendor
as the scenes of the last week ; and its honors and pleas-
ures as inviting as the gems that hung temptingly from
the trees. And, indeed the honors, emoluments and en-
joyments which are the objects of pursuit, are as much re-
alities as were the icy gems of nature. And in both cases,
they might be grasped.— But when we took the icy mor-


sel into our hands, which at a distance had dazzled us
with its splendor, how soon did its colors vanish, and it-
self melt away into a drop of water. So when we have
obtained the honors, I'eputation, and pleasures, after
which we aspire, how soon does their glory depart, and
the harpy fingers of envy and detraction, endeavor to
filch them from us ; and the cup of nectar which we have
seized, becomes changed into wormwood and gall ; and
we find that we have been raised to distinction, only to
become a fairer mark for the poisoned arrows of the world
to reach ; and we learn that instead of a crown of glory,
we have put on a crown of thorns.

Suppose that during the past week any of us had been
so fascinated by the fairy scene before us, that our su-
preme affections had become fastened upon it. What a
sense of desolation would have come over us, as we awoke
yesterday morning, and found not a single vestige remain-
ing of the objects to which we had given our hearts. So
if in this life, we place our supreme desires or confidence
upon any worldly good, a single storm of adversity may
sweep away all our prospects and possessions, and leave
us utterly heart-stricken and overwhelmed. And sooner
or later such a storm will overtake every one and sink
him in utter desolation, who has not laid up treasures in
heaven, beyond the reach of all worldly changes. Does
my voice to-day fall upon any heart that has nothing to
trust in beyond this world ! Alas, how painful and peril-
ous its condition !

126 man's displays

In the fourth place, we are taught hy the 'phenomena un-
der consideration^ how meagre and insignificant, when
compared with nature, are the proudest human efforts at
ornament or display.

The love of display is one of the strongest passions of
the human heart ; as the history of every age testifies.
In the rudest conditions of society, it exhibits itself in
painting the body and the dress with gaudy colors, and
on public occasions especially, in exhibiting a profusion
of ornaments, derived from the skins of quadrupeds, the
feathers of birds, and the shells of molluscs ; and with
trinkets of glass, or tin, or brass. The more civilized
man smiles at such coarse and gaudy displays ; and yet
he shows a passion equally strong for brilliant exhibi-
tions of ornamental objects, more costly and in better taste.
Strip off the waving plume of the warrior, and his golden
epaulette from his shoulder, and the glittering star from
his breast, and his gold and diamond-hiked sword from his
side ; gtrip off the trappings of his steed, and send him forth
to the campaign with only coarse garments and naked steel,
and you have robbed his work of half its attractions. De-
prive him of the hope of witnessing the splendid gala day
on his return from war, of riding in full military costume
in the elegant barouche, beneath the triumphal arch, or
amid huzzaing crowds, and I fear that much which goes
by the name of patriotism would be found to be only a
love of distinction.


But it is not the warrior alone who exhibits tlie
strength of this passion. Through all the grades of soci-
ety a constant strife is going on for the palm in external
show. Each man endeavors to excel his peers and to ape
his superiors, in dress, in equipage, and in entertaiments.
The more wealth the greater the means of display ; but
the passion seems almost equally strong in the peasant as
the prince. When men are divided into parties, each side
strives to excel its rival in the parade and decorations of
its public occasions ; and in religion, it is well known how
widely and fatally meretricious forms of worship have
smothered its vitality, and left for Jehovah only the gild-
ed but defunct carcase of devotion. In this land of repub-
lican simplicity, we see, indeed, only comparatively fee-
ble manifestations of this passion. But where arbitrary
governments exist, and wealth and titles are hereditary,
and where church and state are linked together, not for
the purpose of supporting religion, but of supporting each
other, costly displays of dress and equipage, stars and rib-
bons, crowns and coronets, and other paraphernalia of
royalty, form most essential means of feeding national
pride, and making the poor forget their degradation : al-
though the expenditures requisite are so enormous, that
if applied in charity, they would send food and raiment,
education and happiness, into all the hovels of poverty.

Would now that the costliest decorations that ever
pride has put on, and the most splendid pageants which
the world has ever seen, could have been gathered to-


getlier upon New England soil during the last week, and
been brought into comparison with the simple exhibition
of nature which has passed before us^ I would that all
the crown jewels and other decorations of all the mon-
archs of Europe and Asia had been here, — as well as
their possessors ; nay, that all the splendors of their coro-
nation could have been exhibited. I would have had
brought hither the decorations of the most splendid pala-
ces and castles, — and the gold and silver, and precious
stones of all the famous processions and gala days, mili-
tary, political, and religious, of the old and the new
world ; and I would that individuals, who delight in dis-
play, had brought forward their proudest ornaments.
All these I would have placed by the side of one of our
forests, and there, under the full beams of the meridian
sun, or the full moon, I would have bid the world look on,
and see how comparatively meagre and insignificant was
the collected artificial splendor of earth, in comparison
with the glories of that single forest, decked in one day
by the magic hand of nature. And I would have bid
them remember, that a thousand forests of New Eng-
land were at the same moment emitting splendors equally
magnificent. Could the monarchs of the old world,
could any who have devoted their time and property to
the pageantry of office, or party, or sect, or to gratify
personal ambition, — could they ever have forgotten, how
nature, on these bleak shores, and in the midst of barren
winter, infinitely outshone them all? Oh it would have


been one of the best schools that pride ever entered ; and
as the assembled multitiules went back to their various
spheres of fashion and folly, even though they might
have resumed the contest for the superiority over one
another, in dress, equipage, entertainments, and dwel-
lings, they would never henceforth have hoped to equal
the glories of a New England winter.
Would too that she, whom Cowper calls

ImiDerial mistress of the fur clad Euss,

who constructed a palace of ice, had witnessed this scene*
The project was indeed a magnificent one ; and it is well
described by the poet: —

" No forest fell
When thou wouldst build : no quarry sent its stores
T' enrich thy walls : but thou didst hew the floods
And make thy marble of the glassy wave.
In such a palace poetry might place
The armory of winter; where his troops
The gloomy clouds, find weapons, arrowy sleet,
Skin-piercing volley, blossom-bruising hail,
And snow that often blinds the traveler's course,
And wraps him in an unexpected grave.
Silently as a dream the fabric rose ;
No sound of hammer or of saw was there ;
Ice upon ice, the well adjusted parts
Were soon conjoined, nor other cement asked
Than water interposed, to make them one.



JSo stood the brittle prodigy ; though smooth
And slippery the materials, yet frost bound

Firm as a rock ; a scene

Of evanescent glory once a stream,
As soon to slide into a stream again."

But had the imperial Catharine been permitted to en-
ter snch a temple as Nature has built of the same materi-
al, among the hills of New England, how would she and
her architects have shrunk from the enterprise, with such
a model before them.

" Thus nature works as if defying art;
And in defiance of her rival powers,
By these fortuitous and random strokes,
Performing such inimitable feats,
As she with all her rules can never reach."

Vain, however, is the wish to bring hither the princes,
the nobility, or the fashionables, of other lands, or even of
our own, to teach them a lesson of humility. Few of
them will ever hear of the magnificent scene so lately
around us. But let not us, who have feasted upon it so
many days, suffer it to pass without instruction. We
have the same unholy desire, as they, to outstrip others
in the unhallowed chase after fashionable show and ex-
ternal decorations : and we owe it to circumstances and
Divine restraints, if we have not gone to the same excess
of vanity. "When tempted again to chase the phantoms,
let us turn to the realities of nature and be satisfied.


This leads me to remark, in the fifth place, that the scene
under consideration furnishes a strihing example of that
hnpartial lenevolence of the Deity, which has so widely
diffused the richest gifts of nature, that they cannot he
monopolized, hut are the common property of the whole hu-
man family .

Men endeavor to monopolize whatever they can, to
themselves, or families, or party, or sect. As soon as the
wealthy and the fashionable find that the community gen-
erally are able to obtain an article of dress, or ornament,
or luxury, which they supposed was exclusively theirs,
they cease to desire it, and go in pursuit of something
new. But mark how different is the impartial benevo-
lence of God ; and how it rebukes this contemptible
spirit of self-aggrandizement and self-appropriation. The
most valuable of nature's bounties are the common j)rop-
erty of all. The air, the water, the beauties of the sea-
sons, the glories of morn, noon, and evening, — the delight-
ful prospects above, around, and beneath, can never be
monopolized. Men may map off the earth's surface : they
may surround this portion and that, with moats and walls,
and call it their own ; and there they may erect stately
mansions, and add to the natural scenery, all the charms
of art. But they cannot shut up the lungs of the hum-
blest individual who is a freeman, so that he shall not in-
hale the pure atmosphere : nor close his eyes to the beau-
ties of heaven and earth : nor his ears against the sweet

132 NO 3I0N0P0LT

symphonies of nature. Nay, if that poor man's heart
has been warmed by the love of nature and of nature's
God, he has a more real and substantial property in the
fields and habitations around him, than the nominal pos-
sessor, with all his legal titles.

" His are the mountains, and the vallies his :
And the resplendant rivers. His to enjoy,
With a propriety that none can feel,
But who, with filial confidence inspired,
Can lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,
And smiling say, '• my Father made them all."
Are they not his by a peculiar right,
And by an emphasis of interest his,
Whose eye they fill with tears of hoh- joy,
Whose heart with praise, and whose exalted mind
With worthy thoughts of that unwearied love,
That plann'd and built and still upholds, a world
So cloth'd with beauty for rebellious man,"

One of the objects which the wealthy and the titled
have hitherto succeeded most effectually in monopolizing,
is the most splendid of the gems dug out of the earth ;
leaving only the smaller specimens, or imitations in glass,
for the community at large. And because these larger
specimens are very few, and therefore have assumed an
enormous factitious value, princes and others of great
wealth, have succeded in keeping them in their hands :
and by bringing them out only on great occasions, they


have been able to attract tlie attention and excite the ad-
miration of the multitude. But the inhabitants of New-
England at least, have now, for many days, had placed
before them, an exhibition of nature's gems, which casts
into the shade all the crown jewels of Europe and Asia.
Had they all been suspended upon a single tree in our
forests, they would scarcely have been noticed amid the
profusion of glories poured forth by richer gems around
them. Henceforth should any of us have an opportunity
to witness a coronation, or triumphal procession, or carni-

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Online LibraryEdward HitchcockReligious lectures on peculiar phenomena in the four seasons ... delivered to the students in Amherst college, in 1845, 1847, 1848 and 1849 → online text (page 7 of 8)