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As, Vinegar Upon Nitre.

As, Vinegar Upon Nitre.

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Published by glennpease

BY FRANCIS JACOX

Proverbs xxv. 2a



BY FRANCIS JACOX

Proverbs xxv. 2a


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Published by: glennpease on Mar 26, 2013
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03/26/2013

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AS, VINEGAR UPON NITRE.BY FRANCIS JACOX Proverbs xxv. 2aWHATEVER maybe the exact import, chemicallyspeaking, of the simile " As vinegar upon nitre,"it is sufficiently suggestive as a comparison of him" that singeth songs to a heavy heart." Corroding acidis the agent in question — a something that sets theteeth on edge, that makes the eyes smart, that makesthe heavy heart all the heavier, the sad heart all thesadder. A word in season, how good is it ! A songout of season, how bad is it ! Light hearts may think togladden heavy ones with a carol of airy glee, and theirwarbling may be well-meant ; but if the heart they singto is out of tune, out of tune will sound their daintiestcaroUings too.Not only to vinegar upon nitre is he compared thatsingeth songs to a heavy heart, but also to one thattaketh away a garment in cold weather ; and of the twosimiles Coleridge admires the latter, as exquisitelybeautiful and touching ; while the former, though lesspleasing to the imagination, he commends as having thecharm of propriety, and expressing the transition withequal force and liveliness. A grief of recent birth hehimself compares to a sick infant that must have itsmedicine administered in its milk, and sad thoughts arethe sorrowful heart's natural food. " A man who is fullof inward heaviness," says Archbishop Leighton, "themore he is encompassed about with mirth, it exasperatesand enrages his grief the more ; like ineffectual weak physic, which removes not the humour, but stirs it and262 'YE'LL BREAK MY HEART, YE LITTLE BIRDS:makes it more unquiet." This is a complaint which, asthe author of Aids to Reflection demonstrates, is not tobe cured by opposites, which for the most part onlyreverse the symptoms while they exasperate the disease." The soul in her desolation hugs the sorrow close toher, as her sole remaining garment ; and this must bedrawn off so gradually, and the garment to be put in itsstead so gradually slipped on, and feel so like the former,that the sufferer shall be sensible of the change only bythe refreshment" The true spirit of consolation, we areadmonished, is well content to detain the tear in the eye,and finds a surer pledge of its success in the smile of resignation that dawns through that, than in the liveliestshows of a forced and alien exhilaration.Shakspeare writes of one deep-drenched in a sea of care, —
 
" The little birds, that tune their morning's joy.Make her moans mad with their sweet melody :For mirth doth search the bottom of annoy ;Sad souls are slain in merry company.''On the banks and braes of bonny Doon the little birdsare reproachfully asked how they sing so cheerily to one" sae weary fu* o* care," and are told they'll break theheart of the listener with their wanton glee. The themewas one for which Burns again and again wrote varia-tions. As in My Nannies awa* :" Thou laverock that springy frae the dews o' the lawn,The shepherd to warn o* the grey-breaking dawn,And thou mellow mavis that hails the nightfa',Give over for pity I "So in Craigiebum-wood : he hears the wild birds singing,but it is pain and grief to a weary wight, with care hisbosom wringing. So again in his Address to the Wood-lark : " For pity's sake, sweet bird, nae mair, or my poorSONGS THAT JAR ON A SAD HEART 263heart is broken ! " Wordsworth's impassioned stanzas,beginning, " Tis said that some have died for love," willoccur to many, in regard of the appeal, —" Thou thrush, that singest loud— and loud and free.Into yon row of alders flit, . . ,Or sing another song, or choose another tree *'—for the strain disturbed the sorrower till the sound wasmore than he could bear. And so perhaps will apassage in the Excursion^ descriptive of small birdssinging happily to mates happy as they :" With spirit-saddening powerWinds pipe through fading woods ; but those blithe notesStrike the deserted to the heart : I speak Of what I know, and what we feel within."The author of Oldtown Folks pictures a pensivemaiden sitting down by the window, thoughtful and sad,and listening to the crickets, whose "ignorant jollityoften sounds as mournfully to us mortals as ours may tosuperior beings. There the little hoarse black wretcheswere scraping and creaking, as if life and death wereinvented solely for their pleasure, and the world werecreated only to give them a good time in it ;" — and in alater chapter, the serious maiden, warbling an earnestand plaintive hymn-tune, is challenged to a singingmatch by a robin who perches himself hard by in thelilacs, and indulges in exuberant carollings — the merryroulades of the bird, " filled to the throat with ignorant
 
 joy," coming in singular contrast with the sadder notesbreathed by a creature born for immortal life. On themore tragical page of another book from the same pen,a tale of the dismal swamp, we read how nothing washeard for awhile but the warbling of the birds, " sing-ing cheerily, ignorant of the abyss of cruelty and crimeover which they sung." We watch the hero's death." And the birds sang on as they ever sing, unterrified264 BIANCA AND THE NIGHTINGALES,by the great wail of human sorrow." In vain thefrequent appeal of poets and poetesses to this effect —" I prithee, cease thy song ! for from my heartThou hast made memory's bitter waters startsAnd filled my weary eyes with the soul's rain.**Or this, of a transatlantic bard, who, utters it in theguise of a formal Complaint : —" Birds of song and beauty, lo, I charge you all with blame : —I can borrow for my sorrow nothing that availsFrom your lonely note, that only speaks of joy that never fails."One of Mrs. Browning's latest and most characteristicpoems, is Bianca among the Nightingales^ with its refrainof " These nightingales will sing me mad ! The nightin-gales, tl;ie nightingales." They torture and deride,Bianca complains : " I cannot bear these nightingales. . . They'll sing and stun me in the tomb — thenightingales, the nightingales ! " The swallow is simi-larly apostrophized by Owen Meredith : ** Thou comestto mock me with remembered things ; I love thee not,O bird for me too gay." Of another spirit is the poorimprisoned gaberlunzie, Edie Ochiltree, when the sun-beams shine fair on the rusty bars of his grateddungeon, and a miserable linnet, whose cage some cageddebtor had obtained permission to attach to the window,begins to greet him with song. " Ye' re in better spiritsthan I am," quoth Edie to the bird, " for I can neitherwhistle nor sing for thinking o' the bonnie burnsidesand green shaws that I should have been danderingbeside in weather like this.'* It is before the CousinPhillis of Mrs. Gaskell's pretty pastoral story becomessad-hearted, with good reason, that she cultivates the artof warbling in imitation and in emulation of the birds —" really gurgled, and whistled, and warbled, just as theydid, out of the very fulness and joy of her heart." Alltoo soon their merry music becomes to her a thing to be'AS VINEGAR UPON NITRE: 265

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