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Oh, they wander wide who roam
For the joys of life from home. Depend upon it, where the birthdays are well kept, either by poor or rich, there are the happiest families. We should be inclined to take the observance as a touchstone of mutual domestic love. They who “ wander wide from home,” and seek their joys elsewhere, are not likely to care for the children's birthdays.
And what of the wretched children of penury? Ah! who is there to care for them or their birthdays ! Life is too hard a stepmother to them for any one to mock them with the “ Many happy returns of the day.” One's heart aches to think where and how their anniversaries are kept. But, God be thanked, to them, as to all, each year brings one glad birthday—the promise and assurance of a better lot when the kingdom of Christ shall come.
That blessed day is the anniversary of the birth of Him who had nowhere to lay His head.
O Saviour ! whom this early morn
Gave to our world below;
And more than mortal woe.
By each temptation tried,
And to redeem us, died !
In dangerous wealth we dwell,
And lowly cottage cell.
If, pressed by poverty severe,
In envious want we pine,
How poor a lot was Thine !
From sin preserve us free;
On this day the cake and the orange are in the workhouses, and in the gaols, and in the hovels, where Christian benevolence at this holy time seeks to penetrate, shedding often tears of pity and of wonder at the depths of human misery, while seeking to win poor outcast souls to their only hope.
The Christ-child's birthday was a famous theme of the old poets of our own and other lands.
Quaintly fanciful is that vision of Southwell :
THE BURNING BABE,
Stood shivering in the snow,
Which made my heart to glow.
To view what fire was near,
Did in the air appear ;
Such floods of tears did shed,
Which with his tears were bred.
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts,
Or feel my fire, but I.
The fuel wounding thorns ;
The ashes, shames and scorns.
blows the coals,
Are men's defiled souls:
To work them to their good,
To wash them in my blood.”
And swiftly shrunk away,
That this was Christmas Day. Of this singular poem Ben Jonson said that to have written it he would gladly have destroyed several of his ; whether he included the following we do not know:
A HYMN ON THE NATIVITY OF MY SAVIOUR.
I sing the birth was born' to-night,
The Angels so did sound it,
Yet search'd and true they found it, The Son of God, the Eternal King, That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger ;
He whom the whole world could not take, The world which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.
The Father's wisdom willd it so,
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
And took on Him our nature.
What comfort by Him do we win,
To make us heirs of glory!
To see this babe all innocence,
Can man forget this story?
A greater poet than “ rare Ben Jonson,” gifted as he was, has attuned his wondrous lyre to celebrate the holiest birth the world ever knew, in that sublime composition, Milton's Ode :
ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY.
This is the month, and this the happy morn
That He our deadly forfeit should release,
That glorious form, that light unsufferable,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day, And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say, heavenly muse, shall not thy sacred vein
trod, Hath took no print of the approaching light, And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons
See how from far upon the eastern road
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
It was the winter wild,
While the Heaven-born child
Nature in awe to Him
Had doffed her gaudy trim,