In connection with this subject of melancholy, George Eliot speaks somewhere of the “sadness of a summer’s evening.” How wonderfully true—like everything that came from that wonderful pen—the observation is! Who has not felt the sorrowful enchantment of those lingering sunsets? The world belongs to Melancholy then, a thoughtful deep-eyed maiden who loves not the glare of day.
It is not till “light thickens and the crow wings to the rocky wood” that she steals forth from her groves. Her palace is in twilight land. It is there she meets us. At her shadowy gate she takes our hand in hers and walks beside us through her mystic realm. We see no form, but seem to hear the rustling of her wings.
Even in the toiling hum-drum city her spirit comes to us. There is a sombre presence in each long, dull street; and the dark river creeps ghostlike under the black arches, as if bearing some hidden secret beneath its muddy waves. In the silent country, when the trees and hedges loom dim and blurred against the rising night, and the bat’s wing flutters in our face, and the land-rail’s* cry sounds drearily across the fields, the spell sinks deeper still into our hearts. We seem in that hour to be standing by some unseen death-bed, and in the swaying of the elms we hear the sigh of the dying day.
A solemn sadness reigns. A great peace is around us. In its light our cares of the working day grow small and trivial, and bread and cheese—ay, and even kisses—do not seem the only things worth striving for. Thoughts we cannot speak but only listen to flood in upon us, and standing in the stillness under earth’s darkening dome, we feel that we are greater than our petty lives. Hung round with those dusky curtains, the world is no longer a mere dingy workshop, but a stately temple wherein man may worship, and where at times in the dimness his groping hands touch God’s.
On Being Hard Up from Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome. A hint of Laudato Si’ before its time.
* The land rail or corncrake has disappeared from much of Europe due to modern agriculture destroying nests. It will spend the night in corn fields, saying its own Latin name, over and over again: CREX, CREX.