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Chapter 40: Introspection*

THE close of a year must bring even to the careless and the least inclined toward self-inspection, an hour of thoughtfulness, a desire to glance back across the past, and set one's mental house in order, before starting out on another stage of the journey for that none too distant bourne toward which we all are moving.

* December thirty-first, 1888.

Our minds are like solitary dwellers in a vast residence, whom habit has accustomed to live in a few only of the countless chambers around them. We have collected from other parts of our lives mental furniture and bric-a-brac that time and association have endeared to us, have installed these meagre belongings convenient to our hand, and contrived an entrance giving facile access to our living-rooms, avoiding the effort of a long detour through the echoing corridors and disused salons behind. No acquaintances, and but few friends, penetrate into the private chambers of our thoughts. We set aside a common room for the reception of visitors, making it as cheerful as circumstances will allow and take care that the conversation therein rarely turns on any subject more personal than the view from the windows or the prophecies of the barometer.

In the old-fashioned brick palace at Kensington, a little suite of rooms is carefully guarded from the public gaze, swept, garnished and tended as though the occupants of long ago were hourly expected to return. The early years of England's aged sovereign were passed in these simple apartments and by her orders they have been kept unchanged, the furniture and decorations remaining to-day as when she inhabited them. In one corner, is assembled a group of dolls, dressed in the quaint finery of 1825. A set of miniature cooking utensils stands near by. A child's scrap-books and color-boxes lie on the tables. In one sunny chamber stands the little white-draped bed where the heiress to the greatest crown on earth dreamed her childish dreams, and from which she was hastily aroused one June morning to be saluted as Queen. So homelike and livable an air pervades the place, that one almost expects to see the lonely little girl of seventy years ago playing about the unpretending chambers.

Affection for the past and a reverence for the memory of the dead have caused the royal wife and mother to preserve with the same care souvenirs of her passage in other royal residences. The apartments that sheltered the first happy months of her wedded life, the rooms where she knew the joys and anxieties of maternity, have become for her consecrated sanctuaries, where the widowed, broken old lady comes on certain anniversaries to evoke the unforgotten past, to meditate and to pray.

Who, as the year is drawing to its close, does not open in memory some such sacred portal, and sit down in the familiar rooms to live over again the old hopes and fears, thrilling anew with the joys and temptations of other days? Yet, each year these pilgrimages into the past must become more and more lonely journeys; the friends whom we can take by the hand and lead back to our old homes become fewer with each decade. It would be a useless sacrilege to force some listless acquaintance to accompany us. He would not hear the voices that call to us, or see the loved faces that people the silent passages, and would wonder what attraction we could find in the stuffy, old-fashioned quarters.

Many people have such a dislike for any mental privacy that they pass their lives in public, or surrounded only by sporting trophies and games. Some enjoy living in their pantries, composing for themselves succulent dishes, and interested in the doings of the servants, their companions. Others have turned their salons into nurseries, or feel a predilection for the stable and the dog- kennels. Such people soon weary of their surroundings, and move constantly, destroying, when they leave old quarters, all the objects they had collected.

The men and women who have thus curtailed their belongings are, however, quite contented with themselves. No doubts ever harass them as to the commodity or appropriateness of their lodgements and look with pity and contempt on friends who remain faithful to old habitations. The drawback to a migratory existence, however, is the fact that, as a French saying has put it, CEUX QUI SE REFUSENT LES PENSEES SERIEUSES TOMBENT DANS LES IDEES NOIRES. These people are surprised to find as the years go by that the futile amusements to which they have devoted themselves do not fill to their satisfaction all the hours of a lifetime. Having provided no books nor learned to practise any art, the time hangs heavily on their hands. They dare not look forward into the future, so blank and cheerless does it appear. The past is even more distasteful to them. So, to fill the void in their hearts, they hurry out into the crowd as a refuge from their own thoughts.

Happy those who care to revisit old abodes, childhood's remote wing, and the moonlit porches where they knew the rapture of a first-love whisper. Who can enter the chapel where their dead lie, and feel no blush of self-reproach, nor burning consciousness of broken faith nor wasted opportunities? The new year will bring to them as near an approach to perfect happiness as can be attained in life's journey. The fortunate mortals are rare who can, without a heartache or regret, pass through their disused and abandoned dwellings; who dare to open every door and enter all the silent rooms; who do not hurry shudderingly by some obscure corners, and return with a sigh of relief to the cheerful sunlight and murmurs of the present.

Sleepless midnight hours come inevitably to each of us, when the creaking gates of subterranean passages far down in our consciousness open of themselves, and ghostly inhabitants steal out of awful vaults and force us to look again into their faces and touch their unhealed wounds.

An old lady whose cheerfulness under a hundred griefs and tribulations was a marvel and an example, once told a man who had come to her for counsel in a moment of bitter trouble, that she had derived comfort when difficulties loomed big around her by writing down all her cares and worries, making a list of the subjects that harassed her, and had always found that, when reduced to material written words, the dimensions of her troubles were astonishingly diminished. She recommended her procedure to the troubled youth, and prophesied that his anxieties would dwindle away in the clear atmosphere of pen and paper.

Introspection, the deliberate unlatching of closed wickets, has the same effect of stealing away the bitterness from thoughts that, if left in the gloom of semi-oblivion, will grow until they overshadow a whole life. It is better to follow the example of England's pure Queen, visiting on certain anniversaries our secret places and holding communion with the past, for it is by such scrutiny only

THAT MEN MAY RISE ON STEPPING-STONES OF THEIR DEAD SELVES TO HIGHER THINGS.

Those who have courage to perform thoroughly this task will come out from the silent chambers purified and chastened, more lenient to the faults and shortcomings of others, and better fitted to take up cheerfully the burdens of a new year.

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Eliot Gregory