86 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
Regrets there will, no doubt, in most cases, be:—for these distant and periodical gatherings together of families but show more prominently the blanks which the long intervals have created ;— this putting on anew, as it were, of the garment of love, but exposes the rents which time has made since it was last worn;— this renewing of the chain of our attachments but displays the links that are broken ! The sybil has come round again, as year by year she comes, with her books of the affections—but new leaves have been torn away. "No man," says Shakspeare, "ever bathed twice in the same river;"—and the home-Jordan, to which the observers of the Christmas festival come yearly back, to wash away the leprous spots contracted in the world, never presents to them again the identical waters in which last they sported,—though it be Jordan still. Amid these jubilant harmonies of the heart, there will be parts unfilled up—voices wanting. " This young gentlewoman," says the Countess of Rousillon to Lafeu, "had a father (O that had! how sad a passage 'tis!)" And surely with such changes as are implied in that past tense, some of the notes of life's early music are silenced for ever.— " Would they were with us still!" says the old ballad; and in the first hour of these reunions, many and many a time is the wish echoed, in something like the words ! And if these celebrations have been too long disused, and the wanderer comes rarely back to the birth-place of the affections, the feeling of sadness may be too strong for the joyous influences of the season—
" A change " he may find " there, and many a change ! Faces and footsteps and all things strange! Gone are the heads of the silvery hair, And the young that were, have a brow of care, And the place is hushed where the children played!"—
till amid the bitter contrasts of the past with the present, and thoughts of " the loved, the lost, the distant, and the dead," something like—
" A pall, And a gloom o'ershadowing the banquet hall, And a mark on the floor as of life-drops spilt,"
may spoil his ear for the voice of mirth, and darken all the revels of the merry Christmas-tide.