102 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
taunts from the foremost—cheers from the hindmost—all sorts of practical jokes upon each other, and upon all they meet and all they pass—and above all, the loud ringing laugh, the laugh of boyhood, so unlike all other laughter—that comes out clear and distinct—direct from the heart—stopping nowhere on its way— not pausing to be questioned by the judgment, nor restrained by the memory—presenting no hollowness nor flatness to the nicest attention—betraying no under-tone to the finest ear—giving true and unbroken " echoes to the seat where mirth is throned"—born spontaneously of that spirit, and excited so often by causes too minute for older eyes to see. And it is in this very causelessness that consists the spell of childhood's laughter, and the secret of youth's unmingled joy. We seldom begin to seek reasons for being gay, till we have had some for being grave,—and the search after the former is very apt to bring us upon more of the latter. There are tares among that wheat. The moment we commence to distrust our light-heartedness, it begins to evade us. From the day when we think it necessary to reason upon our enjoyments, to philosophise upon our mirth, to analyze our gladness, their free and unmingled character is gone. The toy is taken to pieces, to see of what it is composed, and can no more be put together in the same perfect form. They who have entered upon the paths of knowledge, or gone far into the recesses of experience,—like the men of yore, who ventured to explore the cave of Trophonius,—may, perhaps, find something higher and better than the light-heartedness they lose,—but they smile never more as they smiled of old. The fine clear instrument of the spirit, that we bring with us from heaven, is liable to injury from all that acts upon it here; and the string that has once been broken, or disordered, repair it as we may, never, again, gives out the precise note which it did before. The old man,—nay, even the young man,—let him be as merry as he may, and laugh as long and loudly as he will—never laughs as the school-boy laughs.
But of this, and all the slumbering passions yet to be awakened in those young breasts—and of many a grief to come, there is no token to darken the joy of to-day. The mighty pleasures towards which they are hastening, have as yet never " broken the word