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our battery, and carried on the siege in another quarter. We now applied to the same ladies for the names of such of their acquaintances as they considered were liable to this imputation, (for a terrible imputation the witnesses appeared to consider it. Our difficulties were forthwith redoubled. We are not acquainted with a single girl with good eyes, good hair, good complexion, good fortune, or good character, whose name was not given to us as verging upon " a certain age.” And it seemed to us extraordinary that middle-aged fair ones, whose charms were manifestly in their autumn, were seldom honoured with this appellation; it appeared to be exclusively reserved for those who were young, beautiful, and new to a fashionable life. Far be it from us to insinuate that Envy had any influence in making this appropriation.
Finding that the study which we had already bestowed upon this subject had tended rather to perplex than to elucidate the matter, we found it necessary to pursue the investigation a step farther. We now applied for information to the middle-aged matrons, the sober wives, the mothers of families. “ Here,” said we to ourselves, “ prejudice will have ceased to influence, vanity to mislead, envy to embitter; here we shall learn the real, the whole truth, from lips unsoured by petty peevishness or violent passion.” But the event disappointed our expectations : there appeared to be a strange disagreement upon this topic, for we found no two opinions to coincide. Mrs. Cranstoun, who has two daughters, and is in her twenty-ninth year, is of opinion that “a certain age” commences at thirty-four : but Mrs. Argent, who, according to our guess, is just entering her thirty-fourth year, is inclined to put off the dreaded period to forty. Lady Evergreen, again, who, to do her justice, paints as well at forty as she did at fourteen, disapproves of the impertinent notions of these “ girls,” and thinks that ten more years are wanting to give any one a just and proper claim to this enviable distinction. Fifty is with Lady Evergreen the precise period, the golden number, the “ certain age.” Still dissatisfied with the result of our examination, we betook ourselves as a last hope to the dowagers. “They," we thought, « as they must have long passed the boundaries of this dreaded space, can have no object or interest in withholding from us the truth.” Alas! we were again lamentably deceived. Some of their ladyships had daughters whom they were anxious to preserve from this abominable imputation. Others had particular friends whom they were anxious to bring under it. Lady Megrim begged we would not interrupt her ; she really never held good cards when any one looked over her hand ;-and Mrs. Volatile assured us that she had made it a rule never to think after she was married. She never would have married if she had thought before.
Finding ourselves quite at a loss to connect or reconcile with
each other these several sentiments, we shall throw together a few observations which occur to us on the subject, and then leave it to wiser heads to determine the day, the hour, the minute, at which the unconscious fair one enters upon—" A certain age!”
And first, we must notice a peculiarity in the words which we do not well know how to account for; viz. that their use appears to be almost entirely confined to the fair sex. They are but seldom applied to a Gentleman. We have certainly been earwitnesses to some exceptions upon this rule : for instance, we heard old Cleaver the butcher, who has lived nearly seventy years, and amassed nearly seventy thousand pounds, advised by his friend Gibbie, the tobacconist, to leave off business, as he was now of a “ certain age.” And in like manner did we hear Mrs. Solander, when inclined for a solitary walk, admonish her husband, the alderman, not to take up his crutch to accompany her, for he was now—“ of a certain age.” But with these, and a few other exceptions, we have heard this significant expression applied solely to ladies.
As to the meaning of the words, we confess that we are so completely at fault, that we do not thoroughly understand whether they imply censure or commendation. The air of sarcasm and contempt with which they are commonly delivered, leave us to conclude that the former is intended to be conveyed; yet we cannot but think that the words themselves signify the latter, if they have any signification at all. For, conscious as we are of the uncertainty of female fancies, the doubts they entertain on the most minute point, the hesitation which they display alike in the refusal of an equipage or a thimble, an ear-ring or a husband, we certainly consider it no small praise in a woman if she is found to be “ certain” in any thing. Nevertheless, so attached are we all to our folly and our self-conceit, that we are unwilling even to be commended for the exercise of those good qualities which we call mean and contemptible. Hence it is that our fair friends, who cruelly exult in the ambiguity of uncertain wills, uncertain wishes, and uncertain smiles, reject with disdain the honour (which we must allow would be inconsistent) of possessing “ a certain Age.”
The discovery of the time at which this epoch is fixed baffles our utmost diligence. We are rather disposed to place it at no particular number of years in the life of man, but to allow it to vary its period according to the disposition and manner of life of each individual. We would make it a sort of interregnum between Manhood and Age, between Decline and Imbecility. - According to our idea, the certain age of the officer would last from the first to the final breaking up of his constitution; the certain age of the drunkard would extend from the first fit of the gout to the last shake of the head of his physician; the judge would find himself in a certain age, from the time when he quits the bench to the time when he is unable to quit the sofa ; and the coquette must submit to the provoking definition of a certain age, from the day on which rouge and enamel first become necessary, to the silent melancholy day on which rouge aud enamel will be unavailing.
According to this arrangement, a certain age would be that restless uneasy space which elapses between our first warning to prepare for another world and our final summons to enter it. That period is to some of long, to others of shorter duration ; but we believe there are few to whom this brief, this insufficient space for preparation is not conceded; there are few who are not warned by some previous sign or visitation that their sand is almost · run out, that a new state of existence awaits them, that their days upon this earth are numbered. The phrase which we hear so frequently, and disregard, seen in this light, will indeed inspire sombre and salutary ideas; for ourselves, we look upon a certain age as if it were the last veil which conceals from us the visions we dread to see; the last barrier which shuts us from that unexplored country on which we fear to tread; the last pause between experience and doubt,—the last dark silent curtain which separates Time from Eternity.'
Till his wrapt soul hath held, or seem’d to hold,
Travers'd with them the far and pathless skies,
Such lofty dreamings o'er the fancy creep, Where the proud ashes of the mighty sleep. There let the heart throb, and the pulse beat high, And Genius lift her spirit-speaking eye ; At Wolsey's grave let young Ambition burn, And Science bow at Newton's honour'd urn; But would'st thou feel the gentler throbs of woe, Let yon lone church-yard teach thy tears to flow.
Survey the spot:-no pomp arrests the eye, The green turf smiles beneath the summer sky; And wild-flowers sweet a glittering mantle spread Above the ashes of the village dead. The humble mound, with verdant moss o'ergrownThe name trac'd rudely on th' unpolish'd stoneThe simple epitaph of village-bardThese are the honours of that lone church-yard ; Where every Sabbath hears some friendly tread Near the cold dwelling of the kindred dead.
Within the church recline, in humble state, They whom the rustics once accounted great. There the mild pastor calmly sleeps, beneath That spot whence oft he smooth’d the road to death ; There he whose wealth the poor man's labour cheer'd In death reposes, as in life, rever'd; Nor hears th' oppressor, in his narrow bed, The curses misery heaps upon his head.
Amidst the rest there is a nameless cellHere let me pause-I'knew its tenant well ;
And still in memory's charmed mirror find '
Seek it not here :—no monumental stone Lifts its proud head to make those virtues known : No pompous phrases on her tomb reveal The deeds in life she gloried to conceal. Seek it not here-go, view the widow's cot; Her name lives there—her deeds are unforgot; Go, view the sick man on his restless bedHer gifts remain, her memory is not filed; View the lone orphans in their drear abode Listen—they pray-her name is breath'd to God. Or-if thou lov'st to revel in distress, Nor shrinks thy soul from deepest wretchednessGo-her memorial from her children seekOh God !-thou'lt find it in the faded cheek, The faltering voice, the deep, half-smother'd sigh, The tear that starts resistless to the eye; The long, long silence, and the still, fixt gaze Of eyes that tell thee how the Spirit strays ;Go, seek her virtues in that living scene, And sorrowing cry, “How great they must have been!” Yet she had many sorrows; pain and care That cheek had furrow'd, once so passing fair. The throbs, the pangs her gentle bosom knew, Were great, were frequent—but were told to few. Yet tranquil were her sorrows, mute her pain, Her meek heart suffered, but could not complain.