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interest thus connected with the shapes and habitudes of these nebulæ. And surely, if our views are not wholly erroneous, no wonder that the masses when viewed individually should seem inexplicable, or their shapes capricious! We stand towards them now, merely as we should to our own earth, if the sum of our perceptions regarding it were drawn from a glance during a momentary opening of the eye, which then shut again for ever. Shapes grotesque and wild; tree, field, house, and mountain; moving creature and naked rock, in form unrelated, and juxtaposition everywhere inducing bewilderment; such, in that case, would constitute our knowledge of a world instinct with fusing and enlarging harmonies. And so those strange spiral nebulæ, or our own irregular Milky-way,-nay, even the unfathomable mysteries of the spot in Orion, confuse and startle us no more, by the display of their sparse and unaccountable patches of stars. With great thoughts in his mind, Herschel descended again into the neighbouring and more definite region of our own galaxy. Fixing on the Milky-way the penetrating glance of his now expanded reason; and interpreting its irregularities by the principle which formerly guided him, he asked here also- and for a moment it will be our privilege to follow him,-"Can a thing so void of all settled form, so wholly capricious, be supposed stable ?” Furthermore, on examining its different groups, or cumuli, he saw that most of them are spherical, or approaching to the spherical form; and after specifying two hundred and twenty-five such groups in a limited extent of that zone, he concluded that there exists within it, operative over its fates, and indeed what, without exaggeration, may be termed its VITAL PRINCIPLE, an efficient clustering power, drawing its stars into separate groups, and whose irresistible influence had broken up the uniformity of the zone. And so, said Herschel, casting his eye fearlessly towards future infinities, we may be certain that the stars in the Milkyway will be gradually compressed through the successive stages of accumulation, until they come up to what may be called the ripening period of the globular cluster and total isolation; from which it is evident that the Milkyway must be forcibly broken up, and cease to be a stratum of scattered stars. * "We may also," he continues, in the same lofty mood,
"draw an important additional conclusion from the gradual dissolution of the Milky-way; for the state into which the incessant action of the clustering power has brought it,
is a kind of chronometer, that may be used to measure the time of its past and present existence; and although we do not know the rate and the going of this mysterious chronometer, it is nevertheless certain that since a breaking up of the part of the Milky-way affords a proof that it cannot last for ever, it equally bears witness that its past duration cannot be admitted to be infinite." Surely the vision of these unfathomable changes-of the solemn march of the majestic heavens from place to place, obediently fulfilling their awful destiny, will not be lost on the heart of the adorer.
From the closer view of the Milky-way, it would seem that the process of concentration may be at least one of the grand modes according to which the destiny of its stars is being unrolled; and viewing it thus we are enabled, by certain other facts, to adventure yet farther. If the aggregation of stars in the Milky-way goes on-as it prognosticates for ages; the clusters now with some intermission forming its ring, will become isolated, and appear in the character of separate systems. But if this may happen in time future, may not something similar have happened in time past? Can it be possible that masses of stars have been torn away from those regions of our galaxy; which
thus may indicate by their comparatively small depth, that there, through the action of some irresistible cause, the galaxy has ripened soonest ? Singular to relate, it is precisely at these thin sides, that the smaller and nearer external nebula-globular and elliptical-are most crowded; two-thirds of the entire numbers known to exist, being found in those localities. In the wing of VIRGO, a constellation situated near the shallowest part of our galaxy, how crowded it is with groups, most of them, too, round and compressed! In the region opposite VIRGO, we have the same wonderful phenomenon; perhaps the only possible relic of that former course of separation, of which the apparent breaking up of the Milky-way in our time may still be the prolongation! Can we indeed say how much of what now appears may have the same wonderful significance; how far even all these separate firmaments may yet be traced from one homogeneous stratum or mass of stars; so that their existing isolation, their separation and various grouping, may be only the ongoings of the clock-the gigantic steps of the hand by which TIME records the days of the years of the existing mechanism of the Universe!
Inaccessible, indeed,-awful and cloud-piercing these stupendous elevations; but down from their unscaled summits there pours a reviving splendour, welcome as a zephyr to the prostrate soul. In the vast heavens, as well as among the phenomena around us, all things are in a state of change and PROGRESS: here too-on the skyin splendid hieroglyphics the truth is inscribed, that the grandest forms of present being are only GERMS Swelling and bursting with a life to come. And if the universal fabric is thus fixed and constituted, shall ought that it contains be unupheld by the same preserving law; is annihilation a possibility real or virtual-the stoppage of the career of any advancing being, while hospitable Infinitude remains? No! let the night fall; it prepares a dawn when man's weariness shall have ceased, and his soul be refreshed and restored. To COME! To every creature these are words of hope spoken in organ-tone: our hearts suggest them, and the stars repeat them, and through the Infinite, aspiration wings its way, rejoicingly as an eagle following the sun. Nichols' Architecture of the Heavens.
January gray is here,
Like a sexton by her grave;
March with grief doth howl and rave,
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
December was so called by the Romans, as being the tenth month from March, with which their year commenced; while with our Anglo-Saxon forefathers it had the name of Christmonat-because in this month Christ was born -Wintermonath, or Midwintermonath, and Giul Erra, meaning the first or former Giul. It was the feast of Thor,
and was celebrated in the Mother-night, that is to say, at the Winter solstice. In Northumberland this month was called Hagmana, a word of which I shall presently have occasion to make mention.
CHRISTMAS EVE.-December 24th. In the primitive church Christmas Day was always observed as a Sabbath, and hence like other Lord's-Days it was preceded by an Eve or Vigil as an occasion of preparing for the day following. No festival of the church was attended by more popular superstitions and observances, the ceremonies of the Saturnalia from which it was derived being improved upon by Christian and Druidical additions. The day of this Vigil was passed in the ordinary manner, but with the evening the sports began; about seven or eight o'clock hot cakes were drawn from the oven; ale, cyder, and spirits went freely round; and the carol-singing commenced, which was continued through the greater part of the night.
The connexion of this festival with the Roman Saturnalia has never been disputed by those competent to form a judgment, and in some existing observances in Franconia the traces of it are undeniable. In the nights of the three Thursdays preceding the Nativity, the young of either sex go about beating at the doors of the houses, singing the near birth of our Saviour, and wishing the inhabitants a happy new year, for which in return they are presented
with pears, apples, nuts, and money. With what joy in the churches not only the priests, but the people also, receive the birth-day of Christ may be inferred from thisthat the image of a new-born child being placed upon the altar, they dance and chaunt as they circle round it, while the elders sing.
In addition to what has been here advanced, we have the unquestionable authority of Bede for asserting that it had been observed in this country long before by the heathen Saxons. They called it, he says, the Mother-Night, or Night of Mothers, and probably on account of the ceremonies used by them during their Vigil. But in fact though particular portions of this festival may be traced to the Romans or to the ancient Saxons, the root of the whole affair lies much deeper, and is to be sought in far remoter periods. It was