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The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell. I see far inland the banks where the stream anciently washed, before science began to record its freshets.
Every one must be struck with astonishment, when he first beholds one of these vast rings of coral-rock, often many leagues in diameter, here and there surmounted by a low verdant island with dazzling white shores, bathed on the outside by the foaming breakers of the ocean, and on the inside surrounding a calm expanse of water, which, from reflection, is of a bright but pale green color.
In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border.
Some medical beast had revived tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence.
Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin-a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.
The theory which I would offer, is simply, that as the land with the attached reefs subsides very gradually from the action of subterranean causes, the coral-building polypi soon raise again their solid masses to the level of the water: but not so with the land; each inch lost is irreclaimably gone; as the whole gradually sinks, the water gains foot by foot on the shore, till the last and highest peak is finally submerged.
His universal compassion was due less to natural instinct, than to a profound conviction, a sum of thoughts that in the course of living had filtered through to his heart: for in the nature of man, as in rock, there may be channels hollowed by the dropping of water, and these can never be destroyed.