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much approbation and pleasure, this long-established custom."*
Mr. Knapp here alludes to the enjoyment of the gleaners in the harvest field; but there is a pleasure of a far purer and more interesting kind, arising from a domestic source. Let us figure to ourselves a poor widow, whose "bread-winner" has been removed from her head, while a family of little children were rising around her unable to labor, yet clamorous for food. We may imagine what privations she had to sustain, and what anxieties rent her heart, as, week after week, her hoarded winter stores rapidly diminished under the craving demands of numerous mouths, till, notwithstanding all the self-denial of a most rigid economy, and all the industry and ingenuity of maternal zeal, her scanty stock was at last exhausted, and her little ones claimed their accustomed portions in vain. But harvest is at hand; and, when they cry for food, while her own heart is ready to break, she soothes their importunity with the assurance of coming plenty. How they are enabled, under the pressure of such circum
* Journal of a Naturalist, pp. 349-351. It is curious to observe the origin of ancient superstitions; and the reader will be amused to trace to its source a heathen legend connected with the practice of gleaning. Among the signs of the zodiac, Autumn was aptly represented under the emblem of a young female gleaner with an ear of corn in her hand, whence the brilliant star which marks that constellation is called in Latin, Spica Virginis. The Hebrew word for an ear of corn is Shibboleth, and the Arabic, Sibbul. The name of the ear was transferred to the virgin who carried it, and hence, by a trifling change, she acquired the wellknown name of Sibyl. Nothing,' says the author of La Systeme de la Nature, can possibly be more simple than this name in its original. Fiction, however, in process of time grew fashionable; and what was only a symbol at first, was converted into a history. It was suggested that this Sibyl had been transported from the earth into heaven; and, in order to qualify her for her journey, they supplied her, in the figures by which they represented her, with a pair of spacious wings, and zealously asserted, that the spirit of God was infused into her, and that she foretold years of barrenness and plenty. From hence arose the Erythraan Sibyl. The history likewise of the Persian and Cumaan Sibyl was cast in the same mould. In short, all such women, or priestesses, as undertook to divine, themselves, or collect the prophecies of others, whether ancient and true, or modern and false, were looked upon as so many Sibyls." Dialogue xv.
stances, to eke out a miserable existence, is a mystery which experience only can solve. But God thinketh on the poor and needy, and there are few who, in seasons of ordinary plenty, die of absolute want. At last, the harvest arrives, and the poor widow, attended by her little eager train, goes forth to glean with her basket under her arm. Hope glistens in her eye, and pleasure, long a stranger, fills her heart, while she instructs the little prattlers in their respective tasks. The labors of parental love are pleasant and unwearying, and the encouraging smile of a mother, as the burden swells, gives animation and eagerness to the competing toils of the childish laborers. Evening comes at last, and it is easier to conceive than describe the enjoyment which pervades that little family group, when, returning to their lowly roof, they proudly contemplate the fruits of their industry, and partake of the plenty which it has procured for them, while they talk over the incidents of this joyful day, and each has his tale of diligence and success to recount. Every benevolent mind must unite with Mr. Knapp, in viewing with "much approbation and pleasure," a custom which gives rise to such scenes as these.
Scripture assures us, that "the poor shall never cease out of the land ;" and the truth of this, all experience teaches. A new country, such as America, indeed, appears to be, to a considerable extent, an exception to this rule. In the fertile and extensive regions of the Western World, where the population is as yet far from being filled up to the measure of the means of subsistence, there can never be any want of employment and of food to the industrious; though, even here, instances must and do occur of destitute old age and infirmity. In old countries, the case is different. There the demand for labor has been completely met by the supply, and the tendency of population to increase beyond the means of subsistence having created a superabundance of hands, a competition has taken place among the laboring community, in some respects salutary, but in others distressing, in its consequences. One unhappy effect of this competition is, that the aged, infirm, and incompetent, are superseded and
thrown out, so as to find no employment by which they might earn a livelihood; and, what increases the evil, although, as regards the individuals themselves, less to be lamented, the idle and the profligate come to be included in the list of the needy. Another effect of this struggle for subsistence is, that wages are lowered beneath their due proportion to the necessities of the people; so that persons with large families, in districts where children cannot find ready employment, are subjected to great privations.
These, and other circumstances, into which I cannot stop to inquire, have occasioned a result, which, on a cursory view, must seem surprising and unexpected,that poverty does not diminish in proportion to the prosperity of a community, but, on the contrary, has a tendency in some respects to increase, There is, perhaps, no problem of political economy more difficult of solution, than that which relates to the mode of supplying the wants of the poor. That something should be done by the rich to alleviate the distresses of their destitute fellow-creatures, is an obvious dictate of common humanity, which few will be inclined to dispute. But how the relief can be systematically afforded, without eventually aggravating the evil, is a question of grave import and nice investigation. The difficulty lies in this, that wherever there are known and accessible means of supply, these means will be relied upon, so as to increase the population, and hence permanently to increase the demand: while, at the same time, expectations will be created, and wants will be felt and brought to light, which otherwise would have been resisted and subdued. The result has been remarkably exemplified in the working of the English Poor Laws, a system founded on the purest principles of benevolence, but defective in political sagacity, The evils of this system have, within the last century, become so glaring, that English legislators have found it necessary to retrace the steps of their predecessors. But the attempt is arduous as well as painful. There is no evil. more hard to cure, than that which arises from a vicious and inveterate system of legislation,
To the practice of gleaning, the objections do not apply which experience has proved to attach to the provisions of the English Poor Laws. It is limited in its extent, is somewhat precarious in the amount of the supply, and yields a return proportioned to the labor and diligence employed. In all these particulars, it differs from the legislative measure in question, and in every respect, the difference is salutary. I say nothing of the circumstance, that in Great Britain it is not compulsory; for a long-established custom differs in that respect little from a legal enactment. Among the Israelites, although gleaning had all the sanction and authority of a sacred law, we do not find that it was ever abused so as to be productive of evil effects. In the nature of the thing, indeed, it was only calculated to be beneficial; and it is one of those Mosaic institutions, which seem not to have arisen from the peculiar circumstances of that chosen people, but which are of universal application.
THE HARVEST MOON.
THE moon, in her path through the heavens, moves with great apparent irregularity, sometimes extending her course high towards the zenith, and at other times sinking low, and, as it were, reluctantly leaving the verge of the horizon. In the time of her rising and setting there is also continual change, which causes a constant variety in her phases; insomuch, that poets have taken this luminary as an emblem of fickleness and caprice. Her motions, however, are regulated by strict mechanical laws, which can be calculated and predicted with the utmost exactness; and hence it follows, that in all her changes there is, after all, a most precise uniformity. She is, indeed, acted on by many countervailing forces, and the theory of her motion is consequently very complicated. The earth is the centre of her orbit, round which she
moves at the distance of 237,360 miles, in an ellipse of considerable eccentricity; but the sun and the planets act upon her by their attraction, with great and opposing power, disturbing her movement in every part of her course. The sun, in particular, though removed from her four hundred times further than the earth, is of such vast comparative magnitude, that were she by any accident placed but a very little nearer him, she would cease to be an attendant of our globe, and would revolve round him an independent planet. He is therefore continually producing a sensible effect on her motions, increased, of course, when she is in conjunction with him, and diminished when she is in opposition, and this, again, depending for the measure of its intensity on her relative distance from the earth at the time. I mention these facts without any intention of entering more minutely on this most difficult of all our planetary investigations, but merely with the view of calling the reader's attention to the wonderful balancing of forces on which our system rests, and thus to present to his contemplation the power and wisdom of that infinite Being in whose hand the balance rests.
I have at present been led to notice the motions of the moon, on account of a remarkable result of these motions during the season we are now considering. Light is of vast importance to the operations of harvest; and it is so ordered, that during two of the autumnal months, the moon rises full, and generally with very peculiar splendor, for several nights in succession, a circumstance which does not occur in any other period of her annual course. Astronomers inform us that this effect arises from the peculiar position of the moon's nodes, with reference to the earth's orbit; but the farmer, unskilled though he be in the wonders of science, goes deeper, wisely and piously attributing the arrangement to the superintending care of God. There is no period of the year in which the light of the moon is of such utility; and, that its brightness should be increased and prolonged at this precise period, cannot, by any person accustomed to think of final causes, be regarded as accidental. It is, if you will, a necessary consequence of the laws of gravita