Night and Moonlight
1)Chancing to take a 2)memorable walk by moonlight some years ago, I resolved to take more such walks, and 3)make acquaintance with another side of nature: I have done so.
According to 4)Pliny, there is a stone in Arabia called 5)Selenites, “wherein is a white, which increases and decreases with the moon.” My journal for the last year or two, has been selenitic in this sense.
Is not the midnight like Central Africa to most of us? Are we not tempted to explore it, —to 6)penetrate to the shores of its lake 7)Tchad, and discover the source of its Nile, 8)perchance the 9)Mountains of the Moon? Who knows what fertility and beauty, moral and natural, are there to be found? In the Mountains of the Moon, in the Central Africa of the night, there is where all Niles have their hidden 10)heads. The expeditions up the Nile as yet extend but to the 11)cataracts, or perchance to the mouth of the White Nile; but it is the Black Nile that concerns us.
I shall be a 12)benefactor if I conquer some realms from the night, if I report to the 13)gazettes anything 14)transpiring about us at that season worthy of their attention, —if I can show men that there is some beauty awake while they are asleep, if I add to the 15)domains of poetry.
Night is certainly more novel and less 16)profane than day. I soon discovered that I was acquainted only with its 17)complexion, and as for the moon, I had seen her only as it were through a 18)crevice in a shutter, occasionally. Why not walk a little way in her light?
It must be allowed that the light of the moon, sufficient though it is for the 19)pensive walker, and not 20)disproportionate to the inner light we have, is very inferior in quality and intensity to that of the sun. But the moon is not to be judged alone by the quantity of light she sends to us, but also by her influence on the earth and its inhabitants. “The moon 21)gravitates toward the earth, and the earth 22)reciprocally toward the moon.”
Many men walk by day; few walk by night. It is a very different season. Take a July night, for instance. About ten o’clock, —when man is asleep, and day fairly forgotten, —the beauty of moonlight is seen over lonely pastures where cattle are silently feeding. Instead of the sun there are the moon and stars, —instead of butterflies in the meadows, fire-flies, winged sparks of fire!
Small trees and shrubs are seen in the midst, 23)overwhelmed as by an 24)inundation. The shadows of rocks and trees, and shrubs and hills, are more 25)conspicuous than the objects themselves. For the same reason the whole landscape is more 26)variegated and 27)picturesque than by day. All white objects are more remarkable than by day. A distant cliff looks like a 28)phosphorescent space on a hillside. The woods are heavy and dark. Nature 29)slumbers. You see the moonlight reflected from particular 30)stumps in the 31)recesses of the forest, as if she selected what to shine on.
In the night the eyes are partly closed or retire into the head. Other senses take the lead. The walker is guided as well by the sense of smell. Every plant and field and forest emits its odor now, 32)swamp pink in the meadow and 33)tansy in the road. The senses both of hearing and smelling are more alert. We hear the 34)tinkling of 35)rills which we never detected before. From time to time, high up on the sides of hills, you pass through a 36)stratum of warm air. The stars are the jewels of the night, and perchance surpass anything which day has to show.
How insupportable would be the days, if the night with its dews and darkness did not come to restore the 37)drooping world. As 38)the shades begin to gather around us, our 39)primeval instincts are aroused, and we steal forth from our 40)lairs, like the inhabitants of the jungle, in search of those silent and 41)brooding thoughts which are the natural 42)prey of the intellect.
43)Richter says that “The earth is every day overspread with the veil of night for the same reason as the cages of birds are darkened, 44)viz: that we may the more readily 45)apprehend the higher harmonies of thought in the hush and quiet of darkness. Thoughts which day turns into smoke and mist, stand about us in the night as light and flames; even as the column which 46)fluctuates above the 47)crater of 48)Vesuvius, in the daytime appears a pillar of cloud, but by night a pillar of fire.”
Great restorer of 49)antiquity, great 50)enchanter. New and old things are 51)confounded. Nature is an 52)instructed and 53)impartial teacher, spreading no crude opinions, and 54)flattering none; she will be neither radical nor conservative. Consider the moonlight, so civil, yet so 55)savage!
The light is more 56)proportionate to our knowledge than that of day. It is no more dusky in ordinary nights, than our mind’s habitual atmosphere, and the moonlight is as bright as our most 57)illuminated moments are.