"A well there is in the west country,
And a clearer one never was seen."
"One meek cell,
Built by the fathers o'er a lonely well,
Still breathes the Baptist's sweet remembrance round
A spring of silent waters."
Echoes from Old Cornwall--R. S. HAWKES.
SPRING of water has always something about it which gives rise to holy feelings. From the dark earth there wells up a pellucid fluid, which in its apparent tranquil joyousness gives gladness to all around. The velvet mosses, the sword. like grasses, and the feathery ferns, grow with more of that light and vigorous nature which indicates a fulness of life, within the charmed influence of a spring of water, than they do elsewhere.
The purity of the fluid impresses itself; through the eye, upon the mind, and its power of removing all impurity is felt to the soul. "Wash and be clean," is the murmuring call of the waters, as they overflow their rocky basins, or grassy vases; and deeply sunk in depravity must that man be who could put to unholy uses one of nature's fountains. The inner life of a well of waters, bursting from its grave in the earth, may be religiously said to form a type of the soul purified by death, rising into a glorified existence and' the fulness of light. The tranquil beauty of the rising waters, whispering the softest music, like the healthful breathing of a sleeping infant, sends a feeling of happiness through the soul of the thoughtful observer, and the inner man is purified by its influence, as the outer man is cleansed by ablution.
Water cannot be regarded as having an inanimate existence. Its all-pervading character and its active nature, flowing on foi ever, resting never, removes it from the torpid elements, and places it, like the air, amongst those higher creations which belong to the vital powers of the earth. The spring of water rises from the cold dark earth, it runs, a silver cord glistening in the sunshine, down the mountain-side. The ril (prettily called by Drayton "a rillet ") gathers rejoicingly other waters unto itself; and it grows into a brooklet in its course. At length, flowing onward and increasing in size, the brook state of being is fairly won; and then, by the gathering together of some more dewdrops, the full dignity of a stream is acquired. Onwards the waters flow, still gleaming from every side, and wooing new runlets to its bosom, eager as it were to assume the state which, in America, would be called a "run" of water. Stream gathers on stream, and run on run; the union of waters becomes a river; rolling in its maturity, swelling in its pride, it seeks the ocean, and there is absorbed in the eternity of waters. Has ever poet yet penned a line which in any way conveys to the mind a sense of the grandeur, the immensity of the sea? I do not remember a verse which does not prove the incapacity of the human mind to embrace in its vastness the gathering together of the waters in the mighty sea. Man's mind is tempered, and his pride subdued, as he stands on the sea-side and looks on the undulating expanse to which, to him, there is no end. A material eternity of rain-drops gathered into a mass which is from Omnipotence and is omnipotent. The influences of heaven falling on the sheeted waters, they rise at their bidding and float in air, making the skies more beautiful or more sublime, according to the spirit of the hour. Whether the clouds float over the earth, illumined by sun-rays, like the cars of loving angels; or rush wildly onward, as if bearing demons of vengeance, they are subdued by the mountains, and fall reluctantly as mists around the rocks, condense solemnly as dews upon the sleeping flowers, sink to earth resignedly as tranquil rains, or splash in tempestuous anger on its surface. The draught, in whatever form it comes, is drunk with avidity, and, circulating through the subterranean recesses of the globe, it does its work of re-creation, and eventually reappears a bubbling' spring, again to run its round of wonder-working tasks.
Those minds which saw a God in light, and worshipped a Creator in the sun, felt the power of the universal solvent, and saw in the diffusive nature of that fluid which is everywhere something more than a type of the regenerating Spirit, which all, in their holier hours, feel necessary to clear off the earthiness of life. Man has ever sought to discover the spiritual in the material, and, from the imperfections of human reason, he has too frequently reposed on the material, and given to it the attributes which are purely spiritual. Through all ages the fountains of the hills and valleys have claimed the reverence of men; and waters presenting themselves, under aspects of beauty, or of terror, have been regarded with religious feelings of hope or of awe.
As it was of old, so is it to-day. It was but yesterday that I stood near the font of Royston Church, and heard the minister read with emphasis, "None can enter into the kingdom of God except he be regenerate and born anew of water." Surely the simple faith of the peasant mother who, on a spring morning, takes her weakly infant to some holy well, and three times dipping it in its clear waters, uttering an earnest prayer at each immersion, is but another form of the prescribed faith of the educated churchman.
Surely the practice of consulting the waters of a sacred spring, by young men and maidens, is but a traditional faith derived from the early creeds of Greece--a continuance of the Hydromancy which sought in the Castahian fountain the divination of the future.