The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Catherine M. Sedgwick/The Sabbath In New England

THE SABBATH IN NEW ENGLAND.


The observance of the Sabbath began with the Puritans, as it still does with a great portion of their descendants, on Saturday night. At the going down of the sun on Saturday, all temporal affairs were suspended; and so zealously did our fathers maintain the letter, as well as the spirit of the law, that, according to a vulgar tradition in Connecticut, no beer was brewed in the latter part of the week, lest it should presume to work on Sunday.

It must be confessed, that the tendency of the age is to laxity; and so rapidly is the wholesome strictness of primitive times abating, that, should some antiquary, fifty years hence, in exploring his garret rubbish, chance to cast his eye on our humble pages, he may be surprised to learn, that, even now, the Sabbath is observed, in the interior of New England, with an almost Judaical severity.

On Saturday afternoon an uncommon bustle is apparent. The great class of procrastinators are hurrying to and fro to complete the lagging business of the week. The good mothers, like Burns’s matron, are plying their needles, making “auld claes look amaist as weel’s the new;” while the domestics, or help (we prefer the national descriptive term), are wielding, with might and main, their brooms and mops, to make all tidy for the Sabbath.

As the day declines, the hum of labour dies away, and, after the sun is set, perfect stillness reigns in every well—ordered household, and not a foot-fall is heard in the village street. It cannot be denied, that even the most scriptural, missing the excitement of their ordinary occupations, anticipate their usual bed-time. The obvious inference from this fact is skilfully avoided by certain ingenious reasoners, who allege, that the constitution was originally so organized as to require an extra quantity of sleep on every seventh night. We recommend it to the curious to inquire, how this peculiarity was adjusted, when the first day of the week was changed from Saturday to Sunday.

The Sabbath morning is as peaceful as the first hallowed day. Not a human sound is heard without the dwellings, and, but for the lowing of the herds, the crowing of the cocks, and the gossipping of the birds, animal life would seem to be extinct, till, at the bidding of the church-going bell, the old and young issue from their habitations, and, with solemn demeanour, bend their measured steps to the meeting house;—the families of the minister, the squire, the doctor, the merchant, the modest gentry of the village, and the mechanic and labourer, all arrayed in their best, all meeting on even ground, and all with that consciousness of independence and equality, which breaks down the pride of the rich, and rescues the poor from servility, envy, and discontent, If a morning salutation is reciprocated, it is in a suppressed voice; and if, perchance, nature, in some reckless urchin, burst forth in laughter—“My dear, you forget it’s Sunday,” is the ever ready reproof.

Though every face wears a solemn aspect, yet we once chanced to see even a deacon’s muscles relaxed by the wit of a neighbour, and heard him allege, in a half-deprecating, half-laughing voice, “The squire is so droll, that a body must laugh, though it be Sabbath-day.”

Towards the close of the day (or to borrow a phrase descriptive of his feelings, who first used it), “when the Sabbath begins to abate,” the children cluster about the windows. Their eyes wander from their catechism to the western sky, and, though it seems to them as if the sun would never disappear, his broad disk does slowly sink behind the mountain; and, while his last ray still lingers on the eastern summits, merry voices break forth, and the ground resounds with bounding footsteps. The village belle arrays herself for her twilight walk; the boys gather on “the green;” the lads and girls throng to the “singing-school;” while some coy maiden lingers at home, awaiting her expected suitor; and all enter upon the pleasures of the evening with as keen a relish as if the day had been a preparatory penance.