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a web of many textures

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Page 125


How sacred a thing is made, by the lapse of time! A
stick that one of our remote ancestors has carried in his
hands may have been handed down to us; and though he
is one with whom, in the world of matter, we have nothing
in common that we know of, unless it be a common name,
and that perhaps changed in the spelling, we are brought
near to him by this simple twig — a meaningless thing
in itself — to which, by some strange process, the spirit
of its original owner has imparted itself. Why not?
No thought is lost, and why may it not be that our venerable
ancestor's thought, that prompted him to cut the
twig we prize, and cherish it, and trim off the knots and
make it so comely and shapely, and to guard it for many
a year, may still in some way — we 'll not say how —
protect it, in order that it may be a connecting thing
between himself and his descendants, thus preserving a
sympathetic rapport between the past and the present?
It has always seemed to us that heir-looms were imbued
with this old spirit, for this purpose. And that they
have their effect is manifest in the way that they are
cherished by those people who are governed by the
“sentimentality” that recognizes the value of a thing
above its market price, and set more by an old cocked
hat, or a pair of small-clothes, or a faded dress, than by a
thousand new things, with no association, beyond the
fact that they may not yet have been paid for, to commend
them. What sacredness attaches to an old chair,
for instance, whose arms have held many a generation
that still speak to us! Our ancestors embrace us in
the antique and queer frame, and we repeat the assertion
of Miss Eliza Cook that “we love it.” It would
bring, perhaps, twenty-five cents at auction, and everybody


Page 126
but ourselves would laugh at it; but every silver
of it has a value that money cannot offset. Heir-looms
have good influences about them, inasmuch as they
come down from good people. Things thus transmitted
bear some evidence of person or deed that is pleasant
— representing, in this direction, one combining many
virtues, and in this some act that it makes us better to
know, though generations removed from the time and
scene of its occurrence. A knife or a halter would not be
preserved as an heir-loom, nor the memory of crime-stained
life be very particularly cherished, outside the
annals of justice. So we honor our ancestors through
transmitted timber, old crockery, or old pictures, or keep
alive patriotic emotions by collecting canes from old
Ironsides, Independence Hall, or Mount Vernon.