The New Year dawns, and its appearance is hailed by a flutter of festivity. Men and women run from house to house, scattering gifts, smiles, and congratulations. It is a custom that seems borrowed from a better day, unless indeed it be a prophecy that such must come.
For why so much congratulation? A year has passed; we are nearer by a twelve-month to the term of this earthly probation. It is a solemn thought, and though the consciousness of having hallowed the days by our best endeavor, and of having much occasion to look to the Ruling Power of all with grateful benediction, must, in cases where such feelings are unalloyed, bring joy, one would think it must even then be a grave joy, and one that would disincline to this loud gayety in welcoming a new year; another year,—in which we may, indeed, strive forward in a good spirit, and find our strivings blest, but must surely expect trials, temptations and disappointments from without, frailty, short coming or convulsion in ourselves.
If it be appropriate to a reflective habit of mind to ask with each night-fall the Pythagorean questions, how much more so at the close of the year!
And what pursued that’s worth pursuing?
What sought thou knewest thou shouldst shun?
What done thou shouldst have left undone?
The intellectual man will also ask, What new truths have been opened to me, or what facts presented that will lead to the discovery of truths?—The poet and the lover—What new forms of beauty have been presented for my delight, and as memorable illustrations of the Divine presence,—unceasing, but oftentimes unfelt by our sluggish natures.
Are there many men who fail sometimes to ask themselves questions to this depth? who do not care to know whether they have done right or forborne to do wrong; whether their spirits have been enlightened by Truth or kindled by Beauty?
Yes! strange to say, there are many who, despite the natural aspirations of the soul and the revelations showered upon the world, think only whether they have made money, whether the world thinks more highly of them than it did in bygone years—whether wife and children have been in good bodily health, and what those who call to pay their respects and drink the New Year’s coffee, will think of their carpets, new also.
How often is it that the rich man thinks even of that proposed by Dickens as the noblest employment of the season, making the poor happy in the way he likes best for himself, by distribution of turkey and plum pudding. Some, indeed, adorn the day with much grace, though we doubt whether it be oftenest those who could each, with ease, make that one day a glimpse of comfort to a thousand who pass the other winter days in shivering poverty. But some such there are who go about to the dark and frosty dwellings, giving the “mite” where and when it is most needed. We knew a lady, all whose riches consisted in her good head and two hands, widow of an eminent lawyer, but keeping boarders for a livelihood, engaged in that hardest of occupations with her house full and hands full, she yet found time to make and bake for New Year’s day a hundred pies—and not the pie from which being eat issued the famous four-and-twenty blackbirds gave more cause for merriment or was a fitter “dish to set before the King.”
God bless his Majesty, the good King, who on such a day cares for the least as much as the greatest, and like Henry IV. proposes it as a worthy aim of his endeavor that “every poor man shall have his chicken in the pot.” This does not seem, on superficial survey, such a wonderful boon to crave for creatures made in God’s own likeness, yet it is one that no King could ever yet bestow on his subjects, if we except the King of Cockaigne. Our maker of the hundred pies is the best prophet we have seen as yet of such a blissful state.
But mostly to him who hath is given in material as well as in spiritual things, and we fear the pleasures of this day are arranged almost wholly in reference to the beautiful, the healthy, the wealthy, the witty, and that but few banquets are prepared for the halt, the blind, and the sorrowful. But where they are, of a surety water turns to wine by inevitable Christ-power; no aid of miracle need be invoked. As for thoughts which should make an epoch of the period, we suppose the number of those to be in about the same proportion to the number of minds capable of thought that the pearls now existent bear to the oysters still subsistent.
Can we make pearls from our oyster-bed? At least, let us open some of the shells and try.
Dear Public and Friends! we wish you a happy New Year. We trust that the year past has given earnest of such an one in so far as having taught you somewhat how to deserve and to appreciate it.
For ourselves the months have brought much, though, perhaps, superficial instruction. Its scope has been chiefly Love and Hope for all human beings, and among others for thyself. We have seen many fair poesies of human life, in which, however, the tragic thread has not been wanting. We have seen the exquisite developments of childhood and sunned the heart in its smiles. But also we have seen the evil star looming up that threatened cloud and wreck to its future years. We have seen beings of some precious gifts lost irrecoverably as regards this present life from inheritance of a bad organization and unfortunate circumstances of early years. We have seen the victims of vice lying in the gutter, companied by vermin, trampled upon by sensuality and ignorance.
We have seen those who wished not to rise, and those who strove to do so, but fell back through weakness. Sadder and more ominous still, we have seen the good man—in many impulses and acts of most pure, most liberal, and undoubted goodness—we have seen a spot of base indulgence, a fibre of brutality, canker in a vital Part this fine plant, and, while we could not withdraw love and esteem for the good we could not doubt, have wept secretly in the corner for the ill we could not deny. We have seen two deaths; one of the sinner, early cut down—one of the just, full of years and honor—both were calm; both professed their reliance on the wisdom of a Heavenly Father. We have seen the beauteous shows of nature in undisturbed succession, holy moonlight on the snows, loving moonlight on the summer fields, the stars which disappoint never and bless never, the flowing waters which soothe and stimulate, a garden of roses calling for Queens among women, Poets and Heroes among men. We have seen a desire to answer to this call, and Genius brought rich wine, but spilt it on the way from its careless, fickle gait, and Virtue tainted with a touch of the peacock, and Philosophy, never enjoying, always seeking, who had got together all the materials for crowning experiment, but there was no love to kindle the fire under the furnace, and the precious secret is not precipitated yet, for the pot will not boil to make the gold through your
Toil and trouble,
if Love do not fan the fire.
We have seen the decay of friendships unable to endure the light of an ideal hope—have seen, too, their resurrection in a faith and hope beyond the tomb where the form lies we once so fondly cherished. It is not dead, but sleepeth, and we watch, but must weep, too, sometimes, for the night is cold and lonely in the place of tombs.
We have seen Nature drest in her veil of snowy flowers for the bridal. We have seen her brooding over her joys, a young mother in the pride and fullness of beauty. We have seen her bearing her offspring to their richly ornamented sepulchre, and lately as if kneeling with folded hands in the stillness of prayer, while the bare trees and frozen streams bore witness to her patience.
O much, much have we seen, and a little learned. Such is the record of the private mind, and yet as the bright snake-skin is cast many sigh and cry
Mourns less for what Time takes away
Than what he leaves behind.”
But for ourselves, we find there is kernel in the nut, though its ripening be deferred till the late frosty weather, and it prove a hard nut to crack, even then. Looking at the individual, we see a degree of growth, or the promise of such. In the child there is a force which will outlast the wreck and reach at last the promised shore. The good man, once roused from his moral lethargy, shall make atonement for his fault, and endure a penance that will deepen and purify his whole nature. The poor lost ones claim a new trial in a new life, and will there, we trust, seize firmer hold on the good for the experience they have had of the bad.
Till we can see naught else.”
The seeming losses are, in truth, but as pruning of the vine to make the grapes swell more richly.
But how is it with those larger individuals, the Nations, and that Congress of such, the Worlds?—We must take a broad and superficial view of these, as we have of private life, and in neither case can more be done. The secrets of the confessional, or rather of the shrine, do not come on paper, unless in poetic form.
So we will not try to search and mine, but only to look over the world from an ideal point of view.
Here we find the same phenomena repeated; the good nation is yet somehow so sick at heart that you are not sure its goodness will ever produce a harmony of life; over the young nation, (our own,) rich in energy and full of glee, brood terrible omens; others, as Poland and Italy, seem irrecoverably lost.—They may revive, but we feel as if it must be under new forms.
Forms come and go, but principles are developed and displayed more and more. The cauldron simmers, and so great is the fire that we expect it soon to boil over, and new Fates appear for Europe.
Spain is dying by inches; England shows symptoms of having passed her meridian; Austria has taken opium, but she must awake ere long; France is in an uneasy dream—she knows she has been very sick, has had terrible remedies administered, and ought to be getting thoroughly well, which she is not. Louis Philippe watches by her pillow, doses and bleeds her, so that she cannot fairly try her strength and find whether something or nothing has been done. But Louis Philippe and Metternich must soon, in the course of Nature, leave this scene, and then there will be none to keep out air and light from the chamber, and the patients will be roused and ascertain their true condition.
No power is in the ascending course except the Russian, and that has such a condensation of brute force, animated by despotic will, that it seems sometimes as if it might by and by stride over Europe and face us across the water. Then would be opposed to one another the two extremes of Autocracy and Democracy, and a trial of strength would ensue between the two principles more grand and full than any ever seen on this planet, and of which the result must be to bind mankind by one chain of convictions. Should indeed Despotism and Democracy meet as the two slave-holding powers of the world the result can hardly be predicted. But there is room in the intervening age for many changes, and the Czars profess to wish to free their serfs as our Planters do to free their slaves, and we suppose with an equal sincerity, but the need of sometimes professing such desires is a deference to the progress of Principles which bid fair to have their era yet.
We hope such an era steadfastly, notwithstanding the deeds of darkness that have made this year forever remarkable in our annals. Our Nation has indeed shown that the lust of gain is at present her ruling passion. She is not only resolute but shameless about it, and has no doubt or scruple as to laying aside the glorious office, assigned her by Fate of Herald of Freedom, Light and Peace to the civilized world.
Yet we must not despair! Even so the Jewish king, crowned with all gifts that Heaven could bestow, was intoxicated by their plenitude, and went astray after the most worthless idols. But he was not permitted to forfeit finally the office designed for him—he was drawn or dragged back to it; and so shall it be with this nation. There are trials in store which shall amend us.
We must believe that the pure blood shown in the time of our Revolution still glows in the heart, but the body of our nation is full of foreign elements. A large portion of our citizens, or their parents, came here for worldly advantage, and have never raised their minds to any idea of destiny or duty. More money—more land! is all the watchword they know. They have received the inheritance earned by the Fathers of the Revolution, without their wisdom and virtue to use it. But this cannot last. The vision of those prophetic souls must be realized, else the nation could not exist; every Body must at least “have Soul enough to save the expense of salt,” or it cannot be preserved alive.
What a year it has been with us! Texas annexed, and more annexations in store; Slavery perpetuated, as the most striking feature of these movements. Such are the fruits of American love of liberty! Mormons murdered and driven out, as an expression of American freedom of conscience. Cassius Clay’s paper expelled from Kentucky; that is American freedom of the press. And all these deeds defended on the true Russian grounds: “We (the stronger) know what you (the weaker) ought to do and be, and it shall be so.”
Thus the Principles which it was supposed some ten years back had begun to regenerate the world, are left without a trophy for this past year, except in the spread of Ronge’s movement in Germany, and that of Associative and Communist principles, both here and in Europe, which, let the worldling deem as he will about their practicability, he cannot deny to be animated by faith in God and a desire for the good of Man. We must add to these the important symptoms of the spread of Peace Principles.
Meanwhile if the more valuable springs of action seem to lie dormant for a time, there is a constant invention and perfection of the means of action and communication which seems to say “Do but wait patiently; there is something of universal importance to be done by and by, and all is preparing for it to be universally known and used at once.” Else what avail magnetic telegraphs, steamers and rail cars traversing every road of land and ocean. Phonography and the mingling of all literatures till North embraces South and Denmark lays her head upon the lap of Italy. Surely there would not be all this pomp of preparation as to the means of communication, unless there were like to be something worthy to be communicated.
Amid the signs of the breaking down of barriers, we may mention the Emperor Nicholas letting his daughter pass from the Greek to the Roman church for the sake of marrying her to the Austrian Prince. Again, similarity between him and us: he, too, is shameless; for while he signs this marriage contract with one hand, he holds the knout in the other to drive the Roman Catholic Poles into the Greek Church. But it is a fatal sign for his empire. ’T is but the first step that costs, and the Russians may look back to the marriage of the Grand Duchess Olga, as the Chinese will to the cannonading of the English, as the first sign of dissolution in the present form of national life.
A similar token is given by the violation of etiquette of which Mr. Polk is accused in his Message. He, at the head of a Government, speaks of Governments and their doings straight forward as he would of persons, and the tower, stronghold of the Idea of a former age, now propped up by etiquettes and civilities only, trembles to its foundation.
Another sign of the times is the general panic which the decay of the Potato causes. We doubt this is not without a providential meaning, and will call attention still more to the wants of the people at large. New and more provident regulations must be brought out, that they may not again be left with only a potato between them and starvation. By another of these whimsical coincidences between the histories of Aristocracy and Democracy, the supply of truffles is also failing. The land is losing the “nice things” that the Queen (truly a young Queen) thought might be eaten in place of bread. Does not this indicate a period in which it will be felt that there must be provision for all—the rich shall not have their truffles if the poor are driven to eat nettles, as the French and Irish have in bygone ages?
The poem of which this is a prose translation lately appeared in Germany. It is written by Moritz Hartmann and contains the gist of the matter.
There was a great stately house full of people who have been running in and out of its lofty gates, ever since the gray times of Olympus. There they wept, laughed, shouted, mourned, and, like day and night, came the usual changes of joys with plagues and sorrows. Haunting that great house up and down, making, baking, and roasting, covering and waiting on the table, has there lived a vast number of years a loyal serving-maid of the olden time—her name was Mrs. Potato.
She was a still little old mother, who wore no baubles or laces, but always had to be satisfied with her plain, every-day clothes, and unheeded, unhonored, oftentimes jeered at and forgotten, she served all day at the kitchen fire and slept at night in the worst room. When she brought the dishes to table she got rarely a thankful glance, only at times some very poor man would in secret shake kindly her hand.
Generation after generation passed by; as the trees blossom, bear fruit and wither, but faithful remained the old housemaid, always the servant of the last heir.
But one morning, hear what happened. All the people came to table and lo! there was nothing to eat, for our good old Mistress Potato had not been able to rise from her bed. She felt sharp pains creeping through her poor old bones. No wonder she was worn out at last! She had not in all her life dared take a day’s rest, lest so the poor should starve. Indeed it is wonderful that her good will should have kept her up so long. She must have had a great constitution to begin with.
The guests had to go away without breakfast. They were a little troubled but hoped to make up for it at dinner time time.
But dinner time came and the table was empty, and then, indeed, they began to inquire about the welfare of Cookmaid Potato.
And up into her dark chamber where she lay on her poor bed came Great and Little, Young and Old, to ask after the good creature.
“What can be done for her?” “Bring warm clothes, medicine, a better bed.” Lay aside your work to help her. “If she dies we shall never again be able to fill the table,” and now, indeed, they sing her praises.
O what a fuss now about the sick bed in that moist and mouldy chamber! and out doors it was just the same,—priests with their masses, processions, and prayers, and all the world ready to walk to penance, if Mistress Potato could but be saved.
And the doctors in their wigs, and counselors in masks of gravity sat there to devise some remedy to avert this terrible ill.
As when a Most Illustrious Dame is recovering from the birth of a son, bulletins inform the world of the health of Mistress Potato, and, not content with what they so learn, couriers and lacqueys besiege the door, nay, the king’s coach is stopping there.
Yes! yes! the humble poor Maid, ’tis about her they are all so frightened! Who would ever have believed it in days when the table was nicely covered?
The gentlemen of pens and books, priests, kings, lords and ministers, all have senses to scent out famine. Natheless Mistress Potato gets no better. May God help her for the sake, not of such people, but of the poor.
For such, it is a proof they should prize that all must crumble and fall to ruin, if they will work and weary to death the poor maid who cooks in the kitchen.
She lived for you in the dirt and ashes, provided daily for poor and rich; you ought to humble yourselves for her sake. Ah, could we hope that you would take a hint and next time pay some heed to the housemaid before she was worn and wearied to death.”!!
So sighs rather than hopes Moritz Hartmann.—The wise ministers of England indeed seem much more composed than he supposes them. They are like the old man who, when he saw the avalanche coming down upon his village, said, “It is coming, but I shall have time to fill my pipe once more.”—He went in to do so and was buried beneath the ruins. But Sir Robert Peel, who is so deliberate, has, doubtless, manna in store for those who have lost their customary food.
Another sign of the times is, that there are left on the earth none of the last dynasty of geniuses, riches in so many imperial heads. The world is full of talent, but it flows downward to water the plain.—There are no towering lights, no Mont Blancs now. We cannot recall one great genius at this day living. The time of prophets is over, and the era they prophesied must be at hand; in its conduct a larger proportion of the human race shall take part than ever before. As Prime Ministers have succeeded Kings in the substantials of monarchy, so now shall a House of Representatives succeed Prime Ministers.
Altogether, it looks as if a great time was coming, and that time one of Democracy. Our country will play a ruling part. Her Eagle will lead the van, but whether to soar upward to the sun or to stoop for helpless prey, who now dares promise? At present she has scarce achieved a Roman nobleness, a Roman liberty, and whether her Eagle is less like the Vulture and more like the Phoenix than was the fierce Roman bird, we dare not say. May the New Year give hopes of the latter, even if the bird need first to be purified by fire.*
“1st January, 1846,” New-York Daily Tribune, 1 January 1846, p. 1.