“A New-Year’s Bow” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1843; pp. 1-4
Well, here we are again at the opening of a new year! It might seem that New-Year’s day had come so often as to have lost its interest; that by repetition it would become stale; that the words, “I wish you a happy new year!” would cease to excite the slightest regard. But it is not so. New-Year’s day seems always to take us by a kind of pleasant surprise, and never fails to be welcomed by old and young, boys and girls. It has been said by some old writers, that such anniversaries as this of New-Year’s day, are, in the journey of life, like mile-
stones along the road, marking the distance we have travelled, and informing us of the position we occupy in respect to the beginning and end of our existence. If, indeed, we were to use them as such; if, on New-Year’s day, we were accustomed to look over our past lives, to compare what we have done with what is required of us; to see when we have performed, and when failed in, our duty; to mourn over past errors and neglect, and adopt new resolutions of improvement for the future—then, indeed, would New-Year’s day be an instructive mile-stone on our journey, a point of reckoning of the greatest benefit; and then it would not pass by as a mere thoughtless holiday of pleasant speeches and profitless amusements.
And why, blue eyes and black eyes!—tell me why we should not thus use our New-Year’s day—or at least a little piece of it? I will not ask you to give the whole day to a moral lecture. No! You may partake freely of the frolics and festivities of the day; you may greet all your friends and companions with that pleasant salutation—“A happy new year!” It is a cheerful sound, especially when uttered from child to child; from the child to the parent; from friend to friend. And you may engage in the various amusements of the season, as freely as if old Bob Merry were a child again, and romping with you, the gayest of the gay.
But, after your sports are done, just sit down in the chimney corner, with me. Don’t be afraid, for I am not about to scold you; or if I do scold a little, remember that I shall do it in all kindness; remember that I am like old Baldwin’s dog, who had lost his teeth,—my bark is worse than my bite. So, here we are! Now sit still, boys; don’t giggle, you girls! John, Tom, Peter, silence! I am about to tell you a story of New-Year’s day.
THE TWO TRAVELLERS.
Once upon a time, two young men, who were friends, set out to travel in distant countries. Before they departed, each one had formed a plan of proceeding. Horace determined to give himself up entirely to pleasure; to go wherever his humor might dictate; and to keep no records of his adventures. In short, he resolved to enjoy himself as much as possible, and by no means to encumber his mind with cares, duties, or troubles of any kind.
Ronald was as fond of amusement as Horace, but the mode he adopted for the gratification of his wishes was quite different. In the first place, he made out a scheme of his travels; he procured maps, read books, and, after mature deliberation, adopted a certain route, as most likely to afford him pleasure as well as instruction. In the formation of this plan he spent several weeks, and in this occupation he found quite as much satisfaction as he afterwards did in travelling. Thus he obtained one great advantage over his idle and luxurious friend, who foolishly thought that the essence of enjoyment lay in freedom from thought, restraint, and toil. Even before they set out on their journey, Ronald had actually found nearly as much pleasure as Horace received in the whole course of his expedition.
Well; the two young men started together, and as we are speaking of ancient days, when there were no coaches, canals, or railroads, we must tell you that both set out on foot. They had not proceeded far before they separated, Horace taking one road and Ronald another.
After the lapse of three years they both returned; but what a difference between them! Horace was sour and dissatisfied; he had seen a good deal of the world, but as he had travelled with
no other design than to gratify himself from hour to hour, he had soon exhausted the cup of pleasure, and found nothing at the bottom but the bitter dregs of discontent. He pursued pleasure, till at last he found the pursuit to be distasteful and revolting. He grew tired, even of amusement. He indulged his tastes, humors, and passions, until indulgence itself was disgusting. When he returned to his friends, he had laid up nothing in his memory, by the relation of which he could amuse them; he had kept no record of things he had seen; he brought back no store of pleasing and useful recollections for himself, or others. Such was the result of three years’ travel for pleasure.
It was quite otherwise with Ronald. Adhering to his plans, he visited a great variety of places, and each day he recorded in his journal what he had seen. Whenever he met with an interesting object, he stopped to contemplate it; if it was some aged relic, famous in history, he took pains to investigate its story, and to write it down. If it was an object of interest to the eye, he made a sketch of it in the book which he kept for the purpose.
In this way, Ronald accomplished three good objects. In the first place, by taking in pleasure in a moderate way, and mixed with a little toil and industry, he prevented that cloying surfeit, which at last sickened and disgusted Horace. Horace took pleasure at wholesale, as a boy eats honey by the spoonful, and soon got sick of it. Ronald took his honey, on a slice of bread, and while he enjoyed it heartily, his appetite continued as good as before.
In the second place, Ronald greatly increased his enjoyments by the plan he adopted. Merely executing a plan is agreeable, and a source of great pleasure. It is natural to derive happiness from following out a design; from seeing hour by hour, day by day, how results come about, in conformity to our intentions. But this was not the only advantage which Ronald received from his system. The very toil he bestowed, the investigations he made; the pleasant thoughts and curious knowledge that were unfolded to his mind; the excitement he found in his exertions; the pleasure he took in drawing picturesque scenes; all these thins constituted a rich harvest of pleasure, which was wholly denied to Horace. Thus it was that labor and industry, exerted in carrying out a plan, afforded the young traveller a vast deal of gratification. The very things that Horace looked upon as hateful, were, in fact, the sources of his rival’s most permanent enjoyment.
In the third place, Ronald had come back laden with rich stores of knowledge, observation and experience. Not only was his journal rich in tales, legends, scenes, incidents, and historical records, but in putting these things down on paper, his memory had been improved, and he had acquired the habit of observing and remembering. His mind was full of pleasant things, and nothing could be more interesting than to sit down and hear him tell of his travels and of what he had seen. While Horace was dull, silent, and sour, Ronald was full of conversation, life, and interest. The one was happy, the other unhappy; one was agreeable, the other disagreeable; one had exhausted the cup of pleasure, the other seemed always to have the cup full and sparkling before him. It was agreed on all hands, that Horace was a bore, and everybody shunned him; while Ronald was considered by all a most agreeable fellow, and everybody sought his society.
So much for the two travellers; one, a luxurious lover of pleasure, who thought only of the passing moment, and in his folly, abused and threw away
his powers of enjoyment; the other, a lover of pleasure also, but who pursued it moderately, with a wise regard to the future, and careful attention, every day, to rules of duty; and who thus secured his true happiness.
Now, my young friends, this is rather a dull story; but there is truth in it. Though it be New-Year’s day, still, remember that every day has its duties, for those who would live and be happy, like our hero, Ronald. And what is the peculiar duty of this day? Let me tell you.
We should all of us consider the past year; and reflect whether we have done our duty to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves. Do we love our Maker, our Redeemer, better than when the past year opened to us? Is our reverence, our confidence, in him stronger? Do we live more habitually in his presence? Do we yearn more and more to please him, to be like him?
Do we love our friends, neighbors, all that we see and meet, better? Are we more ready to forgive injuries? More earnest to promote peace? More self-sacrificing; more regardful of the feelings, wants, and wishes of others? Are we carefully cultivating the garden of the heart; cherishing its flowers, and weeding out its noxious passions?
These are questions which we should put to ourselves, this New-Year’s evening; and if we can answer them in the affirmative, it is well; but if not, let us make new and vigorous resolutions to give a better account of the opening year.
Do not be frightened from your duty by the idea that such thoughts as these I suggest, are distasteful or painful, remember the story of the two travellers; remember that if you adopt a good plan, the pursuit of it will unfold new and unexpected pleasures. Remember that all play and no reflection, is like unmixed honey, cloying to the appetite; remember that a mixture of duty enhances pleasure itself, as the same time improving the faculties and keeping the relish always fresh. And remember one thing more, which is this: the heart needs your constant care. Let me ask your attention to a homely practice in the country—that of putting down a barrel of meat. You notice that a quantity of salt is always put into it; for we all know that otherwise the meat would become an offensive mass. It is so with the human heart: it needs the salt—it needs a sense of duty, to keep it from spoiling! Oh, my young friends, think of this; and save your bosoms from becoming tainted with sin, and vice, and crime!