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“divine” in them, that is to say, something partaking of a more energetic and visible portion of the mysterious spirit breathed into mankind, how much more, and with how much more reverential a love, ought we not to have a divine impression of the nature of Him, who drew the great line between the narrowness of the Old World and the universalities of the New, and uttered to the earth, through the angelical organ of his whole being, life and death, that truly celestial doctrine, “ Think of others !”
NEW YEAR'S GIFTS.
JORMERLY, everybody made presents on New
Year's Day, as they still do in Paris, where our lively neighbors turn the whole metropolis into a world of cakes, sweetmeats, jewel
lery, and all sorts of gifts and greetings. The Puritans checked that custom, out of a notion that it was superstitious, and because the heathens did it; which was an odd reason, and might have abolished many other innocent and laudable practices - eating itself, for one - and going to bed. Innumerable are the authorities which (had we lived in those days) we would have brought up in behalf of those two customs, in answer to the New-Year'sDay-knocking-down folios of Mr. Prynne, the great “blasphemer of custard.” Unfortunately if the Puritans thought gift-giving superstitious, the increasing spirit of commerce was too well inclined to admit half its epithet, and regard the practice as, at least, superfluous — a thing over and above — and what was not always productive of
a “consideration.” “ Nothing is given for nothing nowadays," as the saying is. Nay, it is doubtful whether next to nothing will always be given for something. There are people, we are credibly informed, taken for persons “ well to do” in the world, and of respectable character, who will even turn over the pages of the “ London Journal,” and narrowly investigate whether there is enough wit, learning, philosophy, lives, travels, poetry, voyages, and romances in it, for three halfpence.*
This must be mended, or there will be no such thing as a New Year by and by. Novelty will go out; the sun will halt in the sky, and prudent men sharply consider whether they have need of common perception.
Without entering into politics, something is to be said, nowadays, for an Englishman's being averse to making presents; and, as it behooves us to make the best of a bad thing, reasons might be shown also why it is not so well to have a formal and official sort of day for making presents, as to leave them to more spontaneous occasions. Besides, if everybody gives and everybody receives, where, it may be asked, is the compliment ? And how are people to know whether they would have given or received anything, had it not been the custom ?
How are they to be sure, whether a very pretty present is not a positive insult, till they compare it with what has been received by others? And how are men in office and power to be sure that in the gifts of their inferiors there is anything but self-seeking and bribery? It was formerly the custom in England to load princes and ministers with New-Year's Gifts. Queen Elizabeth, who had the soul of a mantuamaker as well as of a monarch, received whole wardrobes of gowns and caps, as well as caskets of jewellery. What a day must she have passed of it, with all the fine things spread out before her! And yet with all her just estimation of herself, and her vanity to boot, bitter suspicions must occasionally have crossed her, that all this was but so much self-interest appealing to self-love. But suppose a Duke or an Earl did not send a gift good enough. Here was ground for anger and jealousy, and all the pleasure-spoiling self-will which see no good in what is given it, provided something be wanting. Dryden addressed some verses on New-Year's Day to Lord Chancellor Hyde (Clarendon), which he begins as follows:
* Such a one was not Walter Savage Landor, who thus wrote, from Italy to a friend in England: “Let me recommend to you Leigh Hunt's 'London Journal,' three halfpence a week. It contains neither politics nor scandal, but very delightful things in every department of graceful literature." - ED.
“ My Lord,
Here was a blow (not very well considered, perhaps) at the self-complacency induced by the receipt of “great presents.” Suppose Lord Chancellor Lyndhurst, or Lord Chancellor Brougham, had similar presents sent them on the like occasion. How could the one be sure that his great legal knowledge, or the other, that even his great genius and tact for all knowledge, had anything to do with the compliment? Or that it was not as mere a trick for court-favor as anything which they would now despise ? We grant that (where there is any right to bestow it at all) a present is a present; that it is an addition to one's stock, and, at all events, a compliment to one's influence; and influence is often its own proof of a right to be complimented; as want of influence is sometimes a greater. But, for the sake of fair-play among mankind, every advantage must have its drawback; and it is a drawback in the power to confer benefits, that it cannot always be sure of the motives of those who do it honor. If a day is to be set apart for such manifestations of good-will, the birthday would seem better for them than New-Year's Day. The compliment would be more particular and personal; others might not know of it, and so would not grudge it; and real affections would thus be indulged, not mere ceremonies.
We own that we think there is something in that distinction. Yet our sprightly-blooded neighbors would no doubt have replies to all these arguments; and, for our part, we are for cutting the knot of the difficulty thus : Make us all rich enough, and then we could indulge ourselves both with New-Year's Day and the birthday, both on the general occasions and the particular one. For, to say the truth, we people who are not rich, and who, therefore, have nothing perhaps worth withholding, are long in coming to understand how it is that rich people can resist these anniversary opportunities of putting delight into the eyes of their friends and dependants, and distributing their toys and utilities on all sides of them. Presents (properly so called) are great ties to gratitude, and therefore great increasers of power and influence, especially if they are of such a kind as to be constantly before the eye, thus producing an everlasting association of pleasant ideas with the giver.* They tell the receiver that he is worth something in the giver's eyes, and thus the worth of the giver becomes twenty-fold. Nor do we say this sneer
* Presents endear absents. — Charles LAMB.
ingly, or in disparagement of the self-love which must of necessity be, more or less, mixed up with every one's nature; for the most disinterested love would have nothing to act upon without it; and the most generous people in the world, such as most consult the pleasure of others before their own, must lose their very identity and personal consciousness before they can lose a strong desire to be pleased.
Oh! but rich people, it will be said, are not always so rich as they are supposed to be ; and even when they are, they find plenty of calls upon their riches, without going out of their way to encourage them. They have establishments to keep up, heaps of servants, &c., their wives and families are expensive, and then they are cheated beyond measure.
Making allowances for all this, and granting in some instances that wealth itself be poor, considering the demands upon it, nevertheless for the most part real wealth must be real wealth; that is to say, must have a great deal more than enough. You do not find that a rich man (unless he is a miser) hesitates to make a great many presents to himself, — books, jewels, horses, clothes, furniture, wines, or whatever the thing may be that he most cares for ; and he must cease to do this (we mean of course in its superfluity) before he talks of his inability to make presents to others.