THE PAST AND THE NEW YEAR

By Prentiss Mellen

The close of the year, whose last knell has just been heard, amid the chills and gloom of winter, when all around reminds us of our departed friends and the loss we have sustained, is peculiarly adapted to arouse us from our inattention to the lapse of time, and impress on our hearts the solemn truth that life itself is but a vapor. Many, it is true, when they look into the grave of the year, may experience a rush of bitter feeling, as they fondly recollect how many cherished hopes they have been called upon to bury in the tomb, during the lapse of the year: how many friends have proved false or ungrateful—how many of their suns have gone down in the gloom of solitude, or amidst scenes of sickness and poverty, or of sighing and sorrow. All this is true, and such ever has been and ever will be the complexion of human life. But though thousands are thus educated in a school where such is the salutary discipline, yet millions have been spending the year in peace and joy—in health and abundance. Their journey has been gladdened with sunshine, and their course has been through fields of beauty and beside "the still waters of comfort." It is useful—it is a species of gratitude thus to look back and trace the course we have been pursuing. If it has been delightful or smooth and peaceful, our hearts should melt in tenderness while we look to the fountain of all our blessings. If our course has been wearisome through fields of sterility, or melancholy and companionless, we should remember that Wisdom and Goodness preside over our destinies, whether we are breasting the storm, or calmly beholding the rainbow of promise. The year that has bidden us adieu, was pleasant in its course, and its decline gradual and beautiful. An unusual degree of softness distinguished its autumn, resembling the last years of the life of man, when the agitation of the passions has in a great measure subsided; when his feelings have become tranquilized, and all around him peaceful and serene, if he has been careful to regulate his conduct, on life's journey, by the principles of justice and the commands of duty—if in his social intercourse his passions have been preserved in due subjection to the gentle influences of a benevolent heart, displaying itself in acts of mercy like the good Samaritan.

"Sure the last end
Of the good man is peace. How calm his exit!
Night dews fall not more gently on the ground
Nor weary, worn-out winds expire so soft."

The new year to which we have just been introduced is, in one sense, a perfect stranger, though we have long been intimate with the family to which it belongs, and of course have some general acquaintance with certain features of its character, leading us to anticipate its promises and its failure to perform them in many instances,—its smiles and its tears—its flatteries and its frowns—its gaieties and hopes—its gradual decline—decay and dissolution:—but we have abundant reason too for indulging the belief that we may enjoy thousands of blessings, if we are disposed to cherish proper feelings—to be kind and courteous and obliging, and ever on our guard to avoid unnecessarily wounding the feelings of others; ever ready to acknowledge the favors we receive, and render a suitable return. How easily all this may be done! How often is it grossly neglected! He who consults his own ease and comfort cannot in any manner attain the desired result so readily and certainly, as by habitually consulting the ease and comfort of others, with whom he is in the habit of associating: and this is true politeness also. A man who is dissatisfied with himself and those around him, and laboring under the darkening influence of disturbed or morose feelings "may travel from Dan to Beersheba and say it is all barren;"—to him it will appear so; and the effect would be the same if his journey lay amidst the most delightful scenes of rural beauty. The seasons of the year all give their annual lessons for instruction: It is our wisdom to regard them carefully. Spring summons us all to cheerful activity, with assurances that our labor will not be in vain. Summer performs what Spring had promised, and shews us the advantage of listening to early instruction and wisely improving it. Ten thousand songsters are filling the branches with their animating strains of music and gratitude, and teaching us to enjoy, as they do, the countless blessings and bounties of nature; their music is never failing—nor do we see it ending in discords. Let us all, as we journey onward together through the year, learn to tune our hearts as they do their voices, and pass the fleeting period in harmony, and in that cheerfulness which the excellent Addison has honored with the name of a continual expression of gratitude to Heaven. In Germany the study and practice of music are general among the people. Besides other advantages resulting from making music a part of common education, it is not romantic or utopian to observe that it teaches how easily music—pure and surpassing music—may be made on the same instrument, which under an ignorant or purposed touch will send forth discords in prodigious varieties. He who has become acquainted with the instrument, though not a master of it, well knows how to avoid those combinations of sound which are painful to the ear, and often tend to disturb feelings and passions. What tones are sweeter than those produced by the gentle breeze of heaven in passing over the strings of the Ĉolian Harp? The reason is, those strings are so attuned as that their vibrations will not respond except in notes of harmony: but only disorder the strings, by increasing the tension of some and decreasing that of others, and the sweetest zephyr will produce nothing but the vilest discords, resembling angry passions. Let us then, in our journey through the year on which we have entered, acquire as much as possible a knowledge of the science and the art of social and domestic moral music. Let us learn to measure our time with care, to cultivate our voices, that they may lose all harshness: let each attend to his own part, and strive to excel in that. Let us consider our feelings, passions and dispositions, as the strings of the Harp; and the ordinary events of life as the breezes which give vibration to the strings: if these strings—our feelings, passions and dispositions—are in proper tune—under due regulation, and preserving a just relation, each to all the others, we have then all the elements of moral music, domestic and social, and in a few weeks, by due regard to all the principles and arrangement above mentioned, we shall soon be good scholars, giving and receiving all that pleasure which harmony can afford; and as the sober autumn advances, our tastes for this kind of music will be more and more ripened towards perfection; and when the cold decemberly evenings shall arrive, we can listen to the angry music of the elements abroad, full of discordant strains, sweeping by our peaceful homes, while within them all may be the music of the heart, in its gentlest movements.

It is a melancholy truth that we ourselves manufacture seven eighths of what we are disposed to term our misfortunes in this world. Want of precaution mars our arrangements: want of prudence exposes us to dangers which we might easily have avoided—want of patience often hurries us into difficulties, and disqualifies us to bear them with calmness or decency. Indulgence in follies and fashions often plants the seeds of wasting disease. Intemperance in our passions always is followed by unwelcome sensations, and sometimes with a sense of shame. Stimulants are succeeded by debility, and when they are used to excess, we know and daily witness the dreadful results—if death is not one of them—either the death of the offender, or of some other destroyed by his hand in the tempest of infuriated passions—we are too often compelled to mourn over the desolation they occasion—presenting in one view,

"Hate—grief—despair—the family of pain."