Wednesday, January 6, 2010

1901 :: Thoughts on the New Year

The following was written by a 21-year-old Lillie May Stulting concerning the advent of the 20th Century. May was a first cousin to Caroline Maude Stulting, who was the mother of Pearl Buck.

Sunday, January 6, 1901

... And so we have come at last to a new era -- to that wonderful twentieth century toward which the eyes of the world have so long and so hopefully been turned. Within a few weeks at most, we shall have looked our last upon the century that gave us birth and not us only, but millions of others, of whom the majority have passed away.

Most likely, we shall have ceased even to remember it, for our eyes being bent on the future, we shall have but little thought to spare for the past, for in the progressing rapidly-turning modern world, in which we live and move and have our being the What-has-been counts for very little in comparison with the all-important What-is-to-be. And yet, if justice be done to this century that is passing away, what an illustrious century it has been!

Let the twentieth bring us what-so-ever wonders it may. It can scarcely surpass the achievements of which it's predecessor has been witness. A hundred years ago, the world was a very simple-minded old world indeed. It knew nothing of steam, or of gas, or of electricity.

It did most of its work and took most of its pleasure by daylight, and when artificial illumination was required a farthing rush-light or a tallow dip supplied it, while torches or flambeaus served to render darkness visible in the streets. It did its cooking by wood, igniting its fires by means of a tinderbox, or the still more ancient flint and steel.

And its draughty old houses were heated by huge logs, the same primitive fuel, burning on wide hearths through whose capacious chimneys one could catch glimpses of the wintry sky.

So looking forward into the century that is coming, it is difficult to conceive that it can be greater, more wonderful, than that which is passing away. The good resolutions which always figure so prominently among the New Year observances and which unfortunately are generally predestined to die of neglect while still in their infancy, will doubtless come to the fore in greater numbers than ever in this year of years.

So let us not fail to take our New Year resolutions according to our want, even though there be those who scoff at us for our manifest inability to keep them; let us take them in all honesty in all seriousness of intent, and standing firm in the determination not to let one failure or many swerve us from our purpose.

While the shops are still filled with holiday presents it is worthwhile to observe if one have the leisure, how more extravagant are the tastes of the present generation than were those of its predecessors.

Twenty years ago, the average youngster thought himself lucky if his Christmas acquisitions included a modest express wagon, a train of little cars of a drum of moderate dimensions; but now-a-days these simple gifts are regarded with high disdain by all except the very smallest children -- those who are too young, indeed, to have had their powers of discrimination very much developed.

The small boy of today is satisfied with nothing less costly than a gold watch and chain, a golfing outfit, a gymnasium with appliances and other expensive items; while his little sister demands a doll as big as herself with a phonograph attachment, a doll's wardrobe of the completest and costliest description; a wicker work go-cart in which the doll may take her airing; doll's furniture that is almost as expensive as real furniture; and in addition, sundry items of personal adornments for herself.

As for grown-ups, their tastes in Christmas presents seem to embrace everything from a grand piano to a silken sofa pillow. Years ago, it was the custom to give dainty trifles of one's own manufacture for Christmas presents, but the times have changed since then.

The age is an extravagant one; simplicity, though ever on our lips, is practically a dead letter, so far as our lives are concerned; and our children, as well as ourselves, have left the happy world of Sweet Illusions far behind them. It is fervently to be hoped that, among the many blessings which the dawning century is to bring us, a revivification of the every-living, but often languishing principles of Truth and Justice and Honor may be the first.

When the children perceive that it is not necessary to do violence (to) one's finer instincts in order to achieve social or commercial success, they will accustom themselves readily enough to the changed conditions. When they see that the path of integrity leads to prosperity as well as to happiness, they will need no incentive to pursue it.

But no amount of oral teaching, no amount of persuasion, be it ever so eloquent, will avail to inspire them with respect for pure and holy things so long as their eyes and their intelligence convince them that honor comes not to whom honor is due, but to him who aggressively fights for it -- that social prominence is not a matter of personal worth, but of well directed wealth -- that everything under the sun, including the respect of one's fellowmen, can be bought with a price and it is not to be procured without it.

It is getting so dark I can't see the lines. I'm sitting on the gallery, so good-bye.