Traditionally, newspaper columnists have offered up little lists about this time of year, designed to inspire, amuse, or inform their alleged readers by giving their resolutions, opinions of the preceding year, predictions, or wishes for the coming year.
It seems appropriate in this space to present some historical thoughts by writers from the past on the passing of the old year and the coming of the new. Seeking them out, we found some witty, some cynical, some incredibly optimistic, some full of wisdom, and some—well—a little boring.
“When we once begin to form good resolutions, God gives us every opportunity of carrying them out.” St. John Chrysostom, 347 A.D.
“Now the New Year reviving old Desires, / The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires.” The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 11th-12th century
“Be at war with your vices; at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” Benjamin Franklin, 1774
“This morning I was awoke at an early hour by the discharge of a volley of small arms, which were fired by our party in front of our quarters to usher in the new year; this was the only mark of rispect which we had it in our power to pay this celebrated day. our repast of this day tho’ better than that of Christmass, consisted principally in the anticipation of the 1st day of January 1807, when in the bosom of our friends we hope to participate in the mirth and hilarity of the day and when with the zest given by the recollection of the present, we shall completely both mentally and corporally, enjoy the repast which the hand of civilization has prepared for us. At present we were content with eating our boiled Elk and wappetoe, and solacing our thirst with our only beverage pure water.” Meriwether Lewis, Fort Clatsop, Jan. 1, 1806
“The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings.” Charles Dickens, 1838
“Ring out the old, ring in the new, / Ring, happy bells, across the snow: / The year is going, let him go; / Ring out the false, ring in the true.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850
“Looking forward into an empty year strikes one with a certain awe, because one finds therein no recognition, The years behind have a friendly aspect, and they are warmed by the fires we have kindled, and all their echoes are the echoes of our own voices.” Alexander Smith, 1863 [Scottish poet, labeled as one of the “Spasmodic School”].
“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.” Mark Twain, 1863
“New Year’s eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.” Hamilton Wright Mabie, 1900
“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity, and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” Edith Lovejoy Pierce, born 1904
“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.” Thomas Mann, 1924
“Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a long line of proven criminals?” Ogden Nash, 1935
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T.S. Eliot, 1936
“Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.” Brooks Atkinson, 1951
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” Hal Borland, 1964
“Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to.” Bill Vaughan, 2000
And we’ll leave you with an ancient Irish toast: “In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.”