The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Frances B. M. Brotherson/The Old and the New Year

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It was the last evening in the cold and cheerless month of December, and the winter king had asserted and established his claims in the most despotic manner, binding in icy chains every streamlet and fountain, and crushing under his feet nature’s fairest works. The stars looked down from their high dwelling-place, like sentinels upon the outposts of Heaven, keeping watch and ward, lest something less true and bright than they themselves were, should enter within its holy precincts; and the wind howled sadly around, breathing a requiem for the glories which had followed each other in brief succession, during the past year, seeming to tell, in plaintive tones, that they were gone, for ever gone!

On such a night did they, for whom the household fire glowed brightly, bless their happy, enviable lot, and sigh, as they remembered that hundreds were suffering—nay, were dying for want of a single spark of that genial element, to impart feeling and life to their rigid limbs. Home’s every comfort could not shut out the haunting vision of that disconsolate mother, who once hung over a dying child, amid dreary darkness, without one ray of light to give back the features she had loved to gaze upon in other and happier days. God help the poor, when December’s snows are upon the earth!

On such a night as this, the Old and New Year met—both struggling for supremacy—each unwilling to accord to the other unlimited sway.

“I have been, and I am yet a monarch,” said the Old Year; “one, too, whose subjects are almost countless. You may not number the tongues which have sung of my exploits; and the length of days which has been mine has given me a knowledge and wisdom, of which thou knowest nothing. What? resign my throne to thee, thou stripling! never!!” and echo caught up the last word as it fell, and “never” reverberated throughout the universe.

“Truly,” replied the New Year, “thy deeds have rendered thee immortal, and Time that bears all things down on his vast bosom, shall transmit thy name to generations yet to come; but now, thou art old and enfeebled, and thy sceptre trembles in thy hand. Thy Spring and Summer, nay, the Autumn of thy days are gone for ever, while mine are yet to come. Would it not be wise then, for thee to retire from the active scenes of life, giving the power to one whose strength will be sufficient for the future, be what it may.”

“Strength!” and the Old Year drew his form up to its loftiest height—“am I not strong? The blood may not course through my veins as rapidly as thine, but I tell thee, the current is deeper. Strength! why this arm can boast sinews and muscles that might, like the fancied lever of Archimedes, raise the world. Look upon my eye—does it not tell that the fire of my soul burns brightly still? Ay, youth—tells it not that Time hath no power over such light—that he does not quench it?

“Thou art vain, Old Year. Pause one moment and look back—dost thou not remember when thou wert as I am now, in Life’s glowing spring-time, and when one like thee clung to his power, unwilling to resign to thee thy rightful claims. His course was over; he had been a king during his appointed time, and according to the laws of succession, thy hour of triumph drew near. Go back to that hour—rememberest thou not how unreasonable thou deemed thy predecessor? Now, tell me if thou wilt yet madly cling to a sceptre, which must pass from thee.”

A shade of sadness rested on the face of the Old Year, for those moments passed in bright array before him. The guardian angel of the Years marked the shadow, and caught the sigh that escaped from his troubled breast.

“Why art thou sorrowful, oh Forty-Nine?” said he.

“Ah,” he replied, “I feel that my glory is over. A young aspirant presents his claims to my throne, and the truth bursts upon me, that they are equitable and right. Alas! alas! must I pass away and be forgotten? must the beauties and glories that I have lavished upon the earth vanish for ever!”

“Be comforted,” said the Angel, “be of good cheer! thou shalt have power, and life, equal to thy successor, but it shall be in a different realm. I will remove thee from the land of Hope to that of Memory. There shalt thou be a monarch; thy subjects as numerous as they now are, and with its placid moonlight and fade less verdure around thy path, thou shalt live for ever.”

Turning to the New Year, the Angel bade him ascend the throne of nature, giving him sage counsel and advice, as to his future course. A monarch’s feelings stole over him, and with a new lustre in his eyes, and with the bright sunshine of Hope streaming around him, he “went on his way rejoicing.”

A tranquil smile rested on the face of the Old Year, as he slowly tied on his sandals, equipping himself for his journey. He cast one long, lingering look behind him, and then with his staff in his hand, and with a cheerful soul and trusting heart, departed. The blessed angel was at his side, uttering words of love and comfort, nor paused he until the land of Memory met his eyes, fairer than his wildest imaginings had ever portrayed.