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December 31.

St. Sylvester, Pope, A. D. 335. St. Columba, A. D. 258. St. Melania, the younger, A. D. 439.

St. Sylvester.

This saint, whose name is in the church of England calendar and the almanacs, was pope Sylvester I. "He is said to have been the author of several rites and ceremonies of the Romish church, as asylums, unctions, palls, corporals, &c. He died in 334."*[1]

New Year's Eve.

To end the old year merrily, and begin the new one well, and in friendship, were popular objects in the celebration of this festival. It was spent among our labouring ancestors in festivity and frolic by the men; and the young women of the village carried from door to door, a bowl of spiced ale, the wassail bowl, which they offered to the inhabitants of every house they stopped at, singing rude congratulatory verse, and hoping for small presents. Young men and women also exchanged clothes, which was termed Mimming, or Disguising; and when thus dressed in each other's garments, they went from one neighbour's cottage to another, singing, dancing, and partaking of good cheer.[2]

The anticipated pleasure of the coming year, accompanied by regret at parting with the present old year, is naturally expressed by a writer already cited. "After Christmas-day comes the last day of the year; and I confess I wish the bells would not ring so merrily on the next. I have not become used enough to the loss of the old year to like so triumphant a welcome to the new. I am certain of the pleasures I have had during the twelvemonth: I have become used to the pains. In a few days, especially by the help of Twelfth-night, I shall become reconciled to the writing 6 instead of 5 in the date of the year. Then welcome new hopes and new endeavours. But at the moment—at the turn—I hate to bid adieu to my old acquaintance."*[3]

ELIA, in a delightful paper on the "Eve of New Year's-day, 1821, among the other delightful essays of his volume, entitled "ELIA"—a little book, whereof to say that it is of more gracious feeling and truer beauty than any of our century, is poor praise—Elia says, "while that turncoat bell, that just now mournfully chanted the obsequies of the year departed, with changed notes lustily rings in a successor, let us attune to its peal the song made on a like occasion, by hearty, cheerful Mr. Cotton." Turn gentle reader to the first page of the first sheet, which this hand presented to you, and you will find the first two and twenty lines of ELIA's "song." They tell us, that, of the two faces of Janus,

——that which this way looks is clear,
And smiles upon the New-born year.

These are the remaining verses.

He† [Janus] looks too from a place so high,
The year lies open to his eye;
And all the moments open are
To the exact discoverer;
Yet more and more he smiles upon
The happy revolution.
Why should we then suspect or fear
The influences of a year,
So smiles upon us the first morn,
And speaks as good so soon as born?
Plague on't! the last was ill enough,
This cannot but make better proof;
Or, at the worst, as we brush'd through
The last, why so we may this too;
And then the next in reason shou'd
Be superexcellently good;
For the worst ills (we daily see)
Have no more perpetuity,
Than the best fortunes that do fall;
Which also bring us wherewithal
Longer their being to support,
Than those do of the other sort;
And who has one good year in three,
And yet repines at destiny,
Appears ungrateful in the case,
And merits not the good he has.
Then let us welcome the new guest
With lusty brimmers of the best;
Mirth always should good fortune meet,
And render e'en disaster sweet:
And though the princess turn her back,
Let us but line ourselves with sack,
We better shall by far hold out,
Till the next year she face about.

ELIA, having trolled this song to the sound of "the merry, merry bells," breaks out:—

"How say you reader—do not these verses smack of the rough magnanimity of the old English vein? Do they not fortify like a cordial; enlarging the heart, and productive of sweet blood, and generous spirits in the concoction?—Another cup of the generous! and a merry New Year and many of them, to you all, my masters!"

The same to you, ELIA,—and "to you all my masters!"—Ladies! think not yourselves neglected, who are chief among "my masters"— you are the kindest, and therefore the most masterful, and most worshipful of "my masters!"

Under the female form the ancients worshipped the Earth. They called her "Bona Dea," or the "Good Goddess," by way of excellency, and that, for the best reason in the world, because "there is no being that does men more good." In respect to her chastity, all men were forbidden to be present at her worship; the high priest himself, in whose house it was performed, and who was the chief minister in all others, not excepted. Cicero imputed to Clodius as a crime that he had entered the sacred fane in disguise, and by his presence polluted the mysteries of the Good Goddess. The Roman ladies offered sacrifices to her through the wife of the high priest, and virgins consecrated to the purpose.

The Earth, Bona Dea, or the "Good Goddess," was represented under the form of a matron with her right hand opened, as if tendering assistance to the helpless, and holding a loaf in her left hand. She was also venerated under the name of Ops, and other denominations, but with the highest attributes; and when so designated, she was worshipped by men and boys, as well as women and virgins; and priests minstered to her in dances with brazen cymbals. These motions signified that the Earth only imparted blessings upon being constantly moved; and as brass was discovered before iron, the cymbals were composed of that metal to indicate her antiquity. The worshippers seated themselves on the ground, and the posture of devotion was bending forward, and touching the ground with the right hand. On the head of the goddess was placed a crown of towers, denoting strength, and that they were to be worn by those who persevered.

To all "of the earth" not wholly "earthy," the Earth seemed a fit subject to picture under its ancient symbol; and, in a robe of arable and foliage, set in a goodly frame of the celestial signs, with the seasons "as they roll," it will be offered as a frontispiece to the present folume, and accompany the title-page with the indexes in the next sheet.

It must have been obvious to every reader of the Every-Day Book, as it has been to me, of which there have been several indications for some time past, that the plan of the work could not be executed within the year; and I am glad to find from numerous quarters that its continuance is approved and even required. So far as it has proceeded I have done my utmost to render it useful. My endeavours to render it agreeable may occasion "close" readers to object, that it was more discursive than they expected. I am afraid I can only answer that I cannot unmake my making-up; and plead guilty to the fact, that, knowing the wants of many, through my own deficiencies, I have tried to aid them in the way that appeared most likely to effect the object, with the greater number of those for whom the work was designed. Nor do I hesitate also to acknowledge, that in gathering for others, I have in no small degree been teaching myself. For it is of the nature of such an undertaking to constrain him who executes it, to tasks of thought, and exercises of judgment, unseen by those who are satisfied when they enjoy what is before them, and care not by what ventures it was obtained. My chief anxiety has been to provide a wholesome sufficiency for all, and not to offer any thing that should be hurtful or objectionable. I hope I have succeeded.

I respectfully desire to express my grateful sense of the extensive favour wherein the conduct of the publication is held. And I part from my readers on New Year's-eve, with kind regards till we meet in the new volume of the Every-Day Book on New Year's-day—to-morrow.


45, Ludgate-hill, 1825.


London: Printed by A. Applegath, Stamford-street.

Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:

1. Mr. Audley's Companion to Almanac. [return]

2. Dr. Drake's Shakspeare and his Times. [return]

3. New Monthly Magazine, Dec. 18. [return]