Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Happy New Year

"There are three times: a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future," Augustine, Confessions.

I mentioned several days past that I might bore readers with a brief account of why Steve and I were traveling in California the past few weeks.  Steve had business meetings there, and I accompanied him.  

But I also had my own bit of business.  A cousin and I have been collaborating for some time on a book, and we recently got word from a publisher that the book has been accepted for publication.  A primary focus of the book will be to transcribe (and annotate) a diary kept by the cousin's ancestor, a man named Wilson Bachelor, who was a pioneer doctor in Arkansas (as well as a philosopher, writer, scientist, musician, free thinker, advocate of workers'  and women's rights, and political leader).  I got pulled into the project because a great-great grandfather of mine, Moses Batchelor, was Wilson Bachelor's brother.

And so California, and the trip: the diary on which the book will focus belongs to yet another cousin who lives in southern California, and part of the reason for the trip was for my co-author cousin and me to rendezvous, drive to meet the cousin who owns the diary, and see if it might be possible for us to obtain a good scanned copy of this precious and now-fragile document.  We've been working from a photocopy made some years back, which is defective, in that the margins of some pages are cut off, and a number of pages seem to be omitted.

The cousin overwhelmed us with her generosity in permitting us to take the diary back home with us to have it scanned professionally by a university library that has a keen interest in the project and is supporting it.  In addition to the diary, we have, as well, a scrapbook kept by Dr. Bachelor which contains several essays he wrote, largely on the theme of world religions and free thought, and a collection of letters he wrote to members of my family, primarily about family matters.

One of the interesting aspects of the diary is that it contains recurring passages celebrating the start of the new year.  There are entries of that sort for 1894, 1895, and 1900.  Some of the essays in the scrapbook also focus on the same theme, and I published one of these (for 1890) here at Bilgrimage in January 2009.

And here's Dr. Bachelor's reflection as 1894 ended (with original spelling, grammar, and punctuation intact): 

Mid night--the 31st of december 1894 
The old year of 1894 is just passing away--forever--It with its burdens passes in review before us.  Wars, drouths, floods, fire, railroad disasters, suicides, assassinations, lynchings, hangings, robberies, strikes, poverty, tramps, political differences, new parties, coalitions, disintegrations of parties, and financial distresses.  The masses like the branches of the trees are swayed by every political breeze.  Cranks, demagogues and pseudo-reformers, and theoretical economist[s] augment the unrest.  The old year carries, as her burden, tears, sorrows, sufferings, defer[r]ed resolves, broken promises, misplaced confidence, noble impulses crushed, virtuous resolutions abandoned, reformations procastinated, heartaches, farewells of loved ones, separations of friends.  Also, the grand deeds of virtuous Womanhood.  And generous zeal of Manhood, in their untiring efforts to help the poor and the fallen. So, passes like a meteor darklin 1894.  One more link in the endless chain of the eternal cycles. 
It is clear and frosty.  The Pleiades look down with pity.  See, She comes.  A magnificent ship--mottoes and banners gleaming.  It is the New Year.  Happy New Year.  All aboard. Now she sweeps through infinite space; and trembles in the undulations of ether.  She curves to the great central orb and with the velocity of a thousand miles a minute. Brothers and Sisters, we cannot afford to be idle a minute.  Don’t you see how fast we are hurr[y]ing on?  Don’t you see time don’t wait?  Let us now resolve never again to procrastinate a good deed,--nor strangle a noble impulse.  Do good, do right, if we cannot relieve by charity the distressed, we can speak kindly and sympathize--then--a happy--and prosperous New Year. 

These thoughts from a man who developed strong skepticism about organized religion and its talk about God are remarkable with their sympathetic moral insight, it seems to me, and eerily apropos in our contemporary religious-political context--especially the bit about cranks, demagogues, pseudo-reformers, and theoretical economists.  I offer the passage with new year's good wishes to all.

(And also to note that I may find time scarce for blogging as this writing project gets underway in earnest, since our publisher hasn't given us an over-generous turnaround time for the manuscript!)

Happy 2002 2012!

(Thanks to the kind reader who emailed to tell me, "I'm all for living in the past, but did you really mean to wish us a happy 2002?")

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