Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year Turns: Happy New Year to All, with Hopes that We May Meet One Another Doing Good in 2014

In previous years as the year turns, I've posted commentary on the turning of the year written by my uncle several generations back, Wilson Richard Bachelor, whose work was published this year in my book entitled Fiat Flux: The Writings of Wilson R. Bachelor, Nineteenth-Century Country Doctor and Philosopher. Dr. Bachelor had a habit, year after year, of sitting awake in his study writing as the new year arrived while his family slept in the house to which his study was attached. Many of his new year's eve reflections dwell on our obligation to be better and kinder to one another, to build a more humane world together, regardless of our religious views (or our lack of any religious commitment: he himself was a freethinker who rejected theism). 

I've previously posted new year's eve meditations of Bachelor as 1890 began (here) and as 1894 turned to 1895 (here). Both of those pieces were published in his local newspaper; the latter is also in his diary--he either originally wrote it there and then transcribed it for the newspaper, or vice versa. 

The following is Bachelor's reflection as 1895 ended and 1896 began (it's transcribed just as it appears in his diary): 

New year’s Night 1895 & 96  
As is my custom I am up and writing[.] It is full moon. [A]nd pale Cynthia is at her zenith. And pours her mellow light over the earth, while the Pleiades keep their course. It is clear, cold and frosty. Pauline and Vick went to a Social in the evening. Vick has just returned home, but Pauline remained to return tomorrow. The Year 1895 has gone with its laughter and tears carrying with it many bereavments [sic]. Taking one from the old homestead which we will not cease to think off [sic].  
And now, for a new year—A happy New year to all.  
Pauline, W.R. Bachelor

This meditation on the turning of the year is perhaps more somber than the previous two I've posted here. As the diary entry notes, a family member had died during the preceding year--Bachelor's son and namesake "Wils," a son who wasted painfully from tuberculosis, dying short of his 40th birthday in August 1895. Bachelor's diary entry four days after Wils's death is heart-rending. His pain at the loss of his son is palpable. He notes that for more than 20 years, his family had made music together, playing organ, violin, banjo, and guitar, and that Wils's loss to "that fell destroyer (consumption)" would be keenly felt, because of the music he had made within the family circle.

The eulogy Bachelor spoke at his son's graveside is equally moving, and is preserved in a scrapbook he kept (whose essays my book publishes, along with Bachelor's diary). It's clipped from the local paper in which it had appeared following Wils's death. It ends as follows:

He never murmured in his long illness, but met death with calmness and without fear. He was conscious to the last. A short time before he passed away, he called me and told me he was dying. And thus passed away and now rests. 
He was a filial son, a loving brother, a true friend. He stood for truth and right. We leave him in the arms of mother earth. Among the birds and flowers, greenfields, babbling brooks and the golden sunshine. Farewell—a long farewell.

And so, I conclude, Bachelor's pensive mood as 1896 arrived, ending a year in which he had experienced the sharp pain of losing a child, the first death in the family after Bachelor's first son died shortly after his birth in 1850. Pauline and Vick, who are mentioned in the preceding new year's meditation, are Bachelor's two youngest children--Pauline Graham and Victor Hugo Bachelor, who remained at home with their parents as their eight older siblings married and moved away, Pauline teaching organ in the local community and Vick taking over the operation of his father's farm. Bachelor doted on Pauline, whom he named for a close friend, Paul Graham, and he gave the community in which his family lived and where he was postmaster the name Pauline.

Life, death; the rising of pale Cynthia as the Pleiades keep their course; family circles full of music, in which one voice now falls forever silent; the loss of a beloved son: Wilson Bachelor was fascinated with the theme of the inexorable turning of the world in its orbit, the changing of the years--with the concept he called fiat flux--because his philosophy of freethought placed ultimate value in this world and the one life each of us is given to live in this world.

As I wrote in a presentation about my book that I gave to several audiences this past year,

As a freethinker, Dr. Bachelor stresses the constantly changing nature of a world in which our obligation to do good derives precisely from the fragility of life, and not from a divine command. I’d like to think that, all things considered, this is not a bad philosophy at all for religious folks and freethinkers alike, and that, as the new pope, Francis, recently said, atheists have as much chance at heaven as anyone else, since they often do good works that put believers to shame. Atheists and believers "must meet one another doing good," Pope Francis says, and in that encounter, they may find they have more in common than they realize, and can learn from each other. 

May all of us meet each other doing good in the coming year, believer and nonbeliever alike, black, white, green, yellow, young, old, gay, straight, male, female, somewhere in between: a happy 2014 to each of you, and my sincere gratitude to all of you for your interest in my meandering thoughts here.

The photo of Dr. Bachelor, which was taken about 1890, was enclosed in a letter he wrote to his great-niece Janie Byrd in February 1899, which tells Janie that when she's tempted to do wrong, she must look at the photo of her great-uncle and remember his good wishes for her and her future. I'm grateful to Janie's daughter Elsie McBurnett Hodges for sharing the photo with me some years ago, and to Elsie's son Norman Hodges for allowing me to use it in my book about Dr. Bachelor's work.

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