“The New Year”

Charles Dickens famously wrote about Christmas in several stories and magazine articles. He seems to have overlooked the New Year except in an early piece in which he is nostalgic at the passing of friendship, goodwill, and time itself.

In Scenes and Characters No 11 published in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle on 3 January 1836 and republished as “The New Year” in Sketches by Boz (1839), Dickens describes a party on New Year’s Eve 1835. The article begins:

“Next to Christmas-day, the most pleasant annual epoch in existence is the advent of the New Year. There are a lachrymose set of people who usher in the New Year with watching and fasting, as if they were bound to attend as chief mourners at the obsequies of the old one. Now, we cannot but think it a great deal more complimentary, both to the old year that has rolled away, and to the New Year that is just beginning to dawn upon us, to see the old fellow out, and the new one in, with gaiety and glee.”

Charles-DickensDickens adored parties, especially those at which he was the life and soul. In 1835 he was just beginning to find his way as a journalist, writing for the London periodical Monthly Magazine and covering politics for newspapers such as the Morning Chronicle. He was discovering his powers of observation and testing new ways of writing about what he saw:

“There must have been some few occurrences in the past year to which we can look back, with a smile of cheerful recollection, if not with a feeling of heartfelt thankfulness. And we are bound by every rule of justice and equity to give the New Year credit for being a good one, until he proves himself unworthy the confidence we repose in him.”

Almost finished writing, he hears the first stroke of midnight and peals of bells from neighbouring churches. Time is knocking at the door:

“…it is a solemn knell that warns us we have passed another of the landmarks which stands between us and the grave. Disguise it as we may, the reflection will force itself on our minds, that when the next bell announces the arrival of a new year, we may be insensible alike of the timely warning we have so often neglected, and of all the warm feelings that glow within us now.”

XJF384045Sketches by “Boz,” Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People  is a collection of 56 London scenes and people divided into four sections: “Our Parish”, “Scenes”, “Characters”, and “Tales”. The material in the first three sections is non-fiction; the last section comprises fictional stories. The original was illustrated by the British caricaturist George Cruikshank (1792-1878), with two black-and-white illustrations per instalment, created with wood engravings or metal etchings.

Dickens took his famous pseudonym from a nickname he had given his younger brother Augustus, whom he called “Moses” (after a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield), which “being facetiously pronounced through the nose” became “Boses”, which in turn was shortened to “Boz”. The Sketches by Boz are still worth reading – as is all of Dickens.

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Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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