On Good Wishes At Christmas



At Christmas, which is a good holiday for most of us, but especially for

that larger and better half of us, the young, there is, as everybody

knows, a profusion of good things. The final cause of a great many

existences is Christmas Day. How many of that vast flock of geese, which

are now peacefully feeding over the long, cold wolds of Norfolk, or are

driven gabbling and hissing by the gozzard to
their pasture--how many of

those very geese were called into being simply for Christmas Day! In the

towns, with close streets and fetid courts, where the flaring gas at the

corner of an alley marks the only bright spot, a gin-palace, there a

goose-club is held; and there, for a short time, is the resting-place,

side by side with a bottle of gin, of one of those wise-looking and

self-concentrated gobblers, whose name men have generally, and, as we

think, unjustly, applied to the silly one amongst themselves.

But it is only the profusion of good things, of cakes, puddings, spices,

oranges, and fruits, from sunny Italy and Spain, from India and from

Asia, from America, North and South, and even from distant Australia; it

is not that amongst us, as long ago with the _Franklin_ in Chaucer, that

at this time--

It snowes in our house

Of meate and drinke;

it is not that we have huge loads of beef chines, ribs, sirloins, legs,

necks, breasts, and shoulders of mutton, fillets of veal, whole hogs,

and pigs in various stages, from the tender suckling to the

stiff-jointed father of a family, whose back hair makes good

clothes-brushes, and whose head is brought in at college feasts; it is

not that the air gives up its choicest fowl, and the waters yield their

best fish: plentiful as these are with us, they are nothing in profusion

to the kindly greeting and good wishes that fly about in the cold

weather, and that circulate from land's end to land's end. The whole

coast of England is surrounded by a general shake hands. The

coast-guard on their wintry walks do not greet each other more surely

than old friends all over England do: one clasps another, and another a

third, till from Dover to London and so on to York, from Yarmouth on the

east to Bristol on the west, from John O'Groat's house at the extreme

north to the Land's End, the very toe-nail of England on the south--a

kindly greeting, we may be sure, will pass. And a cheerful thing it is,

on this day of universal equality, on this day which--

To the cottage and the crown,

Brought tidings of salvation down,

to think that we can touch and hold each other with friendly hands all

over our land. We all of us shake hands on Christmas Day. Leigh Hunt had

a quaint fancy that he had, as it were, by lineal descent, shaken hands

with Milton. He would argue thus: he knew a man who had shaken hands

with Dr. Johnson, who had clasped the hand of him who had shaken

Dryden's right hand, who himself had thus greeted Andrew Marvell, who

knew Master Elwood, the Quaker friend of Milton, who knew Milton

himself; and thus, though our Sovereign has her hand kissed, not shaken,

by her subjects, yet doubtless she will clasp the hands of her children,

who, shaking those of others, will let the greeting and the good wishes

descend to the lowest on that ladder of society which we are all trying

to climb.

As for hearty good wishes, spoken in all kinds of voices, from the

deepest bass to the shrillest treble, we are sure that they circulate

throughout the little island, and are borne on the wings of the post all

over the seas. Erasmus, coming to England in Henry VIII's time, was

struck with the deep heartiness of our wishes--good, ay, and bad too;

but he most admired the good ones. Other nations ask in their greetings

how a man carries himself, or how doth he stand with the world, or how

doth he find himself; but the English greet with a pious wish that God

may give one a good morning or a good evening, good day, or god'd'en,

as the old writers have it; and when we part we wish that God may be

with you, though we now clip it into Good b'ye.