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Seasonable Nonsense
by [?]

The most hard-hearted of cynics must pity the poor daily journalist who is calmly requested nowadays to produce a Christmas article. For my own part I decline to meddle with holly and jollity and general goodwill, and I have again and again protested against the insane Beggars’ Carnival which breaks out yearly towards the beginning of December. A man may be pleased enough to hear his neighbour express goodwill, but he does not want his neighbour’s hand held forth to grasp our Western equivalent for “backsheesh.” In Egypt the screeching Arabs make life miserable with their ceaseless dismal yell, “Backsheesh, Howaji!” The average British citizen is also hailed with importunate cries which are none the less piercing and annoying from the fact that they are translated into black and white. The ignoble frivolity of the swarming circulars, the obvious insincerity of the newspaper appeals, the house-to-house calls, tend steadily to vulgarize an ancient and a beautiful institution, and alienate the hearts of kindly people who do not happen to be abject simpletons. The outbreak of kindness is sometimes genuine on the part of the donors; but it is often merely surface-kindness, and the gifts are bestowed in a bitter and grudging spirit. Let me ask, What are the real feelings of a householder who is requested to hand out a present to a turncock or dustman whom he has never seen? The functionaries receive fair wages for unskilled labour, yet they come smirking cheerfully forward and prefer a claim which has no shadow of justification. If a flower-seller is rather too importunate in offering her wares, she is promptly imprisoned for seven days or fined; if a costermonger halts for a few minutes in a thoroughfare and cries his goods, his stock maybe confiscated; yet the privileged Christmas mendicant may actually proceed to insolence if his claims are ignored; and the meek Briton submits to the insult. I cannot sufficiently deplore the progress of this spirit of beggardom, for it is acting and reacting in every direction all over the country. Long ago we lamented the decay of manly independence among the fishermen of those East Coast ports which have become watering-places. Big bearded fellows whose fathers would have stared indignantly at the offer of a gratuity are ready to hold out their hands and touch their caps to the most vulgar dandy that ever swaggered. To any one who knew and loved the whole breed of seamen and fishermen, a walk along Yarmouth sands in September is among the most purely depressing experiences in life. But the demoralization of the seaside population is not so distressing as that of the general population in great cities. We all know Adam Bede–the very finest portrait of the old-fashioned workman ever done. If George Eliot had represented Adam as touching his cap for a sixpence, we should have gasped with surprise at the incongruity. Can we imagine an old-world stonemason like Hugh Miller begging coppers from a farmer on whose steading he happened to be employed? The thing is preposterous! But now a strong London artizan will coolly ask for his gratuity just as if he were a mere link-boy!

It is pleasant to turn to kindlier themes; it is pleasant to think of the legitimate rejoicings and kindnesses in which the most staid of us may indulge. Far be it from me to emulate the crabbed person who proposed to form a “Society for the Abolition of Christmas.” The event to be commemorated is by far the greatest in the history of our planet; all others become hardly worthy of mention when we think of it; and nothing more momentous can happen until the last catastrophe, when a chilled and tideless earth shall roll through space, and when no memory shall remain of the petty creatures who for a brief moment disturbed its surface. The might of the Empire of Rome brooded over the fairest portions of the known world, and it seemed as though nothing could shake that colossal power; the pettiest officer of the Imperial staff was of more importance than all the natives of Syria; and yet we see that the fabric of Roman rule has passed away like a vision, while the faith taught by a band of poor Syrian men has mastered the minds of the strongest nations in the world. The poor disciples whom the Master left became apostles; footsore and weary they wandered–they were scorned and imprisoned and tortured until the last man of them had passed away. Their work has subdued princes and empires, and the bells that ring out on Christmas Eve remind us not only of the most tremendous occurrence in history, but of the deeds of a few humble souls who conquered the fear of death and who resigned the world in order that the children of the world might be made better. A tremendous Event truly! We are far, far away from the ideal, it is true; and some of us may feel a thrill of sick despair when we think of what the sects have done and what they have not done–it all seems so slow, so hopeless, and the powers of evil assert themselves ever and again with such hideous force. Some withdraw themselves to fierce isolation; some remain in the world, mocking the ways of men and treating all life as an ugly jest; some refuse to think at all, and drag themselves into oblivion; while some take one frantic sudden step and leave the world altogether by help of bullet or bare bodkin. A man of light mind who endeavoured to reconcile all the things suggested to him by the coming of Christmas would probably become demented if he bent his entire intellect to solve the puzzles. Thousands–millions–of books have been written about the Christian theology, and half of European mankind cannot claim to have any fixed and certain belief which leads to right conduct. Some of the noblest and sweetest souls on earth have given way to chill hopelessness, and only a very bold or a very thick-sighted man could blame them; we must be tender towards all who are perplexed, especially when we see how terrible are the reasons for perplexity. Nevertheless, dark as the outlook may be in many directions, men are slowly coming to see that the service of God is the destruction of enmity, and that the religion of tenderness and pity alone can give happiness during our dark pilgrimage.