The opening of a new Year has usually been laid hold of by me as an opportunity for reflection as well upon the past as the future. This year a still further occasion is presented as at the same time I begin a new volume of my Diary. If there is any benefit to be traced most clearly from the practice of a daily record, it seems to me to be that arising from the habits of speculation it forms through the power of comparing the feelings of one period with those of another. In the course of a year, two or three occasions are presented upon particular days to look back and consider how you stand that moment as contrasted with the same moment in the years before. These if improved open a wide field for self examination and amendment in what is faulty, congratulation for what is good in you. I hope I may say that I have not allowed any day to pass without making some effort to derive advantage from cultivating the practice. The hopes and fears which give their colouring to one period of life change and are forgotten in those which succeed unless some faithful monitor remains to bring them up before the mind, as a lesson what shadows we are and what shadows we pursue.
I commence this Book and this year principally under a deep sense of Gratitude to the Divine Being for the manifold blessings which have been showered upon me as well in the past as in preceding years. 210When I look back to what I was when my Diary first began, a Youth first entering College, and consider the course of events through the intermediate years, I am filled with wonder at my escape from the many snares which beset my path, and am often tempted to think there was a singular providence watching my steps, which caused many of the events deemed by myself at the moment to be evils, in order to withhold my too eager pursuit of the means for my own destruction. How closely in Man’s life are approached the roads of happiness and of misery. How critical the turning points of his fate. Three times in my Existence already can I perceive the operation of influences upon my success in life. Of these three times, twice I was rescued from wretchedness and vice, once I was carried to the happiness I now enjoy. And in each time, the causes of the result might seem strangely inadequate if I did not invariably reflect with the Poet,
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends
In looking back upon the past I derive a satisfaction in the reflection that each year as it has passed has done something to add to my stock of virtue as well as to the sum of my happiness, and that the last have done more than the first. The one I am immediately considering has materially affected me in both respects. It has given me a Child. It has laid upon me new duties with my new relations, the importance of which I feel too much not to set about more earnestly than ever the work of self improvement, and the increased cultivation of all those virtues without which man cannot be what he ought. It has added to the already abundant share allotted to me of the goods of Fortune, the value of which I hope I shall learn not to rate too highly nor to despise too much. If this same Year has done so much for my happiness in these respects, perhaps it has not done less in checking the excess of my ambition which had set its aim far too high to avoid the mortification of occasional disappointment. I am now pretty much in the same situation as last year so far as it respects my station in Society. And so far from expecting now as I did then to make way for myself by a sudden leap to distinction, I am beginning to habituate myself to the idea that mine is already so respectable a situation that more is hazarded in the attempt than would be gained by success. Yet I would fain believe this is not the whisper of Indolence. Whatever I may find to do, that will I do with all my might, but as yet the only regret I experience if so I can call it, is that I shall not obtain sufficient chance to do enough to prevent me from yielding to indolence, unless some event happens which at present I cannot foresee. Of such an event it 211becomes not me to despair, but rather in devout gratitude to God for the number of favours he has already heaped upon my unworthy head, to trust that what will happen will prove for the best, and that in the meanwhile I will rest securely in the performance of my present duties. The hour may come when the Servant may be called to Action. May he in that hour not be caught asleep. So ends the rather longer series of personal reflections, than it has hitherto been my practice to indulge in.
The morning was clear and cold though so much less than yesterday that it seemed quite pleasant. I attended Divine Service all day. My Wife went in the morning, the first time since she had her Cold now nearly four weeks. Mr. Frothingham preached in the morning from John 11. 9. “Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day?” A Sermon upon the New Year and the necessity of employing time in order to give a good account of it. I did not like it so well as Mr. Young’s in the Afternoon from John 12. 43. “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” He tried to show the evils resulting from too great a desire of the applause of the world. These he considered principally in two classes. Evils of Vanity. Evils of Ambition. And closed with an exhortation to independent conduct and to the desire of the praise of God. I have at various times since my regular attendance at Church felt some benefit resulting from it to myself, in consequence of applications of the chance words of the Preacher to myself personally. They do occasionally go to my heart, either by warning me of faults which I try to conceal from myself or encouraging me to the performance of my duty when my zeal has begun to flag. Those of this afternoon were of the latter description.
On my return home I read a Sermon of Massillon’s without much benefit. Matthew 17. 4. “Then answered Peter and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Upon the dangers of temporal prosperity. 1. Because the temptation to fall from religious faith and practice is almost irresistible. 2. Because repentance is scarcely possible. The subject is a noble and affecting one. But from some cause or other, which even I do not comprehend, this Writer touches me very little. Yet if he has any reputation it is more particularly for pathos.
In the evening I am in the practice of reading to my Wife besides the Canterbury Tales for amusement, a portion of two Chapters of the Bible nightly for instruction. It is a little remarkable however that I should myself be so little able to instruct in the meaning of the 212difficult parts of the Epistles from the Apostles. This is a future study I propose to myself. After Abby retired I was engaged in writing, and did nothing in any of my usual studies, always excepting the regular numbers of the Spectator.