The New Year is almost here! This Sunday night, 2017 will officially be over and a whole new year will begin. If, like us, you feel in need of some advice on how to properly approach 2018, we offer up a few lessons from The Gentleman’s New-Year’s-Gift: or Serious Advice to a Nephew (1792). While the title page says this address was printed in 1792, the date of the original letter is confirmed at the end by the author, “Thy Sincerely Most affectionate Uncle, and, Humble Servant, London Jan. 1, 1729” (125).
Printed by W. Phorson in Berwick, England, the work had a very narrow original audience of one. As the unnamed author writes in the preface, “The following piece...was designed only for the private use of a young gentleman, who had the misfortune to be born in a family, whose female relations were many of them Presbyterians, and the men Hobbists, who having under the specious pretence of religion (but really to gratify their own pride and malice) predestined him to destruction, endeavoured in a great measure to affect it, by detraction and other vile practices, and to load him with as many miseries as they had before done some innocent children of the same family. This letter therefore was wrote for his caution and defence against their base and unnatural attempts, and met with its desired success.” This advice was only printed for wider consumption when it was discovered that several copies had started to appear with changed or added prose.
The concerned uncle, reflecting on his brother’s death, decided to impart as much wisdom as possible to his younger nephew on eight major life subjects: Religion; Civil government ; Bodily health; School learning; Profession or employment; Duty as a husband to a wife; Duty as a father of children; and Duty as a master of servants. As is appropriate for many modern New Year’s resolutions, his advice on Bodily health may be of use to anyone looking to try to improve their diet: “the first things to be minded are your Constitution, and your Diet, of which the plainest, coarsest, and strongest is generally best; for brown bread, good beef, mutton, veal, milk, pudding and pye, such plain and natural meats, and small beer, are more likely to create and preserve a strong and a vigorous constitution” (23).
Of course, no list of New Year’s resolutions is ever complete without some commitment to exercise more and the author has opinions on this as well. He recommends “swimming, riding, running, leaping, cricket, bowling, tennis, and all such robust diversions, as at once strengthening the nerves and sinews, exhilarate the blood and spirits, create an appetite, and help digestion.” With these suggestions he shares a motto for how to tackle every task, “when you play, or indeed do anything else, Hoc Age, that, is, whatever you do, do it with all your might” (25).
After a discussion of suitable hobbies, professions, women, children, and servants, the author turns to some timeless virtues: “let me recommend to you Integrity, Sincerity, and Truth in all your words and actions” (95). He values these along with honesty, industry, frugality, charity, secrecy, constancy, and content. On frugality (part of my own personal resolution for the New Year) he writes, “Next to Industry, remember Frugality, for it is not enough to get unless you likewise save” (105) and on being content he says, “I know no better method of attaining this virtue, than firmly to believe and rest assured that whatever happens is best for us” (112). His most specific advice to his nephew, written as it was in the eighteenth century, may not resonate with everyone, but frugality (and of course, mutton) will hopefully be a part of my 2018.
Happy New Year from everyone at the Redwood Library and Athenaeum!
We hope to see you all in 2018!