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ON that dark morning we woke up, and it instantly occurred to us -- or at any rate to those of us who have preserved some of our illusions and our naivete -- that we had something to be cheerful about, some cause for a gay and strenuous vivacity; and then we remembered that it was New Year's Day, and there were those Resolutions to put into force! Of course, we all smile in a superior manner at the very mention of New Year's

Resolutions; we pretend they are toys for children, and that we have long since ceased to regard them seriously as a possible aid to conduct.

But we are such deceivers, such miserable, moral cowards, in such terror of appearing naive that I for one am not to be taken in by that smile and that pretence. The individual who scoffs at New Year's Resolutions resembles the woman who says she doesn't look under the bed at nights; the truth is not in him, and in the very moment of his lying, could his cranium suddenly become transparent, we should see Resolutions burning brightly in his brain like lamps in Trafalgar Square. Of this I am convinced, that nineteen- twentieths of us got out of bed that morning animated by that special feeling of gay and strenuous vivacity which Resolutions alone can produce. And nineteen-twentieths of us were also conscious of a high virtue, forgetting that it is not the making of Resolutions, but the keeping of them, which renders pardonable the consciousness of virtue.

And at this hour, while the activity of the Resolution is yet in full blast, I would wish to insist on the truism, obvious perhaps, but apt to be overlooked, that a man cannot go forward and stand still at the same time. Just as moralists have often animadverted upon the tendency to live in the future, so I would animadvert upon the tendency to live in the past. Because all around me I see men carefully tying them- selves with an unbreakable rope to an immovable post at the bottom of a hill and then struggling to climb the hill. If there is one Resolution more important than another it is the Resolution to break with the past. If life is not a continual denial of the past, then it is nothing. This may seem a hard and callous doctrine, but you know there are aspects of common sense which decidedly are hard and callous. And one finds constantly in plain common-sense persons (O rare and select band!) a surprising quality of ruthlessness mingled with softer traits. Have you not noticed it? The past is absolutely intractable. One can't do anything with it. And an exaggerated attention to it is like an exaggerated attention to sepulchers -- a sign of barbarism. Moreover, the past is usually the enemy of cheerfulness, and cheerfulness is a most precious attainment.

Personally, I could even go so far as to exhibit hostility towards grief, and a marked hostility towards remorse --two states of mind which feed on the past instead of on the present. Remorse, which is not the same thing as repentance, serves no purpose that I have ever been able to discover. What one has done, one has done, and there's an end of it. As a great prelate unforgettably said, "Things are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be. Why, then, attempt to deceive ourselves “-- that remorse for wickedness is a useful and praiseworthy exercise? Much better to forget. As a matter of fact, people “indulge “in remorse; it is a somewhat vicious form of spiritual pleasure. Grief, of course, is different, and it must be handled with delicate consideration. Nevertheless, when I see, as one does see, a man or a woman dedicating existence to sorrow for the loss of a beloved creature, and the world tacitly applauding, my feeling is certainly inimical. To my idea, that man or woman is not honouring, but dishonouring, the memory of the departed; society suffers, the individual suffers, and no earthly or heavenly good is achieved. Grief is of the past; it mars the present; it is a form of indulgence, and it ought to be bridled much more than it often is. The human heart is so large that mere remembrance should not be allowed to tyrannize over every part of it.

But cases of remorse and absorbing grief are comparatively rare. What is not rare is that misguided loyalty to the past which dominates the lives of so many of us. I do not speak of leading principles, which are not likely to incommode us by changing; I speak of secondary yet still important things. We will not do so-and-so because we have never done it – as if that was a reason! Or we have always done so-and-so, therefore we must always do it – as if that was logic! This disposition to an irrational Toryism is curiously discoverable in advanced Radicals, and it will show itself in the veriest trifles. I remember such a man whose wife objected to his form of hat (not that I would call so crowning an affair as a hat a trifle!). "My dear," he protested, "I have always worn this sort of hat. It may not suit me, but it is absolutely impossible for me to alter it now." However, she took him by means of an omnibus to a hat shop and bought him another hat and put it on his head, and made a present of the old one to the shop assistant, and marched him out of the shop. “There!" she said, "you see how impossible it is." This is a parable. And I will not insult your intelligence by applying it.

The faculty that we chiefly need when we are in the resolution-making mood is the faculty of imagination, the faculty of looking at our lives as though we had never looked at them before -- freshly, with a new eye. Supposing that you had been born mature and full of experience, and that yesterday had been the first day of your life, you would regard it today as an experiment, you would challenge each act in it, and you would probably arrange to-morrow in a manner that showed a healthy disrespect for yesterday. You certainly would not say: “I have done so-and-so once; therefore I must keep on doing it." The past is never more than an experiment. A genuine appreciation of this fact will make our new Resolutions more valuable and drastic than they usually are. I have a dim notion that the most useful Resolution for most of us would be to break quite fifty per cent, of all the vows we have ever made. “Do not accustom yourself to enchain your volatility with vows. . . . Take this warning; it is of great importance." (The wisdom is Johnson's)


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