The Humourist on Giving and Receiving Tokens of Esteem on New Year’s Day

Friendship is the Life of Man, the only Cement of Society, the only pledge of true Felicity. —The Humourist


1 January 1754


— — — Laeti
Dona ferunt, — —

The most volatile enjoy Hours of Reflection, and indeed Life must appear very burdensome to that Man whose Genius is unable to chequer the grave with the ludicrous, the solemn with the Farce:  A well-tempered Mixture is ever the best, the one is a Relaxation for the other, and greatly contributes to render our Company acceptable in all social Communications.

The Humourist was yesterday serious: the Incident was fortunate, for whilst he was employed in passing his yearly accounts, and comparing a few Transactions of the former, with the past Year, he stumbled upon a Sentiment which carries with it an excellent Moral, and opportunely serves as an Introduction to that Revolution of Time, generally term’d a Year.

This is the Season, wherein that laudable Custom of presenting Tokens of Friendship, has Time out of Mind prevailed: It is a Custom so noble as it is ancient, and is undoubtedly grounded on the most perfect Reason, and established by the best Examples.

A very limited and confined Knowledge of the Ancients, will suffice to illustrate this Truth.  If we look back upon the Jews, we shall find, that the Month of Nisan, the first of their Year, was dedicated to the Celebration of Feasts, particularly that of the Passover, on which Occasion they gave the most general Invitations to their Neighbors to the eating [one or two illegible words].

The Greeks began their Olympiads by Sacrificing to Jupiter and the most superstitious Nations have not been wanting in Ceremonies of a like Nature.

A New-Year’s Gift, is a renewing, or rather confirming, that Friendship which a generous Mind will always be ambitious to acquire.

There is only one Thing wherein I should take Pleasure in seeing Mankind bear a Resemblance to the Turks, and that is, by rejoicing with due Reverence at every new Moon, whose Crescent they never fail to display with the most grateful Acts of Kindness to each other.

In January and February, the Romans made Presents to their Friends, and Romulus expressly commanded, that Vervine should be offered with other Marks of mutual Respect, as the wisest Method of insuring to themselves a successful and happy Conclusion to the Year.

Tacitus tells us. that Tiberius fixed the First of January as the proper Day, not only for the giving, but likewise for receiving, these Tokens of Esteem.

We are apt to measure Love by the most extravagant Return of Favours, but if we consider, that the Dispensations of Providence are too unequally divided, to allow each Man the same Power of Distribution, we shall regard more justly those Marks of Gratitude, that, notwithstanding they want the Stamp of Gratitude, do nevertheless bear upon them the Figure of a generous Mind; it is the Manner, not the Value, that distinguishes the Greatness of the Favour, it is the sweet and grateful Communication of our Gratitude, not the too liberal Profusion, that renders the Gift an acceptable Boon.

Customs of this nature can never meet with suitable Encouragement; all our Endeavors to promote them, will fall greatly short of the Veneration in which they ought to be upheld.

Friendship is the Life of Man, the only Cement of Society, the only pledge of true Felicity.

These annual Gifts strengthen and confirm our Alliances, and preserve that Conformity of  [one illegible word ending in tent] which is the Essence of mutual Esteem.

A well grounded Friendship promotes the [one illegible word] Virtues, and entirely eradicates from the human Heart, any insincere Passions or turbulent Suspicions.

With a Friend (not a Friend in common Acceptation) a Desart loses its Train of Horror, and only seems a blest Retirement.

It is evident, that the Ancients looked upon those Customs as promotive of the social Duties, and as so many Obligations of the Performance of them.  I am sorry to say, that modern Elegance is endeavouring to suppress these noble Emanations, but I am far more grieved to own, that such Virtues are incompatible with modern Graces.

It is with Sincerity I offer my Thoughts on this Subject, tho’ far more unnecessary in this Place (than in my others) where so noble a Generosity, joined with an hospitable Dignity, prevails.

The greatest Lessons of Morality may be gathered from imbibing such worthy Sentiments; they communicate Love to every Individual, and keep up an Harmony, without which the Order of Nature is inverted.

These Gifts create a most happy Emulation amongst the juvenile part of Mankind, and are so many Records of Friendship for the Gathers and Grandfathers to transmit to Posterity.

If these Hints meet with Approbation, I need not assure my Readers, that the Reward is more than adequate to my Trouble:  And I dare affirm, that if any Exceptions are taken to the Method I pursue in treating upon this or any other Subject, they will be generously considered as Errors arising from a Defect of Judgment, not for a total Ignorance of what an honest Soul ought to dictate.


1 Starting with 1754, The Humourist numbers each essay.

2 The quote is from Vergil’s Aeneid (Book V:100-101), “Aeneas Declares the Games”: “And his companions as well, brought gifts gladly, of which / each had a store, piling high the altars, sacrificing bullocks: / others set out rows of cauldrons, and scattered among the grass, / placed live coals under the spits, and roasted the meat.”

Coming in January!

As we approach the New Year, my posts will continue to be in sync with The Humourist’s publication dates. 

January 1

  • The Humourist explores the ancient tradition of presenting “Tokens of Friendship” on New Year’s day.

January 8

  • The Humourist humors himself by writing several letters to himself under the names of Tom Sprightly and Ignotus.

January 15

  • The Humourist examines the foundations of drama.  In addition, he writes another letter to himself that includes “doggerel lines composed by some snarling fellow”:  “The Triple Plea:  Law, Physic, and Divinity.”

January 22

  • The Humourist asserts that writers should adjust their diets to suit the nature of the subject matter under consideration.  For example, “A Pastoral Writer must addict himself to the primitive way of living; Vegetables for his Diet, and for his Drink, the purling Stream.”

January 29

  • The Humourist ends the month with an essay about the paradox of the wise man of Mitilene:  half is better than the whole.  “One half of our abilities properly husbanded, and the other half discovered, is of more real Importance, than the whole profusely squandered.”