The old year had to die

The end of 2020 is nigh, thank god, and this is my final newsletter of the year, so I first want to thank you all, again, for signing up and allowing me to share my obsession with thousands of like-minded strangers. It has genuinely brightened up my year and I am excited for it to continue through 2021 and beyond. This morning I spent a little time looking for mention of New Year in the letters of others. This list is the result.

Happy New Year to you all. We may not be out of the woods just yet, but in the distance the trees are thinning x


Do you think it's at all sensible to wish anyone a Happy New Year? I think the best one can do nowadays is just to wish that we all survive, year by year; and the Vietnam war is like a darkness hovering over that wish.

Martha Gellhorn | Letter to Raleigh Trevelyan, 26 Dec 1967 | Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn


I called up the NY Times on Tuesday morning, when I received your letter, and said I wanted to insert a Public Notice. “How does it go?” the clerk asked. “It goes,” I replied, “‘E. B. White sends New Year’s greetings to Clarence Day exactly.’” Well, the clerk said, you will have to come into the office, we can’t take that over the telephone. Come in and see either Mr. McNamara or Mr. Kaufman. This sounded like a challenge, so I went around to the Times office and gained an audience with Mr. McNamara. I showed him the typewritten copy. “E. B. White sends New Year’s greetings to Clarence Day exactly.” He studied it a long time. “What does it mean?” he asked finally. “Means what it says,” I snapped. “It’s kind of a greeting.” “Well,” he said, “we can’t run that as a Public Notice; it might mean something.” Then he got up and took the matter up with Mr. Kaufman. I saw Mr. Kaufman study the slip of paper for a long time, then shake his head. Mr. McNamara came back. “What does this mean here—Clarence Day exactly? What do you mean ‘exactly’?” “I put that in,” I explained, “to prevent a great many inconsiderable and nosey people, in whom I haven’t the slightest charitable interest, from horning in on the New Year’s wishes I am sending my good friend Mr. Day.” Mr. McNamara gazed at me in alarm. “However,” I went on, “if you object to the word ‘exactly’ I will take it out. Just make it read: ‘E. B. White sends New Year’s greetings to Clarence Day.’” Again Mr. McNamara studied the notice, in a kind of reverie. He shook his head. “You mean,” I asked, “that the Times won’t accept my greetings?” “We can’t,” he said. “It might mean something.” “Really,” I said, “the Times is magnificent!” I rose, shook hands and departed. Happy new year anyway!

E. B. White | Letter to Clarence Day, 4 Jan 1934 | Letters of E. B. White


So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that proceeded. Maybe you can find some vague theology that will give you hope. Not that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. I asked Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would have not man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t recognize and probably wouldn’t like.

John Steinbeck | Letter to Pascal Covici, 1 Jan 1941 | Steinbeck: A Life in Letters


I must say I hope the coming year will be better than the last one, which, I think, was sheer hell.

Edith Sitwell | Letter to John Lehmann, 19 Dec 1949 | Edith Sitwell: Selected Letters 1919-1964


Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time. However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.

Mark Twain | Letter to Territorial Enterprise, 1 Jan 1863


At midnight I thought of you, my Alex; did you think of me? I think you did, too, because my left ear made a sound. Well, as you know, ‘New year, new life.’ This year, your little woman won't be a 7-peso sugared almond, but the sweetest and best one ever known, so you can eat all of it.

Frida Kahlo | Letter to Alejandro Arias Gomez, 1 Jan 1925 | The Letters of Frida Kahlo


We, Frieda and I, both send our love, for the New Year, the Year 1 of the new world. The old year had to die.

D. H. Lawrence | Letter to Katherine Mansfield, 7 Jan 1916 | Selected Letters: D. H. Lawrence


Cheers to thee old honey bun, dearest alley cat, and give the screw a twist. New Year’s Eve was saintly, yours no doubt divine. Pick a clump of garlic, stuff your mouth with thyme, and break the news to Beaver that heaven doesn’t rhyme. Not when the Commissar has news for the Lord. Or are you too chicken, goosey pie, and does the light run wild in your calm fine eye?

Norman Mailer | Letter to Randolph Churchill, Jan 1962 | Selected Letters of Norman Mailer


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