Certainly January lends itself to such porings-over but anyone can pore over the Almanac’s wisdom at anytime, just by picking up the 2013 issue of this periodical, founded by one Robert Thomas in 1792, and published every year ever since.
I love the thing. its signature advice, its woodland lore and its tart observations about human nature especially, a selection of which I found in a book published 60 years ago called The Old Farmer’s Almanac Sampler, a kind of candybox collection of some of the best quips and tips gathered up from all those previous issues.
In the 1804 issue, for example, said
It is with narrow-souled people as it is with narrow-necked bottles – the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring it out.
Who can’t sense the truth of that epigram even today? Then there was this even plainer truth, which appeared in the 1795 issue:
He that makes an ass of himself must not take it ill if men ride him.
But pity the poor jackass! How unfair it is that he, along with the sloth and the dodo, should be such a perennial target! But I guess foolish behavior is foolish behavior, whatever the era. It seems human nature does not change very much, even here in Reinvent-yourself America.
The country itself has certainly changed though: As the Sampler reports, the year The Old Farmer’s Almanac first came out, there were just six cities or towns containing more than 8,000 inhabitants and the number of post offices was a meager 75. Fifty years later, in the 1840s, it goes on to say, many articles of domestic use were still unheard of: “There were friction matches, no electric no waterproof clothing, no gaslight or electric light, no coil, oil or kerosene.”
What an image that passage conjures, of a whole nation of people in damp pants and soggy footwear huddled in the dark! Yet still folks made merry, as we see in this January wish for all:
‘Tis an old custom at this season to wish our friends a Happy New year. I wish mine many, in comfortable fires without smoky chimneys, sleigh rides without overturning, heavy purses with a liberal hand, full tables with generous hearts, and social enjoyments without contention.
The without contention part is what makes me smile, calling up as it does the picture of family gatherings where a few of the men end up leaping to their feet and offering to punch each other’s lights out.
I guess folks are bound to get testy when cooped up in interiors lit by smelly whale oil. Lucky for them, there was this compendium of sense and sauciness.
For example I like this one so much I may even make in my mantra!
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek, Five things observe with care: Of whom you speak, to whom you speak, And how and why and where.