Elinor Wyllys

Elinor Wyllys


"Happy New-Year!"

THE streets had been cleared of the snow for New-Year's day, by a thaw, and a hard shower in the night. The sun rose bright and clear; and, as usual, early in the morning, that is to say morning in its fashionable sense, the greater part of the male population of the town were in motion, hurrying in all directions towards the houses of their female friends and relatives. It appeared as if the women had suddenly deserted the city, and the men were running about, half-distracted, in pursuit of them.

After the markets and churches were closed, few indeed were the females to be seen in the streets; while, on the contrary, troops of men of all ages, were hurrying over the side-walks of Broadway, usually enlivened by the gay dresses and bright faces of the ladies. There were young men running a race against time, carrying lists in their hands with an impossible number of visits to be paid during the day; there were boys taking their first steps in this yearly course of gallantry; there were elderly men walking more leisurely from one favoured house to another. All, but a few grumblers here and there, looked smiling and good-humoured. As the black-coated troop hastened hither and thither, they jostled one another, now nodding, now shaking hands; here, old friends passing without seeing each other; there, a couple of strangers salute one another in the warmest manner. The doors of the houses seemed to open of themselves; men were going in, men were coming out. The negroes looked more lustrous and light-hearted than ever; the Paddies, cleaner and more bothered; the regular Knickerbockers, to the manner born, were, of course, in their element.

{"visits" = for men to make short calls at as many homes as possible on New Year's Day was an old New York City custom; "Paddies" = Irish; "Knickerbockers" = traditional term for native New Yorkers}

We have heard nice calculations as to the precise number of calls, that an able-bodied, well-trained New-Year's visiter can accomplish between midnight and midnight; allowing, of course, a couple of hours for the toilette, and a moment to snatch a mouthful at breakfast and dinner: it is affirmed, however, that as great generals have passed days of battle without food, so your chivalrous Knickerbocker should be willing to forego, on such an occasion, even a sight of the roast turkey and cranberries. Allowing the individual, however, something to sustain nature, that he may be the better enabled to perform his duties, it is supposed that a beau, in good visiting condition, should pay his court in not more than three hundred, nor less than fifty drawing-rooms. But, then, to do this, a man must have method; he must draw up his plan of action before-hand; he must portion out his districts, as they lie on each side of that longest of streets, Broadway; he must not only study the map of the city closely, but he must possess an accurate knowledge of the localities; he must remember that some houses have stoops of twelve steps, that some drawing-rooms are not on the first floor.

He must NOT allow himself to be enticed into any flirtation whatever, beyond a glance or a smile; he must NOT indulge the hope of calling twice upon the sweet creature he most admires; he must NOT be tempted to sink, even for a moment, upon the most comfortable of ottomans or divans; he must NOT return home to re-adjust his locks, to change either boots, gloves, or handkerchief. We have heard it asserted, that owing to some unfortunate weakness of this kind, many a promising youth, unaccustomed, probably, to the hardships of such visiting, has been distanced in the gallant race of the day, by more methodical men--by men who were actually encumbered with over-shoes and greatcoats!

It is amusing to watch the hurried steps of some experienced visiter without doors; the decision of his movements, the correctness of his calculation in passing out of one house into another; and one is sure to know a raw recruit, by his anxious, perplexed manner and expression.

The scene within doors is quite as amusing as it is without.

Everything wears a holiday look; it is evidently no common morning reception; the ladies' dresses look gayer and fresher, their smiles brighter than usual; the house, the furniture, and the inmates, all wear their most agreeable aspect. The salver of refreshments speaks at once the occasion; for there, in the midst of richer cakes, stands the basket of homely "New-Years' cookies," bequeathed to their descendants by the worthy vrows of New-Amsterdam. The visiters appear, first singly, then in parties. Here comes a favourite partner of the young ladies, there a mere bowing acquaintance of the master of the house. This is an old family friend, that a neighbour who has never been in the house before; here is a near relative, there a passing stranger. The grey-haired old gentleman who has the arm-chair wheeled out for him, announces his fiftieth visiting anniversary; the buckish youth, his grandson, has already made his bow, and off again; so {sic} finish his gallant duties. Now we have a five minutes visit from a declared lover; and who follows him? One who advances slowly and steadily, with a half-inquiring look; the lady of the house sees him, gives a glance of surprise, is gratified, accepts the offered hand immediately. That is a reconciliation; old friendship broken off, now renewed, a misunderstanding forgotten--that is one of the pleasantest visits of the day. All come, bow, look, and speak their friendly good-wishes, and are off again to make room for others.

{"New Years' cookies" = the Dutch in New York had special recipes for cakes and "cookies" for each major holiday, such as New Year's Day; vrows" = wives, in old Dutch New York}