The Last Day of the YearThe Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1295, p. 661.
December 31, 1864
To-night the year 1864 will come to an end. Englishmen are not much given to sentimentality; but if there be a time when there falls a shade or two of pensiveness on the swift-moving current of their thoughts, it is when they watch "the Old Year out." There is generally a touch of pathos upon the countenance whenever we are conscious of taking our last look of anything, especially when that thing is a definite and considerable segment of our lifetime. The particular year the final disappearance of which we await may not have connected itself with our feelings by any strong ties of association. It may have been to us a mere continuation of time, without a single salient feature upon which retrospection can dwell with interest. The staple of its character may not have risen above a dead level of humdrum and routine. But when the hour of parting arrives we grow serious, and slide almost insensibly into the reflective mood. We instinctively cast a glance back at the good and evil the year has disclosed during its course, and it is not without some stir of the inner man that we bid it "Farewell, for ever!"
Whatever materials for reflection the year 1864 may present to individuals and families, it has certainly not lacked interest as far as nations are concerned. Great events, both in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, have marked its progress. While we in this country have been affected by no violent changes, and have been conscious of no shock to public feeling, save such as were occasioned by the vibration following upon startling events abroad, neither continental Europe nor republican North America has got through the year without visible agitations and strong excitement. The map of Europe has been altered, but not by France. Germany, which up to the beginning of 1864 had usually been regarded as among the strongest, the slowest, and the most pacific Powers, suddenly snatched up arms, within a few days of the birth of the year, and, before its close, wrested Schleswig Holstein from Denmark by the boldest and baldest application in modern times of the law of might. Russia has erased Poland from the list of nations, besides depopulating Circassia. England has quietly transferred the Ionian Islands to the little kingdom of Greece. Italy has made only a prospective change; but by the removal of her capital to Florence she has sealed the Franco-Italian Convention, and quietly waits the moment when, by the stipulated recall of the French army of occupation from Rome, the estates of the Supreme Pontiff will drop into her hands, and no part of her soil but Venetia will remain under a foreign sway. The Danubian Principalities, following the lead of Prince Couza, an able adventurer, have reduced the tie which binds them to Turkey to an almost imperceptible thread, and, but for diplomatic restraints, would speedily and openly proclaim their independence. The year just about to be consigned to the sepulchre of the past has seen the initiation of great changes. What year will see the end of them, and what the end will be, the future only can disclose.
Glancing from Europe to the West we also catch sight of stirring events. The erection of a new Imperial throne in Mexico, under the auspices of the French Emperor, and the enthusiastic welcome accorded to Maximilian, the brother of Francis Joseph of Austria, quickens in European minds a reasonable hope that that hitherto distracted country, occupying a splendid position, and rich beyond calculation in its natural resources, may henceforth enjoy the internal security requisite for the development of a peaceful and prosperous empire. On the other hand, the Confederation of the British provinces of America, under one constitutional system and one central Government--a consummation all but actually completed--warrants sanguine expectations of a flattering future for an
Page 662empire in the north, built up in a more rugged clime, and with hardier and, perhaps, more enduring materials. It is between the two, over the vast space covered by the United States, that the retrospect of the year assumes its most dismal hues. The close of 1864 leaves the civil contest between North and South apparently as undecided as it stood at the commencement. The re-election of Mr. Lincoln is a popular Federal vote for the continuance of the struggle. Victory oscillates with strange impartiality between the combatants, giving, perhaps, a slight balance of advantage to the North, but scarcely affording foothold for the hope that the war is near its termination. Yet, even here, it is not unmingled darkness. The same national vote that re-seated Mr. Lincoln in the presidential chair determined upon cleansing from the Constitution the stain of slavery; and there can be little doubt that, whatever may be the final issue of the pending conflict, the "peculiar domestic institution" will perish in the awful struggle which it has occasioned....