A New Year: Time for Endings and Beginnings

As we pull up to the end of another year, I can’t help but feeling that time is moving more quickly. How can 2010 be over?  I’m not ready to face 2011!  So many things weren’t accomplished this past year, or weren’t accomplished the way I had hoped….  Case in point, this blog post – it probably should have been written and reviewed last week, but I’m frantically typing last minute to get it up on schedule.

James Speed

James Speed, Lincoln's second Attorney General

Yesterday, Special Collections department staff members were brainstorming ideas about a New Year’s blog, all trying to remember past collections we had processed or worked with that might have described holiday celebrations, New Year’s traditions, or included some sort of card or note we could display showing the holidays.

Out of the blue, I had a memory of a letter written by James Speed, United States Attorney General, to his mother, Lucy Gilmer Fry Speed, for New Year’s Day. (Speed was the topic of my history master’s thesis from the University of Louisville, so I really poured over those letters.) I remembered Speed talking about a New Year’s tradition his mother had taught him, regarding critiquing one’s activities of the past year.

I went down to the stacks and found the letter:

Washington, December 31, 1865

Dear Mother:

This is the last Sunday in the year; if obedient to your precepts & practice, I would run over the things done wrong and the duties omitted, that I might be better able in the coming year to do more and fail less.  I am so situated, however, that pressing duties of the hour are of such moment to the future, that I have but little time and little inclination to turn my eyes backward –

James Speed to Mrs. Lucy G. Speed 31 December 1865
James Speed to Mrs. Lucy G. Speed 31 December 1865

“Let the dead bury the dead.”  Great questions and great events of great moment to the country & to mankind, and with the shaping of which I have more or less to do, so crowd upon one another, that there is no time for stately & solemn funerals over the dead past. On we must go, and it would be as silly to go forward in the dark with lantern behind, as to be thinking & dreaming of the past just now.

Then “let the dead bury the dead” I am in for the new year and nerved to the work it brings & ever hopeful that an honest and intelligent discharge of duty will, under God, yield pleasant and healthful fruit.

As the whirlwind of holidays and year-end tasks threatened to overwhelm me, I’m going to take a few minutes and think about Speed’s decision to keep the past in the past.  The year 1865 had been a momentous one for Speed – he joined Abraham Lincoln’s second cabinet as Attorney General; he stood with Lincoln, his brother’s closest friend, as the bloody Civil War came to an end; he stood by Lincoln’s deathbed, and began the prosecution of those who conspired to assassinate him; he butted heads with the new President, Andrew Johnson, over policies and practices.  On a daily basis, he was overwhelmed with an onslaught of work that was atypical to his former lifestyle as a Louisville lawyer.  While I certainly cannot equate my life changes in 2010 to Speed’s in 1865, I can empathize with the need to focus on the present and the future.  Therefore, as Speed wrote, “I am in for the new year”!

Happy New Year from your friends at The Filson!

Jennie Cole

Jennie Cole is the Manager of Collection Access at The Filson. She has a MLIS with a specialization in Archives from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in History from the University of Louisville. Jennie's research interests in the Filson's collections include women's history, Camp Zachary Taylor, and Speed family of Louisville.

2 comments on “A New Year: Time for Endings and Beginnings

  1. Manda Rose

    Would it be ok to link your blog to my site?

  2. admin

    Manda, that would be great – link away!


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