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Chester's New Year's Address, Newbern, 1819

[From: The Daily Journal, June 4, 1882]

Thou [?], fuguees, Postume, Postume,
Labuntur anni; nec pictas moram
Rugis et instant Senectoe
Af eret indomitaeque morti.--Hor.

Ah! Postumus! the fleeting YEARS
Still waft us through this Vale of Tears;
Not event the goodness can delay
Th’ encroaching wrinkles of decay,
Or ruthess death:--

At twelve o’clock on Thursday night,
The old year took its mournful flight;
And ere the village bell struck one
Another twelvemonth had begun.
Time turn’d his hour glass with a sigh,
As heavily he wing’d him by;
And parting with th’ expiring year,
Paid it tribute of a tear.
Perhaps his retrospective thought
Dwelt on the ruin he had wrought,
And mourn’d that memory could find
So little to console the mind.
Methinks I mark his wilder’d gaze
Rest sadly o’er departed days,
Turn from the OLD WORLD’S gloomy view
To gather comfort from the NEW.
While France, forbidden to complain,
Endures a hated monarch’s reign,
And, aw’d by mercenary throngs,
Dares not avenge her flagrant wrongs;
While, humbled in the dust, she lies,
Mourning her hero’s sacrifice,
And Tityus life, a helpless prey,
Feels vultures gnaw her heart away;
While India’s wretched sons deplore
Their hapless country bath’d in gore,
And yield, in sanguinary strife,
Whate’er gives happiness to life;
While all the Eastern nations groan,
Slaves to some despot on a throne;
COLUMBIA, flourishing and free,
Basks in the beams of liberty,
Oppressive tyranny in vain
Forg’d for her sons its galling chain;
Touch’d by Celesital Freedom’s ray,
The iron links dissolv’d away;
‘Twas England’s curs’d abuse of power
First taught their eagle souls to sour;
Rising on proud, unfetter’d wings,
Far above parliaments and kings.
And mark, the splendor of their name
Has fired the South to patriot flame;
The Spanish hind, whose brutal sire
Erst kindled Freedom’s funeral pyre,
Its ashes views with bursting eyes,
And burns to avenge the sacrifice.
Europe! thy transatlantic sway
Is swiftly wending to decay;
And when thy sun descends those skies,
His beams shall there no more arise.
‘Twas thus Columbia! thy clime
Rose smiling to the eye of Time;
And who the picture can review,
And not exult to find it true?
The soulless wretch, who does not feel
An int’rest in his country’s weal,
Shall crawl in an inglorious grave,
Scorn’d by the noble and the brave.

The Eagle, from his cloudless sky,
Glancing below his lightning eye,
Ravish’d suspends his sunward flight
O’er Allegany bath’d in light;
Hovers awhile, then flutters down,
And claims its summit for his throne;
Perch’d on its proud majestic height,
Another Eden glads his sight;
Rivers as sparkling he can trace
Emerging from the mountain’s base,
And lawns as verdant, groves as gay,
Bloom all along their devious way;
Here willing nature loads the soil,
To cheer the Agriculturist’s toil;
There wealth displays its magic sway,
In cities glittering in the day;
While commerce spreads her snowy wing,
The spoils of every clime to bring.
Such does this favor’d land appear,
Remerber’d with the passing year;
The clouds of war, as under driven,
No longer shroud its smiling heaven
The savage, late the white man’s foe,
Buries the murd’rous hatchet low;
And now the mother rocks her child,
Fearless, amid the Forest wild.
Though fresh the green sod, loosly spread
Above the mould’ring warriors head,
Th’ aspiring flames, that brightly burn
In honor’s consecrated urn,
Perfumed with myriad blessing rise
In grateful incense to the skies.

Oh! if the sainted brave above,
Look down on scenes they used to love;
How must it joy our Hero’s breast
To see the land, he freed, so blest.
The clime, he left with scarce a bark
To guard celestial Freedom’s ark,
Beholds her gallant navy ride
Victoriously on ev’ry tide;
And Albion’s “wooden walls” in vain
Oppose her thunders on the Main,
The feeble race he led before
By many a bleeding step to power.
Securely on the arms repose,
And laugh to scorn their pow’rless foes.

But from this national renown
Demand we to our humble town--
NEWBERN, I turn from glory’s glare,
And think thy softer tints more fair;
For in thy calm, belov’d retreat,
A thousand rays of rapture meet,
That shed a warmth around my heart
Which pomp and power could ne’er impart.
The circling seasons of the year
[There team’d ?] with changes even here--
A twelvemonth since, sad ev’ry tongue
With steamboat admiration ring;
Fulton’s own genius seem’d possest
Of each enthusiastic breast;
We could not speak, or think, or dream
Of anything but boats and steam.
At length the gilded bauble gave
Its beauty to th’ expectant wave.
Had Cleopatra’s barge appear’d
It had not been more gaily cheer’d;
Hundreds flocked down to see the wonder
In spite of rain or even thunder;
And such their rapture to possess it,
‘Twas not in language to express it.
But oh! the fickleness of all
Upon this ever moving ball--
In three short months the charm was o’er
The steamboat banished from our shore.
Then building churches was the theme,
The tottering old one urg’d the scheme,
And Presbyterians, who had none,
Were certainly in need of one.
‘Twas wonderful to mark the zeal
Each congregation seemed to feel;
Devotion saw its altar rise
As if by magic to the skies;
Though both the noble piles were finished
The stock continued undiminished,
For lo! the pews were sold for more
Than the whole churches cost before;--
All this had castle-building done,
Yet Av’rice has not yet begun,
And much I fear our niggard place
Has not, and never will have grace
To look above the narrow views
Ascribed to infidels and Jews;
But boats and churches, though the first,
Are not the only bubbles burst;
Our shipping merchants, well aware
How commerce lingers at the bar,
Resolved to free it from its trammels
By introducing water camels.
It was a noble speculation,
All wish’d the thing in operation;
But, ere the tardy Legislature
Had lent their sanction to the measure,
And lo! the project was forsaken
Before ‘twas fairly undertaken.
Nay, they did even supplicate
Permission to incorporate;
Some sapient heads began to doubt
If Camels could float vessels out
Now gentle reader do you smile?
And ask what changes all the while?
For though we have attempted many,
It seems we’ve not effected any.
A careless visitor, I know,
Would think us still in status quo;
But ask the hearts, whose honey moon
Is shining still as bright as noon;
If they can ever hold too dear
The mem’ry of this happy year.
Or ask the youth whose rising sun
Has just completed twenty-one,
If his emotions are the same,
Which thoughtless infancy became?
Think you, the pretty girl blushing girl,
Just entering giddy fashion’s whirl,
Values her loveliness no more,
Than when at school the year before?
No, nor have the months pursued their way
Only to cheer the young and gay,
He who stands tottering o’er the tomb,
And marks the valleys gathering gloome;
Feels that each moments waste away
His mould’ring tenement of clay,
Alas! Time’s drooping wings still wave;
Their gloomy shadow o’er the grave;
In their bleak influence, widow’d grief
Shivers, and sighs without relief;--
For tears and groans, can ne’er impart
A cordial to a broken heart.
O, may that power who rules above,
And whose whole government is love,
Teach us to profit from the past,
Guide us through each year to the last;
And when our life is ended here,
Renew it in a purer sphere.

            It will be seen, now, that our fathers would not suffer by a comparison of their New Year or Christmas address, with those of their children. For example, take those of last Christmas and what would our children in Newbern, 63 years hence think of a comparison. I will let them speak for themselves as

“We think our fathers fools so wise we grow;
Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so.”

            Only a few, very few, of our citizens who witnessed the arrival here, in 1818 of the steamer Norfolk, in a thunder storm, are now in our midst. But they can and no doubt will recall the application of Chester’s lines to the scenes around him. I trust other lines of this will bring up before them visions of love and joy, peace and happiness. The war with England was then over. Commerce was making its way with steam--a  new power to our people. The prospect of Newbern was bright, perhaps the brightest in her history, the largest town in the State, with capital employed and idle far in excess of all her sister towns. Her business men were full of life, energy and enterprise. Little did they then imagine that Newbern, in another generation, would be so far outnumbered in population and beaten in wealth by any other town in the State. Yet it is even so, though we envy not their prosperity and success.

            The company failed to keep the Norfolk running on the line to Elizabeth City, for two reasons, first, no attempt was made to carry freight on the boat, and next, sufficient preparations were not made for connections North and South. The Norfolk was sold at considerable loss and carried off from here within a few months after her first arrival.

            Chester was an unusually sweet singer as well as an uncommon writer of verse and prose. Doubtless some persons left with us can still hear, “or think they hear,” echoes of his “royal basso.” Both Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches were erected soon after his criticism, and if it had any effect upon them we must admit it was more poetical than architectural. In the plan of the Presbyterian Church he had a direct hand. The present Episcopal Church sprang from the one Chester alludes to the effort of our fathers to build, that was destroyed by fire some years subsequent to the late war. The corner stone of it was laid in 1821, and about the year the Presbyterian Church was commenced. Both were then considered by our people models of symmetry and beauty, if we can credit the statements of our papers at the date of their dedication. To secure these sacred edifices the members and friends of both denominations worked with heart and spirit and gave with commendable liberality. Some day, Messrs. Editors, visit the Presbyterian Church and read on the tablets on the walls of the ages of the founders of it, and you will be surprised at their longevity. So, also, will be those of your numerous readers unconscious of it. One of the fathers of it, Robert Hay—the father of Mr. William Hay, of this place, and Mr. Robert Hay, of Kinston—lived for nearly a century. He was a man of the purest nature and most guileless life. He went down to the grave, after counting nearly a hundred years, without spot or blemish on his character as a man or Christian. His prayers were frequently sought by our citizens when death and disease were alarming them, or when they were threatened with disaster of any kind, with faith strong that his Creator would hear so faithful a servant in their behalf. The stay of Robert Hay and his pious advocates seemed to have been prolonged on earth that they might guard, with more than parental affection, the Church they here established, and to enable them to enforce its doctrines by precept and example.                  D.

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