New Year Prophecies by Robert Lynd

Story type: Essay

Some people are surprised at the daring with which compilers of prophetic almanacs forecast the details of the future. The most astonishing thing of all is that nearly everybody still regards the future as a mystery. As a matter of fact, we know a great deal about the future. We know that next year will contain 365 days. We know–and this is rather a tribute to our cleverness–that the year 1924 will contain 366 days, and even the exact point at which the extra day will slip in. Ask a savage to point you out the extra day in Leap Year, and he will be more hopelessly at a loss than a man looking for a needle in a haystack, but even the most ignorant Christian will pick it out at the right end of February as neatly and inevitably as a love-bird on a barrel-organ picking out a fortune. The art of prophecy has grown with civilisation. Prophets were regarded as almost divine persons in the old days, but now every man is his own Isaiah. I am the most modest of the prophets, but even I venture to foretell that there will be an annular eclipse of the sun in the coming year on the 8th of April, that it will begin at twenty-two minutes to 8 A.M. at Liverpool, and that it will be visible at Greenwich. What clairvoyant could go further? Test my mantic gifts at any other point and I doubt not I can satisfy you. Do you want to know at what time there will be high water at Aberdeen on the afternoon of the 21th January? The answer is: “Thirteen minutes past one.” Do you want to know when partridge shooting will begin? I do not even need to reflect before giving the answer: “The 1st of September.” And so I could go on, almost ad infinitum, filling in the details of the year in advance. On the 1st of March, for instance, being St David’s Day, there will be a banquet at which Mr Lloyd George will make a reference to hills, mists, God, and a country called Wales. On the 28th of March, being Easter Monday, there will be a Bank Holiday. On the 24th of May, being Empire Day, the majority of shops in Regent Street will hang out Union Jacks, and school children will salute the flag at Abinger Hammer, Communists in various parts of London gnashing their teeth the while. On the 15th of June the anniversary of Magna Charta will fall and will pass without any disturbance. On the 12th of July Orangemen will dress im in sashes and listen to orators whose speeches will prove the hollowness of the old adage that you cannot serve both God and Mammon. On the same day, Lord Birkenhead will celebrate his forty-ninth birthday, showing that Gallopers are born not made. Need I continue, however? The year is obviously going to be a crowded one. It will, as I have said, contain 365 days and will come to an end at 12 P.M. on St Silvester’s Day at the time of the new moon.

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I have said enough, I think, to prove that one knows a great deal more about the future than is generally realised. There may be sceptics who doubt the virtue of my prophecies. If there be such, all I ask is that they should mark them well and verify each of them as its fulfilment falls due. The expense will be small. The most serious item will be the journey to Aberdeen to see the tide coming in on the 24th of January; but, by taking up a collection in Aberdeen, it should be possible to reduce one’s net outlay by the better part of a shilling. On the whole, there never were prophecies easier to verify. I confidently challenge comparison between them and any prophecy made by any Cabinet Minister during the last five years. I even challenge comparison with the much more respectable prophecies contained in Raphael’s Prophetic Messenger. Raphael at times strains our credulity. When he tells us, for instance, that on the 27th of April it is going to be “cold and frosty” and that on the 29th of April we shall see “high winds, storms and thunder,” we feel that he is giving a free rein to his imagination and treating prophecy not as a science but as an art. That the 30th of April will be “showery” I agree, but how does he know that there will be “high wind and lightning” on the 21st of December? I am also somewhat puzzled as to the means by which he arrives at the conclusions set forth in his “every-day” guide for each day in the year. I can myself prophesy what you will do on each day, but I cannot, as he does, prophesy what you ought to do. This introduces an ethical element which is beyond my scope or horoscope. We need not quarrel with him when he dismisses the 1st of January as “an unimportant day,” but when he bids us on the 2nd of January “court, marry, and deal with females,” we may reasonably ask: “Why?” His advice for the 3rd is more acceptable. “Be careful,” he says, “until 1 P.M. then seek work and push thy business.” That is about the time of day one prefers to begin to “seek work”; would there were more days in the calendar like the 3rd of January. Some saint must have it in his keeping. On the 7th, however, it will be safer to abstain from work altogether. Raphael says: “A very unfortunate P.M. and evening for most purposes. Court and deal with females.” Sunday, the 9th, is better. “Ask favours,” he says, “in the P.M., and court.” Though January is less than half gone, I confess I am getting a little breathless with so much courting. Raphael probably recognises this, and a note of caution creeps into his advice on the 13th, on which he bids us “court and marry in the morning, then be careful.” By the 18th, however, he is his old self again. “Court,” he says cheerfully, “marry and ask favours and push ahead.” Then come one rather careful day and two unfortunate ones, till on the 22nd, in a burst of exuberance, he offers us the day of our lives. “Deal with others,” he exhorts us, “and push thy business, seek work, travel, court, marry, buy and speculate.” I doubt if all this can be crowded into twenty-four hours outside The Arabian Nights. Besides, as a result of following Raphael’s advice, we are already bigamists several times over, and have become sick of the sight of a Registry Office. By the end of the month even Raphael shows signs of being a little weary of his scarcely veiled incitements to Bluebeardism. For the 29th he advises: “Avoid females and be very careful,” and for the 30th, which is a Sunday: “Avoid females and superiors.” I should just about think so.

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We need not follow Raphael through the rest of the year. It is enough to say that he keeps us busy courting, marrying, seeking work, being careful, travelling, speculating, pushing ahead, and avoiding females right down till the end of December. He occasionally varies his formula, as when on the 6th of April he bids us: “Do not quarrel. Be quiet,” and when, on the 23rd of June, he advises: “Ask favours of females, and travel.” On the whole however, his recommendations leave us with a sense of the desperate monotony of human existence. It is no wonder the novelists find it so difficult to invent an original plot. Nothing seems to happen–even in the future–except the same old thing. It is all as monotonous as North, South, East and West. We turn with relief to the page on which Raphael tells us what are the best days on which to hire maidservants and to set turkeys. Our interest redoubles when we come on his advice to those about to kill pigs. “Do this,” he says, “between eight and ten in the morning, and between the first quarter and full of the Moon; the pigs will weigh more, and the flavour of the pork be improved.” Then there are “Legal and Commercial Notes,” one of which–“A bailiff must not break into a house, but he may enter by the chimney “–suggests a subject for a drawing by Mr George Morrow. The medical notes are equally worthy of consideration. On one page we are given a list of herbal remedies, and we are told how one disease can be cured by pouring boiling water on hay (upland hay being better than meadow hay) and applying it to the stomach. But Raphael is no crank, as we see in his suggestion for the treatment of influenza:

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“If you think you have got an attack of influenza slip off to bed at once and take the whisky or brandy bottle with you, and don’t be afraid of it, for alcohol is the best medicine you can take as it kills the germs in the blood. Do not wait until you are half dead–remember that a stitch in time saves nine, even with health.”

Even on the subject of the care of children’s teeth he makes it clear that, whoever may have come under the blight of Pussyfoot, it is not he:

“I believe a Committee is to be appointed to inquire into the failing eyesight and decaying teeth in children. I think I have already stated that these troubles were due to the excessive amount of sugar or sweetstuffs consumed. All sweet things cause an excessive exudation of saliva from the gums, which affect and impair both the teeth and the eyesight for, despite of what dentist and doctor may say, there is an intimate relation between the two. Dr Sims Wallace, the eminent lecturer on Dental Surgery, recommends Beer or dry Champagne as an excellent mouth wash. They are also pleasant to the throat and stomach!”

The reader is now in a position to estimate for himself the extent to which he can rely on Raphael’s judgment, and to decide how far he will accept the horoscope Raphael has cast for Mr Lloyd George. On this he writes:

“This gentleman has figured so prominently in our national affairs for the last few years, that it may not be out of place if I give a few remarks on his horoscope. The time of his birth is stated to have been January 17th, 1863, 8h. 55m. A.M., but neither myself, nor other Astrologers, are satisfied with this hour. I think he was born some minutes sooner. At his birth the Sun was in exact Square to Jupiter, and also in Square to Mars, and Mars was in Opposition to Jupiter. These are very ominous and important aspects. The former denotes great extravagance, and waste of money, and the latter gives impetuosity, and danger to the person.”

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He then proceeds to give a “brief analysis” of Mr Lloyd George’s horoscope:

“The Sun near Ascendant–self-praise, egotism, self-satisfaction, fondness for publicity and notoriety.

“Venus and Mercury on Ascendant–fluency in speech, agreeableness, desire to please, fondness for Music, Arts, and Sciences.

“Mars in 2nd, in Opposition to Jupiter, unfavourable for financial undertakings, extravagance, carelessness, and losses in speculation.

“Uranus in 4th, trouble at end of life.

“Jupiter in the 8th, benefit or help from marriage partner.

“Moon near cusp of the 11th, many friends, especially females.

“The Aspects denote–Sun Square Jupiter and Mars, recklessness in expenditure, public disapprobation, and an unfavourable and sudden ending to life.

“Venus in Trine to Saturn, and Moon in Sextile to Jupiter–domestic relations of the happiest description, and the wife a great help.”

I frankly doubt if any man can foretell the future of Mr Lloyd George. No one knows what he will say or do to-morrow. We know what phrases he will use, but we do not know on what side he will use them, or what he will mean by them. All we know is that Sir William Sutherland will say ditto.

Let us, then, return to safer fields of prophecy. What, really, is going to happen in 1921? I think I know. Human beings will behave like bewildered sheep. They will be chiefly notable for their lack of moral courage. Good men will apologise for the deeds of bad men, and bad men will do very much as they please. Cruel and selfish faces will be seen in every railway carriage and in every omnibus, but readers of the respectable Press will refuse to believe that there are any cruel people outside Germany and Russia. Not one but all the Ten Commandments will be broken, and turkeys will be eaten on Christmas Day. Men will die of disease, violence, famine and old age, and others will be born to take their place. Intellectuals will be pretentious–mules solemnly trying to look like Derby winners. There will be a considerable amount of lying, injustice, and self-righteousness. Dogs will be fairly decent, but some of them will bite. Above all, the human conscience will survive. It will survive. It will continue to be the old still, small voice we know–as still and as small as it is possible to be without disappearing into silence and nothingness. And some of us will get a certain amusement out of it all, and will prefer life rather than death. We shall also go on puzzling ourselves as to what under the sun it all means. Not even a murderer will be without a friend or a pet dog or cat or bird. That is what 1921 will be like. That, at least, is as certain as the time of the high tide at Aberdeen on the 24th of January.

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