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The Time Draws Near

December 21, 2016

The victor of the 1876 presidential election was still in doubt and would not be determined until March 2, 1877.  Congressman James Garfield, who would serve on the Electoral Commission, spent Christmas morning clearing his desk and organizing his library.  He received guests for dinner at 2:00 P.M., but he also spent most of the afternoon preparing a brief for the Supreme Court.  In the evening, according to his diary, he “dictated a large number of letters.”

Garfield was typically a hard worker, but perhaps he worked a little more this day in order to cope with the recent loss of his son Ned.  After the guests had gone home, he read aloud from Tennyson’s In Memoriam while his wife and their children’s governess listened.  Garfield wrote in his diary: “I have read these on Christmas for many years, and their beauties grow upon me at each reading.”

Garfield mentioned the line: “The time draws near the birth of Christ,” which appears twice in Tennyson’s poem.  The first instance is given below.

The time draws near the birth of Christ:

The moon is hid; the night is still;

The Christmas bells from hill to hill

Answer each other in the mist.

In the recent election Garfield’s party had lost the House of Representatives.  He would never become Speaker of the House.  Their Senate majority had been reduced, and they were in danger of losing the Presidency.  In addition, the Garfield household had recently experienced great personal grief.  Yet, on Christmas day 1876, James Garfield took the time to recite a lengthy poem in order to remember and celebrate that which is truly important.  We conclude with the final instance of the line: “The time draws near the birth of Christ.”

The time draws near the birth of Christ;

The moon is hid, the night is still;

A single church below the hill;

Is pealing, folded in the mist.


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