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THE NEW YEAR has opened with a discussion which would seem to exhibit the world getting suddenly
too old to remember rightly its own age.  Whether or not the first half of the century is completed, or must
wait another year, has been the subject of this eager dispute; and it is not yet by any means settled. One
set of disputants maintain that the year One is completed before it begins, the other would more reasonably
suggest that it must begin before it is completed. But then, retorts the logical dealer in subtleties, there is
a zero year before the absolute year can count, which explains the apparent discrepancy; just as there is a
zero pound while the shillings that compose it are being counted, and not till the twentieth shilling is flung
down does the pound absolute make its appearance. Whereto the practical man replies, that whether the year
One is to be counted at the end or beginning of its months, is all the same to him; but that he clearly declines
to count number Two till he has had the full value of it, and that no conceivable number of unsubstantial
shillings could ever produce to his satisfaction any one substantial pound. Supposing a baby born on the
first year of a century, he may have been clearly a nothing baby for nine months preceding; but would
anybody therefore call him nine months old at his birth ? The logician again responding not less learnedly,
the question is left a profound puzzle, and as such must probably remain; but we are decidedly of opinion
that for common-life purposes the practical view is the more convenient one, and that if we bargained to
subscribe for fifty copies of Household Words we would by no means be content with forty-nine plus

Though the memory of the century is thus decrepit, however, let it not be supposed that it has not vigour
of life notwithstanding. There is nothing so common now-a-days as all kinds of professed ailments in midst
of the sturdiest evidences of health and strength. Nothing can equal the energy and vitality, for example,
with which the protectionists have been proclaiming all over England the entire collapse and absolute decease
of agricultural prosperity. In Worcester, Nottinghamshire, Edenbridge, Ross, Devonshire, York, Kent,
Waltham, and Northampton; in Bucks, Leicester, Horsham, Ely, and Stafford; they have daily, within the past
month, exhibited the activity and energy of a more than mortal despair. But it is plainly a case of Killing No
Murder, and the public look on enjoying the joke, as much as ever they enjoyed the venerable farce of that
name. No year has opened during the present century with more unequivocal indications on every side of
extraordinary commercial prosperity. In spite of such adverse events as the war in India, the Danish
blockade, and the cholera, trade has made unequalled progress during the year past, and the condition of the
bulk of the people has been proportionately improved. Shipping, too, has increased, as a matter of course,
with the increase of imports and exports; the building yards are at present as full as the mills and factories;
and the first year of the repeal of the navigation laws sees apparently firmer than ever the wooden walls of
Old England. Let the wooden heads take comfort, therefore; and listen, with what patience they may, to
the admissions which Mr. Disraeli has again during the past month more than once emphatically repeated, as
to the utter impossibility of a present or speedy restoration of protection. Is it not strange, by the way, that
so clever a person as the protectionist orator cannot perceive, that in proportion as his own hopes of seeing
protection restored have been declining (and less and less hopeful, from year to year, has his language gradually
become), there must be a reason in the growing satisfaction of the people with the system that displaced it?
Would it be possible to maintain free trade for a day beyond the time that the really preponderating interests
of the country demanded a re-imposition of protection? The real truth is, that the instinct of the difficulty of
returning to the old system possessed by all men out of top-boots and leathers, or in the least degree above the
lowest range of the bucolic intellect, is substantially a confession of the abuse which free trade had thrown down.
If the new arrangement were not just, or if the old one had not involved what was the reverse of just, change
would not now be so difficult or distant as it is confessed by Mr. Disraeli and the most ardent protectionists to
be. In a few more years, it is to be hoped, this instinct will ripen into the sensible resolve of not desiring
to resume swaddling-clothes at all; in which case we shall have a manly effort to dispense altogether with
petting and coddling, and, after the fashion of Mr. Cobden at his farm in Sussex, shall see rents reduced,
game surrendered, land drained, trees cleared, fences moved, and, amidst all this, not only both farmers and
labourers employed and contented, but landlords cheerful and hopeful. Mr. Cobden went the other day to
Aylesbury, to give the farmers the benefit of that quite unprecedented strange agricultural experience;
whereat the honest farmers at first began to hiss, then to laugh, and then to cheer.  It is clear that even
their's is not a case for despair. Even by them the signs of the times do not pass utterly disregarded; and
such signs, adverse to their wishes, have lately been more than usually abundant. Protection has been
within these few days defeated in what was supposed to be its metropolitan stronghold, among the weavers
of Stepney; at a meeting invoked against "the present unfair and ruinous system of competition," backed
by all the pretences most likely to gull the well-meaning but half-informed artisan, and presided over by the
great guns of the "great central protection society itself."  Against all these influences the working men
stood firm; supported their own views; flung plentiful cold water over a notorious oratorical firebrand,
Mr. Oastler; carried a series of sensible resolutions, to the effect that the best protection they desired to