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We shall close this detail of the ceremonies and festivities of Christmas with a passage from the descriptive muse of Sir Walter Scott, in which he has collected, with his usual accuracy, and with his almost unequalled power of costumepainting, nearly all the striking circumstances which distinguished the celebration of this high festival, from an early period to the close of the sixteenth century. They form a picture which must delight, both from the nature of its subject, and from the truth and mellowness of its colouring.
"Well our Christian sires of old
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
Then opened wide the baron's hall
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar's-head frowned on high,
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
The wassal round, in good brown bowls,
It was a hearty note and strong.
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
sports, were performed. The hearth was commonly in the middle; whence the saying, round about our coal-fire." Antiquarian Repertory, No. xxvi. from the MS. Collections of Aubrey, dated 1678.
"An English Gentleman at the opening of the great day, i. e. on Christmas Day in the morning, had all hus tenants and neighbours entered his Hall by day-break. The strong beer was broached, and the blackjacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar, nutmegg, and good Cheshire cheese. The Hackin (the great sausage) must be boiled by day-break, or else two young men must take the maiden (i. e. the cook), by the arms and run her round the market place till she is ashamed of her laziness.
"In Christmass Holidays, the tables were all spread from the first to the last; the sirloins of beef, the minced pies, the plumb-porridge, the capons, turkeys, geese, and plumb-puddings, were all brought upon the board: every one eat heartily, and was welcome, which gave rise to the proverb, Merry in the hall when beards wag all.' From a Tract entitled "Round about our Coal-Fire, or Christmas Entertainments;" of which the first edition was published, I believe, about the close of the seventeenth century. "Our ancestors considered Christmas in the double light of a holy commemoration and a chearful festival; and accordingly distinguished it by devotion, by vacation from business, by merriment and hospitality. They seemed eagerly bent to make themselves and every body about them happy.-The great hall resounded with the tumultuous joys of servants and tenants, and the gambols they played served as amusement to the lord of the mansion and his family, who, by encouraging every art conducive to mirth and entertainment, endeavoured to soften the rigour of the season, and mitigate the influence of winter."The World, No. 104.
*Scott's Marmion. Introduction to Canto Sixth. Svo. edit. p. 300-303.
At present, Christmas meetings," remarks Mr. Brady," are chiefly confined to family parties, happy, it must be confessed, though less jovial in their nature; perhaps, too, less beneficial to society, because they can be enjoyed on other days not, as originally was the case, set apart for more general conviviality and sociability; not such as our old ballads proclaim, and history confirms, in which the most frigid tempers gave way to relaxation, and all in eager joy were ready to exclaim, in honour of the festivity,
"For, since such delights are thine,
Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. p. 319.
Manners and Customs of the Country continued-Wakes-Fairs-Weddings—Burials.
HAVING described, in as brief a manner as was consistent with the nature of our work, the various circumstances accompanying the celebration of the most remarkable holidays and festivals, in the country, during the age of Shakspeare, from whose inimitable compositions we have drawn many pertinent illustrations on nearly all the subjects as they passed before us; we shall proceed, in the present chapter, to notice those remaining topics which are calculated to complete, on the scale adopted, a tolerably correct view of rural manners and customs, as they existed in the latter half of the sixteenth, and prior portion of the seventeenth, century.
A natural transition will carry us, from the description of the rural festival, to the gaieties of the Wake or Fair. Of these terms, indeed, the former originally implied the vigil which preceded the festival in honour of the Saint to whom the parish-church was dedicated; for "on the Eve of this day," remarks Mr. Borlase, in his Cornwall, prayers were said, and hymns were sung all night in the church; and from these watchings the festivals were stiled Wakes; which name still continues in many parts of England, though the vigils have been long abolished."* The religious institution, however, of the Wake, whether held on the vigil or Saint's day, was soon forgotten; mirth and feasting early became the chief objects of this meeting, † and it, at length, degenerated into something approaching towards a secular Fair. These Wakes or Fairs, which were rendered more popular in proportion as they deviated from their devotional origin, were, until the reign of Henry the Sixth, always held on a Sunday and its eve, a custom that continued to be partially observed as late as the middle of the seventeenth century; hence ale-houses, and places of public resort, in the immediate neighbourhood of church-yards, the former scene of Wakes, were still common at the close of Shakspeare's life; thus Sir Thomas Overbury, describing a Sexton, in his "Characters," published in 1616, says: "At every church-style commonly there's an ale-house; where let him (the Sexton) bee found never so idle-pated, hee is still a grave drunkard."
The increasing licentiousness and conviviality, however, which attended these church-yard assemblies, frequented as they were by pedlars and hawkers of every description, finally occasioned their suppression in all places, at least, where much traffic was expected. In their room regular Fairs were established, to which in central or peculiar stations, the resort, at fixed periods, was im
Yet the Wake, the meeting for mere festivity and frolic, still continued in every village and small town, and though not preceded by any vigil in the church, was popularly termed the Wake-Day. Tusser, in his catalogue of the "Old
*Brand on Bourne's Antiquities, p. 333.
Mr. Strutt, in a quotation from an old MS. legend of St. John the Baptist, preserved in Dugdale's Warwickshire, tells us," In the beginning of holi churche, it was so that the pepul cam to the chirche with candellys brinnyng, and wold wake and comme with Light toward the chirche in their devocions, and after they fell to lecherie and songs, daunces, harping, piping, and also to glotony and sinne, &c."-Sports and Pastimes, p. 322.
"It appears," says Mr. Brand, "that in ancient times the parishioners brought rushes at the Feast of Dedication, wherewith to strew the Church, and from that circumstance the Festivity itself has obtained the name of Rushbearing, which occurs for a Country-Wake in a Glossary to the Lancashire dialect" Brand ap. Ellis, vol. i. p. 436.
Guise," has not forgotten this season of merriment; on the contrary, he seems to welcome its return with much cordiality :
"Fil oven ful of flawnes, Ginnie passe not for sleepe,
to morrow thy father his wake-daie wil keepe: Then every wanton may danse at hir wil,
both Tomkin and Tomlin, and Jankin with Gil.” *
Mr. Hilman, in his edition of Tusser, has made the following observations on this passage. "Waking in the church," says he, "was left off because of some abuses, and we see here it was converted to wakeing at the oven. The other continued down to our author's days, and in a great many places continues still to be observed with all sorts of rural merriments; such as dancing, wrestling, cudgelplaying, etc." Bourne observes, that the feasting and sporting, on this occasion, usually lasted for two or three days; † and Bishop Hall gives an impressive idea of the revelry and glee which distinguished these rural assemblages, when he exclaims, "What should I speak of our merry Wakes, and May games-in all which put together, you may well say, no Greek can be merrier than they. ‡ Indeed from one end of, the kingdom to the other, from north to south, it would appear, that, among the country-villages, during the reigns of Elizabeth and her two immediate successors, Wakes formed one of the principal amusements of the peasantry, and were anticipated with much eagerness and expectation. In confirmation of this we need only remark that Drayton, speaking of Lancashire, declares, that
'every village smokes at wakes with lusty cheer;" §
and that Herrick, in Devonshire, has written a very curious little poem, "The Wake," which, as strikingly descriptive of the various business of this festivity, claims here an introduction:
"Come Anthea, let us two
Go to feast, as others do.
Tarts and custards, creams and cakes,
Players there will be, and those
Yet with strutting they will please
The incurious villages.
Neer the dying of the day,
Than to want the Wake next yeare.” **
Of the pedlars or hawkers who, in general, formed a constituent part of these village-wakes, an accurate idea may be drawn from the character of the pedlar Autolycus, in the Winter's Tale of Shakspeare, who is delineated with the poet's customary strength of pencil, rich humour, and fidelity to nature. The wares in which he dealt are curiously enumerated in the following passages :
“Serv. He hath songs, for men, or women, of all sizes; no milliner can so fit his customers with gloves + he has the prettiest love-songs for maids; he hath ribands of all the colours i' the rainbow ; points more than all the lawyers in Bohemia can learnedly handle, though they come to him by the gross; #inkles, caddisses, cambricks, lawns why, he sings them over, as they were gods or goddesses: you would think, a smock were a she-angel; he so chants to the sleeve-hand, and the work about the square on't.
§ Chalmers's Poets, vol. iv. p. 378. Poly-Olbion, Song xxvii.
Act. iv. sc. 3.
Bourne's Antiquit. Vulg. p. 330.
Hesperides, p. 300, 301.
In Shakspeare's time the business of the milliner was transacted by men.
#Caddisses,-a kind of narrow worsted galloon.
At the close of the feast Autolycus is represented as re-entering, and declaring "Ha, ha! what a fool honesty is! and trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman! I have sold all my trumpery; not a counterfeit stone, not a riband, glass, pomander *, brooch, table-book, ballad, knife, tape, glove, shoe-tye, bracelet, horn-ring, to keep my pack from fasting: they throng who should buy first; as if my trinkets had been hallowed, and brought a benediction to the buyer."
In the North, the Village-Wake is still kept up, under the title of The Hopping, a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon, and thus applied, because dancing was the favourite amusement of these meetings. The reign of Elizabeth, indeed, was marked by a peculiar propensity to this exercise, and neither wake nor feast could be properly celebrated without the country lads and lasses footing it on the green or yard, or in bad weather, in the Manor-hall.
In an old play, entitled " A Woman Killed With Kindness," the production of Thomas Heywood, and acted in 1604, is to be found a very humorous description of one of these Hoppings, and particularly curious, as it enumerates the names of the dances then in vogue among these rustic performers. The poet, after remarking that now
"the mad lads
And country lasses, every mother's child,
With nosegays and bride laces in their hats,
thus introduces his couples:
"Jenkin. Come, Nick, take you Joan Miniver to trace withal; Jack Slime, traverse you with Sisly Milk-pail; I will take Jane Trubkin, and Roger Brickbat shall have Isabel Motley; and now strike up; we'll have a crash here in the yard.—
Jack Slime. Foot it quickly; if the music overcome not my melancholy, I shall quarrel ; and if they do not suddenly strike up, I shall presently strike them down.
No quarrelling, for God's sake: truly, if you do, I shall set a knave between ye. Jack Slime. I come to dance, not to quarrel; come, what shall it be? Rogero?
Jen. Rogero! no; we will dance The beginning of the World.'
Sisly. I love no dance so weil, as John, come kiss me now.'
Nicholas. I have ere now deserved a cushion; call for the Cushion-dance.
R. Brick. For my part, I like nothing so well as 'Tom Tyler.'
Jen. No; we'll have 'The hunting of the Fox.'
Jack Slime. The Hay! the Hay!' there's nothing like 'The Hay.'
Nich. I have said, do say, and will say again.
Jen. Every man agree to have it as Nick says.
Nich. Put on your smock a Monday.'
Jen. So, the dance will come cleanly off: come, for God's sake, agree of something; if you like not that, put it to the musicians; or let me speak for all, and we'll have ‘Sellenger's Round.' All. That, that, that!
Nich. No, I am resolved, thus it shall be. First take hands, then take ye to your heels.
* Pomander, a little ball of perfumes worn either in the pocket or about the neck. Act. iv. sc. iii.
Jen. Why, would you have us run away?
Nich. No; but I would have you shake your heels. Music, strike up.
The Fair or greater wake was usually held, as hath been observed, in a central situation, and its period and duration were, as at present, proclaimed by law. It was a scene of extensive business as well as of pleasure; for before provincial cities had attained either wealth or consequence, all communication between them was difficult, and neither the necessaries nor the elegances of life could be procured but at stated times, and at fixed depôts. It was usual, therefore, to go fifty or a hundred miles to one of these fairs, in order both to purchase goods and accommodations for the ensuing year, and to dispose of the superfluous products of art or cultivation. In the reign of Henry VI. the monks of the priories of Maxtoke in Warwickshire, and of Bicester in Oxfordshire, laid in their annual stores of common necessaries at Sturbridge Fair in Cambridgeshire, at least one hundred miles distant, and notwithstanding the two cities of Oxford and Coventry were in their immediate neighbourhood. In the reign of Henry VIII., it appears, from the Household-Book of Henry Percy, fifth Earl of Northumberland, that his Lordship's family were supplied with necessaries for the whole year from fairs. "He that stands charged with my Lordes House for the houll Yeir, if he maye possible, shall be at all Faires, where the greice Emptions shall be boughte for the House, for the houll Yeir, as Wine, Wax, Beiffes, Muttons, Wheite and Malt;" ‡ and, in the reign of Elizabeth, Tusser recommends to his farmer the same plan, both for purchase and sale :
“At Bartilmewtide, or at Sturbridge faire,
buie that as is needful, thy house to repaire:
That this custom prevailed until the commencement of the eighteenth century, and to nearly the same extent, is evident from a note on the just quoted lines of Tusser by Mr. Hilman. "Sturbridge fair," says he, "stocks the country (namely, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex) with clothes, and all other houshold necessaries, and the farmers) again, sell their butter and cheese, and whatever else remains on their hands; nay, there the shopkeepers supply themselves with divers sorts of commodities."
In the third year, indeed, of James I., Sturbridge Fair began to acquire such celebrity, that hackney coaches attended it from London; and it subsequently became so extensive that for several years not less than sixty coaches have been known to ply at this fair, then esteemed the largest in England.
Sturbridge Fair is still annually proclaimed, but now in such a state of decline, that its extinction, at least in a commercial light, cannot be far distant. To these brief notices of wakes and fairs, it may be necessary to subjoin a slight detail of the state of Country-Inns and Ale-houses during the age of Shakspeare. To take mine ease in mine inn" is a proverbial phrase, which the poet has placed in the mouth of Falstaff, and which implies a degree of comfort which has always been the peculiar attribute of an English house of public entertainment. That it was not less felt and enjoyed in Shakspeare's time than in our own, is very apparent from the accounts which have been left us by Harrison and Fynes Moryson; the former writing towards the close of the sixteenth, and the latter at the commencement of the seventeenth century. These descriptions, which are curiously faithful and highly interesting, paint the provincial hostelries of England
Ancient British Drama, vol. ii. p. 435, 436. The third edition of "A Woman Killed With Kindness," was printed in 4to. 1617.
+ Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 279. note.
Establishment and Expences of the Household of Henry Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland, A.D. 1512. p. 407.
§ Hilman's Tusser, p.