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Some vestiges of the Lake-wake still remain at this day in remote parts of the north of England, especially at the period of laying out, or streeking the corpse, as it is termed; and here it may be remarked, that in the time of Shakspeare, the practice of winding the corse, or putting on the winding-sheet, was a ceremony of a very impressive kind, and accompanied by the solemn melody of dirges. Some lines, strikingly illustrative of this pious duty, are to be found in the" White Devil; or Vittoria Corombona" of Webster, published in 1612. Francisco, Duke of Florence, tells Flaminio,
Cornelia, the Moor, and three other ladies, discovered WINDING Marcello's corse. A SONG.
Cor. This rosemary is wither'd, pray get fresh;
Another exquisite passage of this fine old poet alludes to the same practice-a villain of ducal rank, expiring from the effect of poison, exclaims,
"O thou soft natural death! that art joint-twin
To sweetest slumber!-no rough-bearded comet
After the funeral was over, it was customary among all ranks, to give a cold, and sometimes a very ostentatious, entertainment to the mourners. To this usage Shakspeare refers, in the character of Hamlet :
"Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,"
a passage which Mr. Collins has illustrated by the following quotation from a contemporary writer: "His corpes was with funerall pompe conveyed to the church, and there sollemnly enterred, nothing omitted which necessitie or custom could claime; a sermon, a banquet, and like observations." +
The funeral feast is not yet extinct; it may occasionally be met with in places remote from the metropolis, and more particularly in the northern counties among some of the wealthy yeomanry. Mr. Douce considers the practice as
"Certainly borrowed from the cœna feralis of the Romans," and adds, "in the North this feast is called an arval or arvil supper, and the loaves that are sometimes distributed among the poor, arval-bread. Not many years since one of these arvals was celebrated in a village in Yorkshire at a public-house, the sign of which was the family arms of a nobleman whose motto is "Virtus post funera vivit." The undertaker, who, though a clerk, was no scholar, requested a gentleman present to explain to him the meaning of these Latin words, which he readily and facetiously did in the following manner; Virtus, a parish clerk, vivit, lives well, post funera,
Ancient British Drama, vol. iii. p. 40.
The Tragique Historie of the Faire Valeria of London, 1598.
+ Ibid. p. 36.
at an arval.
The latter word is apparently derived from some lost Teutonic term that indicated a funeral pile on which the body was burned in times of Paganism." *
A few observations must still be added on the pleasing, though now nearly obsolete, practice of carrying ever-greens and garlands at funerals, and of decorating the grave with flowers. There is something so strikingly emblematic, so delightfully soothing in these old rites, that though the prototype be probably heathen, their disuse is to be regretted.
"The carrying of ivy, or laurel, or rosemary, or some of those ever-greens," says Bourne, "is an emblem of the soul's immortality. It is as much as to say, that though the body be dead, yet the soul is ever-green and always in life: it is not like the body, and those other greens which die and revive again at their proper seasons; no autumn nor winter can make a change in it, but it is unalterably the same, perpetually in life, and never dying.
The Romans, and other heathens, upon this occasion made use of cypress, which being once cut, will never flourish nor grow any more, as an emblem of their dying for ever, and being no more in life. But instead of that, the ancient Christians used the things before mentioned; they laid them under the corpse in the grave, to signify, that they who die in Christ, do not cease to live. For though, as to the body they die to the world, yet as to their souls they live to God.
"And as the carrying of these ever-greens is an emblem of the soul's immortality, so it is also of the resurrection of the body: for as these herbs are not entirely plucked up, but only cut down, and will, at the returning season, revive and spring up again; so the body, like them, is but cut down for a while, and will rise and shoot up again at the resurrection." †
The bay and rosemary were the plants usually chosen, the former, as being said to revive from the root, when apparently dead, and the latter from its supposed virtue in strengthening the memory:
"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance."
Shakspeare has frequently noticed these ever-greens, garlands, and flowers, as forming a part of the tributary rites of the departed, as elegant memorials of the dead at the funeral of Juliet he adopts the rosemary :
"Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary
On this fair corse, and as the custom is,
In all her best array bear her to church."
Act iv, sc. 5.
Garlands of flowers were formerly either hung up in country-churches, as a mark of honour and esteem, over the seats of those who had died virgins, or were remarkable for chastity and fidelity, or were placed in the form of crowns on the coffins of the deceased, and buried with them, for the same purpose. Of these crowns and garlands, which were in frequent use until the commencement of the last century, a very curious account has been given by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine.
"In this nation (as well as others)," he observes, "by the abundant zeal of our ancestors, virginity was held in great estimation; insomuch that those which died in that state were rewarded, at their deaths, with a garland or crown on their heads, denoting their triumphant victory over the lusts of the flesh. Nay, this honour was extended even to a widow that had enjoyed but one husband (saith Weever in his Fun. Mon. p. 12). And, in the year 1733, the present clerk of the parish church of Bromley in Kent, by his digging a grave in that churchyard, close to the east end of the chancel wall, dug up one of these crowns, or garlands, which is most artificially wrought in filagree work with gold and silver wire, in resemblance of myrtle (with which plant the funebrial garlands of the ancients were composed), whose leaves are fastened to hoops of large wire of iron, now something corroded with rust, but both the gold and silver remains to this time very little different from its original splendor. It was also lined with cloth of silver, a piece of which, together with part of this curious garland, I keep as a choice relic of antiquity.
"Besides these crowns, the ancients had also their depository garlands, the use of which were
• Douce's Illustrations, vol. ii p. 202, 203.
+ Bourne's Antiquitates Vulg. p. 33, 34.
continued even till of late years (and perhaps are still retained in many parts of this nation, for my own knowledge of these matters extends not above twenty or thirty miles round London), which garlands, at the funerals of the deceased, were carried solemnly before the corpse by two maids, and afterward hung up in some conspicuous place within the church, in memorial of the departed person, and were (at least all that I have seen) made after the following manner, viz. the lower rim or circlet, was a broad hoop of wood, whereunto was fixed, at the sides thereof, part of two other hoops crossing each other at the top, at right angles, which formed the upper part, being about one third longer than the width; these hoops were wholly covered with artificial flowers of paper, dyed horn, or silk, and more or less beauteous, according to the skill and ingenuity of the performer. In the vacancy of the inside, from the top, hung white paper, cut in form of gloves, whereon was wrote the deceased's name, age, &c. together with long slips of various coloured paper, or ribbons. These were many times intermixed with gilded or painted empty shells of blown eggs, as farther ornaments; or, it may be, as emblems of the bubbles or bitterness of this life; whilst other garlands had only a solitary hour-glass hanging therein, as a more significant symbol of mortality.
About forty years ago, these garlands grew much out of repute, and were thought, by many, as very unbecoming decorations for so sacred a place as the church; and at the reparation, or new beautifying several churches, where I have been concerned, I was obliged, by order of the minister and churchwardens, to take the garlands down, and the inhabitants were strictly forbidden to hang up any more for the future. Yet, notwithstanding, several people, unwilling to forsake their ancient and delightful custom, continued still the making of them, and they were carried at the funerals, as before, to the grave, and put therein, upon the coffin, over the face of the dead; this I have seen done in many places." Bromley in Kent. Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1747.
Shakspeare has alluded to these maiden rites in Hamlet, where the priest, at the interment of Ophelia, says,
The term crants, observes Johnson, on the authority of a correspondent, is the German word for garlands, and was probably retained by us from the Saxons. The strewments mentioned in this passage refer to a pleasing custom, which is still, we believe, preserved in Wales, of scattering flowers over the graves of the deceased.* It is manifestly copied from the funeral rites of the Greeks and Romans, and was early introduced into the Christian church; for St. Jerome, in an epistle to his friend Pammachius on the death of his wife, remarks, "whilst other husbands strawed violets and roses, and lilies, and purple flowers, upon the graves of their wives, and comforted themselves with such like offices, Pammachius bedewed her ashes and venerable bones with the balsam of alms; † and Mr. Strutt, in his Manners and Customs of England," tells us, "that of old it was usual to adorn the graves of the deceased with roses and other flowers (but more especially those of lovers, round whose tombs they have often planted rose trees): Some traces," he observes, "of this ancient custom are yet remaining in the church-yard of Oakley, in Surry, which is full of rose trees planted round the graves."
Many of the dramas of our immortal bard bear testimony to his partiality for this elegantly affectionate tribute; a practice which there is reason to suppose was, in the country at least, not uncommon in his days: thus Capulet, in Romeo and Juliet, observes,
" Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse;"
Activ, sc. 5.
and the Queen in Hamlet is represented as performing the ceremony at the grave of Ophelia :
* See Pratt's Gleanings in Wales, and Mason's Elegy in a Church-yard in Wales.
Auglo Saxon Era, vol. i. p. 69.
It was considered, likewise, as a duty incumbent on the survivors, annually to plant shrubs and flowers upon, and to tend and keep neat, the turf which covered the remains of their beloved friends; in accordance with this usage, Mariana is drawn in Pericles decorating the tomb of her nurse:
The only relic which yet exists in this country of a custom so interesting, is to be found in the practice of protecting the hallowed mound by twigs of osier, an attention to the mansions of the dead, which is still observable in most of the Country-church-yards in the south of England.
We have thus advanced in pursuit of our object, namely, "A Survey of Country Life during the Age of Shakspeare," as far as a sketch of its manner and customs, resulting from a brief description of rural characters, holidays, and festivals, wakes, fairs, weddings, and burials, will carry us; and we shall now proceed with the picture, by adding some account of those diversions of our ancestors which could not with propriety find a place under any of the topics that have been hitherto noticed; endeavouring in our progress to render the great dramatic bard the chief illustrator of his own times.
In Mr. Malkin's notes on Mason's Elegy, we have the following elegant and pleasing description of this pathetic custom, as it still exists in Wales :-" It is a very ancient and general practice in Glamorgan," he remarks, to plant flowers on the graves, so that many Church-yards have something like the splendour of a rich and various parterre. Besides this it is usual to strew the graves with flowers and ever-greens, within the Church as well as out of it, thrice at least every year, on the same principle of delicate respect as the stones are whitened.
“No flowers or ever-greens are permitted to be planted on graves but such as are sweet-scented: the pink and polyanthus, sweet williams, gilliflowers, and carnations, mignionette, thyme, hyssop, camomile, rosemary, make up the pious decoration of this consecrated garden.-.
"The white rose is always planted on a virgin's tomb. The red rose is appropriated to the grave of any person distinguished for goodness, and especially benevolence of character.
In the Easter week most generally the graves are newly dressed, and manured with fresh earth, when such flowers or ever-greens as may be wanted or wished for are planted. In the Whitsuntide Holidays, or rather the preceding week, the graves are again looked after, weeded, and otherwise dressed, or, if necessary, planted again.-This work the nearest relations of the deceased always do with their own hands, and never by servants or hired persons.-
"When a young couple are to be married, their ways to the Church are strewed with sweet-scented flowers and ever-greens. When a young unmarried person dies, his or her ways to the grave are also strewed with sweet flowers and ever-greens; and on such occasions it is the usual phrase, that those persons are going to their nuptial beds, not to their graves.-None ever molest the flowers that grow on graves; for it is deemed a kind of sacrilege to do so. Å relation or friend will occasionally take a pink, if it can be spared, or a sprig of thyme, from the grave of a beloved or respected person, to wear it in remembrance; but they never take much, lest they should deface the growth on the grave.
These elegant and highly pathetic customs of South Wales make the best impression on the mind. What can be more affecting than to see all the youth of both sexes in a village, and in every village through which the corpse passes, dressed in their best apparel, and strewing with sweet-scented flowers the ways along which one of their beloved neighbours goes to his or her marriage-bed."
Malkin's Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales. 4to. 1804. p. 606.
View of Country Life during the Age of Shakspeare continued-Diversions.
THE attempt to describe all the numerous rural diversions which were prevalent during the age of Shakspeare, would be, in the highest degree, superfluous; for the greatest part of them, it is evident, must remain, with such slight or gradual modification as to require but little notice. It will be, therefore, our endeavour, in the course of this chapter, after giving a catalogue of the principal country diversions of the era in question, to dwell only upon those which have subsequently undergone such alterations as to render their former state an object of novelty and curiosity.
This catalogue may be taken, with tolerable accuracy, from Randal Holme of Chester, and from Robert Burton; the former enumerating the games and diversions of the sixteenth century, and the latter those of the prior part of the seventeenth. If to these we add the notices to be drawn from Shakspeare, the sketch will, there is reason to suppose, prove sufficiently extensive.
In the list of Randal Holme will be found the names of some juvenile sports, which are now perhaps no longer explicable; this poetical antiquary, however, shall speak for himself.
They dare challenge for to throw the sledge;
To drinke the halfer pottes, or deale at the whole canne;
To daunce the morris, playe at barley breake;
At alle exploytes a man can thinke or speake;
At shove-grote, 'venter poynte, at crosse and pyle ;
At "Beshrewe him that's last at any style;'
At lepynge over a Christmas bon fyer,
Or at the "drawynge dame owte o' the myre;"
At" Shoote cock, Gregory," stoole-ball, and what not;
Burton, after mentioning Hawking, Hunting, Fowling, and Fishing, says, "many other sports and recreations there be, much in use, as ringing, bowling, shooting, (with the bow), keelpins, tronks, coits, pitching bars, hurling, wrestling, leaping, running, fencing, mustring, swimming, wasters, foiles, foot-ball, balown, quintan, etc., and many such which are the common recreations of the Country folks." + He subsequently adds bull and bear baiting as common to both countrymen and citizens, and then subjoins to the list of rural amusements, dancing, singing, masking, mumming, and stage-players. S For the ordinary recreations of winter, as well in the country as in town, he recommends "cards, tables and dice, shovelboord, chess-play, the philosopher's game, small trunks, shuttle-cock, billiards, musick, masks, singing, dancing, ule games, frolicks, jests, riddles, catches, purposes, questions and commands, and merry tales." **
From this statement it will immediately appear, that many of the rural diver
* MS. Harl. Libr., No. 2057, apud Strutt's Customs, &c.
** Ibid. p. 172.