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green, at this bleak season of the year, may be considered as emblematic of joy and victory, more particularly the laurel, which had been adopted by the Greeks and Romans, for this express purpose. That this was the opinion of our an— cestors, and that they believed the malignant spirit was envious of, and interested in destroying these symbols of their triumph, appears from the passage just quoted from Stowe.
It has been, indeed, conjectured, that this mode of ornamenting churches and houses is either allusive to numerous figurative expressions in the prophetic Scriptures typical of Christ, as the Branch of Righteousness, or that it was commemorative of the style in which the first Christian churches in this country were built, the materials for the erection of which being usually wrythen wands or boughs; it may have, however, an origin still more remote, and fancy may trace the misletoe, which is frequently used on these occasions, to the times of the ancient Druids, an hypothesis which acquires some probability from a passage in Dr. Chandler's Travels in Greece, where he informs us,
"It is related where Druidism prevailed, the houses were decked with evergreens in December, that the Sylvan spirits might repair to them, and remain unnipped with frost and cold winds, until a milder season had renewed the foliage of their darling abodes." †
The morning of the Nativity was ushered in with the chaunting of Christmas Carols, or Pious Chansons. The Christmas Carol was either scriptural or convivial, the first being sung morning and evening, until the twelfth day, and the second during the period of feasting or carousing.
As soon as the morning of the Nativity appears," says Bourne, "it is customary among the common people to sing a Christmas Carol, which is a song upon the birth of our Saviour, and generally sung from the Nativity to the Twelfth-day; this custom," he adds, "seems to be an imitation of the Gloria in Excelsis, or Glory be to God on High, &c. which was sung by the angels, as they hovered o'er the fields of Bethlehem on the morning of the Nativity; for even that song, as the learned Bishop Taylor observes, was a Chrismas Carol. As soon,' says he, as these blessed Choristers had sung their Xmas Carol, and taught the Church a hymn, to put into her offices for ever, on the anniversary of this festivity, the angels," &c. ‡
We can well remember that, during the early period of our life, which was spent in the north of England, it was in general use for the young people to sing a carol early on the morning of this great festival, and the burthen of which was, "All the angels in heaven do sing
On a Christmas day in the morning;"
customs such as this, laudable in themselves and highly impressive on the youthful mind, are, we are sorry to say, nearly, if not totally, disappearing from the present generation.
To the carols, hymns, or pious chansons, which were sung about the streets at night, during Christmas-tide, Shakspeare has two allusions; one in Hamlet, where the Prince quotes two lines from a popular ballad entitled "The Songe of Jepthah's Daughter," and adds, "The first row of the pious chanson will show you more;" and the other in the Midsummer-Night's Dream, where Titania remarks that
"No night is now with hymn or carol blest."
Upon the first of these passages Mr. Steevens has observed that the "pious chansons were a kind of Christmas carols, containing some scriptural history thrown into loose rhymes, and sung about the streets by the common people;" and upon the second, that "hymns and carols, in the time of Shakspeare, during the season of of Christmas, were sung every night about the streets, as a pretext for collecting money from house to house."
* Vide Gentleman's Magazine for 1765. Brand on Bourne's Antiquities, p. 200, 201. Act ii. sc. 2.
Brand on Bourae's Antiquities, p. 193. § Act ii. sc. 2.
Carols of this kind, indeed, were, during the sixteenth century, sung at Christmas, through every town and village in the kingdom; and Tusser, in his "Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie," introduces one for this season, which he orders to be sung to the tune of King Salomon.
The chief object of the common people in chaunting these nightly carols, from house to house, was to obtain money or Christmas-Boxes, a term derived from the usage of the Romish priests, who ordered masses at this time to be made to the Saints, in order to atone for the excesses of the people, during the festival of the Nativity, and as these masses were always purchased of the priest, the poor were allowed to gather money in this way with the view of liberating themselves from the consequence of the debaucheries of which they were enabled to partake, through the hospitality of the rich.
The convivial or jolie carols were those which were sung either by the company, or by itinerant minstrels, during the revelry that daily took place, in the houses of the wealthy, from Christmas-Eve to Twelfth Day. They were also frequently called Wassel Songs, and may be traced back to the Anglo-Norman period. Mr. Douce, in his very interesting "Illustrations of Shakspeare and of Ancient Manners," has given us a Christmas-carol of the thirteenth or fourteenth century written in the Norman language, and which may be regarded, says he, "as the most ancient drinking song, composed in England, that is extant. This singular curiosity," he adds, "has been written on a spare leaf in the middle of a valuable miscellaneous manuscript of the fourteenth century, preserved in the British Museum, Bibl. Regal. 16, E. 8." To the original he has annexed a translation, admirable for its fidelity and harmony, and we are tempted to insert three stanzas as illustrative of manners and diet which still continued fashionable in the days of Shakspeare. We shall prefix the first stanza of the original, as a specimen of the language, with the observation, that from the word Noel, which occurs in it, Blount has derived the terms Ule or Yule; the French Nouel or Christmas, he observes, the Normans corrupted to Nuel, and from Nuel, we had Nule, or Ule.‡
Manchet loaves, wassel-bread, and the stately pye, that is, a peacock or pheasant pye, were still common in the days of Shakspeare. During the prevalence of chivalry, it was usual for the knights to take their vows of enterprise, at a solemn feast, on the presentation to each knight, in turn, of a roasted peacock in a golden dish. For this was afterwards substituted, though only in a culinary light, and as the most magnificent dish which could be brought to table, a peacock in a pie, preserving as much as possible the form of the bird, with the head elevated above the crust, the beak richly gilt, and the beautiful tail spread out to its fuil
*Chap. xxx. fol. 57. edit. 1586.
+ Donce's Illustrations, vol, ii. p. 214.
Vide Blount's Ancient Tenure of Land, and Jocular Customs of some Manors. Beckwith's edit. 8vo. 1784 215-217.219.
Douce's Illustrations, vol. ii. p.
extent. In allusion to these superb dishes a ludicrous oath was prevalent in Shakspeare's time, which he has, with much propriety, put into the mouth of Justice Shallow, who, soliciting the stay of the fat knight, exclaims,
"By cock and pye, sir, you shall not away to night."*
The use of the peacock, however, as one of the articles of a second course, continued to the close of the seventeenth century; for Gervase Markham, in the ninth edition of his English House-Wife, London 1683, enumerating the articles and ordering of a great feast, mentions this among other birds, now seldom seen as objects of cookery; "then in the second course she shall first preferr the lesser wild-fowl, as etc. then the lesser land-fowl, as etc. etc. then the great wild-fowl, as bittern, hearn, shoveler, crane, bustard, and such like. Then the greater land-fowl, as PEACOCKS, phesant, puets, gulls, etc." +
Numerous collections of Carols, or festal chansons, to be sung at the various feasts and ceremonies of the Christmas-holidays, were published during the sixteenth century. One of the earliest of these was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, and entitled "Christmasse carolles." It contains, among many very curious specimens of this species of popular poetry, one which not only contributed to the hilarity of our ancestors in the reigns of Henry, Elizabeth, and James, but is still in use, though with many alterations, in Queen's College, Oxford; it is designated as a Carol bryngyng in the bores head," which was the first dish served up at the baron's high table in the great hall on Christmas-day, and was usually accompanied by a procession, with the sound of trumpets and other instru
"Caput Apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.
The bores head in hande bringe I,
The bores head, I understande,
Servite cum cantico.
Be gladde lordes, both more and lasse,
For the hospitality, indeed, the merriment and good cheer, which prevailed during the season of Christmas, this country was peculiarly distinguished in the sixteenth century. Setting aside the splendid manner in which this festival was kept at court, and in the capital, we may appeal to the country, in confirmation of the assertion; the hall of the nobleman and country-gentleman, and even the humbler mansions of the yeoman and husbandman, vied with the city in the exhibition of plenty, revelry, and sport. Of the mode in which the farmer and his servants enjoyed themselves, on this occasion, a good idea may be formed from the poem of Tusser, the first edition of which thus admonishes the housewife :"Get ivye and hull, woman deck up thyne house: and take this same brawne, for to seeth and to souse. Provide us good chere, for thou know'st the old guise : olde customes, that good be, let no man despise.
* Act v. sc. 1.
English House-Wife, p. 99. The pies which he recommends immediately subsequent to this enumeration are somewhat curious, and rather of a more substantial nature than those of modern days; for instance, red deer pye, gammon of bacon pye, wild-bore pye, and roe-pye.
+ Vide Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 143.
At Christmas be mery, and thanke god of all
and feast thy pore neighbours, the great with the small." *
And in subsequent impressions, the articles of the "Christmas husbandlie fare" are more particularly enumerated; for instance, good drinke, a blazing fire in the hall, brawne, pudding and souse, and mustard with all, beef, mutton, and pork, shred or minced pies of the best, pig, veal, goose, capon, and turkey, cheese, apples, and nuts, with jolie carols; a pretty ample provision for the rites of hospitality, and a powerful security against the inclemencies of the season!
The Hall of the baron, knight, or squire, was the seat of the same festivities, the same gambols, wassalling, mummery, and mirth, which usually took place in the palaces and mansions of the metropolis, and of these Jonson has given us a very curious epitome in his "Masque of Christmas," where he has personified the season and its attributes in the following manner :
"Enter CHRISTMAS with two or three of the Guard.
"He is attir'd in round hose, long stockings, a close doublet, a high crownd hat with a broach, a long thin beard, a truncheon, little ruffes, white shoes, his scarffes and garters tyed crosse, and his drum beaten before him.
"The names of his CHILDREN, with their attyres.
"Mis-rule. In a velvet cap with a sprig, a short cloake, great yellow ruffe like a reveller, his torch-bearer bearing a rope, a cheese and a basket.
"Caroll. A long tawny coat, with a red cap, and a flute at his girdle, his torch-bearer carrying a song booke open.
"Mine'd Pie. Like a fine cooke's wife, drest neat; her man carrying a pie, dish, and spoones.
"Gamboll. Like a tumbler, with a hoope and bells; his torch-bearer arm'd with a cole-staffe, and a blinding cloth.
"Post And Paire. With a paire-royall of aces in his hat; his garment all done over with payres, and purrs; his squier carrying a box, cards and counters.
"New-Yeares-Gift. In a blew coat, serving-man like, with an orange, and a sprig of rosemarie guilt on his head, his hat full of broaches, with a coller of gingerbread, his torch-bearer carrying a march-paine, with a bottle of wine on either arme.
“Mumming. In a masquing pied suite, with a visor, his torch-bearer carrying the boxe, and ringing it.
Wassall. · Like a neat sempster, and songster; her page bearing a browne bowle, drest with ribbands, and rosemarie before her.
“Offering. In a short gowne, with a porter's staffe in his hand; a wyth borne before him, and a bason by his torch-bearer,
"Babie-Coche. Drest like a boy, in a fine long coat, biggin, bib, muckender, and a little dagger; his usher bearing a great cake with a beane, and a pease."†
Of these personified attributes we have already noticed, at some length, the most material, such as Misrule, Caroll, New-Year's-Gift and Wassall; to the account, however, which has been given of the Summer Lord of Misrule, from Stubbes's Anatomie of Abuses," it will be here necessary to add, that the sway of this mock prince, both in town and country, was still more absolute during the Christmas-holiday; "what time," says Holinshed, "of old ordinarie course there is alwaies one appointed to make sport in the court, called commonlie Lord of Misrule: whose office is not unknowne to such as have beene brought up in noblemen's houses, and among great housekeepers, which use liberal feasting in that season." Stowe, likewise, has recorded, in his Survey, the universal domination of this holiday monarch.
"In the feast of Christmas," he remarks, "there was in the king's house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Master of merry Desports, and the like had yee in the house of
A hundreth good poyntes of husbandry, 1557. p. 10.
Christmas, His Masque; as it was presented at Court 1616. Jonson's Works, folio edit. 1640, vol. ii. Holinshed's Chronicles, vol. iii. p. 1032. edit. 1808.
every nobleman of honour, or good worship, were he spiritual! or temporall. Amongst the which, the Maior of London, and either of the Sheriffes had their several Lords of Misrule, ever contending without quarrell or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders. These Lords beginning their rule on Alhallow Eve, continued the same til the morrow after the feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas-day: In all which space, there were fine and subtill disguisings, maskes and mummeries, with playing at cardes for counters, nayles and points in every house, more for pastime than for gaine."'
In short, the directions which are to be found for a grand Christmas in the capital, were copied with equal splendour and profusion in the houses of the opulent gentlemen in the country, who made it a point to be even lavish at this season of the year. We may, therefore, consider the following description as applying accurately to the Christmas hospitality of the Baron's hall.
"On Christmas-day, service in the church ended, the gentlemen presently repair into the ball to breakfast, with brawn, mustard, and malmsey.
"At dinner the butler, appointed for the Christmas, is to see the tables covered and furnished: and the ordinary butlers of the house are decently to set bread, napkins, and trenchers, in good form, at every table; with spoones and knives. At the first course is served in a fair and large bore's head, upon a silver platter, with minstralsye.
"Two servants' are to attend at supper, and to bear two fair torches of wax, next before the musicians and trumpeters, and stand above the fire with the music, till the first course be served in through the hall. Which performed, they, with the music, are to return into the buttery. like course is to be observed in all things, during the time of Christmas.
"At night, before supper, are revels and dancing, and so also after supper, during the twelve daies of Christmas. The Master of the Revels is, after dinner and supper, to sing a caroll, or song; and command other gentlemen then there present to sing with him and the company; and so it is very decently performed."+
Beside the revelry and dancing here mentioned, we may add, that it was customary, at this season, after the Christmas sports and games had been indulged in, until the performers were weary, to gather round the ruddy fire, and tell tales of legendary lore, or popular superstition. Herrick, recording the diversions of this period, mentions one of them as consisting of "winter's tales about the hearth;" and Grose, speaking of the source whence he had derived many of the superstitions narrated in the concluding section of his "Provincial Glossary," says, that he gives them, as they had, from age to age, been "related to a closing circle of attentive hearers, assembled in a winter's evening, round the capacious chimney of an old hall or manor-house;" and he adds, that tales of this description formed, among our ancestors, "a principal part of rural conversation, in all large assemblies, and particularly those in Christmas holidays, during the burning of the Yule-block." S
Of the conviviality which universally reigned during these holidays, a good estimate may be taken by a few lines from the author of Hesperides, who, addressing a friend at Christmas-tide, makes the following request:
"When your faces shine
With bucksome meat and cap'ring wine,
*Stowe's Survey of London, p. 149. edit. 1618.
Till Liber Pater** twirles the house
"Then" to the bagpipe all addresse,
Nichols's Progresses and Processions of Queen Elizabeth, vol. i. p. 20, 21. Anno 1562.
Liber Pater, Bacchus.
§ Provincial Glossary, Preface, p. 8. 8vo. 1787.
++ Hesperides, p. 146. The following passages place in a strong and interesting point of view, the hos pitality of our ancestors during this season of the year, and will add not a little to the impression derived from the text.
"Heretofore, noblemen and gentlemen of fair estates had their heralds who wore their coate of armes at Christmas, and at other solemne times, and cryed largesse thrice. They lived in the country like petty kings. They always cat in Gothic Halls where the Mummings and Loaf-stealing, and other Christmas