Christmas - The New Monthly Magazine - 1839
Zemia, "Christmas," from Theodore Hook, ed., The New Monthly Magazine and Humorist. Part The Third. (London: Henry Colburn, 1839), Vol. 57, Number 228, pp. 447-461. [PDF 476-490]
" God send you til a merry Christmas."
Puritan. " Keep out, Keep out; you come not here."
Christmas. " O, sir ! I bring good cheere."
Eng. Yeoman. " Old Christmas welcome; do not fear."
But indeed, and indeed, Christmas may well fear. Well may he show some hesitation in his approach. Well may he draw near with stealthy foot, with uncertain pace, with timid, faltering gait, and humbly raise his withered hand as if to deprecate censure, and meekly bow his blanched and venerable head. For now the stern rule of " the schoolmaster" is paramount in the land, and gentle, graceful, blithesome Mat, though she scatters roses in her path, and flowers spring up beneath her tread, and where'er she breathes, hill and valley awaken into beauty—still her gracious influence is almost unacknowledged, her beautiful form is scarcely recognised. And HarVest-home—sunny, jocund, hearty harvest-home, with his radiant beaming brow, and golden curls, and his magnificent cortege—for Joy and Plenty follow in his train—even he is looked at askance. Well then may Christmas, " a hoarie headed man of great yeares, and as white as snow," well may he fear his welcome. Well may this " old, old, old, very old, gray-bearded gentleman, called Christmas," with his white hair, and cold pale cheeks, well may he anticipate cold regards, and chilling courtesy.
" And shall we have our mouths shut to welcome old Christmas ? No, no f We are apt to refer with enthusiasm to the festivals and rejoicings of the olden time, and to wish, somewhat thoughtlessly, that we could see them realized now. But in fact, they would ill suit the tenour of this working-day world, and in their details would little gratify, perhaps, their most ardent admirers. For we usually do not see these matters in detail; we look only at the whole, and as a whole they are certainly captivating. It is indeed true that they are more feasible in representation than in reality. " They paint well." We crowd together in light the agreeable parts of the picture; the less attractive points we involve in the deep background shade. We discourse with animation of the " Wassel Bowl," we forget the bestial drunkenness which frequently resulted from its circulation. We glow in imagination over the " Yule Log," but do we remember the miserable accommodation (if such a word may be predicated of the unceiled roofs, and badly-constructed walls, seldom weatherproof, and revelling in draughts in every corner), which rendered that log even less luxurious than a moderate fire in our airtight apartments. Our imaginations are naturally and agreeably excited by the boundless hilarity, the jovial mirth, the goodfellowship, and the good-will which seem to have been excited amongst all classes on the recurrence of this great festival; but we forget how transient, how comparatively few and far between were the meetings of people, even of the higher classes, formerly, and we do not note how few, how very few recreations the lower classes enjoyed to make up for a life of servitude and misery. The poorest of them now live in circumstances which then would have been deemed luxurious.
Nevertheless, while briefly pointing out the impossibility of ingrafting the revelries of former days on the customs of these, and the incongruity of such a union, even if it were possible, do not let us be understood, or rather misunderstood, to approve of all the innovations which the iron hand of modern improvement is introducing in the system of good old English life. And if there be a season on earth in which hilarity should be permitted to have its full swing, unchecked by formality and rule— yea, unchecked by any thing, and every thing, save the all-important principles of religion and morality—surely Christmas is that time. Other festivals have a comparatively limited sphere of influence. The May-day revelry, the sheep-shearing merriment, the harvest-home feasts, are of course little thought of by the inhabitants of the town ; while on the contrary, the ancient magnificent spectacle of " The Lord Mayor's Show," and other civic observances, which have assumed the rank of festivals, and are looked upon as such by those placed within their influence, are never dreamed of by the free and careless denizens of the country. But the day,
" Which to the cottage, as the crown.
Brought tidings of salvation down,"
is of interest to every body, high or low, rich or poor, young or old, of town or country, of every nation calling itself Christian, of every age, for eighteen hundred years past. And it will retain its interest so long as the world shall endure.
Independently of the claim which this particular festival has on our notice, it is an agreeable and not perhaps an uninstructive task to note the various modes of celebrating theirj'ours de fites which our ancestors, at different times, adopted. To do this with critical accuracy would be too wearisome both in length and in matter for these pages, but we entreat our readers' patience whilst we make some slight references to the
" Old-agM honour of this reverend day."
High and excellent were the titles which of old were given to this feast by the church. The appearing—the birthday of The Saviour— the greatest feast—the mother or chief of all feasts—the day of The nativity—the feast of lights—.Christmas-day.
And that it was observed as a festival, even from the time of our Saviour, is evident from the words of Clemens, a contemporary of St. Paul. He writes, " Brethren, keep diligently feast daies, and truly in the Jirst place, the day of Christ's birth !"
Every subsequent age is rich in authorities on the same point, showing that the celebration of this feast is confirmed by the judgment and practice of the Christian church in all ages. Without further allusion to the high and solemn religious observances of this day—solemnities which were never, even in times of the greatest hilarity, neglected until the era of the Puritans ; we confine our remarks chiefly to the festivities of the season.
Festal, indeed, as it ever been : the very imbodiment of merriment of unequivocal, heart-easing mirth. Not a tale was told, not a song was sung, not a carol was chanted, which did not invoke this inspiring, spirit—Mirth,
t" Without the door let sorrow lye; . •
And if for cold it hap to die,
We'll bury't in a Christmas, pie.
And evermore be merry."
" Let's dance and sing and make good choer, For Christmas comes but once a year : Diaw hogsheads dry, let flagons fly, ,. •. And now the bells shall ring."
" Of Christ cometh Christmas, the name with y° feast,
A tuneful of ioy, to the greatest and least."
" Be we merry at this feste
In quo Saluatornatus est.'
" So now is come our joyfulst feast;
Let every man be jolly,
Each room with ivy leaves'is drcst,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry."
" Come rejoice all good Christians
And rejoice now, I pray,
For joy our Redeemer
Was born on this day,
In the city of David,
And a cottage so poor :
Then rejoice and be you merry,
We have blessings in store."
" All you that to feasting and mirth are inclin'd,
Come, here is good news for to pleasure your mind,
Old Christmas is come for to keep open house,
He scorns to be guilty of starving a mouse :
Then come boys, and welcome for diet the chief,
PJum-pudding, goose, capon, minc'd pies, and roast beef."
" God rest you, merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour,
Was born upon this day."
" This holy tyme of cristmesse
All sorwe and synne we shulde relese,
And caste away all heuynesse,
Wellcome be this new ere,
And loke ye all be of gode chere.
Oure lorde god be at oure denerc
• Preface—a familiar expression at meals, signifying " Much good may it do Dec.—vOL. Lvii. NO. ccxxvm. 2 o
" Now let good Christians all begin
An holy life to live,
And to rejoice and merry be.
For this is Christinas eve."
" Nowel, nowel, in yis halle,
Make merye, I prey zu alle.
On to y1 chyld may we calle
ullo sine crimine."
Somebody once said that if he could choose all the popular songs and ballads, he would mould the people to his pleasure. From the converse of this assertion we may judge what has ever been the popular feeling at Christmas, even from the above few extracts, taken literally at random, from many of different ages, all breathing the same spirit. Nor was the feeling confined to the populace: so liberally was merriment in all its branches, or any thing, or any body that could be supposed to contribute to it, not merely licensed, but encouraged at this season, that the Sheriff of York once made a proclamation, " That all manner of thieves, diceplayers, carders, and all other unthrifty folke, be welcome to the towne, whether they come late or early, att the reverence of the high feast of Youle, till the twelve dayes be passed." And at court, and at the houses of the nobility, no one of any rank was refused admission, who could contribute his quota, in any way, to the general festivity.
An ordinance for governing the household of the Duke of Clarence, in the reign of Edward IV. forbade all games at dice, cards, or other hazard for money, " except during the twelve days at Christmas." And again in the reign of Henry VII., an act was passed against unlawful games, which expressly forbids artificers, labourers, servants, or apprentices to play at any such, except at Christmas, and in many of the colleges cards are introduced in the Combination Rooms during the twelve days of Christmas, but never appear there during the remainder of the year.
More to the purpose still was an order in Lincoln's Inn, in the time of James I., by which the under barristers were by decimation put out of commons, because the whole bar offended by not dancing at Christmas, as was their wont, according to the. ancient order of the society; when judges were present. What degenerate days we live in ! People dance now as if they were half-ashamed of themselves. A modern writer says, " jumping up and down is innocent enough in itself, and if it must be done, it is as well it were done gracefully." Is it that the gentlemen of the bar can't do it " gracefully" now, that we hear nothing of their dancing even at Christmas ? We did know a gentleman who not only considered his " profession" (that of a dancing-master) one of, if not the most important in the world, but he actually wrote a pamphlet to prove that it was the most ancient of all sciences; for no less than a science did he term it. Perhaps the learned in the law were of the same opinion formerly, when the regulation was passed to which we have alluded.
Still, time and place should be selected for dancing, and moderation should be exercised even at Christmas. Some time ago—indeed in the year 1012, on Christmas-eve, for history is quite specific on this point, a party of about thirty-three young men and women were footing it merrily in the churchyard of a certain church, dedicated to St. Magnus. A priest was within at his devotions, and as the merry votaries of Terpsichore waxed somewhat obstreperous in their mirth, he sent to them, desiring them to suspend their amusement for a while. Once and again he sent without effect. Indignant at this, he adjured his patron, St. Magnus, to visit the offenders with condign punishment. His prayers were heard, and the merry culprits were sentenced to dance for twelve months without interruption. They did so. Night or day, wet or fair, sunshine or gloom, summer or winter, brought no change. Their clothes were not in the least disordered, nor their shoes worn. They wore the solid earth, to be sure, and after a while they were dancing up to the knees, and at the expiration of the twelvemonth they were up to the middle; but dance, dance they did to the very last moment. Then the spell was taken off, and after three days and nights of refreshing sleep they were perfectly recovered, except—and no wonder— their limbs never ceased shaking during the remainder of their lives.
Music, it need hardly be premised, was an invariable accompaniment of this festivity ; and independently of the merry measures with which the minstrels rendered vocal the air on this, as on all other festal occasions, Christmas has a style of song peculiar to itself—the carol—of which a beautiful remnant still exists. Doubtless many of our readers have passed a Christmas in Lancashire, amid some of the rural scenery which, beautiful by nature, is in some parts even yet unspoiled by the inroad of commerce and manufactures; and here, after retiring to rest in a situation so secluded that its echoes are scarcely ever awakened in the calm and quiet of night by a solitary footfall, have had their sleep broken by confused melodious murmurings mingling with their dreams. Far off, soft strains float on the air, which amid the holy silence of midnight appear more than mortal : gradually they approach nearer and nearer; accustomed notes stealing on the ear gather distinctness as they approach, till at length they form themselves into one of the simplest and most beautiful melodies extant, and the well-known words meet your now fully awakened ear.
" Shepherds did you hear him coming
Whilst you kept your flocks by night;
Did you see his star in Heaven,
Blaze with new-created light V
To remain in bed is impossible. You undraw the window-curtain, and the moon blazes—absolutely blazes into the room, and myriads of stars shine as you think they hardly ever shone before. The branches of the trees around are feathered with snow, and sparkle like diamonds m the moonbeams, which dart bright and glistering on the grassplot beneath the window, where, despite the thick and frozen snow which crackles and cranches under every footstep, despite the intense cold which steals through every limb, the minstrels of this hallowed season cause " the sound of peace to ring." The sweet and solemn air concluded, they make the welkin resound with the triumphant " Hallelujah ;" the music softens as they recede, whilst their concluding " Good night, good night," wafted from afar, chimes gently on the senses which slumber is again fast sealing. Visions of angels, of seraph harps, and all holy things, mingle with your sleeping thoughts, and leave you not instantly in your waking moments. They influence you in the cheerful greetings with which, a few hours afterwards, you usher in this happy day ; they even " sweeten gladness."
Many a time have we been so awakened.
The terra carol seems originally to have signified a song of gladness, intermingled with dancing. It afterwards was applied to any festive songs, and at length through various influences was referred solely to those of Christmas. It had its application extended to all which were used at Christmas, even to those solemn hymns of the season which were, of a nature totally opposed to the merry and often profane song which alone, in its original import, carol signified. Thus did carols become divided into two sorts ; one founded upon, and frequently imitative of the ancient Latin hymns of the church—and these were sung in the churches and through the streets on Christmas night, and every morning and evening as religious exercises from Christmas until Twelfthday ; and others merely jovial songs which were sung during the hours of revelry, and some of them may be traced to the Anglo-Normans.* But they were all comprised in the one indiscriminate term, carol.
The custom of singing religious carols had become common early in the fifteenth century; and the reformation, by abolishing the use of Latin hymns, gave a great impetus to these carols, as they were then sung in all country churches at Christmas, in preference to many other sets of " divine and godly songs," which were of newer invention. In 1549 some of Sternhold's Psalms were published, and in 1562 the entire version appeared with " apt notes to sing them withall," but we all know that
" Sternhold and Hopkins had no qualms
When they translated David's psalms.'f
And our ancestors still seemed to prefer their simple and energetic carols.
In 1630 " Slatyr's Psalms" appeared, published by the Puritan party with a view to the abolishment of carol-singing; but it was now m creat repute, and though checked during the sway of the common- ' wealth, was, on the restoration of the monarchy, prosecuted with re- ' doubled ardour. It has, however, gradually declined, and is now little heard, seldom thought of, except in some few places at the annnal visitation of the waytes.J
It seems ever to have been the custom among the nations of antiquity to hold festivals in honour of the seasons on their annual return; and one of the most noted of these was that in honour of the return of the sun, which, at the winter solstice begins to regain power. The Saxons and northern nations called this festival Yule, a word of which the derivation seems doubtful; some considering that it means festival, and others deducing it from lol or Iul, a word signifying a wheel, be
• Sandys's Carols, p. 121.
| Nevertheless there are some magnificent passages ; and the old version is considered hy Hebraists as certainly more scriptural than the new one.
X Wait or wayte seems to designate a specie* of minstrel or musician, who kept watch at night during certain times of the year, having some musical instrument on which he was to pipe watch as it was called, and to make bon guult at the different chamber-doors. In the household of Kdward III., among the " mynstrells," were " waytes three." And in that of Edward IV., was "a wayte that nightelye from. Mychelmas to Shrove Thorsdaye pipethe watche within this courte fower tvmei ; in the somere uightes iij tymes, and mnketho bongayte at every charnbere doare and offyce, as well for feaie of pyckeres and pilleres."
cause of the return of the sun in his annual course. Others again who derive this festival entirely from the Saturnalia of the Romans, call it Bxoj and Ihxoj yule, because of the sheaf then offered to Ceres, and the hymn sung in honour of her; the words being used both for a sheaf and for that hymn. The latter days of the Saturnalia, says another author, were the fete of Angeronia, the Goddess of Silence or Mysteries, sometimes called Strenua, then signifying courage. At this time of the feast, the fear of the close of the world, which, during the decay of all things, might be thought to be at hand, was supposed to cease, with the ascent of the sun in the horizon. Hence had they feasting and mirth, and the people made each other presents, saying slrenue or courage.*
To this circumstance Ben Jonson has a beautiful allusion in one of the sweetest of his masques, " The Vision of Delight," which was written expressly for presentation at court, at Christmas, 1617.
" Behold the gold-hair'd Hour descending here,
That keeps the gate of Heaven, and turns the year."
With a view, on their conversion to Christianity, to wean the people from the idolatrous festivals which had taken such hold on their feelings, these festivals were—not abolished—but directed to other objects; and hence perhaps the origin of those joyous carousals and festive games which have long been considered component parts of Christmasday.
Feasting, high and jovial feasting, has ever, in the English mind, been indissolubly united with the idea of rejoicing; in fact, it seems even to this day, an inseparable adjunct to any scheme, not merely of pleasure, but of business. Is a municipal officer to be appointed —a dinner must be given ; and indeed, so absolutely is the Lord Mayor's dinner part and parcel of the Lord Mayor's self, that we doubt not the authority of the one will fail exactly as the attractions of the other decline. Does The Duke, the idol of the country, visit a strange town, the inhabitants directly, as the highest honour it is possible to confer—give him a dinner ; and for the man whom the queen delighteth to honour—a dinner—is daily prepared. What is it that sends influential and talented members to our noble and venerable Commons House of Parliament? but election—dinners. How do the pure and incorruptible members of the bench and the bar attain their learning and their dignities? Why, by eating their commons. Are subscriptions wanted from the charitable and merciful for the dismantled Poles, or the patriot Spaniards—ay, or for new Zoological Gardens, or for a new expedition to the North Pole, or the antipodes, or the moon ?— a dinner—a dinner is the universal " open sesame." Things may be done, but nothing can be rightly done without it; and we have heard the validity of Queen Victoria's coronation called in question, because her most gracious majesty did not pick the merrythought of a chicken in Westminster Hall. Right, right was the old historian in assigning the first honours of the body corporate to the stomach: it is the nerve, the life, the heart, the soul of every thing.
* Hence the word " etrennes." The "jour d'itrtnna" in France is a celebrated sflair ; and the expenditure in Paris for them alone has been reckoned at upwards of S0.000I. (Sandys, p. 69.) ,
Little though can the feasts of these degenerate times be compared with those of our ancestors of old ; but to be sure they were provided with especial reference to the magnificent appetites of the doughty knights and wholesale slayers of those days. They make one's mouth water to behold even on paper. The following is the picture of King Arthur's Christmas table:
" They served up salmon, venison, and wild boars,
By hundreds, and by dozens, and by scores.
Hogsheads of honey, kilderkins of mustard,
Muttons, and fatted beeves, and bacon swine ;
Herons and bitterns, peacocks, swan, and bustard,
Teal, mallard, pigeons, widgeons, and in fine,
Plumpuddings, pancakes, apple-pies and custard.
And therewithal they drank good Gascon wine,
With mead and ale, and cider of our own ;
For porter, punch, and negus were not known."
So earnest were the Anglo-Saxons in the performance of the duties of the season, that when forbidden to drink potations to Odin, Thor, &c., it is said they drank large draughts in honour of the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, Saints, &c.
The Normans were not a whit behindhand in the festivities of the table, though the style of their arrangements might be somewhat altered ; and the wassail-bowl, which was particularly appropriated to Christmas, never circulated more freely than during their sway. The custom of carrying this from house to house, and receiving some gratuity at each, was continued even so late as the seventeenth century.
Particular viands have long been appropriated almost exclusively to this season. The Plcjm-pudding and Flum-poiuudge are early celebrated. The Mince-pie, which is of great antiquity, is supposed to have reference in its savoury ingredients, to the offering of the wise men. It was always formerly made oblong, in imitation of the rack or manger where Christ was laid. It is of great importance to every individual to cat as many of these as possible, seeing that the quantum of happiness to be enjoyed in the subsequent year, entirely depends on the number of mince-pies discussed at Christmas. The Boar's Head was a very celebrated dish, and was introduced at this feast in abhorrence of Judaism. It continued far on in the seventeenth century to be the head dish in all great houses; but is now, though still seen occasionally, mostly superseded by a substitute much more easily prepared—Brawn.* This is also of great antiquity, and is named m most great bills of fare for festal occasions. In Elizabeth's time it was directed to be used at breakfast at Christmas.
We have seen tolerable Christmas (not mince) pies in our time, hot none to compare with the one which in 1770 was shipped at Berwick
* The French do not appear to have been so well acquainted with brawn, for on the capture of Calais by them, tbey found a large quantity, which tbey guessed to be soma dainty, and tried every means of preparing it; in vain did they roast it, bake it, and boil it; it was impracticable and impenetrable to their culinary arts. Its merits, however, being at length discovered, " Ha !" said the monks, " what delightful fish !" and immediately added it to their stock of fast-day viands. The Jews again could not believe it was procured from that impure beast the hog, and included it in their list of clean animals. (Sandys, 61.)
for London. It was made at Howick, and its contents were " two bushels of flour, twenty pounds of butter, four geese, two turkeys, two rabbits, four wild-ducks, two woodcocks, six snipes, and four partridges ; two neats' tongues, two curlews, seven blackbirds, and six pigeons. It was near nine feet in circumference at the bottom, weighed about twelve stone/, took two men to present it to table. It was neatly fitted with a case, and four small wheels to facilitate its use to every guest at table."
Amid all the encroachments of time and fashion, Christmas hospitality is still in vogue, and poor indeed must be the housekeeper who does not set forth something more than ordinary on the Christmas-day table, and welcome with a smile some extra guest. Until comparatively very lately, these hospitalities were conducted on a regular system, and lasted all the twelve days. An English gentleman "of the olden time" was surrounded by his tenants and neighbours by daybreak on Christmas morning. The strong beer was broached, and the black jacks went about merrily with toast, sugar, nutmeg, and Cheshire cheese ; and slices of hackin or great Christmas-sausage, which was always ready by daybreak. The tables were spread from first to last of the holidays, with sirloins of beef, mince-pies, plum-porridge, capons, turkeys, geese, plum-puddings, &c. Every one eat heartily, and was welcome.
Are our readers tired of this long harangue on mere despicable *' creature comforts ?" Glance we slightly at the more intellectual occupations of the day.
Games of all kinds, dice, dancing and singing, mummings and disguisings, frolics, jests, riddles, catches, mimicry and juggling—all sorts of rude merriment that could be devised, were prevalent in England from the first institution of this festival. The Mummings are supposed to have been derived from the customs of the heathens during some of their festivals, to go about in disguises as wild beasts and cattle, and the sexes changing apparel. This practice was continued in the English mumming, and was no doubt attended with much disorder and licentiousness ; so much so, that many enactments were made and enforced for its suppression. It was usually a dumb show, and was much in vogue amongst all ranks; for, in the year 1348, "eighty tunics of buckram, forty-two visors, and a great variety of other whimsical dresses, were provided for the disguising at court at the feast of Christmas." A most magnificent mummery or disguising was exhibited for the citizens of London, A.d. 1377, for the amusement of Richard Prince of Wales, in which no fewer than one hundred and thirty persons were disguised ; and in 1401, we read that " In this yere was here the Emperor of Constantinople, and the kyng held his Christemasse at Eltham, and men of London made a gret mummyng to hym of twelve Aldermen and there sones, for whiche they had gret thanke."*
But this rude entertainment, though not extinguished, was much shorn of its glories by the Miracle Plats which came into vogue, and were an important part of the Christmas festivities, although those known expressly as " Christmas plays" were of older date and merrier
material than these, and were (more frequently than these) called Interludes. Though nothing could be simpler in construction, and to our stage-accustomed eyes more deficient in interest than the miracle plays, they are still regarded with interest by many as the source and foundation of our national drama. They kept with rigid fidelity to the scripture history or the religious legend from which they were taken. Sometimes they were founded on single events, and were of moderate length. But in this they varied exceedingly ; and one was exhibited in Smithfield in Henry IV.'s reign which lasted eight days. Nor will the time appear inordinate when we consider that this drama began with the creation of the world, and contained the greater part of the history of the old and New Testament.
Being originally devised by the clergy to withdraw the minds of the people from the profane and immoral buffooneries to which they were accustomed, ecclesiastics did not hesitate to join in the performance, and even to permit the representation to take place in churches and chapels. Afterwards the ordering and arrangement of them fell into the hands of the guilds or different trading companies.
In process of time the rigid religious simplicity of these performances was broken in upon, and the devil, and a circle of infernal associates were introduced to relieve the gravity of the general performance, and to excite laughter by all sorts of strange noises and contortions. Abstract personifications found their way afterwards; Truth, Peace, Mercy, Justice, &c.,were personified; additional characters—characters of mere ornament—were introduced, the " scriptural character sank into insig.niticance ; and in time what was intended merely as an embellishment to an historical drama, became a new species." This was the Moral Play.
Moralities, or more properly, moral plays, were in the highest vogue in the reign of Henry VII., and were always introduced at the Christmas festivities of Henry VIII.; but by this time the gradual change of abstract personification into individual character, had paved the way for the glorious productions of Shakspeare.
These and all other gaieties of the Christmas season, including triumphs, jousts, masks, tournaments, &c., were under the control of an abbot, or lord of misrule, a character essentially English, and unknown or nearly so, elsewhere. This potentate was omnipotent in his jurisdiction, but appears to have attained his highest dignities in the reign of Henry VI., when his court was attended by " chancellor, treasurer, comptroller, vice-chamberlain, lords councillors, divine, philosopher, astronomer, poet, physician, apothecary, master of requests, civilian, clown, gentlemen ushers, pages of honour, sergeants at arms, provost marshal, under marshal, footmen, messengers, trumpeter, herald, orator; besides hunters, jugglers, tumblers, fools, friars, &c. &c." With such a dramatis persona?, it will be readily supposed that the king of misrule was a king indeed ; and a merry king was he, and a merry time was it when every castle of note in the country had its own master of merry disports to make revelry for rich and poor around. For the nobles and gentry imitated as nearly as might be the pattern set them by the court, both in the style, in the costliness, and in the liberality of their entertainments. The royal household books for the reigns of Henry VII., VI1L, Elizaibeth, and James, contain numberless entries from which, had we room, we could make amusing extracts of the expenses incurred in promoting these Christmas festivities; of the sums paid to the different lords of misrule, and laid out in the various " Disguising*," " Interludes," &c. These we forbear to quote, but perhaps the following notices of some entertainments of Henry VIII.'s reign may not be uninteresting, as exhibiting the tastes of the time.
"• In his 19th year King Henry kept a solemn Christmas at Greenwich, with revels, masks, disguisings, and banquets, and the 30th of December, and the 3d of January, were solemn jousts holden, when at night the king and fifteen other with him, came to Bridewell, and there put on masking apparel, took his barge, and rode to the cardinal's place, where were at supper many lords and ladies, who danced with the maskers, and after the dancing was made a great banquet. This Christmasse was a play at Graye's-Inne, made by one Master Roe, a Serjeant at law; the effect whereof was, that Lord Governance was ruled by Dissipation and Negligence, by whose order Lady Public Weal was put from governance. This the cardinal took to be meant by him, and therefore sent the said Master Roe to the Fleet, though the play were made long before the cardinal had any authority: by which we may see how inseparable a companion suspition is to a guilty conscience."*
Christmas, 1514-15. " For to do pleser to the kyngs grace, and for to pas the tyme of Chrestemas, by Sir Harry Gyllfurth (Guildford), Master of the Revells, was devysed an interluit, in the wheche conteyned a moresks (moresco) of vj persons and ij ladys : wherefor by hys commandement, of our soverayne lorde the kyng, and at apoyntmentof Sir Harry Gylforth, waspreparyd, had and wrought dyuers and sundry garments.
" The interlud was callyd the Tryumpe of Love and Bewte, and y' •l, was wryten and presentyd by Mayster Cornyshe and oothers of the •chappell of our soverayne lorde the kyng, and the chyldern of the sayd chapell. In the same Venus and Bewte dyd tryumpe over al ther enemys, and tamyd a salvadge man and a lyon, that was made very rare and naturall, so as the kyng was gretly plesyd therwyth, and graeyously gaf Mayster Cornysshe a ryche rewarde owt of his owne hand, to be dyvydyd with the rest of his fellows. Venus dyd synge a songe with Bewte, which was lykyd of al y' harde yt, every staffe endyng after this sorte:
" ' Bowe you downe, and doo your dutye
To Venus and the goddes IJewty:
We tryumpe hye over all,
Kyngs attend when we do call.'
" Inglyshe, and the oothers of the kynges pleyers, after pleyed an interluyt, whiche was wryten by Mayster Midwell, but y' was so long yl was not lykyd: yt was of the fyndyng of troth, who was caryed away by ygnoraunce and ypocresy. The foolys part was the best, but the kyng departyd befor the end to hys chambre."f
The jocund festivities of Henry VIII. suffered no abatement in the
• linker's Chronicle. jj + Collier, vol. i., i>. 64. Taken from a roll in the Chnpter House, Westminster. time of his daughter Elizabeth; and so attractive was her court at Christmas for the splendour of its festivities, and the magnificence of its hospitalities, that it being found these pageantries induced many from the country, to the detriment of their dependents at home, it was ordered, in 1589, that the gentlemen of Norfolk and Suffolk should depart from London before Christmas " to keep hospitality at home." And in this reign the sombre retreats of the law glistened with splendout and pageantry, and resounded with the voice of revelry, to which their echoes chimed almost till the season of Lent. Great rivalry existed between the different inns, and the result was that their pageantries outdid in expense and grandeur those of the court.
At this great season of festivity all the apartments in a great mansion were opened for the reception of guests, musicians and minstrels were placed in each, and entertainments, according to the taste of the times, and in which, at some times, there was little propriety or delicacy, were merrily pursued ; and feasting, drinking, music, dancing, tumbling, singing, jesting, juggling, and buffoonery ran riot together.
There were several orders or degrees of minstrels; and some of them, excellent players on the harp, and withal of some cultivation of mind, would recite tales of chivalry to its stirring, thrilling chords; or with gentler inspiration would breathe forth a lay of hapless love, a note of sorrow, at which the hearers could not choose but weep.
But now a clarion note of joyous invitation makes the very echoes ring, and all rush to the great hail where the " Pageant" is about to be exhibited. Musicians with cornets, shaulms, flutes, horns, and pipes of various kinds, are stationed aloft; not far off are trumpeters and players on the clarion ; beneath them are inferior musicians, interspersed with jugglers, magicians, &c. The pageant is stationed in the wide space below ; and the dragon, the giants, the hobby-horses, with knights, buffoons, dwarfs, minstrels, gods, satyrs, and clowns, enact a drama of which it is scarce possible to hear a syllable for the clamour of the musicians, the roaring of the dragon, the yelling of the satyrs, the screaming of the dwarfs, the shouting of the giants, the challenging of the knights, and the merry deafening din caused by the obstreperous applause of every individual present.
This may appear an exaggerated picture, but we believe it is not so. These immensely expensive and very absurd pageants were the delight of the English for some centuries, and were never in greater vogue than in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth.
There was a pageant, which " according to ancient custom" had been yearly exhibited at Chester during Christmas, which consisted of " four giants, one unicorn, one dromedary, one luce, one camel, one ass, one dragon, and sixteen naked boys." It was discontinued during the Commonwealth, but restored in the reign of Charles II., when the city corporation (we believe) defrayed the expenses, considerable ones, attendant on its reorganization. One item of the expenditure was " for arsnick to put into the paste to save the giants from being eaten by the rats, one shilling and fourpence."
In James I.'s time, the Christmas festivities declined, though not professedly so ; for his son, the unfortunate Charles I., took a part in several Christmas plays; but the puritan power which afterwards swept over the length and breadth of the land, was then silently but surely making its way.
In 1642 the first ordinances were issued to suppress the performance of plays; but the interference of parliament was not limited to the abolition of merely festal and merry observances ; for, in 1647, it was ordained " that the feast of the Nativity, with other holidays, be no longer observed,* and in 1652 it was " Resolved by the Parliament,
" That the markets be kept to-morrow, being the five and twentieth, day of December; And that the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, and the Justices of Peace for the City of Westminster and liberties thereof, do take care, That all such persons as shall open their shops on that day, be protected from wrong and violence, and the offenders punished.
" Resolved by the Parliament,
" That no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas day ; jior any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof, &c. &c."
This blow Christmas has never recovered. Attempts were made after the restoration to revive the ancient sports, but in vain ; and it is only in the productions of such as him who has so inimitably revived the mouldering hall of Haddon—a beautiful old mansion, which, in its desolation and loneliness, we have often visited—it is only in such vivid creations as these we can now ever see the lordly abbot of misrule, with his mummers, his hobbyhorse, his knights and dragons, and all his " makers of merry disports."
There are yet many lingering superstitions connected with this ancient time. The Twelethday Cake, for instance, which is still so generally procured for the sake of merriment and good eating, had long ago, for the usage is of considerable antiquity, an important ceremonial attached to it. The cake was, as now, cut into shares, and he whose portion was found to contain a bean, was elected king of that day's feast, and treated with all courtly reverence. Subsequently a pea was also inserted in the cake, and conferred on its fortunate possessor the style and title of the queen for the time being. Thus Herrick:
" Now, now the mirth comes,
With the cake full of plums,
Where beane's the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revell as qucene in the court here.
Begin then to chuse,
This night as ye use,
• The accounts of the churchwardens of St. Margaret's, Westminster, for the year 1647, have the following entries :
" hem. Paid for rosemarie and baies that was stuck about the church at Christmas, li.fid.
" Item. Paid in fees unto Mr. Friend and Mr. Denham, twoe of the messengers unto the serjeant-alt-armes, attending the Commons House of Parliament, when their accomptants were committed for permitting minuter* to preach upon Christmas-day, and for adorning the church, 31."
In 1657, as Evelyn, his wife, and others were receiving the sacrament on Christmas-day, the chapel was surrounded by soldiers, and the parties all taken into custody.
Who shall for the present delight here;
Be a king by the lot, ,. .•• ;.' . ..i
And who shall not
Be twelfe-day queene for the night here.
Which knowne, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drinke,
To the base from the brinke,
A health to the king and the queene here."
In some countries, portions of the cake were always assigned to our Saviour, the Virgin Mary, and the three wise men; or, as they were more usually called, the three Kings of Cologne. These portions were uniformly bestowed upon the poor, and did the bean, or its frequent substitute a coin, chance to be in any of them, his majesty was chosen by pulling straws.
The remnant of the Yule Log, which is still burnt in many places (the largest and most knotty log having been reserved for the purpose); this remnant is carefully put by to kindle the fire the next Christmas, not merely for general luck, but because the place where the fragment is preserved is safe for the twelve months from any machinations of the devil or his employes.
There are scores of old women in the country of both sexes, and of all ages, who still peer out earnestly on Christmas morning to see the sun shining through the apple-trees; for if it do so, the boughs are sure to rejoice under a rich burden in the ensuing season ; and in some places the farmers drink toasts round the more favourite trees, and pour a libation of good ale over them. The preceding night is of equal, or even more reverence than the day itself. Bees are heard to sing on Christmas-eve, as if it were a day in June; cattle kneel in their stalls as if in devotion ; it is averred that the celebrated thorn at Glastonbury, planted by Joseph of Arimathea, always puts forth hlossom on this night ;* and that no minute circumstance may be uninfluenced by the season, it is said, that bread baked on this eve, will not become mouldy. Can Shakspeare be too hacknied to quote ?
" Some say, that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long ;
And then they say no spirit dares stir abroad ;
The nights are wholesome ; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."
The evergreens with which, according to ancient custom, we deck our churches and houses at this season, are not only beautiful ornaments,
' • So late as 1790, a peasant near Launceston, in Cornwall, affirmed that lie had seen this. See Bourne's Pop. Ant. And Mr. Sandys, quoting from Howison, relates the circumstance of his meeting an Indian at midnight on Christmas-eve (during a beautiful moonlight) cautiously creeping along, who beckoned him to silence in vain, and in answer to his inquiries, said, " Me watch to see the deer kneel; this is Christmas night, and all the deer fall upon their knees to the Great Spirit, and look up."
but fitting emblems of joy and gladness. The prophetic Bay, whose sacred branches are a sure protection from devouring tire, or the lightning's vivid flash ;* and a leaf of which, held in the mouth, will protect the wearer from misfortune or pollution. The sacred Mistletoe
' some deity's mysterious care,
As Druids thought,"
first planted in the venerable oak. The Ivy which wards off pernicious influences from the merry cup which it encircles :f
" And if care were killed by an ivy bough,
What a killer of care, old tree, wert thou!
As high in hall, with laughter merry,
They nnng thy twigs with their powder'd berry ;
And the red-gemmed holly they mix also
With the spectral branches of mistletoe."
But far above the ivy, the bay, or the mistletoe, ranks the ." redgemmed" Holly, or more properly Holy Trf.e.j For tradition says that, unknown before, it sprang up in perfection and beauty beneath the footsteps of Christ when he first trod the earth, and that though' man has forgotten its attributes, the beasts all reverence it, and are never known to injure it.
These fancies may be all quite untrue—very foolish: yet are they not destitute of value since they form a link—a broken, a slight one perhaps—but still a link in the chain by which we ascend from the merely corporeal pleasures, to the less tangible, but more beneficially interesting associations of the time. All pure and holy things shed their gracious influences on this hallowed season. So holy is the earth now, that the angels, it is said, the angels from heaven come down to keep Christmas on it. It is said, that the earth is thronged with bright and beautiful forms which we see not; that the air is filled with soft low melodies, though we hear them not: it is said that myriads of seraph voices swell the chant which now peals from every church and temple; that unnumbered gracious beings are smiling witnesses at many a merry fireside ; and that winged messengers waft instantaneously to heaven the gleaming record of every deed of love.
• "At tbis day, peasants of the Pyrenees cover themselves with its branches as a •ecurity from lightning ; and we have known it planted by our own villagers as a protection from fire."—Phillips's Sylva Floriftra.
t Some say it prevents intoxication, and hence intwined the brow of Bacchus to keep off the fumes of wine.
; It was always, until lately, called and written, the holy tree.
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