The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hobby Horse

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 2, pp. 314-315

The sport which Plot describes as having been performed within his memory at Abbot’s or Paget’s Bromley, under the name of the Hobby-horse dance, is nothing more than the common rustic diversion, not disused till of late years, in which a man, carrying the image of a horse between his legs, and in his hands holding a bow and arrow, plays the horse. "The latter," says Douce, ‘‘passing through a hole in the bow, and stopping on a shoulder, made a snapping noise when drawn to and fro, keeping time with music. With this man danced six others, carrying on their shoulders as many reindeer heads, with the arms of the chief families to whom the revenues of the town belonged. They danced the heys and other country dance. To the above hobby-horse dance there belonged a pot, which was kept by turns by the reeves of the town, who provided cakes and ale to put into this; pot; all people who had any kindness for the good intent of the institution of the sport giving pence a-piece for themselves and families. Foreigners also that came to see it contributed; and the money, after defraying the expense of the cakes and ale, went to repair the church and support the poor which charges, adds Plot, are not now perhaps so cheerfully borne."

Tollett is induced to think the famous hobby horse to be the King of the May, thogh he now appear as a juggler and a buffoon, from the crimson foot-cloth fretted with gold, the golden bit, the purple bridle, with a golden tassel, and studded with gold, the man’s purple mantle with a golden border, which is latticed with purple, his golden crown, purple cap, with a red feather and with a golden knop. The foot-cloth, however, was used by the Fool. In Braithwaite’s "Strappado for the Birch," 1615, p. 30, we read:

"Erect our aged fortunes make them shine
(Not like the Foole in’s foot-death but) like Time
Adorn’d with true experiments," &c.

Our hobby," Tollett adds, "is a spirited horse of pasteboard, in which the master dances and displays tricks of legerdemain, such as the threading of the needle, the mimicking of the whigh-hie, and the daggers in the nose, &c., as Ben Jonson acquaints us, and thereby explains the swords in the man’s cheeks. What is stuck in the horse’s month I apprehend to be a ladle, ornamented with a ribbon. Its use was to receive the spectator’s pecuniary donations." "The colour of the hobby horse is a reddish white, like the beautiful blossom of the peach-tree. The man’s coat or doublet is the only one upon the window that has buttons upon it, and the right side of it is yellow, and the left red."

In a tract of 1601, speaking of Weston the Jesuit, the writer says: "He lifted up his; countenance, as if a new spirit had been put into him, and tooke upon him to controll, and finde fault with this and that: (as the comming into the hall of the hobby-horse in Christmas:) affirming that he would no longer tolerate these and those so grosse abuses, but would have them reformed."

There is a passage in Kemp’s "Nine Daies Wonder," 160d: "On Monday morning, very early, I rid the 3 myles that I daunst the Satterday before; where alighting, my taberer struck up, and lightly I tript forward, but I had the heauiest way that euer mad Morrice-dancer trod; yet

With hey and ho, through thicke and thin,
The Hobby-horse quite forgotten,
I followed, as I did begin,
Although the way were rotten."

See Mr. Hunter’s "New Illustrations of Shakespear," vol. ii. p. 248. Shakespear, in "Hamlet," acted in 1602, makes his Anglo-Danish hero complain of the oblivion into which the hobby-horse had then fallen. And in the ballad introduced into Weelkes’s "Ayres," 1608, there is the same allusion:

"Since Robin Hood, Maid Marian,
And Little John are gone—a;
The hobby-horse was quite forgot,
When Kempe did daunee alone a.

This character is introduced into several of the old comedies. In "Patient Grisill," 1603, there is the following:

"Urc. No more of these jadish tricks:
    here comes the hobby-horse.
Far. Oh, he would dance a morrice rarely,
    if he were hung with bells.
Urc. He would jangle villainously."

And again:

"Gelas.—Dost thou know where
    Are any wodden horses to be sould,
    That neede floe spurre nor haye?
    Ile aske this stranger.
Pœd. H’st, master, what say to a hobby horse?—’’

Timon, a Play, i. 4. In "The Vow-Breaker," 1636, by William Sampson, is the following dialogue between Miles, the Miller of Ruddington, and Ball which throws great light upon this now obsolete character:

"Ball. But who shall play the hobby horse? Master Major?

"Miles. I hope I looke as like a hobby horse as Master Major. I have not liv’d to these yeares, but a man woo’d thinke I should be old enough and wise enough to play the hobby horse as well as ever a Major on ‘em all. Let the Major play the hobby horse among his brethren, and he will; I hope our towne ladds cannot want a hobby horse. Have I practic’d my reines, my carree’res, my pranckers, my ambles, my false trotts, my smooth ambles, and Canterbury paces, and shall Master Major put me besides the hobby horse? Have I borrow’d the fore horse-bells, his plumes, and braveries, nay, had his mane new shorne and frizl’d and shall the Major put me besides the hobby-horse? Let him hobby-horse at home, and he will. Am I not going to buy ribbons and toyes of sweet Ursula for the Marian, and shall I not play the hobby horse?

"Ball. What shall Joshua doe?

"Miles. Not know of it, by any meanes; hee’l keepe more stir with the hobby horse then he did with the pipers at Tedbury Bull-running provide thou for the Dragon, and leave me for a hobby horse.

"Ball. Feare not, I’le be a fiery Dragon."

And afterwards, when Boote askes him:

"Miles, the Miller of Ruddington, gentleman and souldier, what make you here?

"Miles. Alas, Sir, to borrow a few ribbandes, bracelets, eare-rings, wyertyers, and silke girdles and hand-kerchers for a Morice, and a show before the Queene.

"Boote. Miles, you came to steale my Neece.

"Miles. Oh Lord! Sir, I came to furnish the hobby horse,

"Boote. Got into your hobby horse, gallop, and be gon then, or I’le Moris dance you—Mistris, waite you on me. Exit.

"Ursula. Farewell, good hobby horse. — Weehee. Exit."

We perhaps owe to the hobby horse not only the familiar expression, "to ride a hobby," that is to say, to indulge a crotchet, but "to ride the great horse," which is mentioned in a paper inserted by Gutch in his "Collectanea Curiosa," 1781, in apparent reference to Sir Balthazar Gerbier’s project for a Royal Academy or College of Honour, conceived by him in the reign of James I. This great horse was, so far as one can collect, the new system or curriculum, which Gerbier was then endeavouring to institute. In the later literature of the seventeenth century, if not in that of Shakespear’s own day, hobby-horse evidently stands very often for a children’s horse, the toy which has been elaborated by modern art into a rocking-horse. Thus, in "Musarum Deliciæ," 1656:

"Another sware, that I no more did ride,
Then children, that a hobby-horse bestride."

But Bayes’s Troop in the Duke of Buckingham’s Rehearsal is said by Douce to afford a fair idea of the hobby horse in the Morris.

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