The Hymns and Carols of Christmas


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.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

It is very rarely indeed that a book on Popular Antiquities or any other analogous topic so commends itself to the public, and so maintains its rank and estimation, as to continue to be the recognised source of reference in successive editions during more than a century and a half.

The present work, from its first appearance under the auspices of the Rev. Henry Bourne in 1725, and under the title of Antiquitates Vulgares, has so largely and essentially partaken of the anecdotal character, and so much depends on detail, not only for the confirmation of statements, but for the maintenance of interest, that an Editor, whatever he may do in the withdrawal of positive redundancies, is scarcely able to emulate the judicial conciseness of Buckle in his History of Civilization or the rhetorical and imposing periods of Macaulay. A compiler of a picture of Ancient Manners and Opinions on a documentary and lexicographical principle or basis, besides a bare statement of facts, has, as it were, to call witnesses, and record their depositions for the benefit of the reader. His personal views and experience are apt to be of service in chief measure in the choice of authorities and in the arrangement of evidence. Much of the charm in a book of the present class must necessarily lie in more or less copious and varied illustration, and its value and use would be impaired by lending to it the character of a summary or digest. The reader in this case prefers to form his own conclusions, and to linger over descriptive passages.

JOHN BRAND, as Secretary to the London Society of Antiquaries, and as a zealous collector of old and curious books during a long series of years, while such things remained within the reach of persons of moderate resources, enjoyed the opportunity of selecting extracts illustrative of the subject, which he had made his own in the character of successor to the author of Antiquitates Vulgares; and so far as an amplified republication of Bourne went, he lived to bring out in 1777 a more complete edition, yet on the same narrow and imperfect lines. During the latter years of his life, however, he proceeded to accumulate material for an undertaking on a larger and more comprehensive scale, and at the time of his death was in possession of a large body of MSS. collectanea of unequal value, eventually secured by a firm of publishers, and placed for editorial purposes in the hands of Sir Hlenry Ellis, of the British Museum. Ellis found, no doubt, amid the pressure of official work, considerable difficulty in reducing the whole to anything like method and form; but he accomplished what he could, and presented the world with the result in two large quarto volumes in 1813.

When I in 1869 entered on an examination of this text, I was disposed to exercise a free hand in every way; but I remember that I was dissuaded from going so far as my own feeling prompted me by the idea on the part of some of my advisers that to interfere with the work of such eminent antiquaries too drastically was little less than sacrilege. I have only once regretted the course, which I actually took thirty-five years ago ó and that is ever since.

As material Brandís extracts had, and have, their undoubted worth, nor is the text of Ellis much more than rough copy; but it was found requisite on the former occasion to rearrange and collate the whole, and in once more re-editing the volumes on a new principle certain matter, from the discovery of better information and other causes, proved superfluous or undesirable.

The sectional arrangement, which has hitherto prevailed in regard to the book, unavoidably interfered with its use as a ready means of acquiring the desired particulars about any given subject, more especially as it constituted one of the exigencies of such a method to repeat in substance, even in the laboriously revised text of 1870, certain statements and, which was yet more inconvenient, to make it necessary for the referrer to collect the full detail, of which he might be in search, from two or three divisions of the three-volume work, under which they were perhaps not inappropriately ranged.

The new plan has been one of Disintegration and Redistribution, and will have, it is trusted, the effect of bringing more promptly and handily within reach the details connected with the enormous number of subjects, with which the Dictionary deals. At the same time, an excess in the way of subdivisions of matter or entries has been, so far as possible, avoided, as such a course has a necessary tendency to scatter references up and down the volume, and to interfere with the view of a subject in all its bearings.

By reason of the new lexicographical form, which the Popular Antiquities takes, a very considerable body of additional matter has been introduced from a wide variety of sources, sometimes, in justice to those authorities, in an abbreviated form with a reference. But, as a rule, the accounts of customs and other topics, where they occurred in the Editorís Brand of 1870, were already more copious and satisfactory. Nothing, however, has been taken from other works, unless it was directly connected with the subject-matter of the present under taking.

In the edition of 1870 I thought it desirable to intersperse occasional quotations and extracts from modern sources, in order to shew the survival of customs and beliefs, and this feature has now been considerably developed, as it seemed of importance and interest as establishing the two-sided aspect of these matters in a large number of instances and the fact, not always realized, that we have not yet, after all these centuries and in the face of our boasted education and enlightenment outlived the prejudices of our ancestors.

Numerous cross-references will be observed to the Glossary of Names, 1859, the Dictionary of Halliwell, 186o, and Davisís Supplementary Glossary, 1881. The Editor did not see the utility of repeating or borrowing information elsewhere so readily accessible, and in some cases of a glossarial character rather than cognate to the immediate object. The value of this class of entry lies in its collateral service as a sort of index to the body of facts or statements readable elsewhere.

Two other publications by the present writer run on very parallel lines his edition of Blountís Jocular Tenures, 1874, and of Rayís Proverbs (second and improved edition), 1882. Many collateral illustrations of the topics embraced in the volume before us occur in those two works, to which I must frequently content myself with directing the reader.

Since the first recension of the archśological labours of Blount, Bourne, Brand, and Ellis was published by me, the critical and comparative study of Popular Mythology has, under the auspices of the Folk-Lore Society, been elevated into a science. It was impracticable, even had it been expedient and proper, to incorporate with these pages facts and opinions based on this higher and deeper view of the topics before me, and my volume has to recommend itself to attention and favour mainly as a repository, more or less methodically assorted, of all the substantive information, which it has been in my power to collect and to reduce, in this second essay, to a reformed system.

There may be said perhaps to be three periods or stages of development in the case of our national popular archeology 1. the early school of lexicography and writing, when philology and etymology were very imperfectly understood: 2. the age of the more modern antiquaries and glossarists when this study was placed on a very improved footing, but was still limited to superficial or prima facie evidence: and 3. the quite recent Folk-Lore movement, when in all these matters a latent sense is sought and sornetimes found.

Whatever view may be taken of a large proportion of the obsolete or moribund usages and superstitions, of which the following pages attempt to constitute a record it is certain that on two broad and solid grounds they deserve and demand commemoration. For in the first place they very importantly illustrate the writings and policy of our ancestors alike in their absolute and in their relative aspects, and secondly they render it more possible for us to judge the amount and degree of progress in knowledge and culture, which have been attained in the intervening time, and of which we are in actual enjoyment.

It is quite a moot question indeed, if not something more, whether the stricter scientific platform will ever extinguish or indeed seriously affect the public interest in this class of antiquities as described in the ordinary fashion on more or less uncultured lines.

In reference to some of the authorities quoted it may he desirable to meet the allegation that they are too slight and untrustworthy, by pointing out that for the immediate and special purpose, authenticity and bona fides being presumed and granted, the minor popular writers are precisely the class of witnesses and vouchers, which we require to assist us in elucidating the statements and views of those of a higher reach.

The authors quoted naturally and necessarily often belong to the school brought up side by side with the notions and beliefs, of which I am treating, and in not a few cases were partakers of them. It is necessary, however, to guard against accepting secondary or unscientific testimony for more than it is in its nature worth, and it is on that account that I have endeavoured, so far as it lay in my power, to arrange the text of this recension agreeably to the principle of proportion or degree of contributory weight.

The governing aim has been to accumulate and arrange to the best advantage and in the most convenient shape as large a body as possible of real or supposed matters of fact on all branches of the subject, with which I deal and in re-editing the 1870 book, to adapt it to an improved state of knowledge, I trust I have been fairly successful.

It is to be remarked that the moral and conclusion derived from a perusal of the following pages are not perhaps likely to be of a very flattering nature, so far as regards either the opinions and intelligence of former ages or their educational progress. Amid a vast amount of material and detail, which can hardly fail to prove entertaining and valuable, there is much, too much, even as we draw near to our own epoch, which bespeaks a prevalence of low mental development arising, no doubt, in great measure from a faulty system of teaching both in a secular and clerical direction. Modern principles of instruction will gradually extinguish most, if not all, of the foolish prejudices and superstitions recorded here, and while it will be an unquestionable blessing, that such a change should occur, it also seems desirable that we should possess in a tolerably complete shape the means of comparison between the Older and the Newer Life of this Empire.

It is hardly too much to say that, in scrutinizing many of the headings in the Dictionary, the average reader may have to reflect, before he is assured that the views or accounts contained under them refer to the country known as Great Britain; yet how many of these customs and corruptions yet survive!

W. C. H.

    Barnes Common, Surrey,

September, 1904.

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