The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

William Hone, Ancient Mysteries Described (1823)


The lewid peple than algates agre,
And caroles singen everi’ criste messe tyde,
Not with schamfastenes bot joccndle,
And holey bowghes aboute; and al asydde
The brenning fyre hem eten, and hem drinke,
And laughen mereli, and maken route,
And pype, and dansen, and hem rage; ne swinke,
Ne noe thynge els, twalue daye’ thei woldè not.

Lud. Coll. XLV. H. 1.

Mary's longing for the fruit on the cherry tree, and Joseph’s refusal to gather it for her on the return of his jealousy, a remarkable scene in one of the Coventry Plays,1 is the subject of a Christmas Carol still sung in London, and many parts of England.

From various copies of it printed at different places I am enabled to present the following version:

Joseph was an old man,
And an old man was he,
And he married Mary,
Queen of Galilee.

When Joseph was married,
And his cousin Mary got,
Mary proved big with child,
By whom Joseph knew not.

As Joseph and Mary
Walk’d through the garden gay,
Where the cherries they grew
Upon every tree;

O! then bespoke Mary,
With words both meek and mild,
‘ Gather me some cherries, Joseph,
They run so in my mind;
Gather me some cherries,
For I am with child.’

O! then bespoke Joseph,
With words most unkind,
Let him gather thee cherries,
That got thee with child.’

O! then bespoke Jesus,
All in his mother’s womb,
‘Go to the tree, Mary,
And it shall bow down;

'Go to the tree Mary,
And it shall bow to thee,
And the highest branch of all
Shall bow down,to Mary’s knee,

And she shall gather cherries
By one, by two, by three,’
‘Now you may see Joseph,
Those cherries were for me.’

O ! eat your Cherries, Mary;
O! eat your Cherries now;
O ! eat your Cherries, Mary,
That grow on the bough.

As Joseph was a walking,
He heard an angel sing—
‘This night shall be born
Our heavenly king;

He neither shall be born
In housen, nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox’s stall;

He neither shall be clothed,
In purple nor in pall
But all in fair linen,
As were babies all:

He neither shall be rock’d
In silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden cradle,
That rocks on the mould;

'He neither shall be christen’d
In white wine nor in red,
But with the spring water
With which we were christened.

Then Mary took her young Son,
And set him on her knee—
'I pray thee now, dear Child,
Tell how this world shall be ?‘

This world shall be like
The stones in the street,
For the sun and the moon
Shall bow down at thy feet,

And upon a Wednesday
My vow I will make,
And upon Good Friday
My death I will take;

And upon the third day
My uprising shall he,
And the sun and the moon
Shall rise up with me.’

[Editor's Note: The Cherry Tree Carol - Hone; Also See Joseph Was An Old Man and The Cherry Tree Carol Notes]

The admiration of my earliest days, for some lines in the Cherry carol still remains, nor can I help thinking that the reader will see somewhat of cause for it:

He neither shall be clothed, in purple nor in pall,
But all in fair linen, as were babies all:
He neither shall be rock’d, in silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden cradle, that rocks on the mould.

A Warwickshire carol still sung, begins

As I passed by a river side,
And there as I did reign,
In argument I chanced to hear
A carnal and a crane.

The carnal is a bird; the word corrupted by the printer into reign, is the obsolete word rein, formerly used in the sense of run. This carol has other marks of age. [Editor's Note: See  The Carnal and the Crane]

In a volume of MSS. at the British Museum2 there is ‘a Christmas Caroll,’ beginning thus :—

When cryst was born of mary fre,
In bedlem, i’ that fayre cyte,
Angellis songen, with mirth & gle,
In excelsis gl’ia.

[Editor's Note: See When Christ Was Born of Mary Free]

A second commences in this way :—

Puer nobis natus est de virgine maria.
Be glad, lordlings, be ye more & lease,
I bryng you tydings of gladnesse,
As gabryel me beryth wetnesse.

[Editor's Note: See Be glad, lordynges, be ye more and lesse]

The same volume contains ‘a song on the Holly and the Ivy,’ which I mention because there is an old Carol on the same subject still printed. The MS. begins with,

Nay, iuy nay, byt shal not be I wys,
Let holy halfe the maystry, as the manor ys:

Holy stond in the hall, fayre to behold,
Ivy stond without the dore, she ys ful sore acold.
Nay my nay, &c.

Holy, & hys mery men, they dawnsyn and they syng,
Ivy and hur maydyns, they wepyn & they wryng.
Nay my nay, &c.

[Editor's Note: See Nay iuy, nay]

The popularity of carol-singing occasioned the publication of a duodecimo volume in 1642, intituled, ‘PSALMES or Songs of Sion turned into the language and set to the tunes of a strange land. By W(illiam) S(layter), intended for Christmas Carols and fitted to divers of the most noted and common but solemne tunes, every where in this land familiarly used and knowne. Upon the copy of this book in the British Museum a former possessor has written the names of some of the tunes to which the author designed them to be sung; for instance, Psalm 6, to the tune of Jane Shore; Psalm 19, to Bar. Forster’s Dreame; Psalm 43, to Crimson Velvet; Psalm 47, to Gorden Greene; Psalm 84, to The fairest Nymph of the Valleys, &c.3

From a Carol, called Dives and Lazarus, I annex an amusing extract.

As it fell out, upon a day,
Rich Dives sicken’d and died,
There came two serpents out of hell,
His soul therein to guide.

Rise up, rise up, brother Dives,
And come along with me,
For you’ve a place provided in hell,
To sit upon a serpent’s knee.

However whimsical this may appear to the reader, he can scarcely conceive its ludicrous effect, when the metre of the last line is solemnly drawn out to its utmost length by a Warwickshire chanter, and as solemnly listened to by the well disposed crowd, who seem without difficulty to believe that Dives she on a serpent’s knee. The idea of sitting on the knee was, perhaps, conveyed to the poet’s mind by old wood cut representations of Lazarus seated in Abraham’s lap. More anciently, Abraham was frequently drawn holding him up by the sides, to be seen by Dives in hell. In an old book now before me,4 they are so represented, with the addition of a devil blowing the fire under Dives with a pair of bellows.

I have a ‘Christmas Carol on Peko-Tea.5 It begins with ‘Deut. xxxiii. 16. For the good will of Him that dwelt in the Bush;’ and the author proceeds in a strange manner to relate

How Christ was in a manger born
And God dwelt in a bush of thorn,
Which bush of thorn appears to me
The same that yields best Peko-tea.

This bush he imagines may be the thorn that blooms in April:

Abundant such in Berks I’ve seen
Near Newb’ry, at my native speen.
* * * *
Now if Christ’s bush of thorn we find,
God’s bush and tea bush all one kind,
We must confess its full renown,
God to enjoy, and Christ to crown;
And have its leaves grow so renown’d
As to refresh the world around.

He spiritualizes many subjects in succession, and inveighs with great bitterness against those,

... who, readers to entangle,
The scriptures into pieces mangle;
Dividing them, which truth immerses
Into chapters, sects, and verses;

Full of religious fervor, and grocer zeal for cups of Peko tea, he concludes with this devout wish:—

May all who do these truths condemn
Ne’er taste one single drop of them
Here, or in New Jerusalem.

Carols begin to be spoken of as not belonging to this century,6 and yet no one, that I am aware of, has attempted a collection or these fugitives. As the carols now printed will at no distant period become obsolete, an alphabetical list of those in my possession is subjoined. It excludes all that are disused at the present time, nor does it contain any of the numerous compositions printed by religious societies under the denomination of Carols.

Christmas Carols now annually Printed

1. A Glorious Star From Heav'n Appeared

2. A Jolly Wassel-Bowl.

3. A Virgin Most Pure As The Prophets Did Tell

4. All Christians pray you now attend.

5. All Englishmen I pray you now attend.

6. All Hail The Ever Glad'ning Morn

7. All hail the morn! loud anthems raise.

Birmingham Ballad Printers:
Henry Wadsworth (1814-1818) Broadside: "The Universal King (A New Christmas Carol) (All hail the morn! Loud anthems raise)."

From 1802 until 1812 Wadsworth was listed at 88 Lichfield Street as a bookseller only. By 1814 he was a printer also, and had moved to 71 Lichfield Street, where he remained until 1817. One sheet (no.26, below) bears this imprint: 'Printed and sold Wholesale and Retail by H. Wadsworth, 71, Lichfield-street, Birmingham: where Shopkeepers and Travellers will find the greatest variety, and at the lowest price'. From 1817-18 Wadsworth was in Moor Street, at nos 12 and 90.

8. All honour, glory, might, and power.

This phrase occurs as the third line of the 15th verse of hymn #42. Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined. The verse begins "Did in melodious manner sing." Whether or not a portion of this verse, together with the rest of the carol, themselves constitute a separate carol is an open question at this time.

Hymn 42 is one of a large family of carol variants which includes "The Sinner's Redemption" (first line: "All you that are to mirth inclin'd"), which is the next carol on this list. This phrase also occurs in the last stanza of O God! O Father, Kind and Best!

9. All You That Are To Mirth Inclined.

10. All you that live must learn to die.

Birmingham Ballad Printers:
Henry Wadsworth (1814-1818) Broadside: "A New Carol on the Shortness of Life (All you that live must learn to die)"

11. Arise, And Hail The Sacred Day.

12. As I Pass'd By A River Side [The Carnal and the Crane]

13. As I Sat On A Sunny Bank.

14. As It Fell Out One May Morning.

15. As It Fell Out Upon A Day, Rich Dives Made a Feast [Dives and Lazarus]

16. Attend, good people, now I pray.

17. Away, Dark Thoughts, Awake My Joys

18. Behold The Grace Appears.

19. Christians Awake Salute The Happy Morn.

20. Christmas Is Now Drawing Near At Hand.

21. Come, Behold The Virgin Mother.

22. Come, Ye Rich, Survey the Stable

23. From the High Priest an armed band.

24. Good Christians All With Joyful Mirth [The Yoeman's Carol]

25. Good Christian People, Pray Attend (Coleman's Carol).

This first line occurs on several Broadsides that are unrelated to the celebration of Christmas, either as a holiday or as a holy day. A very likely prospect is a Broadside, "Coleman's Carol," a Christmas carol, published in Birmingham by Daniel Wrighton between 1811 and 1813, Theophilus Bloomer (1817-1827), by James Guest in 1830, and William Jackson and Son (1839-1852/3).

26. Good Christian, pray give ear.

27. God's Dear Son, Without Beginning

28. God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

29. Hark! All Around The Welkin Rings.

30. Hark, Hark! What News The Angels Bring

31. Hark! How The Heralds of the Lord

32. Hark The Herald Angels Sing.

33. Have You Not Heard And Seen Our Saviour's Love

34. Here is a Fountain of Christ's Blood. Note that in earlier days it was more common to celebrate the entire of Christ's life and death than in our times, and thus, an Easter hymn might have been sung during the Christmas-tide (as, for example, some portions of Handel's Messiah.)

Birmingham Ballad Printers:
Charles Watson (1826) Broadside: 1. Christmas Carols. Carol I: The Fountain of Christ's Blood (Here is a fountain of Christ's blood) / Carol II: Hark! Hark! What news (Hark! Hark! What news the angels bring) Christmas Carols. Carol I [sic]: The Babe of Bethlehem (Come behold the virgin mother) / Carol II [sic]: Arise and Hail the Sacred Day (Arise and hail the sacred day)

Watson became a well-to-do printer and newspaper proprietor. His main career was at 24 High Street (1831-32), 26 Church Street (1832-34), and 23 Temple Street (1845-54). He issued ballads only from his first and least salubrious address, Jamaica Row (1826), in what must have been his earliest venture. The sheets, in most cases headed Christmas Carols, have the manuscript annotation of 1826, though one additionally has 'Christmas Eve 1824'. All are in the Bodleian Library.

35. Hosanna! To The Prince of Light

36. In Bethlehem City In Judea It was

37. In Friendly Love And Unity.

38. In God Let All His Saints Rejoice

39. Inspire Me, Heaven, Nor In Me Leave A Thought

40. In The Reign Of Great Caesar, The Emperor of Rome

41. Let all good Christian people here.

Occurs in numerous Broadsides, including this 18th Century Broadside: "Three new carols for Christmas. 1. God rest you merry gentlemen, &c. 2. Good Christian people pray give ear. 3. Let all good Christian people here." Wolverhampton, [between ca. 1780 and 1800?].

42. Let All That Are To Mirth Inclined.

43. Let Children Proclaim Their Savior and King

44. Let mortals all rejoice.

45. Let Christians All With One Accord Rejoice [The Black Decree]

46. Let Christians Now In Joyful Mirth.

47. Mortals Awake With Angels Join.

48. My Gift Is Small, A Dozen of Points

49. My Master and Dame, I Well Perceive

50. Now When Joseph And Mary Went To Bethlehem Bound

51. O Fair, O Fair Jerusalem! When Shall I Come To Thee?

52. O faithful Christians, as you love.

53. O Faithless, Proud, and Sinful Man.

Known to have been printed by Theophilus Bloomer (1817-1827), with copies in the Bodleian Library and "A Collection of Christmas Carols," c. 1800-1840, a copy of which is located in the Birmingham Central Library, according to Birmingham Ballad Printers, Part One, A-J, compiled by Roy Palmer (2010).

54. O! See Man's Saviour in Bethlehem Born

55. O! The Almighty Lord

56. Of Jesu's birth, lo! angels sing.

57. On Christmas Day In The Morn

58. On Christmas Night All Christians Sing

59. One God There Is Of Wisdom, Glory, Might

60. One Night As Slumbering I Lay

A copy of the Broadside printed by Theophilus Bloomer (1817-1827) is said to be in the Bodleian Library. The copy printed by Sarah Bloomer (1827), with the title "The Sinner's Dream" is said to be located in the Cambridge University Library, Madden Collection (Reel: 10, Frame 7036), according to Birmingham Ballad Printers, Part One, A-J, compiled by Roy Palmer (2010).

This ballad has also been printed in A Good Christmas Box, containing a Choice Collection of Christmas Carols (Dudley: G. Walters, 1847), pp. 7-9, republished by Michael Raven Publications with ISBN: 9780906114841.

61. Reader, pray do not think I am unkind.

62. Rejoice And Be Merry, Set Sorrow Aside. [A version of A Virgin Most Pure]

63. Rejoice now all good Christians.

64. See how the blessed Babe on Mother's knee.

65. Shepherds Rejoice, Lift Up Your Eyes

66. Sinners, who now do at this time.

67. Sweeter Sounds Than Music Knows.

68. The faithless, proud, and sinful man.

69. The First Good Joy Our Lady Had

70. The Holly And The Ivy Are Now Both Well Grown

71. The King Of Glory Sends His Son.

72. The Moon Shines Bright, And The Stars Give A Light

73. The Shepherds Amaz'd The Saviour Behold

74. This Second Carol Here I Sing.

Birmingham Broadside Ballads:
Theophilus Bloomer (1817-1827) Broadside: Christ's Love For Sinners (This second carol here I sing)

Theophilus Bloomer was a printer, copper plate engraver, bookseller, stationer and bookbinder at 38 Snow Hill (1817), 10 High Street (1817-18) and 133 Digbeth (1818-20). From the back 10 High Street, as well as selling items from his Travellers' Vocal Museum he advertised: 'Rags taken in, and exchanged'. As a bookseller, stationer, bookbinder, printer and children's book publisher he operated successively from 42 Edgbaston Street (1821-22) and 53 Edgbaston Street (1822-27), the latter address designated as T Bloomer's Cheap Traveller's Warehouse. After 'a long and severe affliction', Bloomer died in 1827 at the age of 31, and was briefly succeeded by his widow, Sarah Bloomer.

Birmingham Broadside Ballads:
Charles Watson (1826) Broadside:  Christmas Carols. 1. The Best Wisdom. A Carol for the New Year (Ye young and ye gay). Carol I [sic]. Good Tidings to All People (Good gentlemen and ladies all). Carol II. Christ's Love to Sinners (This second carol here I sing). Carol III. The Nativity of Christ (All hail the ever glad'ning morn)

75. This Is The Truth Sent From Above

76. Thus Angels sing, and thus sing we. This is verse two of Hark! Hear Ye Not The Angel Song

77. Turn your eyes that are so fixed.

78. The Five and Twentieth of December

Birmingham Ballad Printers:
Theophilus Bloomer (1817-1827) Broadside: The Five and Twentieth of December (Upon the five and twentieth of December)

Birmingham Ballad Printers:
William Pratt (1840s?-1861) Broadside: The Five-and-Twentieth of December (Upon the five and twentieth of December) / Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Hark! The herald angels).

As printer, stationer, bookseller, bookbinder and newsagent, Pratt worked, from a single address, 82 Digbeth, which he called 'The cheapest Song Warehouse in England' or 'W. Pratt's Song Emporium'. One of his sheets (no. 189, below) carries this information: 'Published by H. Reed, Stationer & Bookseller, 67 West-street, and 1, Tower-hill, Old Market-street, Bristol, where Hawkers and Shops are supplied on the Lowest Terms'. As late as 1851 he is recorded in the census only as a stationer (and native of Greenwich, aged 36) though the date of 1845 appears in manuscript on a copy of one of his sheets, Free Trade (no.103, below). He appears in the directory for 1861, though not in the census. The Anne Pratt, widow, shown as stationer, shown at Court 17, 3 House, Bartholomew Street (not far from Digbeth), could well have been Pratt's widow – and her son, William Pratt, aged 14, fits remarkably well with the boy, aged four, of the same name, living with William Pratt, ten years earlier. (I am indebted to Keith Chandler for the census information). On some sheets Pratt printed stock numbers, of which the highest I have seen is 777 (see no.72, below). Of these, I have traced only 72. It is clear nevertheless that Pratt must have been the most prolific of the Birmingham ballad printers.

79. When bold Herod reigned king. [Likely a version of When Bloody Herod Reigned King ?]

80. When Christ the Saviour did appear.

Found in a Broadside published by S & T Martin (1807-1810): 1. A Divine Poem on the Birth of Christ (When Christ the saviour did appear) / 2. On Christmas Night (On Christmas night all Christians sing). According to the list of Birmingham Ballad Publishers, it was also published in "A Collection of Christmas Carols," c. 1800-1840, a copy of which is found in the Birmingham Central Library.

Thomas Martin, Robert's nephew, became Susanna's business partner in 1807 (though some sources suggest between one and four years earlier). Operating from 10 Ann Street and also 10 Haymarket, they were printers, printing ink manufacturers and bookbinders. No.5 (below) has this imprint: 'Printed by S. & T. Martin, Birmingham, Of whom may be had all Sorts of Histories, Godly Books, Slip Ballads, &c'. It also bears the annotation, presumably made by the purchaser: Elizabeth Oakley July 27 1808'. When Susanna Martin died in 1810 at the age of 76 the firm closed.

81. When Christ Our Lord Drew Nigh.

82. When Jesus Christ Had Lived [The Twelve Apostles]

83. When Jesus Christ Our Lord

Not to be confused with "Carol of the Bagpipers" (Il Zampognari). Fr. Gordon Hitchcock. ("When Jesus Christ our Lord / Was born at Bethlehem"). Erik Routley, ed., University Carol Book (Brighton: H. Freeman & Co., 1961), # 149, pp. 198-199.

However, I'm attempting to determine whether or not this hymn is the one we're looking for: "When Jesus Christ our Lord was born." Felix Mendelssohn. (from the unfinished oratorio Christus).

There are numerous YouTube videos available with this title.

84. When Righteous Joseph Wedded Was.

85. When Zachariah was a priest.

86. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

87. Within This Rock That Rock is Laid.

88. You Mortals All Of High and Low Degree.

89. Ye Young And Ye Gay.

This Collection I have had little opportunity of increasing except when in the country I have heard an old woman singing an old Carol, and brought back the Carol in my pocket with less chance of its escape, than the tune in my head.

The attachment of Carol buyers7 extends even to the wood cuts by which they are surrounded. Some of these, on a sheet of Christmas Carols, in 1820, were so rude in execution, that I requested the publisher, Mr. T. Batchelar, of 115, Long Alley, Moorfields, to sell me the original blocks. I was a little surprised by his telling me that he was afraid it would be impossible to get any of the same kind cut again, When I proffered to get much better engraved, and give them to him in exchange for his old ones, he said, ‘Yes, but better are not so good; I can get better myself: now these are old favourites, and better cuts will not please my customers so well.’ However, by assuring him that artists could copy any thing, I obtained them. Those who are fond of specimens of all kinds of wood engraving, will be amused by the annexed impressions from these four blocks, produced in the metropolis of England in this advanced state of art. They almost defy rivalry with the earliest conceptions, and shew the prevailing taste in graphic illustration among those who in due season, as naturally buy Christmas Carols as they long for mince pies and eat plum-pudding.

I recollect the sheet of Carols twice its present size, with more than double the number of cuts, and sold for a half-penny; but alas; ‘every thing is changed;’ the present half sheets are raised in price to a whole penny.

I must not omit to observe that Mr. Batchelor was certainly sincere in the belief he expressed of his customers’ attachment to his wood blocks. When he sold them to me, he expressly stipulated for a reservation of copyright in the designs; and he exercised it last year by publishing a sheet of Carols, adorned with facsimiles of the impressions which the reader is now looking upon.

The inscriptions are placed beneath the cuts exactly as they stand in the original sheet.

The earliest collection of Christmas Carols supposed to have been published, is only known from the last leaf of a volume printed by Wynkyn de Worde, in the year 1521. This precious scrap was picked up by Tom Hearne; Dr. Rawlinson, who purchased it at his decease in a volume of tracts, bequeathed it to the Bodleian library. There are two Carols upon it; one, ‘a carrel of huntynge,’ is reprinted in the last edition of Juliana Berners’ Boke of St. Alban’s; the other, ‘ a Caroll, bringing in the bore’s head,’ is in Mr. Dibdin’s Ames, with a copy of it as as it is now sung in Queen’s College, Oxford, every Christmas day, ‘to the common chaunt of the prose version of the Psalms in Cathedrals.’ Dr. Bliss, of Oxford, also printed on a sheet for private distribution, a few copies of this and Ant. a Wood’s version of it, with notices concerning the custom, from the handwritings of Wood and Dr. Rawlinson, in the Bodleian library. [See The Bores Heed In Hand Bring I]

Ritson, in his ill-tempered ‘Observations on Warton’s History of English Poetry,’ (1782, 4to. p. 87,) has a Christmas carol upon bringing up the boar’s head, from an ancient MS. in his possession; wholly different from Dr. Bliss’s. [See: The Borys Hede That We Bryng Here]

The ‘Bibliographical Miscellanies,’ (Oxford, 1813, 4to.) contains seven Carols from a collection in one volume in the possession of Dr. Cotton, of Christ Church College, Oxford, ‘imprynted at London, in the Powltry, by Richard Kele, dwelynge at the longe shop vnder saynt Myidrede’s Chyrche,’ probably ‘ between 1546 and 1562:’ I had an opportunity of perusing this exceedingly curious volume which is supposed to be unique, and has since passed into the hands of Mr. Freeling. [Note: Kele's carols were reproduced in full in Edward Bliss Reed, ed., Christmas Carols Printed in the 16th Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932.]

There are Carols among the Godly & Spiritual Songs and Balates, in ‘Scotish Poems of the sixteenth Century,’ (1801, 8vo.); and one by Dunbar, from the Bannatyne MS. in ‘Ancient Scottish Poems.’ Others are in Mr. Ellis’s edition of Brand’s Popular Antiquities, with several useful notices. Warton’s History of English Poetry contains much concerning old Carols. Mr. Douce, in his Illustrations of Shakespeare, gives a Specimen of the carol sung by the shepherds on the birth of Christ in one of the Coventry Plays. [See: As I Out Rode This Enders Night]

There is a sheet of carols, headed thus: 'Christus Natus Est: Christ is born ;'8 with a wood-cut, 10 inches high, by 8 ½ inches wide, representing the stable at Bethlehem; Christ in the crib, watched by the Virgin and Joseph; shepherds kneeling; angels attending; a man playing on the bagpipes; a woman, with a basket of fruit on her head; a sheep bleating, and an ox lowing on the ground; a raven croaking, and a crow cawing on the hay-rack; a cock crowing above them, and angels singing in the sky. The animals have labels from their mouths, bearing Latin inscriptions. Down the side of the wood-cut is the following account and explanation:

‘A religious man inventing the conceits of both birds and beasts, drawn in the picture of our Saviour’s birth, doth thus express them :

The cock croweth, Christus natus est; Christ is born.

The raven asked, Quando? When?

The cow replied. Huc nocte, This night.

The ox cryeth out, Ubi? Ubi? Where? Where?

The sheep bleated out, Bethlehem, Bethlehem.

Voice from heaven sounded, Gloria in Excelsis, Glory be on high.

[Editor's Note: This account also occurs in Hone's The Every Day Book, Vol. 1 of 2. (London: William Tegg, 1826), pp. 800-801, where Hone added "This carol is in the possession of Mr. Upcott." See also Chapman, Christ Is Born]

The custom of singing carols at Christmas prevails in Ireland to the present time. In Scotland where no church feasts have been kept since the days of John Knox, the custom is unknown. In Wales it is still preserved to a greater extent, perhaps, than in England; at a former period, the Welsh had carols adapted to most of the ecclesiastical, festivals, and the four seasons of the year, but at this time they are limited to that of Christmas. After the turn of midnight at Christmas eve, service is performed in the churches, followed by the singing of carols to the harp. ‘Whilst the Christmas holidays continue, they are sung in like manner in the houses, and there are carols especially adapted to be sung at the doors of the houses by visitors before they enter. Lffyr Carolan,9 or the Book of carols, contains sixty-six for Christmas, and five summer carols; Blodeugerdd Cymrii,10 or the Anthology of Wales, contains forty-eight Christmas carols, nine summer carols, three May carols, one winter carol, one nightingale carol, and a carol to Cupid. The following verse of a carol for Christmas is literally translated from the first mentioned volume. The poem was written by Hugh Morris, a celebrated song-writer during the commonwealth, and until the early part of the reign of William III.11

To a saint let us not pray, to a pope let us not kneel;
On Jesu let us depend, and let us discreetly watch
To preserve our souls from Satan with his snares;
Let us not in a morning invoke anyone else.

With the succeeding translation of a Welsh Wassail song, the observer of manners will, perhaps, be pleased. In Welsh, the lines of each couplet, repeated inversely, still keep the same sense.

A Carol for the Eve of St. Mary’s Day.

This is the season, when, agreeably to custom,
That it was an honour to send wassail
By the old people who were happy
In their time, and loved pleasure;
And we are now purposing
To be like them, every one merry:
Merry and foolish, youths are wont to be,
Being reproached for squandering abroad.
I know that every mirth will end
Too soon of itself;
Before it is ended, here comes
The wassail of Mary, for the sake of the time:
N--------12 place the maid immediately
In the chair before us;
And let every body in the house be content that we
May drink wassail to virginity,
To remember the time, in faithfulness,
When fair Mary was at the sacrifice,
After the birth to her of a son,
Who delivered every one, through his good will
,From their sins, without doubt.
Should there be an inquiry who made the carol,
He is a man whose trust is fully on God,
That lie shall go to heaven to the effulgent Mary,
Towards filling the orders where she also is.
Thomas Evans.

Left: Calabrian Mistrels At Rome, from The Every Day Book entry for December 24 - Christmas Eve.

On the continent the custom of carolling at Christmas is almost universal. During the last days of Advent, Calabrian minstrels enter Rome, and are to be seen in every street saluting the shrines of the Virgin mother with their wild music, under the traditional notion of charming her labour-pains on the approaching Christmas. Lady Morgan observed them frequently stopping at the shop of a carpenter. In reply to questions concerning this, the workmen who stood at the door said, that it was done out of respect to St. Joseph.’13  I have an old print of this practice. Two Calabrian shepherds are represented devoutly playing at Christmas in a street of Rome, before a stone shrine, containing a sculpture of the Infant Jesus in the Virgin’s arms lighted up by candles, with a relief under it of supplicating souls in purgatorial fire, inscribed ‘Dite Ave Maria.’ A young female, with a rosary, is praying on her knees before the sculpture. The shepherds stand behind and blow the bagpipes and a clarionet. [See: Canzone d'l Zampognari]

If one there be who has proceeded until now without tiring, he will know how much pleasantness there is in pursuits like these. To him who inquires of what use they are, I answer, that I have found them agreeable recreations at leisure moments. I love an old MS. and ‘a ballad in print,’ and I know no distance that I would not travel to obtain Autolycus’s 'Ballad of a Fish that appeared upon the coast, on Wednesday the fourscore of April, forty thousand fathom above water, and sung this ballad against the hard hearts of maids.' I can scarcely tell why collectors have almost overlooked Carols, as a class of popular poetry. To me they have been objects of interest from circumstances which occasionally determine the direction of pursuit. The wood cuts round the annual sheets, and the melody of 'God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,’ delighted my childhood; and, I still listen with pleasure to the shivering carolist’s evening chaunt towards the clean kitchen window decked with holly, the flaring fire showing the whitened hearth, and reflecting gleams of light from the surfaces of the dresser utensils.

Since this sheet was at the printer’s, Davies Gilbert, Esq. F. R. S. F. A. S. &c. has published eight ‘Ancient Christmas Carols, with the tunes to which they were formerly sung in the West of England.’ This is a laudable and successful effort to rescue from oblivion some carol melodies, which in a few years will be no more heard. Mr. Davies says, that ‘on Christmas-day these carols took the place of psalms in all the churches, especially at afternoon service, the whole congregation joining: and at the end it was usual for the Parish Clerk, to declare in a loud voice, his wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year. A sentiment similar to that of the parish clerk’s in the West of England, was expressed last year in a way that leaves little doubt of its former general adoption at the same season. Just before Christmas day, I was awakened in London at the dead of night, by the playing of the waits: on the conclusion of their solemn tunes, one of the performers exclaimed aloud, ‘God bless you, my masters and mistresses, a merry Christmas to you, and a happy new year.’

Notes from Hone:

1. Mystery VIII. p. 67, ante. Return

2. Han. MSS. 5396. Return

3. The adaptation of religious poetry to secular melody in England, is noticed by Shakspeare, in the Winter’s Tale, (act iv. so. 3.) The clown relates that his sister being the mistress at his father’s shearing feast, made four-and-twenty nosegays for the sheep-shearers, all good catch-singers, mostly trebles and bases, with ‘but one puritan among them, and he sings psalms to hornpipes.’

There are several collections of carols in the French language; the only one that I can on the instant refer to, is a volume that I have, entitled Noels Nouveaux sur les Chants des Noels anciens notez pour en faciliter le chant, par M. l’Abbe Pelleqrin, 8vo. Paris 1785. Most of the pious carols in the volume are set to opera airs, and common song tunes.

Clement Marot’s translation of the Psalms into French with secular sunes, was so much in vogue at court that all persona of note had psalms to their several occasions. King Henry II. chose the 42d. Ainsi qu’on oyt le cerf, (Like as the hart doth), which he sung when a hunting: Madame de Valentinois, who was in love, took the 130th, Du fond de ma pensêe (From the bottom of my heart), which she sung en volte: the queen’s choice was the 6th, Ne vueillez pan, O Sire, (Lord, in thy wrath), to an air of the Chant des buffons: Anthony king of Navarre had the 43d, Revange moy, prens ta querelle, (Judge and revenge my cause), which he tuned to the Brawl of Poictiers; and the rest in like manner. — Florimond Ramond Hist. Hœres. (Rymor’s Short View of Tragedy, p. 35.)

The most singular measure adopted for circulating the reformed opinions in Scotland, was the composition of ‘Gude and godly ballates’ changed out of prophaine sangs, for avoiding of sinne and harlotrie.’ The title sufficiently indicates their nature and design. The air, the measure, the initial line, or the chorus of the ballads moat commonly sung. by the people at that time, were transferred to hymns of devotion, Unnatural, indelicate, and gross as this association appears to us, these spiritual songs edified multitudes at that time. We must not think that this originated in any peculiar depravation of taste in our reforming countrymen : spiritual songs constructed upon the same principle were common in Italy, (Roscoe’s Loreuzo de’ Medici, i. 309. 4to) : at the beginning of the Reformation the very same practice was adopted in Holland as in Scotland.—Dr. M’Crie’s Life of Knox, vol. 1 305. Return

4. Postilla Guihlermi, 4to. Basil, 1491. Return

5. A Christmas Carol on Peko-Tea: or, a Sacred Carol, which like Tea that is perfectly good and fine, will be most grateful and useful all the year round, from Christmas to Christmas for ever. Humbly addressed to Queen Caroline, and the Princess Carolina, and all the Royal Family. By Francis Hoffman. London, 1722, 8vo. pp. 16. Return

6. October 3, 1822, at the dinner of a city company I heard Mr. Taylor of Covent Garden Theatre sing a new ballad of ‘good old times,’ when

... Christmas had its Christmas carols,
And ladies’ sides were hoop’d like barrels.

7. Mr. Southey describing the fight ‘upon the plain of Patay,’ tells of one who fell, as having

In his lord’s castle dwelt, for many a year,
A well-beloved servant: he could sing
Carols for Shrove-tide, or for Candlemas,
Songs for the Wassel, and when the Boar’s head
Crown’d with gay garlands,and with rosemary,
Smoek’d. on the Christmas board.
Joan of Arc, b. x. 1. 466.

These ditties which now extensively enliven the industrious servant-maid and the humble labourer, gladdened the festivity of royalty in ancient times. Henry VII., in the third year of his reign, kept his Christmas at Greenwich: on the twelfth night, after high mass, the king went to the hail and kept his estate at the table; in the middle sat the Dean, and those of the king’s chapel, who immediately after the king’s first course ‘sang a carall.’—(Leland. Oust. vol. iv. p. 237.)—Granger innocently observes that ‘they that fill the highest and the lowest classes of human life, seem in many respects to be more nearly allied than even themselves imagine. A skilful anatomist would find little or no difference in dissecting the body of a king and that of the meanest of his subjects; and a judicious philosopher would discover a surprising conformity in discussing the nature and qualities of their minds.’ — Biog. Hist, of Engl. ed. 1804, vol. iv. p. 356. Return

8. London, Printed and Sold by J. Bradford, in Little Britain, the Corner House over against the Pump, 1701. Price One Penny. Return

9. Shrewsbury, 4th edit. 1740. l2rno. Return

10. Shrewsbury, 1779, 8vo. Return

11. An edition of Hugh Morris’s Works is now in the press. Return

12. Dyma amser yr oedd arver
Anrhydedd vod o anvon gwirod.

Here the master or mistress of the house was called on by name to officiate. Return

13. Lady Morgan’s Italy, c. xxi. Return

Editor's Note:

In addition to the 89 carols now published, Mr. Hone mentions eleven other carols or hymns in this text, including:

  1. The Cherry Tree Carol - Hone (Parts 1, 2, and 3) ("Joseph was an old man")

  2. The Carnal and the Crane ("As I pass'd by the river side")

  3. When Christ Was Born of Mary Free

  4. Be glad, lordynges, be ye more and lesse

  5. Nay iuy, nay

  6. Dives and Lazarus ("As it fell out, upon a day")

  7. Christmas Carol on Peako-Tea, by Francis Hoffman. London, 1722

  8. A Carol for the Eve of St. Mary's Day ("This is the season, when, agreeably to custom")

  9. The Bores Heed In Hand Bring I

  10. God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

  11. Canzone d'l Zampognari

These "Christmas Carols now annually Printed" are, I think, carols annually printed by printers as "Broadsides." There are several sites that have some Broadsides -- more or less accessible -- but one of the best is the English Broadside Ballad Archive at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Department of English, Director: Patricia Fumerton. As this collection is being constantly added to, I check there on a frequent basis for new Christmas Carols that were "now annually Printed" as Broadsides in England.

Newly online is Broadside Ballads Online from the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. There are many broadsides from their extensive collection, which continues to grow.

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