The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hogmany

William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.

Volume 2

January 16

Mr. Reddock’s paper on this subject ... has elicited the following letter from a literary gentleman, concerning a dramatic representation in England similar to that which Mr. Reddock instances at Falkirk, and other parts of North Britain. Such communications are particularly acceptable; because they show to what extent usages prevail, and wherein they differ in different parts of the country. It will be gratifying to every one who peruses this work, and highly so to the editor, if he is obliged by letters from readers acquainted with customs in their own vicinity, similar to those that they are informed of in other counties, and particularly if they will take the trouble to describe them in every particular. By this means, the Every-Day Book will become what it is designed to be made, a storehouse of past and present manners and customs. Any customs of any place or season that have not already appeared in the work are earnestly solicited from those who have the means of furnishing the information. The only condition stipulated for, as absolutely indispensable to the insertion of a letter respecting facts of this nature, is, that the name and address of the writer be communicated to the editor, who will subjoin such signature as the writer may choose his letter should bear to the eye of the public. The various valuable articles of this kind which have hitherto appeared in the work, however signed by initials or otherwise, have been so authenticated to the editor’s private satisfaction, and he is thus enabled to vouch for the genuineness of such contributions.

To tile Editor of the Every-Day Book.

Sir,

In your last number appeared a very amusing article touching some usages and customs in Scotland, and communicated from Falkirk. In the description of the boys’ play, ingeniously suggested as typical of the Roman invasion under Agricola, we, however, read but a varied edition of what is enacted in other parts besides Scotland, and more particularly in the western counties, by those troops of old Father Christmas boys, which are indeed brief chronicles of the times. I mean, those paper-decorated, brick-dust-daubed urchins, ‘yclept Mummers.

To be sure they do not begin,

Here comes in the king of Macedon;”

but we have instead,

Here comes old Father Christmas,
Christmas or Christmas not,
I hope old Father Christmas never will he forgot.”

And then for the Scottish leader Galgacus, we find,

Here comes in St. George, St. George
That man of mighty name,
With sword and buckler by my side
I hope to win the game
.”

These “western kernes” have it, you see, Mr. Editor, “down along,” to use their own dialect, with those of the thistle. Then, too, we have a fight. Oh! How beautiful to my boyish eyes were their wooden swords and their bullying gait!— then we have a fight, for lo

Here’s come I, the Turkish knight,
Come from the Soldan’s land to fight,
And be the foe’s blood hot and bold
With my sword I'll make it cold.”

A vile Saracenic pun in the very minute of deadly strife. But they fight — the cross is victorious, the crescent o’erthrown, and, as a matter of course, even in our pieces of mock valour, duels we have therein — the doctor is sent for; and he is addressed, paralleling again our players of “Scotia’s wild domain,” with

Doctor, doctor, can you tell
What will make a sick man well ?“

and thereupon he enumerates cures which would have puzzled Galen, and put Hippocrates to a “non-plus;” and he finally agrees, as in the more classical drama of your correspondent, to cure our unbeliever for a certain sum.

The “last scene of all that ends this strange eventful history’ consists in the entrance of the most diminutive of these Thespians, bearing, as did Æneas of old, his parent upon his shoulders, and reciting this hit of good truth and joculation (permitting the word) by way of epilogue:

Here comes I, little Johnny Jack,
With soy wife arid family at my back,
Yet, though my body is but small,
I’m the greatest rogue amongst ye all;
This is my scrip — so for Christmas cheer
If you’ve any thing to give throw it in here.”

This may be but an uninteresting tail-piece to your correspondent’s clever communication, but still it is one, and makes the picture he so well began of certain usages more full of point.

I doat upon old customs, and I love hearty commemorations, and hence those mimics [?] of whom I have written I mean the mummers are my delight, and in the laughter and merriment they create I forget to be a critic, and cannot choose but laugh in the fashion of a Democritus, rather than weep worlds away in the style of a Diogenes.

                    I am, &c. &c
                        J.S. Jun.

    Little Chelsea,
        Jan. 4, 1826.

——————

In the preface to Mr. Davies Gilbert’s work on “Ancient Christmas Carols,” there is an account of Cornish sports, with a description of a “metrical play,” which seems to be the same with which is the subject of the preceding letter.

Editor's Note:

See the discussion of Hogmany in January 1 - New Year's Day.

Compare these two plays from William Sandys: Christmas Play of Saint George (1833) and Christmas Play of St. George and the Dragon (1852). A correspondent identified by the initials "W. S." also contributed a very similar play concerning St. George, also from Cornwall: St. George He Was For England (from Volume 2, January 26).

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