Hone's Wassail!

For New Year's Day, Epiphany

Source: "January 1-New Years Day," in William Hone, The Every Day Book, Vol. 2 of 2 Vols. (London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827), pp. 4-7.

See generally Wassailing - Notes On The Songs

The Wassail Bowl

Health, my lord king, the sweet Rowena said,
Health, cry'd the chieftain, to the Saxon maid;
Then gayly rose, and 'midst the concourse wide,
Kiss'd her hale lips, and plac'd her by his side:
At the soft scene such gentle thoughts abound,
That health and kisses 'mongst the guests went round;
From this the social custom took its rise,
We still retain, and must for ever prize.

Now, on New-year’s-day as on the previous eve, the wassail bowl is carried from door to door, with singing and merriment. In Devonshire,

A massy bowl, to deck the jovial day,
Flash’d from its ample round a sunlike ray.
Full many a cent’ry it shone forth to grace
The festive spirit of th’ Andarton race,
As, to the sons of sacred union dear,
It welcomed with lambs' wool the rising year.

Mr. Brand says, “It appears from Thomas de la Moore,2 and old Havillan,3 that was-haile and drinc—heil were the usual ancient phrases of quaffing among the English, and synonymous with the 'Come, here's to you,' and 'I'll pledge you,' of the present day.”

[See: Origin and contents of Lamb's-wool, according to Hone. See also Brand's Lamb's Wool and Wassail]


In the “Antiquarian Repertory,” a large assemblage of curious communications, published by Mr. Jeffery, of Pall-mall, in 4 vols. 4to. there is the following paper relating to an ancient carving represented in that work, from whence the above engraving is taken. The verses beneath it are a version of the old lines in Robert of Gloucester’s chronicle, by Mr. Jeffery’s correspondent.

For the Antiquarian Repertory.

In the parish of Berlen, near Snodland, in the county of Kent, are the vestiges of a very old mansion, known by the name of Groves. Being on the spot before the workmen began to pull down the front, I had the curiosity to examine its interior remains, when, amongst other things well worth observation, appeared in the large oak beam that supported the chimney-piece, a curious piece of carved work, of which the preceding is an exact copy. Its singularity induced me to set about an investigation, which, to my satisfaction, was not long without success. The large bowl in the middle is the figure of the old wassail-bowl, so much the delight of our hardy ancestors, who, on the vigil of the new year, never failed (says my author) to assemble round the glowing hearth with their cheerful neighbours, and then in the spicy wassell-bowl (which testifies the goodness of their hearts) drowned every former animosity — an example worthy modern imitation. Wassell, was the word; Wassell, every guest returned as he took the circling goblet from his friend, whilst song and civil mirth brought in the infant year. This annual custom, says Geoffrey of Monmouth, had its rise from Rouix, or Rowen, or as some will have it, Rowena, daughter of the Saxon Hengist; she, at the command of her father, who had invited the British king Voltigern to a banquet, came in the presence with a bowl of wine, and welcomed him in these words, Louerd king wass-heil; he in return, by the help of an interpreter, answered, Drinc heile; and, if we may credit Robert of Gloster,

Thomas De Le Moor, in his “Life of Edward the Second,” says partly the same as Robert of Gloster, and only adds, that Wass-haile and Drinc-hail were the usual phrases of quaffing amongst the earliest civilized inhabitants of this island.

The two birds upon the bowl did for some time put me to a stand, till meeting with a communicative person at Hobarrow, he assured me they were two hawks, as I soon plainly perceived by their bills and beaks, and were a rebus of the builder’s name. There was a string from the neck of one bird to the other, which, it is reasonable to conjecture, was to note that they must be joined together to show their signification; admitting this, they were to be red hawks. Upon inquiry, I found a Mr. Henry Hawks, the owner of a farm adjoining to Groves; he assured me, his father kept Grove farm about forty years since, and that it was built by one of their name, and had been in his family upwards of four hundred years, as appeared by an old lease in his possession.

The apple branches on each side of the bowl, I think, means no more than that they drank good cider at their Wassells. Saxon words at the extremities of the beam are already explained; and the mask carved brackets beneath correspond with such sort of work before the fourteenth century. T. N.


A Carroll For A Wassell-Bowl

A Jolly Wassel-Bowl

The following pleasant old song, inserted by Mr. Brand, from Ritson’s collection of “Ancient Songs,” was met with by the Editor of the Every-day Book, in 1819, at the printing-office of Mr. Rann, at Dudley, printed by him for the Wassailers of Staffordshire and Warwick-shire. It went formerly to the tune of “Gallants come away.

A Carroll For A Wassell-Bowl.

A jolly Wassel-Bowl,
    A Wassel of good ale,
Well fare the butler’s soul,
    That setteth this to sale
        Our jolly Wassel.

Good Dame, here at your door
    Our Wassel we begin,
We are all maidens poor,
    We pray now let us in,
        With our Wassel,

Our Wassel we do fill
    With apples and with spice,
Then grant us your good will
    To taste here once or twice
        Of our good Wassel

If any maidens be
    Here dwelling in this house,
They kindly will agree
    To take a full carouse
        Of our Wassail.

But here they let us stand
    All freezing in the cold;
Good master, give command,
    To enter and be bold,
        With our Wassel

Much joy into this hail
    With us is entered in,
Our master first of all,
    We hope will now begin,
        Of our Wassel

And after his good wife
    Our spiced bowl will try,
The Lord prolong your life,
    Good fortune we espy,
        For our Wassel.

Some bounty from your hands,
    Our Wassel to maintain
We’ll buy no house nor lands
    With that which we do gain,
        With our Wassel.

This is our merry night
    Of choosing King and Queen,
Then be it your delight
    That something may be seen
        In our Wassel.

It is a noble part
    To bear a liberal mind,
God bless our master’s heart,
    For here we comfort find,
        With our Wassel

And now we must be gone,
    To seek out more good cheer;
Where bounty will be shown,
    As we have found it here,
        With our Wassel.

Much joy betide them all,
    Our prayers shall be still,
We hope and ever shall,
    For this your great good will,
        To our Wassel.

From the “Wassail” we derive, perhaps, a feature by which we are distinguished. An Englishman eats no more than a Frenchman; but he makes yule-tide of all the year. In virtue of his forefathers, he is given to “strong drink.” He is a beer-drinker, an enjoyer of “fat ale;” a lover of the best London porter and double XX, and discontented unless he can get “stout.” He is a sitter withal. Put an Englishman “behind a pipe” and a full pot, and he will sit till he cannot stand. At first he is silent; but as his liquor gets towards the bottom, he inclines towards conversation; as he replenishes, his coldness thaws, and he is conversational; the oftener he calls to “fill again,” the more talkative he becomes; and when thoroughly liquefied, his loquacity is deluging. He is thus in public-house parlours: he is in parties somewhat higher, much the same. The business of dinner draws on the greater business of drinking, and the potations are strong and fiery; full-bodied port, hot sherry, and ardent spirits. This occupation consumes five or six hours, and Sometimes more, after dining. There is no rising from it, but to toss off the glass, and huzza after the “hip! hip! hip!” of the toast giver. A calculation of the number who customarily “dine out” in this manner half the week, would be very amusing, if it were illustrated by portraits of some of the indulgers. It might be further, and more usefully, though not so agreeably illustrated, by the reports of physicians, wives, and nurses, and the bills of apothecaries. Habitual sitting to drink is the “besetting sin” of Englishmen — the creator of their gout and palsy, the embitterer of their enjoyments, the impoverisher of their property, the widow-maker of their wives.

By continuing the “wassail” of our ancestors, we attempt to cultivate the body as they did; but we are other beings, cultivated in other ways, with faculties and powers of mind that would have astonished their generations, more than their robust frames, if they could appear, would astonish ours. Their employment was in hunting their forests for food, or battling in armour with risk of life and limb. They had no counting-houses, no ledgers, no commerce, no Christmas bills, no letter-writing, no printing, no engraving, no bending over the desk, no “wasting of the midnight oil” and the brain together, no financing, not a hundredth part of the relationships in society, nor of the cares that we have, who “wassail” as they did, and wonder we are not so strong as they were. There were no Popes nor Addisons in the days of Nimrod.

The most perfect fragment of the “wassail” exists in the usage of certain corporation festivals. The person presiding stands up at the close of dinner, and drinks from a flaggon usually of silver having a handle on each side, by which he holds it with each hand, and the toast-master announces him as drinking “the health of his brethren out of the ‘loving cup.’ The loving cup, which is the ancient wassail-bowl, is then passed to the guest on his left hand, and by him to his left-hand neighhour, and as it finds its way round the room to each guest in his turn, so each sands up and drinks to the president “out of the loving cup.”

The subsequent song is sung in Gloucestershire on New-year’s eve:—

Wassail! Wassail! over the town,
Our toast it is white, our ale it us brown:
Our bowl it is made of a maplin tree,
We be good fellows all; I drink to thee.

Here’s to *****,4 and to his right ear,
God send our maister a happy New Year;
A happy New Year as e’er he did see—
With my Wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here’s to *****5 and to his right eye,
God send our mistress a good Christmas pie:
A good Christmas pie as e’er I did see—
With my Wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Here’s to Filpail,6 and her long tail,
God send our measter us never may fail
Of a cup of good beer; I pray you draw near.
And then you shall hear our jolly wassail.

Be here any maids, I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone
Sing hey O maids, come trole back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house, let us all in.

Come, butler, come bring us a bowl of the best:
I hope your soul in heaven may rest:
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small,
Then down fall butler, bowl, and all.


2. Vita Edw. 11. Return

3. In Architren. Lib. 2. Return

4. The name of some horse. Return

5. The name of another horse. Return

6. The name of a cow. Return

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