The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

St George He Was For England

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

Volume 2

January 26.

St. George he was for England.”

So says a well-known old ballad, and we are acquainted, by the following communication, that our patron saint still appears in England, through his personal representatives, at this season of the year.

To the Editor of the Every-Day Book.

Sir,

I send you an account of the Christmas drama of “St. George,” as acted in Cornwall, subscribing also my name and address, which you properly deem an indispensable requisite. I thereby vouch for the authenticity of what I send you. Having many friends and relations in the west, at whose houses I have had frequent opportunities of seeing the festivities and mixing in the sports of their farm, and other work-people, at the joyous times of harvest home, finishing the barley mow, (of which more hereafter if agreeable,) Christmas, &c. In some of the latter it is still customary for the master of the house and his guests to join at the beginning of the evening, though this practice, I am sorry to say, is gradually wearing out, and now confined to a few places. I have “footed it” away in sir Roger de Coverley, the hemp-dressers,&c. (not omitting even the cushion dance,) with more glee than l ever slided through the chaine anglaise, or demi-queue de chat, and have formed acquaintance with the master of the revels, or leader of the parish choir, (generally a shrewd fellow, well versed in song,) in most of tho western parishes in Cornwall; and from them have picked up much information on those points, which personal observation alone had not supplied to my satisfaction.

You may be sure that “St. George” with his attendants were personages too remarkable not to attract much of my attention, and I have had their adventures represented frequently; from different versions so obtained, I am enabled to state that the performances in different parishes vary only in a slight degree from each other.

St. George and the other tragic performers are dressed out somewhat in the style of morris-dancers, in their shirtsleeves, and white trowsers much decorated with ribands and handkerchiefs, each carrying a drawn sword in his hand, if they can be procured, otherwise a cudgel. They wear high caps of pasteboard. adorned with beads, small pieces of looking-glass, coloured paper, &c.; several long strips of pith generally hang down from the top, with small pieces of different coloured cloth, strung on them: the whole has a very smart effect.

Father Christmas is personified in a grotesque manner, as an ancient man, wearing a large mask and wig, and a huge club, wherewith he keeps the by- standers in order.

The doctor, who is generally the merry-andrew of the piece, is dressed in any ridiculous way, with a wig, three-cornered hat, and painted face

The other comic characters are dressed according to fancy.

The female, where there is one, is usually in the dress worn half a century ago.

The hobby-horse, which is a character sometimes introduced, wears a representation of a horse’s hide.

Besides the regular drama of “St. George,” many parties of mummers go about in fancy dresses of every sort, most commonly the males in female attire, and vice versâ.

This Christmas play, it appears, is, or was in vogue also in the north of England as well as in Scotland. A correspondent of yours (Mr. Reddock) has already given an interesting account of that in Scotland, and a copy of that acted at Newcastle, printed there some thirty or forty years since, is longer than any I have seen in the west. By some the play is considered to have reference to the time of the crusades, and to have been introduced on the return of the adventurers from the Holy-Land, as typifying their battles. Before proceeding with our drama in the west, I have merely to observe that the old fashion was to continue many of the Christmas festivities till Candlemas-day, (February 2,) and then “throw cards and candlesticks away.”

Battle of St. George.

[One of the party steps in, crying out

Room, a room, brave gallants, room,Within this court

I do resort,
To show some sport
And pastime,

Gentlemen and ladies, in the Christmas time—

[After this note of preparation, old Father Christmas capers into tire room, saying,

Here comes I, old Father Christmas,
Welcome, or welcome not,
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.

I was born in a rocky country, where there was no wood to make me a cradle; I was rocked in a stouring bowl, which made me round shouldered then, and I am round shouldered still.

[He then frisks about the room, until he thinks he has sufficiently amused the spectators, when he makes his exit with this speech,

Who went to the orchard, to steal apples to make gooseberry pies against Christmas?

[These prose speeches, you may suppose, depend much upon the imagination of the actor.

Enter Turkish Knight.

Here comes I, a Turkish knight,
Come from the Turkish land to fight,
And if St. George do meet me here
I’ll try his courage without fear.

Enter St. George.

Here comes I, St. George;
that worthy champion bold,
And, with my sword and spear,
I won three crowns of gold.
I fought the dragon bold,
and brought him to the slaughter,
By that I gained fair Sabra,
the king of Egypt’s daughter.

T. K. Saint George, I pray be not too bold,
If thy blood is hot, I’ll soon make it cold.

St. G. Thou Turkish knight, I pray forbear,
I’ll make thee dread my sword and spear.

[They fight until the T. knight falls.

St. G. I have a little bottle, ‘which goes by the name of Elicumpane,
If the man is alive let him rise and fight again.

[The knight here rises on one knee, and endeavours to continue the fight, but is again struck down.

T. K. Oh! pardon me, St. George, oh!
pardon me I crave.
Oh pardon me this once, and I will be thy slave.

St. G. I’ll never pardon a Turkish Knight,
Therefore arise, and try thy might.

[The knight gets up, and they again fight, till the knight receives a heavy blow, and their drops on the ground as dead.

St. G. Is there a doctor to be found, To cure a deep and deadly wound?

Enter Doctor.

oh’ yes there is a doctor to be found,
To cure a deep and deadly wound.

[Enter Doctor.

Oh! yes, there is a doctor to be found,
To cure a deep and deadly wound.

St G. What can you cure?

Doctor. I can cure the itch, the palsy, and gout,
If the devil’s in him, I’ll poll him out.

[The Doctor here performs the cure with sundry grimaces, and St. George and the Knight again fight, when the latter is knocked down, and left for dead.

[Then another performer enters, and on seeing the dead body, says,

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
of uncle Tom Pearce won't hare him,
Aunt Molly must.

[The hobby-horse here capers in, and takes off the body.

Enter Old Squire.

Here comes I, old, old squire,
As black as any friar,
As ragged as a colt,
To leave fine clothes for malt.

Enter Hub Bub.

Here comes I old hub Bob Bub Bub,
Upon my shoulders I carries a club,
And in my hand a frying pan,
So am not I a valiant man.

[These characters serve as a sort of burlesque on St. George and the other hero, and may be regarded in the light of an anti-masque.

Enter the Bar-holder.

Here comes I, great head and little wit,
Put your hand in your pocket and give what you think fit.
Gentlemen and ladies, sitting down at your ease,
Put your hands in your pockets, give me what you please.

St. G. Gentlemen and Ladies the sport is almost ended,
Come pay to the box, it is highly commended
The box it would speak, if it had but a tongue
Come throw in your money, and think it no wrong.

The characters now generally finish with a dance, or sometimes a song or two. In some of the performances, two or three tragic heroes are brought forward, as the king of Egypt and his son, &c.; but they are all of them much in the style or that I have just described, varying somewhat in length and number of characters.

                    I am, Sir,

                Your constant reader,

                                    W. S.

Editor's Note:

The "constant reader" in this case is almost certainly William Sandys.

Compare this offering with these two plays from William Sandys: Christmas Play of Saint George (1833) and Christmas Play of St. George and the Dragon (1852). Also see the discussion of Hogmany in January 1 - New Year's Day, and the supplemental discussion in Hogmany.

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