The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

SKETCHES BY BOZ

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
 
An Excerpt
Chapter II - A Christmas Dinner
Chapter III - The New Year

The Complete Work: Sketches By Boz
Project Gutenberg EBook 882

 

CHAPTER II--A CHRISTMAS DINNER

Christmas time!  That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose
breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused--in whose mind
some pleasant associations are not awakened--by the recurrence of
Christmas.  There are people who will tell you that Christmas is
not to them what it used to be; that each succeeding Christmas has
found some cherished hope, or happy prospect, of the year before,
dimmed or passed away; that the present only serves to remind them
of reduced circumstances and straitened incomes--of the feasts they
once bestowed on hollow friends, and of the cold looks that meet
them now, in adversity and misfortune.  Never heed such dismal
reminiscences.  There are few men who have lived long enough in the
world, who cannot call up such thoughts any day in the year.  Then
do not select the merriest of the three hundred and sixty-five for
your doleful recollections, but draw your chair nearer the blazing
fire--fill the glass and send round the song--and if your room be
smaller than it was a dozen years ago, or if your glass be filled
with reeking punch, instead of sparkling wine, put a good face on
the matter, and empty it off-hand, and fill another, and troll off
the old ditty you used to sing, and thank God it's no worse.  Look
on the merry faces of your children (if you have any) as they sit
round the fire.  One little seat may be empty; one slight form that
gladdened the father's heart, and roused the mother's pride to look
upon, may not be there.  Dwell not upon the past; think not that
one short year ago, the fair child now resolving into dust, sat
before you, with the bloom of health upon its cheek, and the gaiety
of infancy in its joyous eye.  Reflect upon your present blessings-
-of which every man has many--not on your past misfortunes, of
which all men have some.  Fill your glass again, with a merry face
and contented heart.  Our life on it, but your Christmas shall be
merry, and your new year a happy one!

Who can be insensible to the outpourings of good feeling, and the
honest interchange of affectionate attachment, which abound at this
season of the year?  A Christmas family-party!  We know nothing in
nature more delightful!  There seems a magic in the very name of
Christmas.  Petty jealousies and discords are forgotten; social
feelings are awakened, in bosoms to which they have long been
strangers; father and son, or brother and sister, who have met and
passed with averted gaze, or a look of cold recognition, for months
before, proffer and return the cordial embrace, and bury their past
animosities in their present happiness.  Kindly hearts that have
yearned towards each other, but have been withheld by false notions
of pride and self-dignity, are again reunited, and all is kindness
and benevolence!  Would that Christmas lasted the whole year
through (as it ought), and that the prejudices and passions which
deform our better nature, were never called into action among those
to whom they should ever be strangers!

The Christmas family-party that we mean, is not a mere assemblage
of relations, got up at a week or two's notice, originating this
year, having no family precedent in the last, and not likely to be
repeated in the next.  No.  It is an annual gathering of all the
accessible members of the family, young or old, rich or poor; and
all the children look forward to it, for two months beforehand, in
a fever of anticipation.  Formerly, it was held at grandpapa's; but
grandpapa getting old, and grandmamma getting old too, and rather
infirm, they have given up house-keeping, and domesticated
themselves with uncle George; so, the party always takes place at
uncle George's house, but grandmamma sends in most of the good
things, and grandpapa always WILL toddle down, all the way to
Newgate-market, to buy the turkey, which he engages a porter to
bring home behind him in triumph, always insisting on the man's
being rewarded with a glass of spirits, over and above his hire, to
drink 'a merry Christmas and a happy new year' to aunt George.  As
to grandmamma, she is very secret and mysterious for two or three
days beforehand, but not sufficiently so, to prevent rumours
getting afloat that she has purchased a beautiful new cap with pink
ribbons for each of the servants, together with sundry books, and
pen-knives, and pencil-cases, for the younger branches; to say
nothing of divers secret additions to the order originally given by
aunt George at the pastry-cook's, such as another dozen of mince-
pies for the dinner, and a large plum-cake for the children.

On Christmas-eve, grandmamma is always in excellent spirits, and
after employing all the children, during the day, in stoning the
plums, and all that, insists, regularly every year, on uncle George
coming down into the kitchen, taking off his coat, and stirring the
pudding for half an hour or so, which uncle George good-humouredly
does, to the vociferous delight of the children and servants.  The
evening concludes with a glorious game of blind-man's-buff, in an
early stage of which grandpapa takes great care to be caught, in
order that he may have an opportunity of displaying his dexterity.

On the following morning, the old couple, with as many of the
children as the pew will hold, go to church in great state:
leaving aunt George at home dusting decanters and filling casters,
and uncle George carrying bottles into the dining-parlour, and
calling for corkscrews, and getting into everybody's way.

When the church-party return to lunch, grandpapa produces a small
sprig of mistletoe from his pocket, and tempts the boys to kiss
their little cousins under it--a proceeding which affords both the
boys and the old gentleman unlimited satisfaction, but which rather
outrages grandmamma's ideas of decorum, until grandpapa says, that
when he was just thirteen years and three months old, HE kissed
grandmamma under a mistletoe too, on which the children clap their
hands, and laugh very heartily, as do aunt George and uncle George;
and grandmamma looks pleased, and says, with a benevolent smile,
that grandpapa was an impudent young dog, on which the children
laugh very heartily again, and grandpapa more heartily than any of
them.

But all these diversions are nothing to the subsequent excitement
when grandmamma in a high cap, and slate-coloured silk gown; and
grandpapa with a beautifully plaited shirt-frill, and white
neckerchief; seat themselves on one side of the drawing-room fire,
with uncle George's children and little cousins innumerable, seated
in the front, waiting the arrival of the expected visitors.
Suddenly a hackney-coach is heard to stop, and uncle George, who
has been looking out of the window, exclaims 'Here's Jane!' on
which the children rush to the door, and helter-skelter down-
stairs; and uncle Robert and aunt Jane, and the dear little baby,
and the nurse, and the whole party, are ushered up-stairs amidst
tumultuous shouts of 'Oh, my!' from the children, and frequently
repeated warnings not to hurt baby from the nurse.  And grandpapa
takes the child, and grandmamma kisses her daughter, and the
confusion of this first entry has scarcely subsided, when some
other aunts and uncles with more cousins arrive, and the grown-up
cousins flirt with each other, and so do the little cousins too,
for that matter, and nothing is to be heard but a confused din of
talking, laughing, and merriment.

A hesitating double knock at the street-door, heard during a
momentary pause in the conversation, excites a general inquiry of
'Who's that?' and two or three children, who have been standing at
the window, announce in a low voice, that it's 'poor aunt
Margaret.'  Upon which, aunt George leaves the room to welcome the
new-comer; and grandmamma draws herself up, rather stiff and
stately; for Margaret married a poor man without her consent, and
poverty not being a sufficiently weighty punishment for her
offence, has been discarded by her friends, and debarred the
society of her dearest relatives.  But Christmas has come round,
and the unkind feelings that have struggled against better
dispositions during the year, have melted away before its genial
influence, like half-formed ice beneath the morning sun.  It is not
difficult in a moment of angry feeling for a parent to denounce a
disobedient child; but, to banish her at a period of general good-
will and hilarity, from the hearth, round which she has sat on so
many anniversaries of the same day, expanding by slow degrees from
infancy to girlhood, and then bursting, almost imperceptibly, into
a woman, is widely different.  The air of conscious rectitude, and
cold forgiveness, which the old lady has assumed, sits ill upon
her; and when the poor girl is led in by her sister, pale in looks
and broken in hope--not from poverty, for that she could bear, but
from the consciousness of undeserved neglect, and unmerited
unkindness--it is easy to see how much of it is assumed.  A
momentary pause succeeds; the girl breaks suddenly from her sister
and throws herself, sobbing, on her mother's neck.  The father
steps hastily forward, and takes her husband's hand.  Friends crowd
round to offer their hearty congratulations, and happiness and
harmony again prevail.

As to the dinner, it's perfectly delightful--nothing goes wrong,
and everybody is in the very best of spirits, and disposed to
please and be pleased.  Grandpapa relates a circumstantial account
of the purchase of the turkey, with a slight digression relative to
the purchase of previous turkeys, on former Christmas-days, which
grandmamma corroborates in the minutest particular.  Uncle George
tells stories, and carves poultry, and takes wine, and jokes with
the children at the side-table, and winks at the cousins that are
making love, or being made love to, and exhilarates everybody with
his good humour and hospitality; and when, at last, a stout servant
staggers in with a gigantic pudding, with a sprig of holly in the
top, there is such a laughing, and shouting, and clapping of little
chubby hands, and kicking up of fat dumpy legs, as can only be
equalled by the applause with which the astonishing feat of pouring
lighted brandy into mince-pies, is received by the younger
visitors.  Then the dessert!--and the wine!--and the fun!  Such
beautiful speeches, and SUCH songs, from aunt Margaret's husband,
who turns out to be such a nice man, and SO attentive to
grandmamma!  Even grandpapa not only sings his annual song with
unprecedented vigour, but on being honoured with an unanimous
encore, according to annual custom, actually comes out with a new
one which nobody but grandmamma ever heard before; and a young
scapegrace of a cousin, who has been in some disgrace with the old
people, for certain heinous sins of omission and commission--
neglecting to call, and persisting in drinking Burton Ale--
astonishes everybody into convulsions of laughter by volunteering
the most extraordinary comic songs that ever were heard.  And thus
the evening passes, in a strain of rational good-will and
cheerfulness, doing more to awaken the sympathies of every member
of the party in behalf of his neighbour, and to perpetuate their
good feeling during the ensuing year, than half the homilies that
have ever been written, by half the Divines that have ever lived.


CHAPTER III--THE NEW YEAR

Next to Christmas-day, the most pleasant annual epoch in existence
is the advent of the New Year.  There are a lachrymose set of
people who usher in the New Year with watching and fasting, as if
they were bound to attend as chief mourners at the obsequies of the
old one.  Now, we cannot but think it a great deal more
complimentary, both to the old year that has rolled away, and to
the New Year that is just beginning to dawn upon us, to see the old
fellow out, and the new one in, with gaiety and glee.

There must have been some few occurrences in the past year to which
we can look back, with a smile of cheerful recollection, if not
with a feeling of heartfelt thankfulness.  And we are bound by
every rule of justice and equity to give the New Year credit for
being a good one, until he proves himself unworthy the confidence
we repose in him.

This is our view of the matter; and entertaining it,
notwithstanding our respect for the old year, one of the few
remaining moments of whose existence passes away with every word we
write, here we are, seated by our fireside on this last night of
the old year, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, penning
this article with as jovial a face as if nothing extraordinary had
happened, or was about to happen, to disturb our good humour.

Hackney-coaches and carriages keep rattling up the street and down
the street in rapid succession, conveying, doubtless, smartly-
dressed coachfuls to crowded parties; loud and repeated double
knocks at the house with green blinds, opposite, announce to the
whole neighbourhood that there's one large party in the street at
all events; and we saw through the window, and through the fog too,
till it grew so thick that we rung for candles, and drew our
curtains, pastry-cooks' men with green boxes on their heads, and
rout-furniture-warehouse-carts, with cane seats and French lamps,
hurrying to the numerous houses where an annual festival is held in
honour of the occasion.

We can fancy one of these parties, we think, as well as if we were
duly dress-coated and pumped, and had just been announced at the
drawing-room door.

Take the house with the green blinds for instance.  We know it is a
quadrille party, because we saw some men taking up the front
drawing-room carpet while we sat at breakfast this morning, and if
further evidence be required, and we must tell the truth, we just
now saw one of the young ladies 'doing' another of the young
ladies' hair, near one of the bedroom windows, in an unusual style
of splendour, which nothing else but a quadrille party could
possibly justify.

The master of the house with the green blinds is in a public
office; we know the fact by the cut of his coat, the tie of his
neckcloth, and the self-satisfaction of his gait--the very green
blinds themselves have a Somerset House air about them.

Hark!--a cab!  That's a junior clerk in the same office; a tidy
sort of young man, with a tendency to cold and corns, who comes in
a pair of boots with black cloth fronts, and brings his shoes in
his coat-pocket, which shoes he is at this very moment putting on
in the hall.  Now he is announced by the man in the passage to
another man in a blue coat, who is a disguised messenger from the
office.

The man on the first landing precedes him to the drawing-room door.
'Mr. Tupple!' shouts the messenger.  'How ARE you, Tupple?' says
the master of the house, advancing from the fire, before which he
has been talking politics and airing himself.  'My dear, this is
Mr. Tupple (a courteous salute from the lady of the house); Tupple,
my eldest daughter; Julia, my dear, Mr. Tupple; Tupple, my other
daughters; my son, sir;' Tupple rubs his hands very hard, and
smiles as if it were all capital fun, and keeps constantly bowing
and turning himself round, till the whole family have been
introduced, when he glides into a chair at the corner of the sofa,
and opens a miscellaneous conversation with the young ladies upon
the weather, and the theatres, and the old year, and the last new
murder, and the balloon, and the ladies' sleeves, and the
festivities of the season, and a great many other topics of small
talk.

More double knocks! what an extensive party! what an incessant hum
of conversation and general sipping of coffee!  We see Tupple now,
in our mind's eye, in the height of his glory.  He has just handed
that stout old lady's cup to the servant; and now, he dives among
the crowd of young men by the door, to intercept the other servant,
and secure the muffin-plate for the old lady's daughter, before he
leaves the room; and now, as he passes the sofa on his way back, he
bestows a glance of recognition and patronage upon the young ladies
as condescending and familiar as if he had known them from infancy.

Charming person Mr. Tupple--perfect ladies' man--such a delightful
companion, too!  Laugh!--nobody ever understood papa's jokes half
so well as Mr. Tupple, who laughs himself into convulsions at every
fresh burst of facetiousness.  Most delightful partner! talks
through the whole set! and although he does seem at first rather
gay and frivolous, so romantic and with so MUCH feeling!  Quite a
love.  No great favourite with the young men, certainly, who sneer
at, and affect to despise him; but everybody knows that's only
envy, and they needn't give themselves the trouble to depreciate
his merits at any rate, for Ma says he shall be asked to every
future dinner-party, if it's only to talk to people between the
courses, and distract their attention when there's any unexpected
delay in the kitchen.

At supper, Mr. Tupple shows to still greater advantage than he has
done throughout the evening, and when Pa requests every one to fill
their glasses for the purpose of drinking happiness throughout the
year, Mr. Tupple is SO droll:  insisting on all the young ladies
having their glasses filled, notwithstanding their repeated
assurances that they never can, by any possibility, think of
emptying them and subsequently begging permission to say a few
words on the sentiment which has just been uttered by Pa--when he
makes one of the most brilliant and poetical speeches that can
possibly be imagined, about the old year and the new one.  After
the toast has been drunk, and when the ladies have retired, Mr.
Tupple requests that every gentleman will do him the favour of
filling his glass, for he has a toast to propose:  on which all the
gentlemen cry 'Hear! hear!' and pass the decanters accordingly:
and Mr. Tupple being informed by the master of the house that they
are all charged, and waiting for his toast, rises, and begs to
remind the gentlemen present, how much they have been delighted by
the dazzling array of elegance and beauty which the drawing-room
has exhibited that night, and how their senses have been charmed,
and their hearts captivated, by the bewitching concentration of
female loveliness which that very room has so recently displayed.
(Loud cries of 'Hear!')  Much as he (Tupple) would be disposed to
deplore the absence of the ladies, on other grounds, he cannot but
derive some consolation from the reflection that the very
circumstance of their not being present, enables him to propose a
toast, which he would have otherwise been prevented from giving--
that toast he begs to say is--'The Ladies!'  (Great applause.)  The
Ladies! among whom the fascinating daughters of their excellent
host, are alike conspicuous for their beauty, their
accomplishments, and their elegance.  He begs them to drain a
bumper to 'The Ladies, and a happy new year to them!'  (Prolonged
approbation; above which the noise of the ladies dancing the
Spanish dance among themselves, overhead, is distinctly audible.)

The applause consequent on this toast, has scarcely subsided, when
a young gentleman in a pink under-waistcoat, sitting towards the
bottom of the table, is observed to grow very restless and fidgety,
and to evince strong indications of some latent desire to give vent
to his feelings in a speech, which the wary Tupple at once
perceiving, determines to forestall by speaking himself.  He,
therefore, rises again, with an air of solemn importance, and
trusts he may be permitted to propose another toast (unqualified
approbation, and Mr. Tupple proceeds).  He is sure they must all be
deeply impressed with the hospitality--he may say the splendour--
with which they have been that night received by their worthy host
and hostess.  (Unbounded applause.)  Although this is the first
occasion on which he has had the pleasure and delight of sitting at
that board, he has known his friend Dobble long and intimately; he
has been connected with him in business--he wishes everybody
present knew Dobble as well as he does.  (A cough from the host.)
He (Tupple) can lay his hand upon his (Tupple's) heart, and declare
his confident belief that a better man, a better husband, a better
father, a better brother, a better son, a better relation in any
relation of life, than Dobble, never existed.  (Loud cries of
'Hear!')  They have seen him to-night in the peaceful bosom of his
family; they should see him in the morning, in the trying duties of
his office.  Calm in the perusal of the morning papers,
uncompromising in the signature of his name, dignified in his
replies to the inquiries of stranger applicants, deferential in his
behaviour to his superiors, majestic in his deportment to the
messengers.  (Cheers.)  When he bears this merited testimony to the
excellent qualities of his friend Dobble, what can he say in
approaching such a subject as Mrs. Dobble?  Is it requisite for him
to expatiate on the qualities of that amiable woman?  No; he will
spare his friend Dobble's feelings; he will spare the feelings of
his friend--if he will allow him to have the honour of calling him
so--Mr. Dobble, junior.  (Here Mr. Dobble, junior, who has been
previously distending his mouth to a considerable width, by
thrusting a particularly fine orange into that feature, suspends
operations, and assumes a proper appearance of intense melancholy).
He will simply say--and he is quite certain it is a sentiment in
which all who hear him will readily concur--that his friend Dobble
is as superior to any man he ever knew, as Mrs. Dobble is far
beyond any woman he ever saw (except her daughters); and he will
conclude by proposing their worthy 'Host and Hostess, and may they
live to enjoy many more new years!'

The toast is drunk with acclamation; Dobble returns thanks, and the
whole party rejoin the ladies in the drawing-room.  Young men who
were too bashful to dance before supper, find tongues and partners;
the musicians exhibit unequivocal symptoms of having drunk the new
year in, while the company were out; and dancing is kept up, until
far in the first morning of the new year.

We have scarcely written the last word of the previous sentence,
when the first stroke of twelve, peals from the neighbouring
churches.  There certainly--we must confess it now--is something
awful in the sound.  Strictly speaking, it may not be more
impressive now, than at any other time; for the hours steal as
swiftly on, at other periods, and their flight is little heeded.
But, we measure man's life by years, and it is a solemn knell that
warns us we have passed another of the landmarks which stands
between us and the grave.  Disguise it as we may, the reflection
will force itself on our minds, that when the next bell announces
the arrival of a new year, we may be insensible alike of the timely
warning we have so often neglected, and of all the warm feelings
that glow within us now.

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