The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern
(London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

Excerpts from the Introduction
Concerning The Practice of Caroling

Pages cxxv - cxxvi

From this time (i.e., mid-17th Century] carol-singing was probably continued with unabated zeal, till towards the end of the last century [i.e., 18th Century], since which the practice has declined, and many old customs have been gradually becoming obsolete. It would be needless to give many references to publications of the 18th century, to prove the continuance of the custom, as the fact of its present existence in several parts of the kingdom proves such a continuing custom, and old people must recollect when it was much more general.

In the Northern counties, and in some of the midland, carol-singing is still preserved. In the metropolis a solitary itinerant may be heard in the streets, croaking out "God rest you merry, gentlemen," or some other old carol to an ancient and simple tune. Indeed many carols are yet printed in London for the clapmen, or dealers in cheap literature; and I have some scores of half-penny and penny carols of this description, published chiefly by Pitts, of St. Andrew's Street, Seven Dials; Catnach, Monmouth Court, Monmouth Street; and Batchelar, Long Lane, Smithfield, who are large venders of ballads, and single, or broadside pieces. Several of these carols have wood cuts of the rudest description; others, again, have embellishments that might have been considered very credible for the price at which they are afforded until recent examples had shown us the extent of ornament which may be lavished even on a penny publication. Some of these carols, I was informed by the publishers, are in considerable request, and are printed off as the demand requires.

The custom prevails also in Ireland and Wales. In the latter country, in particular, there are several collections known in the Welsh language; some of which are of ancient date. Others are composed by the modern village-poet; and Mr. Roberts, in his "Cambrian Popular Antiquities," (1815), particularly mentions Hugh Morris as a favourite writer and poetic genius in this line, in modern days. And there was a notice recently of the death of a Welsh poet, David Jones, at Rhuddlan, in Flintshire, aged sixty-nine, who for the last fifty-three years had annually sung a carol, of his own composing, on Christmas day, in the church there.

In the West of England, and especially in the western parts of Cornwall, carol-singing is still kept up, the singers going about from house to house wherever they can obtain encouragement, and in some of the parish churches, meeting on the night of Christmas-eve and singing in the sacred morning. Heath, in his "Account of the Scilly Islands," mentions the practice of singing carols in churches on Christmas-day in his time (about 1750), and a collection made from the congregation by carrying about a hat for the benefit of the singers.

Page cxlii

[Near the end of his Introduction, Sandys makes the following observation, which I am certain that I need to remember more frequently.]

But it is time to close this introduction, which has imperceptibly almost, extended to the length that the subject will not sanction. We are apt to think that other persons take as much interest in our hobbies as ourselves, and therefore ride them unsparingly.

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