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In allusion to these superb dishes a ludicrous oath was prevalent in Shakspeare's time, which he has, with much propriety, put into the mouth of Justice Shallow, who, soliciting the stay of the fat knight, exclaims,
“ By cock and pye, sir, you shall not away to night.” The use of the peacock, however, as one of the articles of a second course, continued to the close of the seventeenth century; for Gervase Markham, in the ninth edition of bis English House-Wife, London 1683, enumerating the articles and ordering of a great feast, mentions this among other birds, now seldom seen as objects of cookery; “ then in the second course she shall first preferr the lesser wild-fowl, as etc. then the lesser land-fowl, as etc. etc. then the great wild-fowl, as bittern, hearn, shoveler, crane, bustard, and such like. Then the greater land-fowl, as PEACOCKS, phesant, puets, gulls, etc." +
Numerous collections of Carols, or festal chansons, to be sung at the various feasts and ceremonies of the Christmas-holidays, were published during the sixteenth century. One of the earliest of these was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, and entitled “ Christmasse carolles.” It contains, among many very curious specimens of this species of popular poetry, one which not only contributed to the hilarity of our ancestors in the reigns of Henry, Elizabeth, and James, but is still in use, though with many alterations, in Queen's College, Oxford; it is designated as “a Carol bryngyng in the bores head,” which was the first dish served up at the baron's high table in the great hall on Christmas-day, and was usually accompanied by a procession, with the sound of trumpets and other instruments.
“ Caput Apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.
Qui estis in convivio.
Servite cum cantico.
The bores head with mustarde.”+ For the hospitality, indeed, the merriment and good cheer, which prevailed during the season of Christmas, this country was peculiarly distinguished in the sixteenth century. Setting aside the splendid manner in which this festival was kept at court, and in the capital, we may appeal to the country, in confirmation of the assertion; the hall of the nobleman and country-gentleman, and even the humbler mansions of the yeoman and husbandman, vied with the city in the exhibition of plenty, revelry, and sport. Of the mode in which the farmer and his servants enjoyed themselves, on this occasion, a good idea may be formed from the poem of Tusser, the first edition of which thus admonishes the housewife :
“ Get ivye and hull, woman deck up thyne house :
and take this same brawne, for to seeth and to souse.
* Act v. sc. 1.
+ English House-Wife, p. 99. The pies which he recommends immediately subsequent to this enumeration are somewhat curious, and rather of a more substantial nature than those of nodern days; for instance, red deer pye, gammon of bacon pye, wild-bore pye, and roe-pye.
# Vide Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 143.
At Christmas be mery, and thanke god of all
and feast thy pore neighbours, the great with the small." * And in subsequent impressions, the articles of the “Christmas husbandlie fare" are more particularly enumerated; for instance, good drinke, a blazing fire in the hall, brawne, pudding and souse, and mustard with all, beef, mutton, and pork, shred or minced pies of the best, pig, veal, goose, capon, and turkey, cheese, apples, and nuts, with jolie carols; a pretty ample provision for the rites of hospitality, and a powerful security against the inclemencies of the season!
The Hall of the baron, knight, or squire, was the seat of the same festivities, the same gambols, wassalling, mummery, and mirth, which usually took place in the palaces and mansions of the metropolis, and of these Jonson has given us a very curious epitome in his " Masque of Christmas," where he has personified the season and its attributes in the following manner:
“ Enler CHRISTMAS with tro or three of the Guard. “He is attir’d in round bose, long stockings, a close doublel, a high crowod hal with a broach, a long thin beard, a truncheon, little russes, while shoes, his scarffes and garters lyed crosse, and his drum beaten before him.
" The names of his CHILDREN, with their altyres. “ Mis-rule. In a velvet cap with a sprig, a short cloake, great yellow ruse like a reveller, his torch-bearer bearing a rope, a cheese and a basket.
" Caroll. A long lawny coat, wilh a red cap, and a flute at his girdle, his torch-bearer carrying a song booke open.
" Minc'd Pie. Like a fine cooke's wise, drest neat; ber man carrying a pie, dish, and spoones.
" Gamboll. Like a tumbler, with a hoope and bells; bis torch-bearer arm’d with a cole-staffe, and a blinding cloth.
“ Post And Paire. With a paire-royall of aces in his hat; his garment all done over with payres, and purrs; his squier carrying a box, cards and counters.
" New-Yeares-Gist. In a blew coal, serving-map like, wilh an orange, and a sprig of rosemarie guilt on his head, his hat full of broaches, with a coller of gingerbread, his lorch-bearer carrying a march-paine, with a bottle of wine on either arme.
" Mumming. In a masquing pied suite, with a visor, bis torch-bearer carrying the boxe, and ringing it.
“ Wassall. Like a peal sempsler, and songsler ; ber page bearing a browne bowle, drest wi!h ribbands, and rosemarie before her.
“ Offering. In a short gowne, with a porter's stafle in his hand; a wyth borne before him, and a bason by his torch-bearer,
" Babie-Coche. Drest like a boy, in a fine long coat, biggin, bib, muckender, and a little dagger; his usber bearing a great cake with a beane, and a pease." +
of these personified attributes we have already noticed, at some length, the most material, such as Misrule, Caroll, New-Year's-Gist and Wassall; to the account, however, which has been given of the Summer Lord of Misrule, from Stubbes's “ Anatomie of Abuses," it will be here necessary to add, that the sway of this mock prince, both in town and country, was still more absolute during the Christmas-holiday; “what time,” says Holinshed, “ of old ordinarie course there is alwaies one appointed to make sport in the court, called commonlie Lord of Misrule: whose office is not unknowne to such as have beene brought up in noblemen's houses, and among great housekeepers, which use liberal feasting in that season." | Stowe, likewise, has recorded, in his Survey, the universal domination of this holiday monarch.
“In the feast of Christmas,” he remarks, “there was in the king's house, wheresoever he was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Nlaster of merry Desports, and the like bad yee in the house of every noblemap of honour, or good worship, were he spirituall or temporall. Amongst the which, the Maior of London, and either of the Sheriffes had their several Lords of Misrule, ever contending without quarrell or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders. These Lords beginning their rule on Alhallow Eve, continued the same til the morrow after the feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas-day: In all which space, there were fine and subtill disguisings, maskes and mummeries, with playing at cardes for counters, nayles and points in every house, more for pastime than for gaine."
A hundreth good poyntes of husbandry, 1557. p.
In short, the directions which are to be found for a grand Christmas in the capital, were copied with cqual splendour and profusion in the houses of the opulent gentlemen in the country, who made it a point to be even lavish at this season of the year. We may, therefore, consider the following description as applying accurately to the Christmas hospitality of the Baron's hall.
“ On Christmas-day, service in the church ended, the gentlemen presently repair into the ball to breakfast, with brawn, mustard, and malmsey.
“ At dinner lhe buller, appointed for the Christmas, is to see the tables covered and furnished: and the ordinary bullers of the house are decently to set bread, napkins, and trenchers, in good form, at every table; with spoones and knives. At the first course is served in a fair and large bore's head, upon a silver plalter, with minstralsye.
“ Two 'servants' are lo allend al supper, and lo bear two fair torches of was, next before the musicians and trumpeters, and stand above the fire wilh the music, till the first course be served in through the ball. Which performed, they, with the music, are to return into the buttery. The like course is to be observed in all things, during the time of Christmas.
“ At night, before supper, are revels and dancing, and so also after supper, during the twelve daies of Christmas. The Master of the Revels is, after dinner and supper, to sing a caroll, or song; and command other gentlemen then there present to sing with him and the company; and so it is very decenlly performed." +
Beside the revelry and dancing here mentioned, we may add, that it was customary, at this season, after the Christmas sports and games had been indulged in, until the performers were weary, to gather round the ruddy fire, and tell tales of legendary lore, or popular superstition. Herrick, recording the diversions of this period, mentions one of them as consisting of “winter's tales about the hearth;" I and Grose, speaking of the source whence he had derived many of the superstitions narrated in the concluding section of his “Provincial Glossary," says, that he gives them, as they had, from age to age, been “ related to a closing circle of attentive hearers, assembled in a winter's evening, round the capacious chimney of an old hall or manor-house ;” and he adds, that tales of this description formed, among our ancestors, “a principal part of rural conversation, in all large assemblies, and particularly those in Christmas holidays, during the burning of the Yule-block.” S
of the conviviality which universally reigned during these holidays, a good estimate may be taken by a few lines from the author of Hesperides, who, addressing a friend at Christmas-tide, makes the following request : “When your faces shine
carouse With bucksome meat and cap'ring wine,
Till Liber Pater** twirles the house Remember us in cups full crown'd,
About your eares ;Untill the fired chesnuts leape
“ Then” to the bagpipe all addresse, For joy, to see the fruits ye reape
Till sleep takes place of wearinesse : From the plumpe challice, and the cup, And thus throughout, with Christmas playes, That tempts till it be tossed up:
Frolick the full twelve holy-dayes.”++
* Stowe's Survey of London, p. 149. edit. 1618.
Provincial Glossary, Preface, p. 8. 8vo. 1787. Liber Pater, Bacchus. ++ Hesperides, p. 146. The following passages place in a strong and interesting point of view, the hospitality of our ancestors during this season of the year, and will add not a little to ihe impression derived from the text.
“Heretofore, noblemen and gentlemen of fair estates had their beralds who wore their coate of armes at Christmas, and at other solemne times, and cryed largesse thrice. They lived in the country like petty kings. They always eat in Gothic Halls where the Mummings and Loai-stealing, and other Christmas
We shall close this detail of the ceremonies and festivities of Christmas with a passage from the descriptive muse of Sir Walter Scott, in which he has collected, with his usual accuracy, and with his almost unequalled power of costumepainting, nearly all the striking circumstances which distinguished the celebration of this high festival, from an early period to the close of the sixteenth century. They form a picture which must delight, both from the nature of its subject, and from the truth and mellowness of its colouring.
“Well our Christian sires of old
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
sports, were performed. The hearth was commonly in the middle ; whence the saying, round about our coal-fire.” Antiquarian Repertory, No. xxvi. from the MS. Collections of Aubrey, dated 1678.
“ An English Gentleman at the opening of the great day, i. e. on Christmas Day in the morning, had all his tenants and neighbours entered his Hall by day-break. The strong beer was broached, and the blackjacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar, nutmegs, and good Cheshire cheese. The Hackin (the great sausage) must be boiled by day-break, or else two young men must take the maiden (i. e. the cook), by the arms and run her round the market place till she is ashamed of her laziness,
"In Christmass Holidays, the tables were all spread from the first to the last; the sirloins of beef, the minced pies, the plumb-porridge, the capons, turkeys, geese, and plumb-puddings, were all brought upon the board: every one eat heartily, and was welcome, which gave rise to ihe proverb, “Merry in the hall when beards wag all. From a Tract entitled " Round about our Coal-Fire, or Christmas Entertainments ;” of which the first edition was published, I believe, about the close of the seventeenth century.
* Our ancestors considered Christmas in the double light of a holy commemoration and a chearful festival ; and accordingly distinguished it by devotion, by vacation from business, by merriment and hospitality. They seemed eagerly bent to make themselves and every body about them happy. -The great hall resounded with the tumultuous joys of servants and tenants, and the gambols they played served as amusement to the lord of the mansion and his family, who, by encouraging every art conducive to mirth and entertainment, endeavoured to soften the rigour of the season, and mitigate the influence of winter."Tbe World, No. 104.
* Scott's Marmion. Introduction to Canto Sixth. 8vo. edit. p. 300—303.
" At present, Christmas meetings,” remarks Mr. Brady, " are chiefly confined to family parties, happy, it must be confessed, though less jovial in their nature; perhaps, too, less beneficial to society, because they can be enjoyed on other days not, as originally was the case, set apart for more general conviviality and sociability ; not such as our old ballads proclaim, and history confirms, in which the most frigid tempers gave way to relaxation, and all in eager joy were ready to exclaim, in honour of the festivity,
“ For, since such delights are thine,
CHRISTMAS, with thy bands I join." Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. p. 319. CHAPTER VII.
Manners and Customs of the Country continued-Wakes-Fairs-Weddings-Burials.
Having described, in as brief a manner as was consistent with the nature of our work, the various circumstances accompanying the celebration of the most remarkable holidays and festivals, in the country, during the age of Shakspeare, from whose inimitable compositions we have drawn many pertinent illustrations on nearly all the subjects as they passed before us; we shall proceed, in the present chapter, to notice those remaining topics which are calculated to complete, on the scale adopted, a tolerably correct view of rural manners and customs, as they existed in the latter half of the sixteenth, and prior portion of the seventeenth, century.
A natural transition will carry us, from the description of the rural festival, to the gaieties of the Wake or Fair. Of these terms, indeed, the former originally implied the vigil which preceded the festival in honour of the Saint to whom the parish-church was dedicated ; for “ on the Eve of this day,” remarks Mr. Borlase, in his Cornwall, “ prayers were said, and hymns were sung all night in the church ; and from these watchings the festivals were stiled Wakes ; which name still continues in many parts of England, though the vigils have been long abolished."* The religious institution, however, of the Wake, whether held on the vigil or Saint's day, was soon forgotten ; mirth and feasting early became the chief objects of this meeting, † and it, at length, degenerated into something approaching towards a secular Fair. These Wakes or Fairs, which were rendered more popular in proportion as they deviated from their devotional origin, were, until the reign of Henry the Sixth, always held on a Sunday and its eve, a custom that continued to be partially observed as late as the middle of the seventeenth century; hence ale-houses, and places of public resort, in the immediate neighbourhood of church-yards, the former scene of Wakes, were still common at the close of Shakspeare's life; thus Sir Thomas Overbury, describing a Sexton, in his “Characters," published in 1616, says: “At every church-style commonly there's an ale-house ; where let him (the Sexton) bee found never so idle-pated, hee is still a grave drunkard.”
The increasing licentiousness and conviviality, however, which attended these church-yard assemblies, frequented as they were by pedlars and hawkers of every description, finally occasioned their suppression in all places, at least, where much traffic was expected. In their room regular Fairs were established, to which in central or peculiar stations, the resort, at fixed periods, was immense.
Yet the Wake, the meeting for mere festivity and frolic, still continued in every village and small town, and though not preceded by any vigil in the church, was popularly termed the Wake-Day. Tusser, in his catalogue of the “ Old
* Brand on Bourne's Antiquities, p. 333.
+ Mr. Strutt, in a quotation from an old MS. legend of St. John the Baptist, preserved in Dugdale's Warwickshire, tells us, “In the beginning of holi churche, it was so that the pepul cam to the chirche with candellys brinnyng, and wold wake and comme with Light toward the chirche in their devocious, and after they fell to lecherie and songs, daunces, harping, piping, and also to glotony and sinne, &c.”—Sports and Pastimes. p. 322.
" It appears,” says Mr. Brand, “ that in ancient times the parishioners brought rushes at the Feast of Dedication, wherewith to strew the Church, and from that circunstance the Festivity itself has obtained the uame of Rushbearing, which occurs for a Country-Wake in a Glossary to the Lancashire dialect " Brand ap. Ellis, vol. i. p. 436.