صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

shandlers to give candles to their customers, and for the bakers to present to them the yule-cake, a kind of baby or little image in paste, the origin probably of our mince-pies. Among the ancient Romans the laurel was an emblem of peace, joy, and victory; whence it has been conjectured we have taken the custom of dressing up our houses with laurel, as an emblem of joy for the victory gained over the powers of darkness, and of that peace on earth and good-will towards men which the angels sang over the fields of Bethlehem.* Other evergreens were subsequently added. The misletoe, however, as a heathenish and profane plant, appertaining to the rites of druidism, was never admitted into churches, but was hung up in kitchens, subjecting every female who passed under it to a salute from any young man who was present. The Christmas-box was a box containing the money gathered against this season, that masses might be said by the priests to obtain forgiveness for the debaucheries committed by the people. Servants had the liberty to collect box-money, that they too might be enabled to pay the priest for his masses; knowing well the truth of the proverb—"No penny, no paternosters.” Hence our modern Christmas-boxes.

“Our ancestors”—we quote from a paper in The World, No. 104_" considered Christmas in the double light of a holy commemoration and a cheerful 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 act conducive to mirth and entertainment, endeavoured to soften the rigour of the season, and mitigate the influence of winter.” The hobby-horse, the

* Ellis's edition of Brand's Popular Antiquities, vol. i. p. 375. That we might not encumber our page, we have only occasionally stated our authorities for these brief holyday notices. They have been principally Brand's Popular Antiquities, edited by Ellis; Strutt's Sports and Pastimes; Malcolm's Customs of London; Fosbrocke's British Monachisin; Douce's Illustrations of Shakspeare; and Hone's Every-day Book; to which latter, a work equally replete with information and amusement, the reader who wishes to see the suhject more fully illuskated pay refer wishout fear of disappointment,

M%

mummeries, the morris-dancers, the lord of misrule, with other merry sports and pastimes that gave a zest to the feast, and accelerated the circulation of the wassail-bowl, at this the greatest festival of the year, will be hereafter more particularly noticed.

As usual in most of our festivals, the edible and potable celebrations have survived all the others, or constitute the sole portions that are observed with any of the ancient zeal. These accessories have in fact become principals. The waits, or watchmen, who sounded the watch, and perambulated the streets during winter to prevent depredation, have nominal descendants, who may still be occasionally though rarely heard, stealing pleasantly upon the midnight silence, and startling the drowsy ear with the sweetness of their dreamlike and mysterious melody; but these invisible minstrels of the Nativity, lacking an appropriate echo to their silver sounds, will, it is to be feared, soon follow into oblivion the lord of misrule, the abbot of un-reason, the morrisdancers, the hobby-horse, and other by-gone functionaries of the Christmas pantomime. Mince-pies, however, still maintain a savoury remembrance in our mouths ; but the boar's head, holding with its teeth a lemon for its own seasoning-once the symbol of good cheer, and the favourite sign of taverns and cooks'-shops-has been dethroned from its eminence, and has long ceased to crown the festive board. It has been superseded by the turkey; which, being introduced about the time of the Reformation, became connected with the new observances of the reformed religion, without any other apparent claim than that it attains its fattest and most luxurious state about the time of Christmas. From an historical account of Norwich, we learn that between Saturday morning and Sunday night of Christmas, 1793, one thousand seven hundred turkeys, weighing nine tons two cwt., were sent from that single town to London, and two days after half as many more.

Let the external decorations and the superficial forms of this anniversary fade and fall into desuetude, or be replaced with newer glories, as fashion and caprice may dictate ; but let not the spirit of Christmas, at once holy and festive, ever evaporate from our feelings, or be chilled by a non-ob servance of this happy season. Let the laurel the symbol of peace and good-will-be green in our hearts, though it no

longer adorn our parlours. A proper observance of the prescribed religious duties, hospitality and social brotherhood; an interchange of love-promoting presents ; the festive board ; the blazing fire; the moderate bowl, enliveneď by music, wit, and song; the harmless sports and pastimes for which none are too old who find a reflected pleasure from delighting the young, or who can renew, even for a single evening, the pleasant memories of their own childhood ; but above all, that enlarged philanthropy which prompts us to look beyond our own circle of smiling faces, and to light up a similar gladness in the cottages of the poor by seasonable acts of charity-these are the observances which every man, to the extent of his ability, is strictly bound to maintain ; for they constitute the noblest way in which a Christian can commemorate the Founder of that religion which inculcates universal love.

Of the festivals and holydays prescribed by our ancient ritual we ha i only noticed a portion. Most of these had their vigil, or previous eve, which was celebrated with festive observances ; so that when we add to this long list the numerous wakes and fairs, and merrimakings, of which we catch frequent glimpses through the mist of antiquity, we are apt to thini that mankind, at least in the lower orders, were

much happier then than they are now, an impression which often prompts us to give vent to our feelings by an enthusiastic eulogy of “the good old times.” This golden age, however, can only be found in chronology, when we shall have fixed the exact spot occupied by Plato's Atlantis, or Sir Thomas More's Utopia. Our old Christmas gambols and tumultuous revelries, like the Saturnalia, from which they were borrowed, were only destined to reconcile the people to their habitual wretchedness and degradation by a short season of iot. They derived their great attraction from the poverty und privation of the inferior classes, who rarely tasted fresh meat in the summer; while in the winter their best fare Wiss salted ling and other coarse fish, which even in nobleme. 's families formed the ordinary diet of the servants. The greater the hardships and oppressions of life the more intense is the delight of their transient forgetfulness, whether it proceed from the drunkenness of the bowl, or the intoxication of holyday mirth. The Christmas turkeys, the roast-beef, the plum-pudding, nay, even the

vegetables, were once rarities and expensive luxuries, which were coveted with an avidity, and enjoyed with a delight, commensurate with their cost and scarcity. Most of these, except to the abjectly poor, are now within reach of at least occasional procurement, and their great attraction has van. ished since they ceased to be dainties of rare occurrence.

If our humbler classes be incalculably superior to their predecessors in the essential comforts of food, clothing, fuel, and lodging, their advantages are still more distinctly marked with reference to intellectual gratifications. Theatres, reading-rooms, newspapers, magazines, reviews, novels, and mechanics' institutions, which the diffusion of education enables all ranks to enjoy, have substituted for occasional fooleries and mummeries, and stated periods of public revelry, domestic habitual fireside recreations of an infinitely higher order, and not less delightful, because they are not periodically obtruded upon our attention. The industrious operative, who can now command these every-day comforts as a right, earned by his honest exertions, wants, not the frantic extravagance of the carnival, and scorns to depend for his enjoyments either upon gratuitous holydays, or eleemosynary feastings. A fortnight's frolic he would disdain to accept with a twelvemonth's subjection. He knows that he is no longer a vassal or a serf; and this very feeling of independence is a perpetual feast to his heart, worth all that were ever celebrated or registered even in the overloaded calendar of the Romanista

CHAPTER XII.

Field Sports.
“The wood resounds to hear the hounds,

Hey, nony, nony-no,
The rocks report this merry sport,

Hey trolilo, trololilo.
The hunt is up-the hunt is up,
Sing merrily we-the hunt is up.
Then hie apace unto the chase,

Hey, nony, nony-no,
While every thing doth sweetly sing,

Hey trolilo, trololilo.
The hunt is up the hunt is up,
Sing merrily we-the hunt is up."

Old Song.

FIELD sports are, perhaps, the most ancient of all bodily exercises." Upon this point the holy Scripture agrees with the fabulous traditions of the poets, for it tells us that Nim. rod was a "mighty hunter before the Lord,” and it is wor. thy of remark, that he was the first who oppressed an? enslaved his own species. Hunting, proscribed in the ba of Moses, is apotheosised in the Pagan theology, under the special patronage of Diana. In the early ages of the world, it was a necessary labour of self-defence, rather than a pastime. To protect the flocks, herds, and crops from the ravages of those beasts which were in a state of natural hostility to man measure of the first urgency. Some of these wild animals supplied a wholesome food, the skins of nearly all were valuable for clothing, and thus interest soon began to add new incentives

the task of hunting, By the law of their nature the different species destroyed one another, and man destroyed them all, availing himself for this purpose of the advantages ensured to him by the possession of reason, and calling to his assistance all the resources of art. Every nation has practised huniing; but it has invariably been addicted to it in exact proportion to the vant of civilization. With barbarians it is a business,

was

« السابقةمتابعة »