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roasted apples, sugar, etc. The term Wassail, which in our elder poets is connected with much interesting imagery, and many curious rites, appears to have been first used in this island during the well-known interview between Vortigern and Rowena. Geoffrey of Monmouth relates, on the authority of Walter Calenius, that this lady, the daughter of Hengist, knelt down, on the approach of the king, and presenting him with a cup of wine, exclaimed "Lord king was heil," that is, literally, "Health be to you." Vortigern being ignorant of the Saxon language was informed by an interpreter, that the purport of these words was to wish him health, and that he should reply by the expression "drinc-heil, or drink the health;" accordingly, on his so doing, Rowena drank, and the king receiving the cup from her hand, kissed and pledged her.* Since this period, observes the historian, the custom has prevailed in Britain of using these words whilst drinking; the person who drank to another saying was-heil, and he who received the cup answering drinc-heil.
It soon afterwards became a custom in villages, on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Twelfth Night, for itinerant minstrels to carry to the houses of the gentry, and others, where they were generally very hospitably received, a bowl of spiced wine, which being presented with the Saxon words just mentioned, was therefore called a Wassail-bowl. A bowl or cup of this description was likewise to be found in almost every nobleman's and gentleman's house, (and frequently of massy silver), until the middle of the seventeenth century, and which was in perpetual requisition during the revels of Christmas. In "The Antiquarian Repertory, vol. i. p. 217," relates Mr. Douce," there is an account accompanied with an engraving, of an oaken chimney-piece in a very old house at Berlen, near Snodland in Kent, on which is carved a wassail-bowl resting on the braches of an apple-tree, alluding, probably, to part of the materials of which the liquor was composed. On one side is the word was heil, and on the other drincheile. This is certainly," he adds, " a very great curiosity of its kind, and at least as old as the fourteenth century. Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, in his will gave to Sir John Briddlewood a silver cup called wassail: and it appears that John Duke of Bedford, the regent, by his first will bequeathed to John Barton, his maître-d'hotel, a silver cup and cover, on which was inscribed WASHAYL."
In consequence of the Wassail-bowl being peculiar to scenes of revelry and festivity, the term wassail in time became synonymous with feasting and carousing, and has been used, therefore, by many of our poets either to imply drinking and merriment, or the place where such joviality was expected to occur. Thus Shakspeare makes Hamlet say of the king" draining his draughts of Rhenish down," that he
* Galfred. Monumeth. 1. 3. c. 1. Robert of Gloucester gives us a similar account of the origin of this ceremony, and makes the same observation as to its general prevalency. The rude lines of the ancient poet have been thus beautifully paraphrased in the Antiquarian Repertory:
"Health, my Lord King,' the sweet Rowena said—
Kiss'd her hale lips, and plac'd her by his side.
That healths and kisses 'mongst the guests went round:
We still retain, and still must keep the prize."
"The ingenious remarker on this representation observes, that it is the figure of the old Wassel-Bowl, so much the delight of our hardy ancestors, who on the vigil of the New-Year never failed to assemble round the glowing hearth, with their chearful neighbours, and then in the spicy Wassel-Bowl (which testified the goodness of their hearts) drowned every former animosity, an example worthy modern imitation. Wassel was the word, Wassel every guest returned as he took the circling goblet from his friend, whilst song and civil mirth brought in the infant year." Brand's Observations, by Ellis, vol. i. p. 3. Douce's Illustrations of Shakspeare and of Ancient Manners, vol. ii. p. 209, 210.
g Acti sc. 4. Reed's edit. vol. xviii. p. 64.
and in Macbeth, the heroine of that play declares that she will convince the two chamberlains of Duncan
"With wine and wassel. '*
In Anthony and Cleopatra also, Cæsar, advising Anthony to live more temperately, tells him to leave his
And lastly, in Love's Labour's Lost, Biron, describing the character of Boyet, says, "He is wit's pedler: and retails his wares
At wakes, and wassels, meetings, markets, fairs."
Ben Jonson has given us two curious personifications of the Wassail; the first in his Forest, No. 3. whilst giving an account of a rural feast in the hall of Sir Robert Wroth; he says,
"The rout of rural folk come thronging in,
And in their cups their cares are drown'd: §
and the second in "Christmas, His Masque, as it was presented at Court 1616," where Wassall, as one of the ten children of Christmas, is represented in the following quaint manner: Like a neat Sempster, and Songster; her Page bearing a browne bowle, drest with Ribbands, and Rosemarie before her.**
Fletcher, in his Faithful Shepherdess, has given a striking description of the festivity attendant on the Wassail bowl :
"The woods, or some near town
That is a neighbour to the bordering down,
Hath drawn them thither, 'bout some lusty sport,
Or spiced Wassel-Boul, to which resort
All the young men and maids of many a cote,
Whilst the trim minstrell strikes his merry note."++
The persons thus accompanying the Wassail bowl, especially those who danced and played, were called Wassailers, an appellation which it was afterwards customary to bestow on all who indulged, at any season, in intemperate mirth. Hence Milton introduces his Lady in Comus making use of the term in the following beautiful passage:
"Methought it was the sound
Of riot and ill manag'd merriment,
Act i. sc. 7. Reed, vol. x p. 88.
Act i. sc. 4. Reed, vol. xvii. p. 49.
‡‡ Warton's Milton, 2d edit. p. 160. The Peg Tankard, a species of Wassail-Bowl introduced by the Saxons, was still in use in the days of Shakspeare. I am in possession of one, which was given to a member of my family about one hundred and fifty years ago; it is of chased silver, containing nearly two quarts, and is divided by four pegs.
This form of the wassail or wish-health bowl was introduced by Dunstan, with the view of checking the intemperance of his countrymen, which for a time it effected; but subsequently the remedy was converted into an additional stimulus to excess; "for, refining upon Dunstan's plan, each was obliged to drink precisely to a pin, whether he could sustain a quantity of liquor equal to others or not; and to that end it became a rule, that whether they exceeded, or fell short of the prescribed bumper, they were alike compelled to drink again, until they reached the next mark. In the year 1102, the priests, who had not been backward in joining and encouraging these drunken assemblies, were ordered to avoid such abominations, and wholly to discontinue the practice of " Drinking to Pegs." Some of these Peg or Pin Cups, or Bowls, and Pin or Peg Tankards, are yet to be found in the cabinets of antiquaries; and we are to trace from their
During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. the celebration of Twelfth Night was, equally with Christmas-Day, a festival through the land, and was observed with great ostentation and ceremony in both the Universities, at Court, at the Temple, and at Lincoln's and Gray's-Inn. Many of the Masques of Ben Jonson were written for the amusement of the royal family on this night, and Dugdale in his "Origines Judiciales," has given us a long and particular account of the revelry at the Temple on each of the twelve days of Christmas, in the year 1562, It appears from this document that the hospitable rites of St. Stephen's Day, St. John's Day, and Twelfth Day, were ordered to be exactly alike, and as many of them are, in their nature, perfectly rural, and were, there is every reason to suppose, observed, to a certain extent, in the halls of the country-gentry and substantial yeomanry, a short record here, of those that fall under this description, cannot be deemed inapposite.
The breakfast on Twelfth Day is directed to be of brawn, mustard, and malmsey; the dinner of two courses, to be served in the hall, and after the first course "cometh in the Master of the Game, apparelled in green velvet: and the Ranger of the Forest also, in a green suit of satten; bearing in his hand a green bow and divers arrows, with either of them a hunting horn about their necks: blowing together three blasts of venery, they pace round about the fire three times. Then the Master of the Game maketh three curtesies, kneels down, and petitions to be admitted into the service of the Lord of the Feast.
"This ceremony performed, a hunstman cometh into the hall, with a fox and a purse-net; with a cat, both bound at the end of a staff; and with them nine or ten couple of hounds, with the blowing of hunting-borns. And the fox and cat are by the hounds set upon, and killed beneath the fire. This sport finished, the Marshal (an officer so called, who with many others under different appellations, were created for the purpose of conducting the revels) placeth them in their several appointed places."
After the second course, the "antientest of the Masters of the Revels singeth a song, with the assistance of others there present;" and after some repose and revels, supper, consisting of two courses, is then served in the hall, and being ended, "the Marshall presenteth himself with drums afore him, mounted upon a scaffold, borne by four men; and goeth three times round about the harthe, crying out, aloud, A Lord, a Lord,' etc., then he descendeth, and goeth to dance."
"This done, the Lord of Misrule (an officer whose functions will be afterwards noticed) addresseth himself to the Banquet; which ended with some minstralsye, mirth and dancing, every man departeth to rest.'
Herrick, who was the contemporary of Shakspeare for the first twenty-five years of his life, that is, from the year 1591 to 1616, has given us the following curious and pleasing account of the ceremonies of Twelfth Night, as we may suppose them to have been observed in almost every private family:
use some common terms yet current among us. When a person is much elated, we say he is "In a merry Pin," which no doubt originally meant, he had reached that mark which had deprived him of his usual sedateness and sobriety: we talk of taking a man " A Peg lower," when we imply we shall check him in any forwardness; a saying which originated from a regulation that deprived all those of their turn of drinking, or of their Peg, who had become troublesome in their liquor: from the like rule of society came also the expression of "He is a Peg too low." i. e. has been restrained too far, when we say that a person is not in equal spirits with his company; while we also remark of an individual, that he is getting on "Peg by Peg." or, in other words, he is taking greater freedoms than he ought to do, which formerly meant, he was either drinking out of his turn, or, contrary to express regulation, did not confine himself to his proper portion, or peg, but drank into the next, thereby taking a double quantity." Brady's Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. p. 322, 323 1st edit.
Nichols's Progresses of Elizabeth, vol. i. Entertainments at the Temple, &c. p. 22, 24,
The Twelfth Day was the usual termination of the festivities of Christmas with the higher ranks; but with the vulgar they were frequently prolonged until Candlemas, to which period it was thought a point of much importance to retain a portion of their Christmas cheer.
It should not be forgotten here, that Shakspeare has given the appellation of Twelfth Night to one of his best and most finished plays. No reason for this choice is discoverable in the drama itself, and from its adjunctive title of What You Will, it is probable, that the name was meant to be no otherwise appropriate than as designating an evening on which dramatic mirth and recreation were, by custom, peculiarly expected and always acceptable. *
It appears from a passage from Warner's Albion's England, that between Twelfth Day and Plough-Monday, a period was customarily fixed upon for the celebration of games in honour of the Distaff, and which was termed Rock-Day.† The notice in question is to be found in the lamentations of the Northerne-man over the decline of festivity, where he exclaims,
"Rock and plow-mondaies, gams sal gang,
With saint-feasts and kirk sights."
That this festival was observed not only during the immediate days of Warner and Shakspeare, but for some time afterwards, we learn from a little poem by Robert Herrick, which was probably written between the years 1630 and 1640. Herrick was born in 1591, and published his collection of poems, entitled Hes
The only rite that still lingers among us on the Twelfth Day, is the election of a King and Queen, a ceremony which is now usually performed by drawing tickets, and of which Mr Brand, in his commentary on Bourne's Antiquities of the Common People, has extracted the subsequent detail from the Universal Magazine of 1774:-"I went to a friend's house in the country to partake of some of those innocent pleasures that constitute a merry Christmas; I did not return till I had been present at drawing King and Queen, and eaten a Slice of the Twelfth Cake, made by the fair hands of my good Friend's Consort. After Tea yesterday, a noble Cake was produced, and two Bowls, containing the fortunate chances for the different sexes. Our Host filled up the tickets; the whole company, except the King and Queen, were to be Ministers of State, Maids of Honour, or Ladies of the Bed-chamber.
Our kind Host and Hostess, whether by design or accident, became King and Queen. According to Twelfth-Day Law, each party is to support their character till Midnight. After supper one called for a King's Speech, &c" Observations on Popular Antiquities, edit. of 1810, p. 228.
+ Dr. Johnson's definition of the word Rock in the sense of the text, is as follows:
(rock, Danish; rocca, Italian; rucca, Spanish; spinrock, Dutch) A distaff held in the hand, from which the wool was spun by twirling a ball below." I shall add one of his illustrations:
"A learned and a manly soul
I purpos'd her; that should with even powers,
Chalmers's Poets, vol. iv. p. 564. Albion's England, chap. 24.
perides, in 1648. He gives us in his title the additional information that Rock, or Saint Distaff's Day, was the morrow after Twelfth Day; and he advises that it should terminate the sports of Christmas.
"SAINT DISTAFF'S OR THE MORROW AFTER TWELFTH-DAY.
The first Monday after Twelth Day used to be celebrated by the ploughmen as a Holiday, being the season at which the labours of the plough commenced, and hence the day has been denominated Plough-Monday. Tusser, in his poem on husbandry, after observing that the "old guise must be kept," recommends the ploughmen on this day to the hospitality of the good huswife:
"Good huswives, whom God hath enriched ynough,
for comfort with labour, is fit to be had."
He then adds,
"Plough-Munday, next after that Twelftide is past,
bids out with the plough, the worst husband is last :
These lines allude to a custom prevalent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and which Mr. Hilman, in a note on the passage, has thus explained : "After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work), every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task-men. PloughMonday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning the men and maid-servants strive who shall shew their diligence in rising earliest; if the ploughman can get his whip, his ploughstaff, hatchet, or any thing that he wants in the field, by the fire-side, before the maid hath got her kettle on, then the maide loseth her Shrovetide cock, and it wholly belongs to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth, as well as labour. On this Plough-Monday they have a good supper and some strong drink, that they might not go immediately out of one extreme into another."+
In the northern and north-western parts of England, the entire day was usually consumed in parading the streets, and the night was devoted to festivity. The ploughmen, apparently habited only in their shirts, but in fact with flannel jackets underneath, to keep out the cold, and these shirts decorated with roseknots of various coloured riband, went about collecting what they called "ploughmoney for drink." They were accompanied by a plough, which they dragged along, and by music, and not unfrequently two of the party were dressed to personate an old woman, whom they called Bessy, and a Fool, the latter of these characters being covered with skins, with a hairy cap on his head, and the tail of some animal pendent from his back. On one of these antics was devolved the office of collecting money from the spectators by rattling a box, into which their
Hesperides, p. 374.
Tusser Redivivus, p. 79, 80.