« PreviousContinue »
Carols of this kind, indeed, were, during the sixteenth century, sung at Christmas, through every town and village in the kingdom; and Tusser, in his "Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie," introduces one for this season, which he orders to be sung to the tune of King Salomon.
The chief object of the common people in chaunting these nightly carols, from house to house, was to obtain money or Christmas-Boxes, a term derived from the usage of the Romish priests, who ordered masses at this time to be made to the Saints, in order to atone for the excesses of the people, during the festival of the Nativity, and as these masses were always purchased of the priest, the poor were allowed to gather money in this way with the view of liberating themselves from the consequence of the debaucheries of which they were enabled to partake, through the hospitality of the rich.
The convivial or jolie carols were those which were sung either by the company, or by itinerant minstrels, during the revelry that daily took place, in the houses of the wealthy, from Christmas-Eve to Twelfth Day. They were also frequently called Wassel Songs, and may be traced back to the Anglo-Norman period. Mr. Douce, in his very interesting "Illustrations of Shakspeare and of Ancient Manners," has given us a Christmas-carol of the thirteenth or fourteenth century written in the Norman language, and which may be regarded, says he, "as the most ancient drinking song, composed in England, that is extant. This singular curiosity," he adds, "has been written on a spare leaf in the middle of a valuable miscellaneous manuscript of the fourteenth century, preserved in the British Museum, Bibl. Regal. 16, E. 8." To the original he has annexed a translation, admirable for its fidelity and harmony, and we are tempted to insert three stanzas as illustrative of manners and diet which still continued fashionable in the days of Shakspeare. We shall prefix the first stanza of the original, as a specimen of the language, with the observation, that from the word Noel, which occurs in it, Blount has derived the terms Ule or Yule; the French Nouel or Christmas, he observes, the Normans corrupted to Nuel, and from Nuel, we had Nule, or Ule.‡
Manchet loaves, wassel-bread, and the stately pye, that is, a peacock or pheasant pye, were still common in the days of Shakspeare. During the prevalence of chivalry, it was usual for the knights to take their vows of enterprise, at a solemn feast, on the presentation to each knight, in turn, of a roasted peacock in a golden dish. For this was afterwards substituted, though only in a culinary light, and as the most magnificent dish which could be brought to table, a peacock in a pie, preserving as much as possible the form of the bird, with the head elevated above the crust, the beak richly gilt, and the beautiful tail spread out to its full
+ Douce's Illustrations, vol, ii. p. 214.
Chap. xxx. fol. 57. edit. 1586. Vide Blount's Ancient Tenure of Land, and Jocular Customs of some Manors. Beckwith's edit. 8vo. 1784. § Douce's Illustrations, vol. ii. p. 215–217. 219.
extent. 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 his 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 instru
"Caput Apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.
The bores head in hande bringe I,
The bores head, I understande,
Servite cum cantico.
Be gladde lordes, both more and lasse,
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 :
* Act v. sc. 1.
"Get ivye and hull, woman deck up thyne house:
and take this same brawne, for to seeth and to souse.
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 modern 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:
"Enter CHRISTMAS with two or three of the Guard.
'He is attir'd in round hose, long stockings, a close doublet, a high crownd hat with a broach, a long thin beard, a truncheon, little ruffes, white shoes, his scarffes and garters tyed crosse, and his drum beaten before him.—
"The names of his CHILDREN, with their attyres.
“Mis-rule. In a velvet cap with a sprig, a short cloake, great yellow russe like a reveller, his torch-bearer bearing a rope, a cheese and a basket.
A long tawny coat, with 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 wife, drest neat; her man carrying a pie, dish, and spoones.
"Gamboll. Like a tumbler, with a hoope and bells; his 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-Gift. In a blew coat, serving-man like, with an orange, and a sprig of rosemarie guilt on his head, his hat full of broaches, with a coller of gingerbread, his torch-bearer carrying a march-paine, with a bottle of wine on either arme.
"Mumming. In a masquing pied suite, with a visor, his torch-bearer carrying the boxe, and ringing it.
"Wassall. Like a neat sempster, and songster; her page bearing a browne bowle, drest with ribbands, and rosemarie before her.
Offering. In a short gowne, with a porter's staffe 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 usher 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-Gift 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 Master of merry Desports, and the like had yee in the house of
A hundreth good poyntes of husbandry, 1557. p.
every nobleman of honour, or good worship, were he spiritual! 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."
In short, the directions which are to be found for a grand Christmas in the capital, were copied with equal 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 the butler, appointed for the Christmas, is to see the tables covered and furnished: and the ordinary butlers 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 platter, with minstralsyc.
"Two servants' are to attend at supper, and to bear two fair torches of wax, next before the musicians and trumpeters, and stand above the fire with the music, till the first course be served in through the hall. Which performed, they, with the music, are to return into the buttery. 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 decently 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;" 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
With buck some meat and cap'ring wine,
*Stowe's Survey of London, p. 149, edit. 1618.
Till Liber Pater** twirles the house
"Then" to the bagpipe all addresse,
Nichols's Progresses and Processions of Queen Elizabeth, vol. i. p. 20, 21. Anno 1562.
Hesperides, p. 145.
Liber Pater, Pacchus.
§ Provincial Glossary, Preface, p. 8. 8vo. 1787.
+ Hesperides, p. 146. The following passages place in a strong and interesting point of view, the hos pitality of our ancestors during this season of the year, and will add not a little to the impression derived from the text.
"Heretofore, noblemen and gentlemen of fair estates had their heralds 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 Loaf-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
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
On Christmas eve the bells were rung ;-
Then opened wide the baron's hall
The vulgar game of "post and pair.”
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar's-head frowned on high,
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
It was a hearty note and strong.
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
The poor man's heart through half the year.”*
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, nutmegg, and good Cheshire cheese. The Hackin (the great sausage) must be boiled by day-break, or else two young men must take the maiden (¿. 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 the 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."— The 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 preclaim, 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,
Clavis Calendaria, vol. ii. p. 319