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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 im
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 and llys brinnyng, and wold wake and comme with Light toward the chirche in their devocions, aud 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 circumstance the Festivity itself has obtained the name of Rushbearing, which occurs for a Country-Wake in a Glossary to the Lancashire dialect " Brand ap. Ellis, vol. i. p. 436.
Guise," has not forgotten this season of merriment; on the contrary, he seems to welcome its return with much cordiality :
"Fil oven ful of flawnes, Ginnie passe not for sleepe,
both Tomkin and Tomlin, and Jankin with Gil." *
Mr. Hilman, in his edition of Tusser, has made the following observations on this passage. Waking in the church," says he, " was left off because of some abuses, and we see here it was converted to wakeing at the oven. The other continued down to our author's days, and in a great many places continues still to be observed with all sorts of rural merriments; such as dancing, wrestling, cudgelplaying, etc." Bourne observes, that the feasting and sporting, on this occasion, usually lasted for two or three days; † and Bishop Hall gives an impressive idea of the revelry and glee which distinguished these rural assemblages, when he exclaims, "What should I speak of our merry Wakes, and May games-in all which put together, you may well say, no Greek can be merrier than they. ‡ Indeed from one end of the kingdom to the other, from north to south, it would appear, that, among the country-villages, during the reigns of Elizabeth and her two immediate successors, Wakes formed one of the principal amusements of the peasantry, and were anticipated with much eagerness and expectation. In confirmation of this we need only remark that Drayton, speaking of Lancashire, declares, that
"every village smokes at wakes with lusty cheer;" §
and that Herrick, in Devonshire, has written a very curious little poem, "The Wake," which, as strikingly descriptive of the various business of this festivity, claims here an introduction:
"Come Anthea, let us two
Go to feast, as others do.
Tarts and custards, creams and cakes,
Players there will be, and those
Yet with strutting they will please
Neer the dying of the day,
Than to want the Wake next yeare." **
Of the pedlars or hawkers who, in general, formed a constituent part of these village-wakes, an accurate idea may be drawn from the character of the pedlar Autolycus, in the Winter's Tale of Shakspeare, who is delineated with the poet's customary strength of pencil, rich humour, and fidelity to nature. The wares in which he dealt are curiously enumerated in the following passages :
"Serv. He hath songs, for men, or women, of all sizes; no milliner can so fit his customers with gloves he has the prettiest love-songs for maids; he hath ribands of all the colours i' the rainbow; points more than all the lawyers in Bohemia can learnedly handle, though they come to him by the gross; inkles, caddisses, cambricks, lawns why, he sings them over, as they were gods or goddesses: you would think, a smock were a she-angel; he so chants to the sleeve-hand, and the work about the square on't. Act. iv. sc. 3.
"Enter Autolycus, singing. "Lawn, as white as driven snow; Cyprus, black as e'er was crow;
Hilman's Tusser, p. 81.
Bourne's Antiquit. Vulg. p. 330.
Hesperides, p. 300, 301.
Triumph of Pleasure, p.
Chalmers's Poets, vol. iv. p. 378. Poly-Olbion, Song xxvii.
In Shakspeare's time the business of the milliner was transacted by meu.
#Caddisses,-a kind of narrow worsted galloon.
At the close of the feast Autolycus is represented as re-entering, and declaring "Ha, ha! what a fool honesty is! and trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman! I have sold all my trumpery; not a counterfeit stone, not a riband, glass, pomander *, brooch, table-book, ballad, knife, tape, glove, shoe-tye, bracelet, horn-ring, to keep my pack from fasting: they throng who should buy first; as if my trinkets had been hallowed, and brought a benediction to the buyer."+ In the North, the Village-Wake is still kept up, under the title of The Hopping, a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon, and thus applied, because dancing was the favourite amusement of these meetings. The reign of Elizabeth, indeed, was marked by a peculiar propensity to this exercise, and neither wake nor feast could be properly celebrated without the country lads and lasses footing it on the green or yard, or in bad weather, in the Manor-hall.
In an old play, entitled "A Woman Killed With Kindness," the production of Thomas Heywood, and acted in 1604, is to be found a very humorous description of one of these Hoppings, and particularly curious, as it enumerates the names of the dances then in vogue among these rustic performers. The poet, after remarking that now
"the mad lads
And country lasses, every mother's child,
With nosegays and bride laces in their hats,
thus introduces his couples:
"Jenkin. Come, Nick, take you Joan Miniver to trace withal; Jack Slime, traverse you with Sisly Milk-pail; I will take Jane Trubkin, and Roger Brickbat shall have Isabel Motley; and now strike up; we'll have a crash here in the yard.
Jack Slime. Foot it quickly; if the music overcome not my melancholy, I shall quarrel; and if they do not suddenly strike up, I shall presently strike them down.
Jen. No quarrelling, for God's sake: truly, if you do, I shall set a knave between ye.
Jen. Rogero! no; we will dance 'The beginning of the World.'
Sisly. I love no dance so well, as John, come kiss me now.'
Nicholas. I have ere now deserved a cushion; call for the Cushion-dance.
R. Brick. For my part, I like nothing so well as 'Tom Tyler.'
Jen. No; we'll have 'The hunting of the Fox.'
Jack Slime. 'The Hay! the Hay!' there's nothing like 'The Hay.'
Nich. I have said, do say, and will say again.
Jen. Every man agree to have it as Nick says.
Jen. So, the dance will come cleanly off: come, for God's sake, agree of something; if you like not that, put it to the musicians; or let me speak for all, and we'll have 'Sellenger's Round.' All. That, that, that!
Nich. No, I am resolved, thus it shall be. First take hands, then take ye to your heels.
Pomander,—a little ball of perfumes worn either in the pocket or about the neck.
Act. iv. sc. iii.
Jen. Why, would you have us run away?
Nich. No; but I would have you shake your heels. Music, strike up.
The Fair or greater wake was usually held, as hath been observed, in a central situation, and its period and duration were, as at present, proclaimed by law. It was a scene of extensive business as well as of pleasure; for before provincial cities had attained either wealth or consequence, all communication between them was difficult, and neither the necessaries nor the elegances of life could be procured but at stated times, and at fixed depôts. It was usual, therefore, to go fifty or a hundred miles to one of these fairs, in order both to purchase goods and accommodations for the ensuing year, and to dispose of the superfluous products of art or cultivation. In the reign of Henry VI. the monks of the priories of Maxtoke in Warwickshire, and of Bicester in Oxfordshire, laid in their annual stores of common necessaries at Sturbridge Fair in Cambridgeshire, at least one hundred miles distant, and notwithstanding the two cities of Oxford and Coventry were in their immediate neighbourhood. In the reign of Henry VIII., it appears, from the Household-Book of Henry Percy, fifth Earl of Northumberland, that his Lordship's family were supplied with necessaries for the whole year from fairs. "He that stands charged with my Lordes House for the houll Yeir, if he maye possible, shall be at all Faires, where the greice Emptions shall be boughte for the House, for the houll Yeir, as Wine, Wax, Beiffes, Muttons, Wheite and Malt;" + and, in the reign of Elizabeth, Tusser recommends to his farmer the same plan, both for purchase and sale :
"At Bartilmewtide, or at Sturbridge faire,
buie that as is needful, thy house to repaire:
That this custom prevailed until the commencement of the eighteenth century, and to nearly the same extent, is evident from a note on the just quoted lines of Tusser by Mr. Hilman. Sturbridge fair," says he, "stocks the country (namely, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex) with clothes, and all other houshold necessaries, and (the farmers) again, sell their butter and cheese, and whatever else remains on their hands; nay, there the shopkeepers supply themselves with divers sorts of commodities."
In the third year, indeed, of James I., Sturbridge Fair began to acquire such celebrity, that hackney coaches attended it from London; and it subsequently became so extensive that for several years not less than sixty coaches have been known to ply at this fair, then esteemed the largest in England.
Sturbridge Fair is still annually proclaimed, but now in such a state of decline, that its extinction, at least in a commercial light, cannot be far distant. To these brief notices of wakes and fairs, it may be necessary to subjoin a slight detail of the state of Country-Inns and Ale-houses during the age of Shakspeare. To "take mine ease in mine inn" is a proverbial phrase, which the poet has placed in the mouth of Falstaff, and which implies a degree of comfort which has always been the peculiar attribute of an English house of public entertainment. That it was not less felt and enjoyed in Shakspeare's time than in our own, is very apparent from the accounts which have been left us by Harrison and Fynes Moryson; the former writing towards the close of the sixteenth, and the latter at the commencement of the seventeenth century. These descriptions, which are curiously faithful and highly interesting, paint the provincial hostelries of England
Ancient British Drama, vol. ii. p. 435, 436. The third edition of “ A Woman Killed With Kindness," was printed in 4to. 1617. Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 279. note.
Establishment and Expences of the Household of Benry Percy, the fifth Earl of Northumberland, A.D. P. 407. § Hilman's Tusser, p. 110.
as in a most flourishing state, and, according to Harrison, indeed, greatly superior to those which existed in the metropolis.
"Those townes," says the historian, "that we call thorowfaires, have great and sumptuous innes builded in them, for the receiving of such travellers and strangers as passe to and fro. The manner of harbouring wherein, is not like to that of some other countries, in which the host or goodman of the house dooth chalenge a lordlie 'authorite over his ghests, but clean otherwise, sith every man may use his inne as his owne house in England, and have for his monie how great or little varietie of vittels, and what other service himselfe shall thinke expedient to call for. Our innes are also verie well furnished with naperie, bedding, and tapisserie, especiallie with naperie: for beside the linnen used at the tables, which is commonlie washed dailie, is such and so much as belongeth unto the estate and calling of the ghest. Ech commer is sure to lie in cleane sheets, wherein no man hath beene lodged since they came from the landresse, or out of the water wherein they were last washed. If the traveller have an horsse, his bed dooth cost him nothing, but if he go on foote he is sure to paie a penie for the same but whether he be horseman or footman if his chamber be once appointed he may carie the kaie with him, as of his owne house so long as he lodgeth there. If he loose oughts whilest he abideth in the inne, the host is bound by a generall custome to restore the damage, so that there is no greater securitie anie where for travellers than in the gretest ins of England." He then, after enumerating the depredations to which travellers are subject on the road, completes the picture by the following additional touches. "In all innes we have plentie of ale, biere, and sundrie kinds of wine, and such is the capacitie of some of them, that they are able to lodge two hundred or three hundred persons, and their horsses at ease, and thereto with a verie short warning make such provision for their diet, as to him that is unacquainted withall may seeme to be incredible. And it is a world to see how ech owner of them contendeth with other for goodnesse of interteinment of their ghests, as about finesse and change of linnen, furniture of bedding, beautie of rooms, service at the table, costlinesse of plate, strength of drinke, varietie of wines, or well using of horsses. Finallie there is not so much omitted among them as the gorgeousnes of their verie signes at their doores, wherein some doo consume thirtie or fortie pounds, a meere vanitie in mine opinion, but so vaine will they needs be, and that not onelie to give some outward token of the inne keeper's welth, but also to procure good ghests to the frequenting of their houses, in hope there to be well used."
"As soone as a passenger comes to an inne," remarks Moryson," the servants run to him, and one takes his horse and walkes him till he be cold, then rubs him down, and gives him meat. Another servant gives the passenger his private chamber, and kindles his fire; the third pulls off his bootes and makes them cleane; then the host or hostess visits him; and if he will eate with the hoste, or at a common table with others, his meale will cost him sixpence, or in some places but four-pence; but if he will eate in his chamber he commands what meate he will according to his appetite; yea the kitchin is open to him to order the meate to be dressed as he likes beste. After having eaten what he pleases, he may, with credit, set by a part for the next day's breakfast. His bill will then be written for him, and, should he object to any charge, the host is ready to alter it " +
Taverns and ale-houses were frequently distinguished in Shakspeare's time by a bush or tuft of ivy at their doors; a custom which more particularly prevailed in Warwickshire, and is still practised, remarks Mr. Ritson, in this county, "at statute-hirings, wakes, etc. by people who sell ale at no other time.” The poet alludes to this observance in his Epilogue to As You like It :-" If it be true," he says, "that Good wine needs no bush, 'tis true, that a good play needs no epilogue: Yet to good wine they do use good bushes." Several old plays mention the same custom, and Bishop Earle, in his "Microcosmography," tells us that A Tavern is a degree, or (if you will) a pair of stairs above an ale-house, where men are drunk with more credit and apology. If the vintner's rose be at door, it is a sign sufficient, but the absence of this is supplied by the ivy-bush. ‡
That houses of this description, the whole furniture of which, according to Earle, consisted but of a stool, a table, and a § pot de chambre, were as numerous two hundred years ago as at present, and the scene of the same disgusting and intemperate orgies, is but too apparent from the invective of Robert Burton :—
Holinshed's Chronicles, vol. i. p. 414, 415.
Edit. of 1807.
§ Earle's Microcosmography, p. 38,