« PreviousContinue »
a veil ?
comes, under a state-canopy of cake, and wearing yet his ancient crown. The lady whom we see advancing in the distance, we take to be St. DISTAFF. She used to be a sad romp; but her merriest days, we fear, are over—for she is looking very like an old maid. Not far behind her, we fancy we can hear the clear voice of CAROLL singing, as he comes along, and, if our ears do not deceive us, the Waits are coming up in another direction. The children are dropping in, on all sides.
But what is he that looks down from yonder pedestal, in the back-ground, upon the merry muster, with a double face ?-and why, while the holly and the misletoe mingle with the white tresses that hang over the brow of the one, is the other hidden by
The face on which we gaze is the face of an old man, and a not uncheerful old man ;-a face marked by many a scar, -by the channels of tears that have been dried up, and the deep traces of sorrows passed away. Yet does it look placidly down, from beneath its crown of evergreens, on the joyous crew who are assembled, at the voice of Christmas. But what aspect hath that other face, which no man can see ?—Why doth our flesh creep, and the blood curdle in our veins, as we gaze
? What awful mystery doth that dark curtain hide ? What may be written on that covered brow,—that the old man dare not lift the veil, and show it to those laughing children? Much-much-much that might spoil the revels. Much that man might not know, and yet bear to abide. That twin-face is Janus—he who shuts the gates upon the old year, and opens those of the new-he who looks into the past and into the future, and catches the reflections of both, and has the tales of each written on his respective brows. For the past, it is known and has been suffered ;-and even at a sea. son like this, we can pause to retrace the story of its joys and of its sorrows, as they are graven on that open forehead; and from that retrospect, glancing to the future for hope, can still turn to the present for enjoyment. But, oh! that veil, and its solemn enigmas !-On that other brow may be written some secret, which, putting out the light of hope, should add the darkness of the future to the darkness of the past ; until, amid the gloom behind, the festal lamps of the season, looked on by eyes dim with our
own tears, should show as sad as tapers lighted up in the chamber of the dead. God, in mercy, keep down that veil !
“Such foresight who, on earth, would crave,
Where knowledge is not power to save ?"
It will be our business to introduce to our readers each of the children of old Christmas, as they come up, in obedience to the summons of their father ;-reserving to ourselves the right of settling the order of their precedence and we will endeavor to give some account of the part which each played of old, in the revelries of the season peculiarly their own,—and of the sad changes which time has made, in the natural constitutions or animal spirits of some of them. Preparatory, however, to this, we must endeavor to give a rapid glance at the causes which contributed to the decay of a festival so ancient and universal and uproarious as that which we have described ; and brought into the old man's family that disease to which some of them have already fallen victims, and which threatens others with an untimely extinction.
We have already shown that, so early as the reign of Elizabeth, the puritans had begun to lift up their testimony against the pageantries of the Christmas-tide; and the Lord of Misrule, even in that day of his potential ascendency, was described as little better than the great Enemy of Souls himself. Our friend Stubs (whose denunciations were directed against all amusements which, from long usage and established repetition, had assumed anything like a form of ceremonial,--and who is quite as angry with those who “goe some to the woodes and groves, and some to the hilles and mountaines ..... where they spende all the night in pastymes, and in the mornyng they return, bringing with them birch bowes and braunches of trees, to deck their assemblies withall,” in the sweet month of May, as he could possibly be with the Christmas revellers, although the very language in which he is obliged to state the charge against the former was enough to tempt people out “a Maying,” and might almost have converted himself) assures the reader of his “ Anatomie,” that all who contribute “ to the maintenaunce of these execrable pastymes” do neither more nor less than “ offer sacrifice to the devill and Satha
nas.” It is probable, however, that the people of those days, who were a right-loyal people, and freely acknowledged the claim of their sovereign to an absolute disposition of all their temporalities (any of the common or statute laws of the land notwithstanding), considered it a part of their loyalty to be damned in company with their sovereigns too; and resolved, that so long as these iniquities obtained the royal patronage, it was of their allegiance to place themselves in the same category of responsibility. Or perhaps their notion of regal prerogative,-which extended so far as to admit its right to mould the national law at its good pleasure,might go to the further length of ascribing to it a controlling power over the moral statutes of right and wrong,—and of pleading its sanction against the menaces of Master Stubs. Or it may
be that Master Stubs had failed to convince them that they were wrong, even without an appeal to the royal dispensation. Certain it is, that in spite of all that Master Stubs and his brethren could say, the sway of the Lord of Misrule, and the revels of his court, continued to flourish with increasing splendor, during this reign; and, as we have seen, lost no portion of their magnificence, during the two next, although in that time had arisen the great champion of the Puritans, Prynne,-and against them and their practices, have been directed whole volumes of vituperation, and denounced large vials of wrath.
In Scotland, however, where the reformation took a sterner tone than in the southern kingdom,—and where, as we have said, the irregularities committed under cover of the Christmas and other ceremonials, laid them more justly open to its censure, the effect of this outcry was earlier and far more sensibly felt; and even so early as the reign of Queen Mary, an act passed the Scottish parliament, whereby the Abbot of Unreason and all his "merrie disports” were suppressed.
In England, it is true that, according to Sandys, an order of the common council had issued as early as the beginning of our Mary's reign, prohibiting the Lord Mayor or Sheriffs from entertaining a Lord of Misrule in any of their houses ; but this appears to have been merely on financial grounds, with a view of reducing the corporation expenditure,-and to have extended no further.
It was not, however, until after the breaking out of the civil war, that the persecution of the puritans (who had long and zeal. ously labored, not only to resolve the various ceremonials of the season into their pagan elements, but even to prove that the celebration of the Nativity at all was, in itself, idolatrous) succeeded, to any extent, in producing that result, which the war itself, and the consequent disorganization of society, must, in a great measure, have effected, even without the aid of a fanatical outcry. In the
year of that armed struggle, the earliest successful blow was struck against the festivities with which it had been usual to celebrate this period of the year, in certain ordinances which were issued for suppressing the performance of plays, and other diversions; and in the following year, some of the shops in London were, for the first time, opened on Christmas day, in obedience to the feelings which connected any observance of it with the spirit of popery. By the year 1647, the puritans had so far prevailed, that, in various places, the parish-officers were subjected to penalties for encouraging the decking of churches, and permitting divine service to be performed therein, on Christmas morning ;—and, in the same year, the observance of the festival itself, with that of other holidays, was formally abolished by the two branches of the legislature.
It was found impossible, however, by all these united means, to eradicate the Christmas spirit from the land; and many of its customs and festivities continued to be observed, not only in obscure places, but even in towns, in spite of prohibition, and in spite of the disarrangement of social ties. The contest between the puritan spirit and the ancient spirit of celebration, led to many contests: and we have an account, in a little book, of which we have seen a copy in the British Museum (entitled “Canterbury Christmas; or a True Relation of the Insurrection in Canterbury”), of the disturbances which ensued in that city upon the Mayor's proclamation, issued in consequence of that parliamentary prohibition, at the Christmas which followed. This said proclamation, it appears, which was made by the city crier, was to the effect “ that Christmas-day, and all other superstitious festivals, should be put downe, and that a market should be kept upon Christmasday.” This order, it goes on to state, was very ill taken by the country,"—the people of which neglected to bring their pro
visions into the town, and gave other tokens of their displeasure of a less negative kind. For a few of the shopkeepers in the city,“ to the number of twelve, at the most,” having ventured to open their shops, in defiance of the general feeling, “they were commanded by the multitude to shut up again, but refusing to obey, their ware was thrown up and down, and they at last forced to shut in."
Nor were the revilings of the puritans against the lovers of Christmas observances suffered to remain unanswered. Many a squib was directed against the Roundheads; and the popular regret for the suppression of their high festival was skilfully appealed to by royalist politicians and favorers of the ancient religion. The connexion between the new condition of things in church and state, and the extinction of all the merriment of the land was carefully suggested, in publications that stole out in spite of penalties, and were read in defiance of prohibitions. example, that curious little tract, from which we have more than once quoted, under the title of “ An Hue and Cry after Christmas," bears the date of 1645; and we shall best give our readers an idea of its character, by setting out that title at length,-as the same exhibits a tolerable abstract of its contents. It runs thus:
“ The arraignment, conviction, and imprisoning of Christmas, on St. Thomas day last, and how he broke out of prison in the holidayes, and got away, onely left his hoary hair and gray beard, sticking between two iron bars of a window. With an Hue and Cry after Christmas, and a letter from Mr. Woodcock, a fellow in Oxford, to a malignant lady in London. And divers passages between the lady and the cryer, about Old Christmas: and what shift he was fain to make to save his life, and great stir to fetch him back again. Printed by Simon Minc'd Pye, for Cissely Plum-Porridge ; and are to be sold by Ralph Fidler Chandler, at the signe of the Pack of Cards, in Mustard Alley, in Brawn Street.” Besides the allusions contained, in the latter part of this title, to some of the good things that follow in the old man's train, great pains are taken by the cryer in describing him, and by the lady in mourning for him, to allude to many of the cheerful attri. butes that made him dear to the people. His great antiquity and portly appearance are likewise insisted upon. “ For age this