Page images


speak, in some future volume, of the beautiful customs of that out-of-doors season).

From what we have stated, it appears probable, that the officer who was appointed to preside over the revels so universally observed at Christmas time, extended, as a matter of course, his presidency over all those which either arising out of them, or unconnected therewith,—were performed at more advanced periods of the succeeding year ;-that, in fact, the Christmas prince was, without new election, considered as special master of the revels, till the recurrence of the season. It is not necessary for us to suppose that the whole of the intervals lying between such stated and remote days of celebration were filled up with festival observances; or that our ancestors, under any calenture of the spirits, could aim at extending Christmas over the larger portion of the year. It is, however, apparent that, although the common observances of the season were supposed to fall within the period bounded by the days of the Nativity and the Epiphany, the special pageantries, with a view to which the Lords of Misrule were appointed, in the more exalted quarters, were, in years of high festival, spread over a much more extended time ;-—and that their potential dignities were in full force, if not in full display, from the eve of All-hallows to the close of Candlemas day. It is stated in Drake's “ Shakspeare and his Times,” that the festivi. ties of the season, which were appointed for at least twelve days, were frequently extended over a space of six weeks and our readers know, from their own experience, that even in these our days of less prominent and ceremonial rejoicing, the holidayspirit of the season is by no means to be restrained within the narrower of those limits. The Christmas feeling waits not for Christmas day. The important preparations for so great a festival render this impossible. By the avenues of most of the senses the heralds of old Father Christmas have, long before, approached, to awake it from its slumber. Signal notes, which there is no mistaking, have been played on the visual and olfactory organs, for some time past; and the palate itself has had foretastes of that which is about to be. From the day on which his sign has been seen in the heavens, the joyous influences of the star have been felt; and the moment the school-boy arrives at his home, he

[ocr errors]

is in the midst of Christmas. And if the “coming events” of the season “ cast their shadows before,” so, amid all its cross lights, it would be strange if there were no reflections flung be. hind. The merry spirit which has been awakened, and suffered to play his antics so long, is not to be laid by the exorcism of a word. After so very absolute and unquestioned a sway, it is not to be expected that Momus should abdicate at a moment's notice. Accordingly, we find that, anything enacted to the contrary not. withstanding, the genial feelings of the time, and the festivities springing out of them, contrive to maintain their footing throughout the month of January and Christmas keeps lingering about our homes, till he is no longer answered by the young, glad voices to whom he has not, as yet, begun to utter his solemn warnings, and expound his sterner morals,--and for whom his coming is, hith. erto, connected with few memories of pain. Till the merry urchins have


back to school, there will continue to be willing subjects to the Lord of Misrule.

In Scotland, the Abbot of Unreason was frequently enacted by persons of the highest rank; and James V. is himself said to have concealed his crown beneath the mitre of the merry Abbot. As in England, his revels were shared by the mightiest of the land; but they appear to have been of a less inoffensive kind, and to have imitated more unrestrainedly the license of the Roman Saturnalia, than did the merry-makings of the South. The mummeries of these personages (a faint reflection of which still exists in the Guisars whom we shall have to mention hereafter), if less costly than those of their brethren in England, were not less showy; and though much less quaint, were a great deal more

r free. “ The body-guards of the Abbot of Unreason were all arrayed in gaudy colors, bedecked with gold or silver lace, with embroidery and silken scarves, the fringed ends of which floated in the wind. They wore chains of gold, or baser metal gilt, and glittering with mock jewels. Their legs were adorned, and rendered voluble by links of shining metal, hung with many bells of the same material, twining from the ancle of their buskins to their silken garters; and each flourished in his hand a rich silk handkerchief, brocaded over with flowers. This was the garb of fifty or more youths, who encircled the person of the leader. They


[ocr errors]

were surrounded by ranks, six or more in depth, consisting of tall, brawny, fierce-visaged men, covered with crimson or purple velvet bonnets, and nodding plumes of the eagle and the hawk, or branches of pine, yew, oak, fern, box-wood, or flowering heath. Their jerkins were always of a hue that might attract the eye of ladies in the bower, or serving-damsels at the washing-green. They had breeches of immense capacity, so padded or stuffed as to make each man occupy the space of five, in their natural proportions ; and in this seeming soft raiment they concealed weapons of defence or offence, with which to arm themselves and the body. guard, if occasion called for resistance. To appearance, they had no object but careless sport and glee, some playing on the Scottish harp, others blowing the bagpipes, or beating targets for drums, or jingling bells. Whenever the procession halted, they danced, flourishing about the banners of their leader. The exterior bands, perhaps, represented in dumb show, or pantomime, the actions of warriors, or the wildest buffoonery; and these were followed by crowds, who, with all the grimaces and phrases of waggery, solicited money or garniture from the nobles and gentry that came to gaze upon them. Wherever they appeared multitudes joined them ; some for the sake of jollity, and not a few to have their fate predicted by spae-wives, warlocks, and interpreters of dreams, who invariably were found in the train of the Abbot of Unreason."

In England, not only were these merry monarchs appointed over the revelries of the great and the opulent, but--as of most of the forms of amusement over which he presided,

-So of the president himself, we find a rude imitation, in the Christmas celebrations of the commonalty. Nor was the practice confined to towns; or left exclusively in the hands of corporate or public bodies. The quotation which we have already made from Stubs's “ Anatomie of Abuses,” refers to a rustic Lord of Misrule : and, while the antics which took place, under his governance, do not seem to have risen much above the performances of the morris. dancers, the gaudiness of the tinsel attire paraded by him and his band, forms an excellent burlesque of the more costly finery of their superiors. Nay the amusements, themselves, exhibit nearly as inuch wisdom as those of the court, with less of pretension ;


and, we dare say, created a great deal more fun at a far less cost. As to the Scottish practices, our readers will not fail to observe, from our last quotation, that the lordly Abbot and his train were little better than a set of morris-dancers themselves; and that so much of their practices as was innocent differed nothing from those which Stubs and his brother puritans deemed so ridiculous in a set of parish revellers. In fact, the Lord of Misrule seems to have set himself up all over the land ; and many a village had

l its Master Simon, who took care that the sports should not languish for want of that unity of purpose and concentration of mirth, to which some directing authority is so essentia!.

We have already stated,—and have made it quite apparent, in our descriptions,—that the Christmas celebrations of the more exalted classes are not put forward for the consideration of our readers, on the ground of any great wisdom in the matter, or humor in the manner, of those celebrations, themselves. But we claim for them serious veneration, in right of the excellence of the spirit in which they originated, and the excellence of the result which they produced. The very extravagance of the court pageantries,—their profuse expenditure, and grotesque displays,-were so many evidences of the hearty reception which was given to the season, in the highest places and so many conspicuous sanctions, under which the spirit of unrestrained rejoicing made its appeals, in the lowest. This ancient festival of all ranks, consecrated by all religious feelings and all moral influences this privileged season of the lowly—this sabbath of the poor man's year-was recognized, by his superiors, with high observance, and honored by his governors with ceremonious state. The mirth of the humble and uneducated man received no check, from the assumption of an unseasonable gravity, or ungenerous reserve, on the part of those with whom fortune had dealt more kindly, and to whom knowledge had opened her stores. The moral effect of all this was of the most valuable kind. Nothing so much promotes a reciprocal kindliness of feeling as a community of enjoy. ment:—and the bond of good will was thus drawn tighter between those remote classes, whose differences of privilege, of education, and of pursuit, are perpetuaily operating to loosen it, and threatening to dissolve it altogether. There was a great deal of wis

[ocr errors]


dom in all this; and the result was well worth producing, even at the cost of much more folly than our ancestors expended on it. We deny that spectacles and a wig are the inseparable symbols of sapience and we hold that portion of the world to be greatly mistaken which supposes that wisdom may not occasionally put on the cap and bells,--and, under that disguise, be wisdom still! The ancient custom which made what was called a fool, a part of the establishment of princes, and gave him a right, in virtue of his bauble, to teach many a wise lesson and utter many a wholesome truth, besides its practical utility, contained as excel. lent a moral, and was conceived in as deep a spirit, as the still more ancient one of the skeleton at a feast. “ Cucullus non facit monachum," says one of those privileged gentry,-in the pages of one who, we are sure, could have enacted a Christmas foolery, with the most foolish; and yet had “sounded all the depths and

1; shallows” of the human mind, and was himself the wisest of modern men.—“ Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.” There is a long stride from the wisdom of that sneering philosopher who laughed at his fellows, to his who, on proper occasions, can laugh with them and, in spite of all that modern philosophy may say to the contrary, there was, in the very extravagance of Coke and Hatton, and other lawyers and statesmen of past times,-if they aimed at such a result as that which we have mentioned, and in so far as they contributed thereto,-more real wisdom than all which they enunciated in their more solemn moods, or have put upon record in their books of the law.

In the same excellent spirit, too, everything was done that could assist in promoting the same valuable effect: and, while the pageantries which were prepared by the court, and by other governing bodies, furnished a portion of the entertainments by which the populace tasted the season in towns, and sanctioned the rest :-care was taken, in many ways, that the festival should be spread over the country, and provision made for its maintenance in places more secluded and remote. A set of arrangements sprang up, which left no man without their influence; and, figuratively and literally, the crumbs from the table of the rich man's festival were abundantly enjoyed by the veriest beggar at his gate. The kindly spirit of Boaz was

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »