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Old Christmas by Washington Irving

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This etext was prepared by Donald Lainson, charlie@idirect.com.


by Washington Irving

But is old, old, good old Christmas gone? Nothing but the hair of
his good, gray, old head and beard left? Well, I will have that,
seeing that I cannot have more of him.

Hue and Cry after Christmas.







A man might then behold
At Christmas, in each hall
Good fires to curb the cold,
And meat for great and small.
The neighbours were friendly bidden,
And all had welcome true,
The poor from the gates were not chidden,
When this old cap was new.

Old Song


There is nothing in England that exercises a more delightful spell
over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and
rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy
used to draw in the May morning of life, when as yet I only knew
the world through books, and believed it to be all that poets had
painted it; and they bring with them the flavour of those honest
days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to
think the world was more home-bred, social, and joyous than at
present. I regret to say that they are daily growing more and more
faint, being gradually worn away by time, but still more
obliterated by modern fashion. They resemble those picturesque
morsels of Gothic architecture which we see crumbling in various
parts of the country, partly dilapidated by the waste of ages, and
partly lost in the additions and alterations of latter days.
Poetry, however, clings with cherishing fondness about the rural
game and holiday revel, from which it has derived so many of its
themes,--as the ivy winds its rich foliage about the Gothic arch
and mouldering tower, gratefully repaying their support by clasping
together their tottering remains, and, as it were, embalming them
in verdure.

Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the
strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of
solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and
lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment.
The services of the church about this season are extremely tender
and inspiring. They dwell on the beautiful story of the origin of
our faith, and the pastoral scenes that accompanied its
announcement. They gradually increase in fervour and pathos during
the season of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on the
morning that brought peace and good-will to men. I do not know a
grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full
choir and the pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a
cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant

It is a beautiful arrangement, also derived from days of yore, that
this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion
of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together
of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of
kindred hearts which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the
world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the
children of a family who have launched forth in life, and wandered
widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth,
that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and
loving again among the endearing mementoes of childhood.

There is something in the very season of the year that gives a
charm to the festivity of Christmas. At other times we derive a
great portion of our pleasures from the mere beauties of nature.
Our feelings sally forth and dissipate themselves over the sunny
landscape, and we "live abroad and everywhere." The song of the
bird, the murmur of the stream, the breathing fragrance of spring,
the soft voluptuousness of summer, the golden pomp of autumn; earth
with its mantle of refreshing green, and heaven with its deep
delicious blue and its cloudy magnificence, all fill us with mute
but exquisite delight, and we revel in the luxury of mere
sensation. But in the depth of winter, when nature lies despoiled
of every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn
for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and
desolation of the landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome
nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our
feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly
disposed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our thoughts are
more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. we feel
more sensibly the charm of each other's society, and are brought
more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment.
Heart calleth unto heart; and we draw our pleasures from the deep
wells of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses of our
bosoms: and which when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element
of domestic felicity.

The pitchy gloom without makes the heart dilate on entering the
room filled with the glow and warmth of the evening fire. The
ruddy blaze diffuses an artificial summer and sunshine through the
room, and lights up each countenance into a kindlier welcome.
Where does the honest face of hospitality expand into a broader and
more cordial smile--where is the shy glance of love more sweetly
eloquent--than by the winter fireside? and as the hollow blast of
wintry wind rushes through the hall, claps the distant door,
whistles about the casement, and rumbles down the chimney, what can
be more grateful than that feeling of sober and sheltered security
with which we look around upon the comfortable chamber and the
scene of domestic hilarity?

The English, from the great prevalence of rural habits throughout
every class of society, have always been fond of those festivals
and holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country
life; and they were, in former days, particularly observant of the
religious and social rites of Christmas. It is inspiring to read
even the dry details which some antiquarians have given of the
quaint humours, the burlesque pageants, the complete abandonment to
mirth and good-fellowship with which this festival was celebrated.
It seemed to throw open every door, and unlock every heart. It
brought the peasant and the peer together, and blended all ranks in
one warm generous flow of joy and kindness. The old halls of
castles and manor-houses resounded with the harp and the Christmas
carol, and their ample boards groaned under the weight of
hospitality. Even the poorest cottage welcomed the festive season
with green decorations of bay and holly--the cheerful fire glanced
its rays through the lattice, inviting the passenger to raise the
latch, and join the gossip knot huddled around the hearth,
beguiling the long evening with legendary jokes and oft-told
Christmas tales.

One of the least pleasing effects of modern refinement is the havoc
it has made among the hearty old holiday customs. It has
completely taken off the sharp touchings and spirited reliefs of
these embellishments of life, and has worn down society into a more
smooth and polished, but certainly a less characteristic surface.
Many of the games and ceremonials of Christmas have entirely
disappeared, and like the sherris sack of old Falstaff, are become
matters of speculation and dispute among commentators. They
flourished in times full of spirit and lustihood, when men enjoyed
life roughly, but heartily and vigorously; times wild and
picturesque, which have furnished poetry with its richest
materials, and the drama with its most attractive variety of
characters and manners. The world has become more worldly. There
is more of dissipation, and less of enjoyment. Pleasure has
expanded into a broader, but a shallower stream, and has forsaken
many of those deep and quiet channels where it flowed sweetly
through the calm bosom of domestic life. Society has acquired a
more enlightened and elegant tone; but it has lost many of its
strong local peculiarities, its homebred feelings, its honest
fireside delights. The traditionary customs of golden-hearted
antiquity, its feudal hospitalities, and lordly wassailings, have
passed away with the baronial castles and stately manor-houses in
which they were celebrated. They comported with the shadowy hall,
the great oaken gallery, and the tapestried parlour, but are
unfitted to the light showy saloons and gay drawing-rooms of the
modern villa.

Shorn, however, as it is, of its ancient and festive honours,
Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England.
It is gratifying to see that home feeling completely aroused which
seems to hold so powerful a place in every English bosom. The
preparations making on every side for the social board that is
again to unite friends and kindred; the presents of good cheer
passing and repassing, those tokens of regard, and quickeners of
kind feelings; the evergreens distributed about houses and
churches, emblems of peace and gladness; all these have the most
pleasing effect in producing fond associations, and kindling
benevolent sympathies. Even the sound of the waits, rude as may be
their minstrelsy, breaks upon the mid-watches of a winter night
with the effect of perfect harmony. As I have been awakened by
them in that still and solemn hour, "when deep sleep falleth upon
man," I have listened with a hushed delight, and, connecting them
with the sacred and joyous occasion, have almost fancied them into
another celestial choir, announcing peace and good-will to mankind.

How delightfully the imagination, when wrought upon by these moral
influences, turns everything to melody and beauty: The very
crowing of the cock, who is sometimes heard in the profound repose
of the country, "telling the night-watches to his feathery dames,"
was thought by the common people to announce the approach of this
sacred festival:

"Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome--then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, no witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."

Amidst the general call to happiness, the bustle of the spirits,
and stir of the affections, which prevail at this period, what
bosom can remain insensible? It is, indeed, the season of
regenerated feeling--the season for kindling, not merely the fire
of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the

The scene of early love again rises green to memory beyond the
sterile waste of years; and the idea of home, fraught with the
fragrance of home-dwelling joys, reanimates the drooping spirit,--
as the Arabian breeze will sometimes waft the freshness of the
distant fields to the weary pilgrim of the desert.

Stranger and sojourner as I am in the land,--though for me no
social hearth may blaze, no hospitable roof throw open its doors,
nor the warm grasp of friendship welcome me at the threshold,--yet
I feel the influence of the season beaming into my soul from the
happy looks of those around me. Surely happiness is reflective,
like the light of heaven; and every countenance, bright with
smiles, and glowing with innocent enjoyment, is a mirror
transmitting to others the rays of a supreme and ever shining
benevolence. He who can turn churlishly away from contemplating
the felicity of his fellow beings, and sit down darkling and
repining in his loneliness when all around is joyful, may have his
moments of strong excitement and selfish gratification, but he
wants the genial and social sympathies which constitute the charm
of a merry Christmas.

The Stage-coach

Omne bene
Sine poena
Tempus est ludendi;
Venit hora,
Absque mora
Libros deponendi.

--Old Holiday School Song.

In the preceding paper I have made some general observations on the
Christmas festivities of England, and am tempted to illustrate them
by some anecdotes of a Christmas passed in the country; in perusing
which, I would most courteously invite my reader to lay aside the
austerity of wisdom, and to put on that genuine holiday spirit
which is tolerant of folly, and anxious only for amusement.

In the course of a December tour in Yorkshire, I rode for a long
distance in one of the public coaches, on the day preceding
Christmas. The coach was crowded, both inside and out, with
passengers, who, by their talk, seemed principally bound to the
mansions of relations or friends to eat the Christmas dinner. It
was loaded also with hampers of game, and baskets and boxes of
delicacies; and hares hung dangling their long ears about the
coachman's box,--presents from distant friends for the impending
feast. I had three fine rosy-cheeked schoolboys for my fellow
passengers inside, full of the buxom health and manly spirit which
I have observed in the children of this country. They were
returning home for the holidays in high glee, and promising
themselves a world of enjoyment. It was delightful to hear the
gigantic plans of pleasure of the little rogues, and the
impracticable feats they were to perform during their six weeks'
emancipation from the abhorred thraldom of book, birch, and
pedagogue. They were full of anticipations of the meeting with the
family and household, down to the very cat and dog; and of the joy
they were to give their little sisters by the presents with which
their pockets were crammed; but the meeting to which they seemed to
look forward with the greatest impatience was with Bantam, which I
found to be a pony, and, according to their talk, possessed of more
virtues than any steed since the days of Bucephalus. How he could
trot! how he could run! and then such leaps as he would take--there
was not a hedge in the whole country that he could not clear.

They were under the particular guardianship of the coachman, to
whom, whenever an opportunity presented, they addressed a host of
questions, and pronounced him one of the best fellows in the whole
world. Indeed, I could not but notice the more than ordinary air
of bustle and importance of the coachman, who wore his hat a little
on one side, and had a large bunch of Christmas greens stuck in the
button-hole of his coat. He is always a personage full of mighty
care and business, but he is particularly so during this season,
having so many commissions to execute in consequence of the great
interchange of presents.

And here, perhaps, it may not be unacceptable to my untravelled
readers to have a sketch that may serve as a general representation
of this very numerous and important class of functionaries who have
a dress, a manner, a language, an air, peculiar to themselves, and
prevalent throughout the fraternity; so that, wherever an English
stage-coachman may be seen, he cannot be mistaken for one of any
other craft or mystery.

He has commonly a broad, full face, curiously mottled with red, as
if the blood had been forced by hard feeding into every vessel of
the skin; he is swelled into jolly dimensions by frequent potations
of malt liquors, and his bulk is still further increased by a
multiplicity of coats, in which he is buried like a cauliflower,
the upper one reaching to his heels. He wears a broad-brimmed,
low-crowned hat; a huge roll of coloured handkerchief about his
neck, knowingly knotted and tucked in at the bosom; and has in
summer-time a large bouquet of flowers in his buttonhole; the
present, most probably, of some enamoured country lass. His
waistcoat is commonly of some bright colour, striped; and his
small-clothes extend far below the knees, to meet a pair of jockey
boots which reach about half-way up his legs.

All this costume is maintained with much precision; he has a pride
in having his clothes of excellent materials; and, notwithstanding
the seeming grossness of his appearance, there is still discernible
that neatness and propriety of person which is almost inherent in
an Englishman. He enjoys great consequence and consideration along
the road; has frequent conferences with the village housewives, who
look upon him as a man of great trust and dependence; and he seems
to have a good understanding with every bright-eyed country lass.
The moment he arrives where the horses are to be changed, he throws
down the reins with something of an air, and abandons the cattle to
the care of the hostler; his duty being merely to drive from one
stage to another.

When off the box, his hands are thrust in the pockets of his
greatcoat, and he rolls about the inn-yard with an air of the most
absolute lordliness. Here he is generally surrounded by an
admiring throng of hostlers, stable-boys, shoe-blacks, and those
nameless hangers-on that infest inns and taverns, and run errands,
and do all kinds of odd jobs, for the privilege of battening on the
drippings of the kitchen and the leakage of the tap-room. These
all look up to him as to an oracle; treasure up his cant phrases;
echo his opinions about horses and other topics of jockey lore;
and, above all, endeavour to imitate his air and carriage. Every
ragamuffin that has a coat to his back thrusts his hands in the
pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang, and is an embryo Coachey.

Perhaps it might be owing to the pleasing serenity that reigned in
my own mind, that I fancied I saw cheerfulness in every countenance
throughout the journey. A stage-coach, however, carries animation
always with it, and puts the world in motion as it whirls along.
The horn, sounded at the entrance of a village, produces a general
bustle. Some hasten forth to meet friends; some with bundles and
bandboxes to secure places, and in the hurry of the moment can
hardly take leave of the group that accompanies them. In the
meantime, the coachman has a world of small commissions to execute.
Sometimes he delivers a hare or pheasant; sometimes jerks a small
parcel or newspaper to the door of a public-house; and sometimes,
with knowing leer and words of sly import, hands to some half-
blushing, half-laughing housemaid an odd-shaped billet-doux from
some rustic admirer. As the coach rattles through the village,
every one runs to the window, and you have glances on every side of
fresh country faces, and blooming, giggling girls. At the corners
are assembled juntas of village idlers and wise men, who take their
stations there for the important purpose of seeing company pass;
but the sagest knot is generally at the blacksmith's, to whom the
passing of the coach is an event fruitful of much speculation. The
smith, with the horse's heel in his lap, pauses as the vehicle
whirls by; the Cyclops round the anvil suspend their ringing
hammers, and suffer the iron to grow cool; and the sooty spectre in
brown paper cap, labouring at the bellows, leans on the handle for
a moment, and permits the asthmatic engine to heave a long-drawn
sigh, while he glares through the murky smoke and sulphureous
gleams of the smithy.

Perhaps the impending holiday might have given a more than usual
animation to the country, for it seemed to me as if everybody was
in good looks and good spirits. Game, poultry, and other luxuries
of the table, were in brisk circulation in the villages; the
grocers', butchers', and fruiterers' shops were thronged with
customers. The housewives were stirring briskly about, putting
their dwellings in order; and the glossy branches of holly, with
their bright red berries, began to appear at the windows. The
scene brought to mind an old writer's account of Christmas
preparations:--"Now capons and hens, besides turkeys, geese, and
ducks, with beef and mutton--must all die; for in twelve days a
multitude of people will not be fed with a little. Now plums and
spice, sugar and honey, square it among pies and broth. Now or
never must music be in tune, for the youth must dance and sing to
get them a heat, while the aged sit by the fire. The country maid
leaves half her market, and must be sent again, if she forgets a
pack of cards on Christmas eve. Great is the contention of Holly
and Ivy, whether master or dame wears the breeches. Dice and cards
benefit the butler; and if the cook do not lack wit, he will
sweetly lick his fingers."

I was roused from this fit of luxurious meditation by a shout from
my little travelling companions. They had been looking out of the
coach-windows for the last few miles, recognising every tree and
cottage as they approached home, and now there was a general burst
of joy--"There's John! and there's old Carlo! and there's Bantam!"
cried the happy little rogues, clapping their hands.

At the end of a lane there was an old sober-looking servant in
livery waiting for them: he was accompanied by a superannuated
pointer, and by the redoubtable Bantam, a little old rat of a pony,
with a shaggy mane and long, rusty tail, who stood dozing quietly
by the roadside, little dreaming of the bustling times that awaited

I was pleased to see the fondness with which the little fellows
leaped about the steady old footman, and hugged the pointer, who
wriggled his whole body for joy. But Bantam was the great object
of interest; all wanted to mount at once; and it was with some
difficulty that John arranged that they should ride by turns, and
the eldest should ride first.

Off they set at last; one on the pony, with the dog bounding and
barking before him, and the others holding John's hands; both
talking at once, and overpowering him by questions about home, and
with school anecdotes. I looked after them with a feeling in which
I do not know whether pleasure or melancholy predominated: for I
was reminded of those days when, like them, I had neither known
care nor sorrow, and a holiday was the summit of earthly felicity.
We stopped a few moments afterward to water the horses, and on
resuming our route, a turn of the road brought us in sight of a
neat country seat. I could just distinguish the forms of a lady
and two young girls in the portico, and I saw my little comrades,
with Bantam, Carlo, and old John, trooping along the carriage road.
I leaned out of the coach-window, in hopes of witnessing the happy
meeting, but a grove of trees shut it from my sight.

In the evening we reached a village where I had determined to pass
the night. As we drove into the great gateway of the inn, I saw on
one side the light of a rousing kitchen fire beaming through a
window. I entered, and admired, for the hundredth time, that
picture of convenience, neatness, and broad, honest enjoyment, the
kitchen of an English inn. It was of spacious dimensions, hung
round with copper and tin vessels, highly polished, and decorated
here and there with a Christmas green. Hams, tongues, and flitches
of bacon were suspended from the ceiling; a smoke-jack made its
ceaseless clanking beside the fireplace, and a clock ticked in one
corner. A well scoured deal table extended along one side of the
kitchen, with a cold round of beef and other hearty viands upon it,
over which two foaming tankards of ale seemed mounting guard.

Travellers of inferior order were preparing to attack this stout
repast, while others sat smoking and gossiping over their ale on
two high-backed oaken seats beside the fire. Trim house-maids were
hurrying backwards and forwards under the directions of a fresh,
bustling landlady; but still seizing an occasional moment to
exchange a flippant word, and have a rallying laugh, with the group
round the fire. The scene completely realised Poor Robin's humble
idea of the comforts of midwinter.

"Now trees their leafy hats do bare,
To reverence Winter's silver hair;
A handsome hostess, merry host,
A pot of ale now and a toast,
Tobacco and a good coal fire,
Are things this season doth require."*

* Poor Robin's Almanack, 1684.

I had not been long at the inn when a postchaise drove up to the
door. A young gentleman stepped out, and by the light of the lamps
I caught a glimpse of a countenance which I thought I knew. I
moved forward to get a nearer view, when his eye caught mine. I
was not mistaken; it was Frank Bracebridge, a sprightly, good-
humoured young fellow, with whom I had once travelled on the
Continent. Our meeting was extremely cordial; for the countenance
of an old fellow traveller always brings up the recollection of a
thousand pleasant scenes, odd adventures, and excellent jokes. To
discuss all these in a transient interview at an inn was
impossible; and finding that I was not pressed for time, and was
merely making a tour of observation, he insisted that I should give
him a day or two at his father's country-seat, to which he was
going to pass the holidays, and which lay at a few miles' distance.
"It is better than eating a solitary Christmas dinner at an inn,"
said he; "and I can assure you of a hearty welcome in something of
the old-fashion style." His reasoning was cogent; and I must
confess the preparation I had seen for universal festivity and
social enjoyment had made me feel a little impatient of my
loneliness. I closed, therefore, at once with his invitation: the
chaise drove up to the door; and in a few moments I was on my way
to the family mansion of the Bracebridges.

Christmas Eve

Saint Francis and Saint Benedight
Blesse this house from wicked wight,
From the night-mare and the goblin,
That is hight good-fellow Robin;
Keep it from all evil spirits.
Fairies, weezels, rats, and ferrets:
From curfew time
To the next prime.


It was a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely cold; our chaise
whirled rapidly over the frozen ground; the post-boy smacked his
whip incessantly, and a part of the time his horses were on a
gallop. "He knows where he is going," said my companion, laughing,
"and is eager to arrive in time for some of the merriment and good
cheer of the servants' hall. My father, you must know, is a
bigoted devotee of the old school, and prides himself upon keeping
up something of old English hospitality. He is a tolerable
specimen of what you will rarely meet with nowadays in its purity,
the old English country gentleman; for our men of fortune spend so
much of their time in town, and fashion is carried so much into the
country, that the strong, rich peculiarities of ancient rural life
are almost polished away. My father, however, from early years,
took honest Peacham* for his textbook, instead of Chesterfield: he
determined, in his own mind, that there was no condition more truly
honourable and enviable than that of a country gentleman on his
paternal lands, and, therefore, passes the whole of his time on his
estate. He is a strenuous advocate for the revival of the old
rural games and holiday observances, and is deeply read in the
writers, ancient and modern, who have treated on the subject.
Indeed, his favourite range of reading is among the authors who
flourished at least two centuries since; who, he insists, wrote and
thought more like true Englishmen than any of their successors. He
even regrets sometimes that he had not been born a few centuries
earlier, when England was itself, and had its peculiar manners and
customs. As he lives at some distance from the main road, in
rather a lonely part of the country, without any rival gentry near
him, he has that most enviable of all blessings to an Englishman,
an opportunity of indulging the bent of his own humour without
molestation. Being representative of the oldest family in the
neighbourhood, and a great part of the peasantry being his tenants,
he is much looked up to, and, in general, is known simply by the
appellation of 'The Squire;' a title which has been accorded to the
head of the family since time immemorial. I think it best to give
you these hints about my worthy old father, to prepare you for any
little eccentricities that might otherwise appear absurd."

* Peacham's "Complete Gentleman," 1622.

We had passed for some time along the wall of a park, and at length
the chaise stopped at the gate. It was in a heavy, magnificent old
style, of iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and
flowers. The huge square columns that supported the gate were
surmounted by the family crest. Close adjoining was the porter's
lodge, sheltered under dark fir-trees, and almost buried in

The post-boy rang a large porter's bell, which resounded through
the still, frosty air, and was answered by the distant barking of
dogs, with which the mansion-house seemed garrisoned. An old woman
immediately appeared at the gate. As the moonlight fell strongly
upon her, I had full view of a little primitive dame, dressed very
much in the antique taste, with a neat kerchief and stomacher, and
her silver hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. She
came curtseying forth, with many expressions of simple joy at
seeing her young master. Her husband, it seems, was up at the
house keeping Christmas eve in the servants' hall; they could not
do without him, as he was the best hand at a song and story in the

My friend proposed that we should alight and walk through the park
to the hall, which was at no great distance, while the chaise
should follow on. Our road wound through a noble avenue of trees,
among the naked branches of which the moon glittered as she rolled
through the deep vault of a cloudless sky. The lawn beyond was
sheeted with a slight covering of snow, which here and there
sparkled as the moonbeams caught a frosty crystal; and at a
distance might be seen a thin, transparent vapour, stealing up from
the low grounds, and threatening gradually to shroud the landscape.

My companion looked round him with transport:--"How often," said
he, "have I scampered up this avenue, on returning home on school
vacations! How often have I played under these trees when a boy!
I feel a degree of filial reverence for them, as we look up to
those who have cherished us in childhood. My father was always
scrupulous in exacting our holidays, and having us around him on
family festivals. He used to direct and superintend our games with
the strictness that some parents do the studies of their children.
He was very particular that we should play the old English games
according to their original form and consulted old books for
precedent and authority for every 'merrie disport;' yet I assure
you there never was pedantry so delightful. It was the policy of
the good old gentleman to make his children feel that home was the
happiest place in the world; and I value this delicious home-
feeling as one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow."

We were interrupted by the clangour of a troop of dogs of all sorts
and sizes, "mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of low
degree," that, disturbed by the ringing of the porter's bell, and
the rattling of the chaise, came bounding, open-mouthed, across the

"The little dogs and all,
Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart--see, they bark at me!"

cried Bracebridge, laughing. At the sound of his voice the bark
was changed into a yelp of delight, and in a moment he was
surrounded and almost overpowered by the caresses of the faithful

We had now come in full view of the old family mansion, partly
thrown in deep shadow, and partly lit up by the cold moonshine. It
was an irregular building of some magnitude, and seemed to be of
the architecture of different periods. One wing was, evidently
very ancient, with heavy stone-shafted bow windows jutting out and
overrun with ivy, from among the foliage of which the small
diamond-shaped panes of glass glittered with the moonbeams. The
rest of the house was in the French taste of Charles the Second's
time, having been repaired and altered, as my friend told me, by
one of his ancestors, who returned with that monarch at the
Restoration. The grounds about the house were laid out in the old
formal manner of artificial flower-beds, clipped shrubberies,
raised terraces, and heavy stone balustrades, ornamented with urns,
a leaden statue or two, and a jet of water. The old gentleman, I
was told, was extremely careful to preserve this obsolete finery in
all its original state. He admired this fashion in gardening; it
had an air of magnificence, was courtly and noble, and befitting
good old family style. The boasted imitation of nature in modern
gardening had sprung up with modern republican notions, but did not
suit a monarchical government; it smacked of the levelling system.
I could not help smiling at this introduction of politics into
gardening, though I expressed some apprehension that I should find
the old gentleman rather intolerant in his creed. Frank assured
me, however, that it was almost the only instance in which he had
ever heard his father meddle with politics; and he believed that he
had got this notion from a member of Parliament who once passed a
few weeks with him. The Squire was glad of any argument to defend
his clipped yew-trees and formal terraces, which had been
occasionally attacked by modern landscape gardeners.

As we approached the house, we heard the sound of music, and now
and then a burst of laughter from one end of the building. This,
Bracebridge said, must proceed from the servants' hall, where a
great deal of revelry was permitted, and even encouraged, by the
Squire throughout the twelve days of Christmas, provided everything
was done comformably to ancient usage. Here were kept up the old
games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the
white loaf, bob apple and snapdragon: the Yule log and Christmas
candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe, with its white
berries, hung up to the imminent peril of all the pretty

* See Note A.

So intent were the servants upon their sports, that we had to ring
repeatedly before we could make ourselves heard. On our arrival
being announced, the Squire came out to receive us, accompanied by
his two other sons; one a young officer in the army, home on leave
of absence; the other an Oxonian, just from the University. The
Squire was a fine, healthy-looking old gentleman, with silver hair
curling lightly round an open, florid countenance; in which a
physiognomist, with the advantage, like myself, of a previous hint
or two, might discover a singular mixture of whim and benevolence.

The family meeting was warm and affectionate; as the evening was
far advanced, the Squire would not permit us to change our
travelling dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, which
was assembled in a large old-fashioned hall. It was composed of
different branches of a numerous family connection, where there
were the usual proportion of old uncles and aunts, comfortably
married dames, superannuated spinsters, blooming country cousins,
half-fledged striplings, and bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens.
They were variously occupied; some at a round game of cards; others
conversing around the fireplace; at one end of the hall was a group
of the young folks, some nearly grown up, others of a more tender
and budding age, fully engrossed by a merry game; and a profusion
of wooden horses, penny trumpets, and tattered dolls, about the
floor, showed traces of a troop of little fairy beings, who, having
frolicked through a happy day, had been carried off to slumber
through a peaceful night.

While the mutual greetings were going on between Bracebridge and
his relatives, I had time to scan the apartment. I have called it
a hall, for so it had certainly been in old times, and the Squire
had evidently endeavoured to restore it to something of its
primitive state. Over the heavy projecting fireplace was suspended
a picture of a warrior in armour standing by a white horse, and on
the opposite wall hung helmet, buckler, and lance. At one end an
enormous pair of antlers were inserted in the wall, the branches
serving as hooks on which to suspend hats, whips, and spurs; and in
the corners of the apartment were fowling-pieces, fishing-rods, and
other sporting implements. The furniture was of the cumbrous
workmanship of former days, though some articles of modern
convenience had been added, and the oaken floor had been carpeted;
so that the whole presented an odd mixture of parlour and hall.

The grate had been removed from the wide overwhelming fireplace, to
make way for a fire of wood, in the midst of which was an enormous
log glowing and blazing, and sending forth a vast volume of light
and heat; this I understood was the Yule-log, which the Squire was
particular in having brought in and illumined on a Christmas eve,
according to ancient custom.*

* See Note B.

It was really delightful to see the old Squire seated in his
hereditary elbow-chair by the hospitable fireside of his ancestors,
and looking around him like the sun of a system, beaming warmth and
gladness to every heart. Even the very dog that lay stretched at
his feet, as he lazily shifted his position and yawned, would look
fondly up in his master's face, wag his tail against the floor, and
stretch himself again to sleep, confident of kindness and
protection. There is an emanation from the heart in genuine
hospitality which cannot be described, but is immediately felt, and
puts the stranger at once at his ease. I had not been seated many
minutes by the comfortable hearth of the worthy cavalier before I
found myself as much at home as if I had been one of the family.

Supper was announced shortly after our arrival. It was served up
in a spacious oaken chamber, the panels of which shone with wax,
and around which were several family portraits decorated with holly
and ivy. Beside the accustomed lights, two great wax tapers,
called Christmas candles, wreathed with greens, were placed on a
highly-polished buffet among the family plate. The table was
abundantly spread with substantial fare; but the Squire made his
supper of frumenty, a dish made of wheat cakes boiled in milk with
rich spices, being a standing dish in old times for Christmas eve.
I was happy to find my old friend, minced-pie, in the retinue of
the feast; and finding him to be perfectly orthodox, and that I
need not be ashamed of my predilection, I greeted him with all the
warmth wherewith we usually greet an old and very genteel

The mirth of the company was greatly promoted by the humours of an
eccentric personage whom Mr. Bracebridge always addressed with the
quaint appellation of Master Simon. He was a tight, brisk little
man, with the air of an arrant old bachelor. His nose was shaped
like the bill of a parrot; his face slightly pitted with the
smallpox, with a dry perpetual bloom on it, like a frost-bitten
leaf in autumn. He had an eye of great quickness and vivacity,
with a drollery and lurking waggery of expression that was
irresistible. He was evidently the wit of the family, dealing very
much in sly jokes and innuendoes with the ladies, and making
infinite merriment by harpings upon old themes; which,
unfortunately, my ignorance of the family chronicles did not permit
me to enjoy. It seemed to be his great delight during supper to
keep a young girl next him in a continual agony of stifled
laughter, in spite of her awe of the reproving looks of her mother,
who sat opposite. Indeed, he was the idol of the younger part of
the company, who laughed at everything he said or did, and at every
turn of his countenance. I could not wonder at it; for he must
have been a miracle of accomplishments in their eyes. He could
imitate Punch and Judy; make an old woman of his hand, with the
assistance of a burnt cork and pocket-handkerchief: and cut an
orange into such a ludicrous caricature, that the young folks were
ready to die with laughing.

I was let briefly into his history by Frank Bracebridge. He was an
old bachelor of a small independent income, which by careful
management was sufficient for all his wants. He revolved through
the family system like a vagrant comet in its orbit; sometimes
visiting one branch, and sometimes another quite remote; as is
often the case with gentlemen of extensive connections and small
fortunes in England. He had a chirping, buoyant disposition,
always enjoying the present moment; and his frequent change of
scene and company prevented his acquiring those rusty
unacommodating habits with which old bachelors are so uncharitably
charged. He was a complete family chronicle, being versed in the
genealogy, history, and intermarriages of the whole house of
Bracebridge, which made him a great favourite with the old folks;
he was a beau of all the elder ladies and superannuated spinsters,
among whom he was habitually considered rather a young fellow, and
he was a master of the revels among the children; so that there was
not a more popular being in the sphere in which he moved than Mr.
Simon Bracebridge. Of late years he had resided almost entirely
with the Squire, to whom he had become a factotum, and whom he
particularly delighted by jumping with his humour in respect to old
times, and by having a scrap of an old song to suit every occasion.
We had presently a specimen of his last mentioned talent; for no
sooner was supper removed, and spiced wines and other beverages
peculiar to the season introduced, than Master Simon was called on
for a good old Christmas song. He bethought himself for a moment,
and then, with a sparkle of the eye, and a voice that was by no
means bad, excepting that it ran occasionally into a falsetto, like
the notes of a split reed, he quavered forth a quaint old ditty:

"Now Christmas is come,
Let us beat up the drum,
And call all our neighbours together;
And when they appear,
Let us make them such cheer
As will keep out the wind and the weather,"

The supper had disposed every one to gaiety, and an old harper was
summoned from the servants' hall, where he had been strumming all
the evening, and to all appearance comforting himself with some of
the Squire's home-brewed. He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told,
of the establishment, and though ostensibly a resident of the
village, was oftener to be found in the Squire's kitchen than his
own home, the old gentleman being fond of the sound of "harp in

The dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of
the older folks joined in it, and the Squire himself figured down
several couples with a partner with whom he affirmed he had danced
at every Christmas for nearly half a century. Master Simon, who
seemed to be a kind of connecting link between the old times and
the new, and to be withal a little antiquated in the taste of his
accomplishments, evidently piqued himself on his dancing, and was
endeavouring to gain credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and
other graces of the ancient school; but he had unluckily assorted
himself with a little romping girl from boarding-school, who, by
her wild vivacity, kept him continually on the stretch, and
defeated all his sober attempts at elegance;--such are the ill-
assorted matches to which antique gentlemen are unfortunately

The young Oxonian, on the contrary, had led out one of his maiden
aunts, on whom the rogue played a thousand little knaveries with
impunity; he was full of practical jokes, and his delight was to
tease his aunts and cousins; yet, like all madcap youngsters, he
was a universal favourite among the women. The most interesting
couple in the dance was the young officer and a ward of the
Squire's, a beautiful blushing girl of seventeen. From several shy
glances which I had noticed in the course of the evening, I
suspected there was a little kindness growing up between them; and,
indeed, the young soldier was just the hero to captivate a romantic
girl. He was tall, slender, and handsome, and like most young
British officers of late years, had picked up various small
accomplishments on the Continent--he could talk French and Italian--
draw landscapes,--sing very tolerably--dance divinely; but above
all he had been wounded at Waterloo;--what girl of seventeen, well
read in poetry and romance, could resist such a mirror of chivalry
and perfection!

The moment the dance was over, he caught up a guitar, and lolling
against the old marble fireplace, in an attitude which I am half
inclined to suspect was studied, began the little French air of the
Troubadour. The Squire, however, exclaimed against having anything
on Christmas eve but good old English; upon which the young
minstrel, casting up his eye for a moment, as if in an effort of
memory, struck into another strain, and, with a charming air of
gallantry, gave Herrick's "Night-Piece to Julia:"

"Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
The shooting stars attend thee,
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.

"No Will-o'-the-Wisp mislight thee;
Nor snake or glow-worm bite thee;
But on, on thy way,
Not making a stay,
Since ghost there is none to affright thee.

"Then let not the dark thee cumber;
What though the moon does slumber,
The stars of the night
Will lend thee their light,
Like tapers clear without number.

"Then, Julia, let me woo thee,
Thus, thus to come unto me;
And when I shall meet
Thy silvery feet,
My soul I'll pour into thee."

The song might have been intended in compliment to the fair Julia,
for so I found his partner was called, or it might not; she,
however, was certainly unconscious of any such application, for she
never looked at the singer, but kept her eyes cast upon the floor.
Her face was suffused, it is true, with a beautiful blush, and
there was a gentle heaving of the bosom, but all that was doubtless
caused by the exercise of the dance; indeed, so great was her
indifference, that she was amusing herself with plucking to pieces
a choice bouquet of hothouse flowers, and by the time the song was
concluded, the nosegay lay in ruins on the floor.

The party now broke up for the night with the kind-hearted old
custom of shaking hands. As I passed through the hall, on the way
to my chamber, the dying embers of the Yule-clog still sent forth a
dusky glow; and had it not been the season when "no spirit dares
stir abroad," I should have been half tempted to steal from my room
at midnight, and peep whether the fairies might not be at their
revels about the hearth.

My chamber was in the old part of the mansion, the ponderous
furniture of which might have been fabricated in the days of the
giants. The room was panelled with cornices of heavy carved work,
in which flowers and grotesque faces were strangely intermingled;
and a row of black looking portraits stared mournfully at me from
the walls. The bed was of rich though faded damask, with a lofty
tester, and stood in a niche opposite a bow window. I had scarcely
got into bed when a strain of music seemed to break forth in the
air just below the window. I listened, and found it proceeded from
a band, which I concluded to be the waits from some neighbouring
village. They went round the house, playing under the windows.

I drew aside the curtains, to hear them more distinctly. The
moonbeams fell through the upper part of the casement, partially
lighting up the antiquated apartment. The sounds, as they receded,
became more soft and aerial, and seemed to accord with quiet and
moonlight. I listened and listened--they became more and more
tender and remote, and, as they gradually died away, my head sank
upon the pillow and I fell asleep.

Christmas Day

Dark and dull night, flie hence away,
And give the honour to this day
That Sees December turn'd to May.
. . . . . . . .
Why does the chilling winter's morne
Smile like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like to a meade new-shorne,
Thus on the sudden?--Come and see
The cause why things thus fragrant be.


When I awoke the next morning, it seemed as if all the events of
the preceding evening had been a dream, and nothing but the
identity of the ancient chamber convinced me of their reality.
While I lay musing on my pillow, I heard the sound of little feet
pattering outside of the door, and a whispering consultation.
Presently a choir of small voices chanted forth an old Christmas
carol, the burden of which was:

"Rejoice, our Saviour he was born
On Christmas Day in the morning."

I rose softly, slipped on my clothes, opened the door suddenly, and
beheld one of the most beautiful little fairy groups that a painter
could imagine.

It consisted of a boy and two girls, the eldest not more than six,
and lovely as seraphs. They were going the rounds of the house,
and singing at every chamber-door; but my sudden appearance
frightened them into mute bashfulness. They remained for a moment
playing on their lips with their fingers, and now and then stealing
a shy glance, from under their eyebrows, until, as if by one
impulse, they scampered away, and as they turned an angle of the
gallery, I heard them laughing in triumph at their escape.

Everything conspired to produce kind and happy feelings in this
stronghold of old-fashioned hospitality. The window of my chamber
looked out upon what in summer would have been a beautiful
landscape. There was a sloping lawn, a fine stream winding at the
foot of it, and a tract of park beyond, with noble clumps of trees,
and herds of deer. At a distance was a neat hamlet, with the smoke
from the cottage chimneys hanging over it; and a church with its
dark spire in strong relief against the clear, cold sky. The house
was surrounded with evergreens, according to the English custom,
which would have given almost an appearance of summer; but the
morning was extremely frosty; the light vapour of the preceding
evening had been precipitated by the cold, and covered all the
trees and every blade of grass with its fine crystallisations. The
rays of a bright morning sun had a dazzling effect among the
glittering foliage. A robin, perched upon the top of a mountain-
ash that hung its clusters of red berries just before my window,
was basking himself in the sunshine, and piping a few querulous
notes; and a peacock was displaying all the glories of his train,
and strutting with the pride and gravity of a Spanish grandee on
the terrace-walk below.

I had scarcely dressed myself, when a servant appeared to invite me
to family prayers. He showed me the way to a small chapel in the
old wing of the house, where I found the principal part of the
family already assembled in a kind of gallery, furnished with
cushions, hassocks, and large prayer-books; the servants were
seated on benches below. The old gentleman read prayers from a
desk in front of the gallery, and Master Simon acted as clerk, and
made the responses; and I must do him the justice to say that he
acquitted himself with great gravity and decorum.

The service was followed by a Christmas carol, which Mr.
Bracebridge himself had constructed from a poem of his favourite
author, Herrick; and it had been adapted to an old church melody by
Master Simon. As there were several good voices among the
household, the effect was extremely pleasing; but I was
particularly gratified by the exaltation of heart, and sudden sally
of grateful feeling, with which the worthy Squire delivered one
stanza: his eyes glistening, and his voice rambling out of all the
bounds of time and tune:

"'Tis thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
With guiltlesse mirth,
And giv'st me wassaile bowles to drink,
Spiced to the brink:
Lord, 'tis Thy plenty-dropping hand,
That soiles my land;
And giv'st me for my bushell sowne,
Twice ten for one."

I afterwards understood that early morning service was read on
every Sunday and saint's day throughout the year, either by Mr.
Bracebridge or by some member of the family. It was once almost
universally the case at the seats of the nobility and gentry of
England, and it is much to be regretted that the custom is fallen
into neglect; for the dullest observer must be sensible of the
order and serenity prevalent in those households, where the
occasional exercise of a beautiful form of worship in the morning
gives, as it were, the key-note to every temper for the day, and
attunes every spirit to harmony.

Our breakfast consisted of what the Squire denominated true old
English fare. He indulged in some bitter lamentations over modern
breakfasts of tea-and-toast, which he censured as among the causes
of modern effeminacy and weak nerves, and the decline of old
English heartiness; and though he admitted them to his table to
suit the palates of his guests, yet there was a brave display of
cold meats, wine, and ale, on the sideboard.

After breakfast I walked about the grounds with Frank Bracebridge
and Master Simon, or Mr. Simon as he was called by everybody but
the Squire. We were escorted by a number of gentleman-like dogs,
that seemed loungers about the establishment; from the frisking
spaniel to the steady old staghound; the last of which was of a
race that had been in the family time out of mind: they were all
obedient to a dog-whistle which hung to Master Simon's buttonhole,
and in the midst of their gambols would glance an eye occasionally
upon a small switch he carried in his hand.

The old mansion had a still more venerable look in the yellow
sunshine than by pale moonlight; and I could not but feel the force
of the Squire's idea, that the formal terraces, heavily moulded
balustrades, and clipped yew-trees, carried with them an air of
proud aristocracy. There appeared to be an unusual number of
peacocks about the place, and I was making some remarks upon what I
termed a flock of them, that were basking under a sunny wall, when
I was gently corrected in my phraseology by Master Simon, who told
me that, according to the most ancient and approved treatise on
hunting, I must say a MUSTER of peacocks. "In the same way," added
he, with a slight air of pedantry, "we say a flight of doves or
swallows, a bevy of quails, a herd of deer, of wrens, or cranes, a
skulk of foxes, or a building of rooks." He went on to inform me,
that, according to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, we ought to ascribe, to
this bird "both understanding and glory; for, being praised, he
will presently set up his tail chiefly against the sun, to the
intent you may the better behold the beauty thereof. But at the
fall of the leaf, when his tail falleth, he will mourn and hide
himself in corners, till his tail come again as it was."

I could not help smiling at this display of small erudition on so
whimsical a subject; but I found that the peacocks were birds of
some consequence at the Hall, for Frank Bracebridge informed me
that they were great favourites with his father, who was extremely
careful to keep up the breed; partly because they belonged to
chivalry, and were in great request at the stately banquets of the
olden time; and partly because they had a pomp and magnificence
about them, highly becoming an old family mansion. Nothing, he was
accustomed to say, had an air of greater state and dignity than a
peacock perched upon an antique stone balustrade.

Master Simon had now to hurry off, having an appointment at the
parish church with the village choristers, who were to perform some
music of his selection. There was something extremely agreeable in
the cheerful flow of animal spirits of the little man; and I
confess I had been somewhat surprised at his apt quotations from
authors who certainly were not in the range of every-day reading.
I mentioned this last circumstance to Frank Bracebridge, who told
me with a smile that Master Simon's whole stock of erudition was
confined to some half-a-dozen old authors, which the Squire had put
into his hands, and which he read over and over, whenever he had a
studious fit; as he sometimes had on a rainy day, or a long winter
evening. Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's "Book of Husbandry;" Markham's
"Country Contentments;" the "Tretyse of Hunting," by Sir Thomas
Cockayne, Knight; Izaak Walton's "Angler," and two or three more
such ancient worthies of the pen, were his standard authorities;
and, like all men who know but a few books, he looked up to them
with a kind of idolatry, and quoted them on all occasions. As to
his songs, they were chiefly picked out of old books in the
Squire's library, and adapted to tunes that were popular among the
choice spirits of the last century. His practical application of
scraps of literature, however, had caused him to be looked upon as
a prodigy of book-knowledge by all the grooms, huntsmen, and small
sportsmen of the neighbourhood.

While we were talking we heard the distant toll of the village
bell, and I was told that the Squire was a little particular in
having his household at church on a Christmas morning; considering
it a day of pouring out of thanks and rejoicing; for, as old Tusser

"At Christmas be merry, and thankful withal,
And feast thy poor neighbours, the great and the small."

"If you are disposed to go to church," said Frank Bracebridge, "I
can promise you a specimen of my cousin Simon's musical
achievements. As the church is destitute of an organ, he has
formed a band from the village amateurs, and established a musical
club for their improvement; he has also sorted a choir, as he
sorted my father's pack of hounds, according to the directions of
Jervaise Markham, in his "Country Contentments;" for the bass he
has sought out all the 'deep solemn mouths,' and for the tenor the
'loud ringing mouths,' among the country bumpkins; and for 'sweet
mouths,' he has culled with curious taste among the prettiest
lasses in the neighbourhood; though these last, he affirms, are the
most difficult to keep in tune; your pretty female singer being
exceedingly wayward and capricious, and very liable to accident."

As the morning, though frosty, was remarkably fine and clear, the
most of the family walked to the church, which was a very old
building of gray stone, and stood near a village, about half a mile
from the park gate. Adjoining it was a low snug parsonage, which
seemed coeval with the church. The front of it was perfectly
matted with a yew-tree that had been trained against its walls,
through the dense foliage of which apertures had been formed to
admit light into the small antique lattices. As we passed this
sheltered nest, the parson issued forth and preceded us.

I had expected to see a sleek, well-conditioned pastor, such as is
often found in a snug living in the vicinity of a rich patron's
table; but I was disappointed. The parson was a little, meagre,
black-looking man, with a grizzled wig that was too wide, and stood
off from each ear; so that his head seemed to have shrunk away
within it, like a dried filbert in its shell. He wore a rusty
coat, with great skirts, and pockets that would have held the
church Bible and prayer-book; and his small legs seemed still
smaller, from being planted in large shoes decorated with enormous

I was informed by Frank Bracebridge that the parson had been a chum
of his father's at Oxford, and had received this living shortly
after the latter had come to his estate. He was a complete black-
letter hunter, and would scarcely read a work printed in the Roman
character. The editions of Caxton and Wynkin de Worde were his
delight; and he was indefatigable in his researches after such old
English writers as have fallen into oblivion from their
worthlessness. In deference, perhaps, to the notions of Mr.
Bracebridge, he had made diligent investigations into the festive
rites and holiday customs of former times; and had been as zealous
in the inquiry as if he had been a boon companion; but it was
merely with that plodding spirit with which men of adust
temperament follow up any track of study, merely because it is
denominated learning; indifferent to its intrinsic nature, whether
it be the illustration of the wisdom, or of the ribaldry and
obscenity of antiquity. He had pored over these old volumes so
intensely, that they seemed to have been reflected into his
countenance indeed; which, if the face be an index of the mind,
might be compared to a title-page of black-letter.

On reaching the church porch, we found the parson rebuking the
gray-headed sexton for having used mistletoe among the greens with
which the church was decorated. It was, he observed, an unholy
plant, profaned by having been used by the Druids in their mystic
ceremonies; and though it might be innocently employed in the
festive ornamenting of halls and kitchens, yet it had been deemed
by the Fathers of the Church as unhallowed, and totally unfit for
sacred purposes. So tenacious was he on this point, that the poor
sexton was obliged to strip down a great part of the humble
trophies of his taste, before the parson would consent to enter
upon the service of the day.

The interior of the church was venerable but simple; on the walls
were several mural monuments of the Bracebridges, and just beside
the altar was a tomb of ancient workmanship, on which lay the
effigy of a warrior in armour, with his legs crossed, a sign of his
having been a crusader. I was told it was one of the family who
had signalised himself in the Holy Land, and the same whose picture
hung over the fireplace in the hall.

During service, Master Simon stood up in the pew, and repeated the
responses very audibly; evincing that kind of ceremonious devotion
punctually observed by a gentleman of the old school, and a man of
old family connections. I observed, too, that he turned over the
leaves of a folio prayer-book with something of a flourish;
possibly to show off an enormous seal-ring which enriched one of
his fingers, and which had the look of a family relic. But he was
evidently most solicitous about the musical part of the service,
keeping his eye fixed intently on the choir, and beating time with
much gesticulation and emphasis.

The orchestra was in a small gallery, and presented a most
whimsical grouping of heads, piled one above the other, among which
I particularly noticed that of the village tailor, a pale fellow
with a retreating forehead and chin, who played on the clarionet,
and seemed to have blown his face to a point; and there was
another, a short pursy man, stooping and labouring at a bass viol,
so as to show nothing but the top of a round bald head, like the
egg of an ostrich. There were two or three pretty faces among the
female singers, to which the keen air of a frosty morning had given
a bright rosy tint; but the gentlemen choristers had evidently been
chosen, like old Cremona fiddles, more for tone than looks; and as
several had to sing from the same book, there were clusterings of
odd physiognomies, not unlike those groups of cherubs we sometimes
see on country tombstones.

The usual services of the choir were managed tolerably well, the
vocal parts generally lagging a little behind the instrumental, and
some loitering fiddler now and then making up for lost time by
travelling over a passage with prodigious celerity, and clearing
more bars than the keenest fox-hunter to be in at the death. But
the great trial was an anthem that had been prepared and arranged
by Master Simon, and on which he had founded great expectation.
Unluckily there was a blunder at the very outset; the musicians
became flurried; Master Simon was in a fever; everything went on
lamely and irregularly until they came to a chorus beginning "Now
let us sing with one accord," which seemed to be a signal for
parting company: all became discord and confusion; each shifted for
himself, and got to the end as well, or rather as soon, as he
could, excepting one old chorister in a pair of horn spectacles
bestriding and pinching a long sonorous nose; who, happening to
stand a little apart, and being wrapped up in his own melody, kept
on a quavering course, wriggling his head, ogling his book, and
winding all up by a nasal solo of at least three bars' duration.

The parson gave us a most erudite sermon on the rites and
ceremonies of Christmas, and the propriety of observing it not
merely as a day of thanksgiving, but of rejoicing; supporting the
correctness of his opinions by the earliest usages of the Church,
and enforcing them by the authorities of Theophilus of Cesarea, St.
Cyprian, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and a cloud more of Saints
and Fathers, from whom he made copious quotations. I was a little
at a loss to perceive the necessity of such a mighty array of
forces to maintain a point which no one present seemed inclined to
dispute; but I soon found that the good man had a legion of ideal
adversaries to contend with; having, in the course of his
researches on the subject of Christmas, got completely embroiled in
the sectarian controversies of the Revolution, when the Puritans
made such a fierce assault upon the ceremonies of the Church, and
poor old Christmas was driven out of the land by proclamation of
Parliament.* The worthy parson lived but with times past, and knew
but a little of the present.

* See Note C.

Shut up among worm-eaten tomes in the retirement of his antiquated
little study, the pages of old times were to him as the gazettes of
the day; while the era of the Revolution was mere modern history.
He forgot that nearly two centuries had elapsed since the fiery
persecution of poor mince-pie throughout the land; when plum-
porridge was denounced as "mere popery," and roast beef as
antichristian; and that Christmas had been brought in again
triumphantly with the merry court of King Charles at the
Restoration. He kindled into warmth with the ardour of his
contest, and the host of imaginary foes with whom he had to combat;
had a stubborn conflict with old Prynne and two or three other
forgotten champions of the Round-heads, on the subject of Christmas
festivity; and concluded by urging his hearers, in the most solemn
and affecting manner, to stand to the traditionary customs of their
fathers, and feast and make merry on this joyful anniversary of the

I have seldom known a sermon attended apparently with more
immediate effects; for, on leaving the church, the congregation
seemed one and all possessed with the gaiety of spirit so earnestly
enjoined by their pastor. The elder folks gathered in knots in the
churchyard, greeting and shaking hands; and the children ran about
crying, Ule! Ule! and repeating some uncouth rhymes,* which the
parson, who had joined us, informed me had been handed down from
days of yore. The villagers doffed their hats to the Squire as he
passed, giving him the good wishes of the season with every
appearance of heartfelt sincerity, and were invited by him to the
Hall, to take something to keep out the cold of the weather; and I
heard blessings uttered by several of the poor, which convinced me
that, in the midst of his enjoyments, the worthy old cavalier had
not forgotten the true Christmas virtue of charity.

* "Ule! Ule!
Three puddings in a pule;
Crack nuts and cry ule!"

On our way homeward his heart seemed overflowing with generous and
happy feelings. As we passed over a rising ground which commanded
something of a prospect, the sounds of rustic merriment now and
then reached our ears; the Squire paused for a few moments, and
looked around with an air of inexpressible benignity. The beauty
of the day was of itself sufficient to inspire philanthropy.
Notwithstanding the frostiness of the morning, the sun in his
cloudless journey had acquired sufficient power to melt away the
thin covering of snow from every southern declivity, and to bring
out the living green which adorns an English landscape even in
midwinter. Large tracts of smiling verdure contrasted with the
dazzling whiteness of the shaded slopes and hollows. Every
sheltered bank on which the broad rays rested yielded its silver
rill of cold and limpid water, glittering through the dripping
grass; and sent up slight exhalations to contribute to the thin
haze that hung just above the surface of the earth. There was
something truly cheering in this triumph of warmth and verdure over
the frosty thraldom of winter; it was, as the Squire observed, an
emblem of Christmas hospitality, breaking through the chills of
ceremony and selfishness, and thawing every heart into a flow. He
pointed with pleasure to the indications of good cheer reeking from
the chimneys of the comfortable farmhouses and low, thatched
cottages. "I love," said he, "to see this day well kept by rich
and poor; it is a great thing to have one day in the year, at
least, when you are sure of being welcome wherever you go, and of
having, as it were, the world all thrown open to you; and I am
almost disposed to join with Poor Robin, in his malediction of
every churlish enemy to this honest festival:

"'Those who at Christmas do repine,
And would fain hence despatch him,
May they with old Duke Humphry dine,
Or else may Squire Ketch catch 'em.'"

The Squire went on to lament the deplorable decay of the games and
amusements which were once prevalent at this season among the lower
orders, and countenanced by the higher: when the old halls of
castles and manor-houses were thrown open at daylight; when the
tables were covered with brawn, and beef, and humming ale; when the
harp and the carol resounded all day long, and when rich and poor
were alike welcome to enter and make merry.* "Our old games and
local customs," said he, "had a great effect in making the peasant
fond of his home, and the promotion of them, by the gentry made him
fond of his lord. They made the times merrier, and kinder, and
better; and I can truly say, with one of our old poets:

"'I like them well--the curious preciseness
And all-pretended gravity of those
That seek to banish hence these harmless sports,
Have thrust away much ancient honesty.'

* See Note D.

"The nation," continued he, "is altered; we have almost lost our
simple, true-hearted peasantry. They have broken asunder from the
higher classes, and seem to think their interests are separate.
They have become too knowing, and begin to read newspapers, listen
to alehouse politicians, and talk of reform. I think one mode to
keep them in good humour in these hard times would be for the
nobility and gentry to pass more time on their estates, mingle more
among the country people, and set the merry old English games going

Such was the good Squire's project for mitigating public
discontent; and, indeed, he had once attempted to put his doctrine
in practice, and a few years before had kept open house during the
holidays in the old style. The country people, however, did not
understand how to play their parts in the scene of hospitality;
many uncouth circumstances occurred; the manor was overrun by all
the vagrants of the country, and more beggars drawn into the
neighbourhood in one week than the parish officers could get rid of
in a year. Since then, he had contented himself with inviting the
decent part of the neighbouring peasantry to call at the Hall on
Christmas Day, and distributing beef, and bread, and ale, among the
poor, that they might make merry in their own dwellings.

We had not been long home when the sound of music was heard from a
distance. A band of country lads, without coats, their shirt-
sleeves fancifully tied with ribands, their hats decorated with
greens, and clubs in their hands, were seen advancing up the
avenue, followed by a large number of villagers and peasantry.
They stopped before the hall door, where the music struck up a
peculiar air, and the lads performed a curious and intricate dance,
advancing, retreating, and striking their clubs together, keeping
exact time to the music; while one, whimsically crowned with a
fox's skin, the tail of which flaunted down his back, kept capering
around the skirts of the dance, and rattling a Christmas-box with
many antic gesticulations.

The Squire eyed this fanciful exhibition with great interest and
delight, and gave me a full account of its origin, which he traced
to the times when the Romans held possession of the island; plainly
proving that this was a lineal descendant of the sword-dance of the
ancients. "It was now," he said, "nearly extinct, but he had
accidentally met with traces of it in the neighbourhood, and had
encouraged its revival; though, to tell the truth, it was too apt
to be followed up by rough cudgel-play and broken heads in the

After the dance was concluded, the whole party was entertained with
brawn and beef, and stout home-brewed. The Squire himself mingled
among the rustics, and was received with awkward demonstrations of
deference and regard.

It is true, I perceived two or three of the younger peasants, as
they were raising their tankards to their mouths when the Squire's
back was turned, making something of a grimace, and giving each
other the wink; but the moment they caught my eye they pulled grave
faces, and were exceedingly demure. With Master Simon, however,
they all seemed more at their ease.

His varied occupations and amusements had made him well known
throughout the neighbourhood. He was a visitor at every farmhouse
and cottage; gossiped with the farmers and their wives; romped with
their daughters; and, like that type of a vagrant bachelor, the
bumblebee, tolled the sweets from all the rosy lips of the country

The bashfulness of the guests soon gave way before good cheer and
affability. There is something genuine and affectionate in the
gaiety of the lower orders, when it is excited by the bounty and
familiarity of those above them; the warm glow of gratitude enters
into their mirth, and a kind word or a small pleasantry, frankly
uttered by a patron, gladdens the heart of the dependant more than
oil and wine. When the Squire had retired, the merriment
increased, and there was much joking and laughter, particularly
between Master Simon and a hale, ruddy-faced, white-headed farmer,
who appeared to be the wit of the village; for I observed all his
companions to wait with open mouths for his retorts, and burst into
a gratuitous laugh before they could well understand them.

The whole house, indeed, seemed abandoned to merriment. As I
passed to my room to dress for dinner, I heard the sound of music
in a small court, and, looking through a window that commanded it,
I perceived a band of wandering musicians, with pandean pipes and
tambourine; a pretty, coquettish housemaid was dancing a jig with a
smart country lad, while several of the other servants were looking
on. In the midst of her sport the girl caught a glimpse of my face
at the window, and, colouring up, ran off with an air of roguish
affected confusion.

The Christmas Dinner

Lo, now is come the joyful'st feast!
Let every man be jolly,
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak't meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if, for cold, it hap to die,
We'll bury't in a Christmas pye,
And evermore be merry.

--WITHERS'S Juvenilia.

I had finished my toilet, and was loitering with Frank Bracebridge
in the library, when we heard a distant thwacking sound, which he
informed me was a signal for the serving up of the dinner. The
Squire kept up old customs in kitchen as well as hall; and the
rolling-pin, struck upon the dresser by the cook, summoned the
servants to carry in the meats.

"Just in this nick the cook knock'd thrice,
And all the waiters in a trice
His summons did obey;
Each serving man, with dish in hand,
March'd boldly up, like our train-band,
Presented and away."*

* Sir John Suckling.

The dinner was served up in the great hall, where the Squire always
held his Christmas banquet. A blazing, crackling fire of logs had
been heaped on to warm the spacious apartment, and the flame went
sparkling and wreathing up the wide-mouthed chimney. The great
picture of the crusader and his white horse had been profusely
decorated with greens for the occasion; and holly and ivy had
likewise been wreathed around the helmet and weapons on the
opposite wall, which I understood were the arms of the same
warrior. I must own, by the by, I had strong doubts about the
authenticity of painting and armour as having belonged to the
crusader, they certainly having the stamp of more recent days; but
I was told that the painting had been so considered time out of
mind; and that as to the armour, it had been found in a lumber
room, and elevated to its present situation by the Squire, who at
once determined it to be the armour of the family hero; and as he
was absolute authority on all such subjects to his own household,
the matter had passed into current acceptation. A sideboard was
set out just under this chivalric trophy, on which was a display of
plate that might have vied (at least in variety) with Belshazzar's
parade of the vessels of the Temple: "flagons, cans, cups, beakers,
goblets, basins, and ewers;" the gorgeous utensils of good
companionship, that had gradually accumulated through many
generations of jovial housekeepers. Before these stood the two
Yule candles, beaming like two stars of the first magnitude: other
lights were distributed in branches, and the whole array glittered
like a firmament of silver.

We were ushered into this banqueting scene with the sound of
minstrelsy, the old harper being seated on a stool beside the
fireplace, and twanging his instrument with a vast deal more power
than melody. Never did Christmas board display a more goodly and
gracious assemblage of countenances; those who were not handsome
were, at least, happy; and happiness is a rare improver of your
hard-favoured visage.

I always consider an old English family as well worth studying as a
collection of Holbein's portraits or Albert Durer's prints. There
is much antiquarian lore to be acquired; much knowledge of the
physiognomies of former times. Perhaps it may be from having
continually before their eyes those rows of old family portraits,
with which the mansions of this country are stocked; certain it is,
that the quaint features of antiquity are often most faithfully
perpetuated in these ancient lines; and I have traced an old family
nose through a whole picture-gallery, legitimately handed down from
generation to generation, almost from the time of the Conquest.
Something of the kind was to be observed in the worthy company
around me. Many of their faces had evidently originated in a
Gothic age, and been merely copied by succeeding generations; and
there was one little girl, in particular, of staid demeanour, with
a high Roman nose, and an antique vinegar aspect, who was a great
favourite of the Squire's, being, as he said, a Bracebridge all
over, and the very counterpart of one of his ancestors who figured
in the court of Henry VIII.

The parson said grace, which was not a short, familiar one, such as
is commonly addressed to the Deity, in these unceremonious days;
but a long, courtly, well-worded one of the ancient school.

There was now a pause, as if something was expected; when suddenly
the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle; he was
attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light, and bore
a silver dish, on which was an enormous pig's head, decorated with
rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great
formality at the head of the table. The moment this pageant made
its appearance, the harper struck up a flourish; at the conclusion
of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint from the Squire,
gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an old carol, the
first verse of which was as follows:

"Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
The boar's head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary.
I pray you all synge merily
Qui estis in convivio."

Though prepared to witness many of these little eccentricities,
from being apprised of the peculiar hobby of mine host; yet, I
confess, the parade with which so odd a dish was introduced
somewhat perplexed me, until I gathered from the conversation of
the Squire and the parson that it was meant to represent the
bringing in of the boar's head: a dish formerly served up with much
ceremony, and the sound of minstrelsy and song, at great tables on
Christmas Day. "I like the old custom," said the Squire, "not
merely because it is stately and pleasing in itself, but because it
was observed at the College of Oxford, at which I was educated.
When I hear the old song chanted, it brings to mind the time when I
was young and gamesome--and the noble old college-hall--and my
fellow students loitering about in their black gowns; many of whom,
poor lads, are now in their graves!"

The parson, however, whose mind was not haunted by such
associations, and who was always more taken up with the text than
the sentiment, objected to the Oxonian's version of the carol:
which he affirmed was different from that sung at college. He went
on, with the dry perseverance of a commentator, to give the college
reading, accompanied by sundry annotations: addressing himself at
first to the company at large; but finding their attention
gradually diverted to other talk, and other objects, he lowered his
tone as his number of auditors diminished, until he concluded his
remarks, in an under voice, to a fat-headed old gentleman next him,
who was silently engaged in the discussion of a huge plateful of

* See Note E.

The table was literally loaded with good cheer, and presented an
epitome of country abundance, in this season of overflowing
larders. A distinguished post was allotted to "ancient sirloin,"
as mine host termed it; being, as he added, "the standard of old
English hospitality, and a joint of goodly presence, and full of

There were several dishes quaintly decorated, and which had
evidently something traditionary in their embellishments; but about
which, as I did not like to appear over curious, I asked no
questions. I could not, however, but notice a pie, magnificently
decorated with peacocks' feathers, in imitation of the tail of that
bird, which overshadowed a considerable tract of the table. This,
the Squire confessed, with some little hesitation, was a pheasant-
pie, though a peacock-pie was certainly the most authentical; but
there had been such a mortality among the peacocks this season,
that he could not prevail upon himself to have one killed.*

* See Note F.

It would be tedious, perhaps, to my wiser readers, who may not have
that foolish fondness for odd and obsolete things to which I am a
little given, were I to mention the other makeshifts of this worthy
old humourist, by which he was endeavouring to follow up, though at
humble distance, the quaint customs of antiquity. I was pleased,
however, to see the respect shown to his whims by his children and
relatives; who, indeed, entered readily into the full spirit of
them, and seemed all well versed in their parts; having doubtless
been present at many a rehearsal. I was amused, too, at the air of
profound gravity with which the butler and other servants executed
the duties assigned them, however eccentric. They had an old-
fashioned look; having, for the most part, been brought up in the
household, and grown into keeping with the antiquated mansion, and
the humours of its lord; and most probably looked upon all his
whimsical regulations as the established laws of honourable
housekeeping. When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a
huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed
before the Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation;
being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The
contents had been prepared by the Squire himself; for it was a
beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided
himself, alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the
comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed,
that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being
composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and
sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.*

* See Note G.

The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of
indwelling delight, as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised
it to his lips, with a hearty wish of a merry Christmas to all
present, he sent it brimming, around the board, for every one to
follow his example, according to the primitive style; pronouncing
it "the ancient fountain of good feeling, where all hearts met

* See Note H.

There was much laughing and rallying, as the honest emblem of
Christmas joviality circulated, and was kissed rather coyly by the
ladies. When it reached Master Simon he raised it in both hands,
and with the air of a boon companion struck up an old Wassail

The browne bowle,
The merry browne bowle,
As it goes round about-a,
Let the world say what it will,
And drink your fill all out-a.

The deep canne,
The merry deep canne,
As thou dost freely quaff-a,
Be as merry as a king,
And sound a lusty laugh-a.*

* From "Poor Robin's Almanack."

Much of the conversation during dinner turned upon family topics,
to which I was a stranger. There was, however, a great deal of
rallying of Master Simon about some gay widow, with whom he was
accused of having a flirtation. This attack was commenced by the
ladies; but it was continued throughout the dinner by the fat-
headed old gentleman next the parson, with the persevering
assiduity of a slow-hound; being one of those long-winded jokers,
who, though rather dull at starting game, are unrivalled for their
talents in hunting it down. At every pause in the general
conversation, he renewed his bantering in pretty much the same
terms; winking hard at me with both eyes whenever he gave Master
Simon what he considered a home thrust. The latter, indeed, seemed
fond of being teased on the subject, as old bachelors are apt to
be; and he took occasion to inform me, in an undertone, that the
lady in question was a prodigiously fine woman, and drove her own

The dinner-time passed away in this flow of innocent hilarity; and,
though the old hall may have resounded in its time with many a
scene of broader rout and revel, yet I doubt whether it ever
witnessed more honest and genuine enjoyment. How easy it is for
one benevolent being to diffuse pleasure around him; and how truly
is a kind heart a fountain of gladness, making everything in its
vicinity to freshen into smiles! The joyous disposition of the
worthy Squire was perfectly contagious; he was happy himself, and
disposed to make all the world happy; and the little eccentricities
of his humour did but season, in a manner, the sweetness of his

When the ladies had retired, the conversation, as usual, became
still more animated; many good things were broached which had been
thought of during dinner, but which would not exactly do for a
lady's ear; and though I cannot positively affirm that there was
much wit uttered, yet I have certainly heard many contests of rare
wit produce much less laughter. Wit, after all, is a mighty tart,
pungent ingredient, and much too acid for some stomachs; but honest
good humour is the oil and wine of a merry meeting, and there is no
jovial companionship equal to that where the jokes are rather
small, and the laughter abundant. The Squire told several long
stories of early college pranks and adventures, in some of which
the parson had been a sharer; though in looking at the latter, it
required some effort of imagination to figure such a little dark
anatomy of a man into the perpetrator of a madcap gambol. Indeed,
the two college chums presented pictures of what men may be made by
their different lots in life. The Squire had left the university
to live lustily on his paternal domains, in the vigorous enjoyment
of prosperity and sunshine, and had flourished on to a hearty and
florid old age; whilst the poor parson, on the contrary, had dried
and withered away, among dusty tomes, in the silence and shadows of
his study.

Still there seemed to be a spark of almost extinguished fire,
feebly glimmering in the bottom of his soul; and as the Squire
hinted at a sly story of the parson and a pretty milkmaid, whom
they once met on the banks of the Isis, the old gentleman made an
"alphabet of faces," which, as far as I could decipher his
physiognomy, I verily believe was indicative of laughter;--indeed,
I have rarely met with an old gentleman who took absolutely offence
at the imputed gallantries of his youth.

I found the tide of wine and wassail fast gaining on the dry land
of sober judgment. The company grew merrier and louder as their
jokes grew duller. Master Simon was in as chirping a humour as a
grasshopper filled with dew; his old songs grew of a warmer
complexion, and he began to talk maudlin about the widow. He even
gave a long song about the wooing of a widow, which he informed me
he had gathered from an excellent black-letter work, entitled
"Cupid's Solicitor for Love," containing store of good advice for
bachelors, and which he promised to lend me. The first verse was
to this effect:

"He that will woo a widow must not dally,
He must make hay while the sun doth shine;
He must not stand with her, Shall I, Shall I?
But boldly say, Widow, thou must be mine."

This song inspired the fat-headed old gentleman, who made several
attempts to tell a rather broad story out of Joe Miller, that was
pat to the purpose; but he always stuck in the middle, everybody
recollecting the latter part excepting himself. The parson, too,
began to show the effects of good cheer, having gradually settled
down into a doze, and his wig sitting most suspiciously on one
side. Just at this juncture we were summoned to the drawing-room,
and, I suspect, at the private instigation of mine host, whose
joviality seemed always tempered with a proper love of decorum.

After the dinner-table was removed, the hall was given up to the
younger members of the family, who, prompted to all kind of noisy
mirth by the Oxonian and Master Simon, made its old walls ring with
their merriment, as they played at romping games. I delight in
witnessing the gambols of children, and particularly at this happy
holiday-season, and could not help stealing out of the drawing-room
on hearing one of their peals of laughter. I found them at the
game of blind-man's buff. Master Simon, who was the leader of
their revels, and seemed on all occasions to fulfil the office of
that ancient potentate, the Lord of Misrule,* was blinded in the
midst of the hall. The little beings were as busy about him as the
mock fairies about Falstaff; pinching him, plucking at the skirts
of his coat, and tickling him with straws. One fine blue-eyed girl
of about thirteen, with her flaxen hair all in beautiful confusion,
her frolic face in a glow, her frock half torn off her shoulders, a
complete picture of a romp, was the chief tormentor; and from the
slyness with which Master Simon avoided the smaller game, and
hemmed this wild little nymph in corners, and obliged her to jump
shrieking over chairs, I suspected the rogue of being not a whit
more blinded than was convenient.

* See Note I.

When I returned to the drawing-room, I found the company seated
around the fire, listening to the parson, who was deeply ensconced
in a high-backed oaken chair, the work of some cunning artificer of
yore, which had been brought from the library for his particular
accommodation. From this venerable piece of furniture, with which
his shadowy figure and dark weazen face so admirably accorded, he
was dealing forth strange accounts of popular superstitions and
legends of the surrounding country, with which he had become
acquainted in the course of his antiquarian researches. I am half
inclined to think that the old gentleman was himself somewhat
tinctured with superstition, as men are very apt to be who live a
recluse and studious life in a sequestered part of the country, and
pore over black-letter tracts, so often filled with the marvellous
and supernatural. He gave us several anecdotes of the fancies of
the neighbouring peasantry, concerning the effigy of the crusader
which lay on the tomb by the church altar. As it was the only
monument of the kind in that part of the country, it had always
been regarded with feelings of superstition by the goodwives of the
village. It was said to get up from the tomb and walk the rounds
of the churchyard in stormy nights, particularly when it thundered;
and one old woman, whose cottage bordered on the churchyard, had
seen it, through the windows of the church, when the moon shone,
slowly pacing up and down the aisles. It was the belief that some
wrong had been left unredressed by the deceased, or some treasure
hidden, which kept the spirit in a state of trouble and
restlessness. Some talked of gold and jewels buried in the tomb,
over which the spectre kept watch; and there was a story current of
a sexton in old times who endeavoured to break his way to the
coffin at night; but just as he reached it, received a violent blow
from the marble hand of the effigy, which stretched him senseless
on the pavement. These tales were often laughed at by some of the
sturdier among the rustics, yet when night came on, there were many
of the stoutest unbelievers that were shy of venturing alone in the
footpath that led across the churchyard. From these and other
anecdotes that followed, the crusader appeared to be the favourite
hero of ghost stories throughout the vicinity. His picture, which
hung up in the hall, was thought by the servants to have something
supernatural about it; for they remarked that, in whatever part of
the hall you went, the eyes of the warrior were still fixed on you.
The old porter's wife, too, at the lodge, who had been born and
brought up in the family, and was a great gossip among the maid
servants, affirmed that in her young days she had often heard say
that on Midsummer eve, when it is well known all kinds of ghosts,
goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad, the crusader
used to mount his horse, come down from his picture, ride about the
house, down the avenue, and so to the church to visit the tomb; on
which occasion the church door most civilly swung open of itself:
not that he needed it; for he rode through closed gates and even
stone walls, and had been seen by one of the dairymaids to pass
between two bars of the great park gate, making himself as thin as
a sheet of paper.

All these superstitions, I found, had been very much countenanced
by the Squire, who, though not superstitious himself, was very fond
of seeing others so. He listened to every goblin tale of the
neighbouring gossips with infinite gravity, and held the porter's
wife in high favour on account of her talent for the marvellous.
He was himself a great reader of old legends and romances, and
often lamented that he could not believe in them; for a
superstitious person, he thought, must live in a kind of fairyland.

Whilst we were all attention to the parson's stories, our ears were
suddenly assailed by a burst of heterogeneous sounds from the hall,
in which was mingled something like the clang of rude minstrelsy,
with the uproar of many small voices and girlish laughter. The
door suddenly flew open, and a train came trooping into the room,
that might almost have been mistaken for the breaking up of the
court of Fairy. That indefatigable spirit, Master Simon, in the
faithful discharge of his duties as Lord of Misrule, had conceived
the idea of a Christmas mummery, or masking; and having called in
to his assistance the Oxonian and the young officer, who were
equally ripe for anything that should occasion romping and
merriment, they had carried it into instant effect. The old
housekeeper had been consulted; the antique clothes-presses and
wardrobes rummaged and made to yield up the relics of finery that
had not seen the light for several generations; the younger part of
the company had been privately convened from the parlour and hall,
and the whole had been bedizened out, into a burlesque imitation of
an antique masque.*

* See Note J.

Master Simon led the van, as "Ancient Christmas," quaintly
apparelled in a ruff, a short cloak, which had very much the aspect
of one of the old housekeeper's petticoats, and a hat that might
have served for a village steeple, and must indubitably have
figured in the days of the Covenanters. From under this his nose
curved boldly forth, flushed with a frost-bitten bloom, that seemed
the very trophy of a December blast. He was accompanied by the
blue-eyed romp, dished up as "Dame Mince-Pie," in the venerable
magnificence of faded brocade, long stomacher, peaked hat, and
high-heeled shoes. The young officer appeared as Robin Hood, in a
sporting dress of Kendal green and a foraging cap with a gold
tassel. The costume, to be sure, did not bear testimony to deep
research, and there was an evident eye to the picturesque, natural
to a young gallant in the presence of his mistress. The fair Julia
hung on his arm in a pretty rustic dress, as "Maid Marian." The
rest of the train had been metamorphosed in various ways; the girls
trussed up in the finery of the ancient belles of the Bracebridge
line, and the striplings bewhiskered with burnt cork, and gravely
clad in broad skirts, hanging sleeves, and full-bottomed wigs, to
represent the characters of Roast Beef, Plum Pudding, and other
worthies celebrated in ancient maskings. The whole was under the
control of the Oxonian, in the appropriate character of Misrule;
and I observed that he exercised rather a mischievous sway with his
wand over the smaller personages of the pageant.

The irruption of this motley crew, with beat of drum, according to
ancient custom, was the consummation of uproar and merriment.
Master Simon covered himself with glory by the stateliness with
which, as Ancient Christmas, he walked a minuet with the peerless,
though giggling, Dame Mince-Pie. It was followed by a dance of all
the characters, which, from its medley of costumes, seemed as
though the old family portraits had skipped down from their frames
to join in the sport. Different centuries were figuring at cross
hands and right and left; the dark ages were cutting pirouettes and
rigadoons; and the days of Queen Bess jigging merrily down the
middle, through a line of succeeding generations.

The worthy Squire contemplated these fantastic sports, and this
resurrection of his old wardrobe, with the simple relish of
childish delight. He stood chuckling and rubbing his hands, and
scarcely hearing a word the parson said, notwithstanding that the
latter was discoursing most authentically on the ancient and
stately dance at the Paon, or Peacock, from which he conceived the
minuet to be derived.* For my part, I was in a continual
excitement, from the varied scenes of whim and innocent gaiety
passing before me. It was inspiring to see wild-eyed frolic and
warm-hearted hospitality breaking out from among the chills and
glooms of winter, and old age throwing off his apathy, and catching
once more the freshness of youthful enjoyment. I felt also an
interest in the scene, from the consideration that these fleeting
customs were posting fast into oblivion, and that this was,
perhaps, the only family in England in which the whole of them were
still punctiliously observed. There was a quaintness, too, mingled
with all this revelry that gave it a peculiar zest; it was suited
to the time and place; and as the old Manor House almost reeled
with mirth and wassail, it seemed echoing back the joviality of
long-departed years.

* See Note K.

But enough of Christmas and its gambols; it is time for me to pause
in this garrulity. Methinks I hear the questions asked by my
graver readers, "To what purpose is all this?--how is the world to
be made wiser by this talk?" Alas! is there not wisdom enough
extant for the instruction of the world? And if not, are there not
thousands of abler pens labouring for its improvement?--It is so
much pleasanter to please than to instruct--to play the companion
rather than the preceptor.

What, after all, is the mite of wisdom that I could throw into the
mass of knowledge? or how am I sure that my sagest deductions may
be safe guides for the opinions of others? But in writing to
amuse, if I fail, the only evil is my own disappointment. If,
however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out
one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of
one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the
gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human
nature, and make my reader more in good humour with his fellow
beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not then have written
entirely in vain.




The misletoe is still hung up in farmhouses and kitchens at
Christmas; and the young men have the privilege of kissing the
girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the
berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases.


The Yule-clog is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a tree,
brought into the house with great ceremony, on Christmas eve, laid
in the fireplace, and lighted with the brand of last year's clog.
While it lasted there was great drinking, singing, and telling of
tales. Sometimes it was accompanied by Christmas candles, but in
the cottages the only light was from the ruddy blaze of the great
wood fire. The Yule-clog was to burn all night; if it went out, it
was considered a sign of ill luck.

Herrick mentions it in one of his songs:

"Come, bring with a noise
My merrie, merrie boyes,
The Christmas log to the firing:
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your hearts' desiring."

The Yule-clog is still burnt in many farmhouses and kitchens in
England, particularly in the north, and there are several
superstitions connected with it among the peasantry. If a
squinting person come to the house while it is burning, or a person
barefooted, it is considered an ill omen. The brand remaining from
the Yule-clog is carefully put away to light the next year's
Christmas fire.


From the Flying Eagle, a small gazette, published December 24,
1652: "The House spent much time this day about the business of the
Navy, for settling the affairs at sea; and before they rose, were
presented with a terrible remonstrance against Christmas day,
grounded upon divine Scriptures, 2 Cor. v. 16; 1 Cor. xv. 14, 17;
and in honour of the Lord's Day, grounded upon these Scriptures,
John xx. I; Rev. i. 10; Psalm cxviii. 24; Lev. xxiii. 7, 11; Mark
xvi. 8; Psalm lxxxiv. 10, in which Christmas is called Anti-
Christ's masse, and those Mass-mongers and Papists who observe it,
etc. In consequence of which Parliament spent some time in
consultation about the abolition of Christmas day, passed orders to
that effect, and resolved to sit on the following day, which was
commonly called Christmas day."


An English gentleman at the opening of the great day, i. e. on
Christmas day in the morning, had all his tenants and neighbours
enter his hall by daybreak. The strong beer was broached, and the
black jacks went plentifully about with toast, sugar, nutmeg, and
good Cheshire cheese. The hackin (the great sausage) must be
boiled by daybreak, or else two young men must take the maiden
(i.e. the cook) by the arms and run her round the market-place till
she is shamed of her laziness.--Round about our Sea-coal Fire.


The old ceremony of serving up the boar's head on Christmas day is
still observed in the hall of Queen's College, Oxford. I was
favoured by the parson with a copy of the carol as now sung, and as
it may be acceptable to such of my readers as are curious in these
grave and learned matters, I give it entire.

"The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estia in convivio.
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

"The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico.
Caput apri defero, etc.

"Our Steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi Atrio.
Caput apri defero,"
Etc., etc., etc.


The peacock was anciently in great demand for stately
entertainments. Sometimes it was made into a pie, at one end of
which the head appeared above the crust in all its plumage, with
the beak richly gilt; at the other end the tail was displayed.
Such pies were served up at the solemn banquets of chivalry, when
knights-errant pledged themselves to undertake any perilous
enterprise; whence came the ancient oath, used by Justice Shallow,
"by cock and pie."

The peacock was also an important dish for the Christmas feast; and
Massinger, in his "City Madam," gives some idea of the extravagance
with which this, as well as other dishes, was prepared for the
gorgeous revels of the olden times:

"Men may talk of country Christmasses,
Their thirty pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carps' tongues:
Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris; the carcases of three fat
wethers bruised for gravy, to make sauce for a single peacock!"


The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine;
with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs; in this way
the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families, and
round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas. It is also
called Lambs' Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his "Twelfth

"Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle Lambs' Wool,
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swinger."


The custom of drinking out of the same cup gave place to each
having his cup. When the steward came to the doore with the
Wassel, he was to cry three times, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel, and then
the chappel (chaplain) was to answer with a song.--Archaeologia.


At Christmasse there was in the Kings's house, wheresoever hee was
lodged, a lorde of misrule, or mayster of merry disportes; and the
like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honour, or good
worshippe, were he spirituall or temporall.--Stow.


Maskings or mummeries were favourite sports at Christmas in old
times; and the wardrobes at halls and manor-houses were often laid
under contribution to furnish dresses and fantastic disguisings. I
strongly suspect Master Simon to have taken the idea of his from
Ben Jonson's "Masque of Christmas."


Sir John Hawkins, speaking of the dance called the Pavon, from
pavo, a peacock, says: "It is a grave and majestic dance; the
method of dancing it anciently was by gentlemen dressed with caps
and swords, by those of the long robe in their gowns, by the peers
in their mantles, and by the ladies in gowns with long trains, the
motion whereof, in dancing, resembled that of a peacock."--History
of Music.

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