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The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. by Washington Irving

Part 4 out of 7

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one; it was always enforced, however, by a bumper of excellent
Hockheimer, and even a dull joke at one's own table, served up
with jolly old wine, is irresistible. Many good things were said
by poorer and keener wits that would not bear repeating, except
on similar occasions; many sly speeches whispered in ladies' ears
that almost convulsed them with suppressed laughter; and a song
or two roared out by a poor but merry and broad-faced cousin of
the baron that absolutely made the maiden aunts hold up their

Amidst all this revelry the stranger guest maintained a most
singular and unseasonable gravity. His countenance assumed a
deeper cast of dejection as the evening advanced, and, strange as
it may appear, even the baron's jokes seemed only to render him
the more melancholy. At times he was lost in thought, and at
times there was a perturbed and restless wandering of the eye
that bespoke a mind but ill at ease. His conversations with the
bride became more and more earnest and mysterious. Lowering
clouds began to steal over the fair serenity of her brow, and
tremors to run through her tender frame.

All this could not escape the notice of the company. Their gayety
was chilled by the unaccountable gloom of the bridegroom; their
spirits were infected; whispers and glances were interchanged,
accompanied by shrugs and dubious shakes of the head. The song
and the laugh grew less and less frequent: there were dreary
pauses in the conversation, which were at length succeeded by
wild tales and supernatural legends. One dismal story produced
another still more dismal, and the baron nearly frightened some
of the ladies into hysterics with the history of the goblin
horseman that carried away the fair Leonora--a dreadful story
which has since been put into excellent verse, and is read and
believed by all the world.

The bridegroom listened to this tale with profound attention. He
kept his eyes steadily fixed on the baron, and, as the story drew
to a close, began gradually to rise from his seat, growing taller
and taller, until in the baron's entranced eye he seemed almost
to tower into a giant. The moment the tale was finished he heaved
a deep sigh and took a solemn farewell of the company. They were
all amazement. The baron was perfectly thunderstruck.

"What! going to leave the castle at midnight? Why, everything was
prepared for his reception; a chamber was ready for him if he
wished to retire."

The stranger shook his head mournfully and mysteriously: "I must
lay my head in a different chamber to-night."

There was something in this reply and the tone in which it was
uttered that made the baron's heart misgive him; but he rallied
his forces and repeated his hospitable entreaties.

The stranger shook his head silently, but positively, at every
offer, and, waving his farewell to the company, stalked slowly
out of the hall. The maiden aunts were absolutely petrified; the
bride hung her head and a tear stole to her eye.

The baron followed the stranger to the great court of the castle,
where the black charger stood pawing the earth and snorting with
impatience. When they had reached the portal, whose deep archway
was dimly lighted by a cresset, the stranger paused, and
addressed the baron in a hollow tone of voice, which the vaulted
roof rendered still more sepulchral.

"Now that we are a lone," said he, "I will impart to you the
reason of my going. I have a solemn, an indispensable

"Why," said the baron, "cannot you send some one in your place?"

"It admits of no substitute--I must attend it in person; I must
away to Wurtzburg cathedral----"

"Ay," said the baron, plucking up spirit, "but not until
to-morrow--to-morrow you shall take your bride there."

"No! no!" replied the stranger, with tenfold solemnity, "my
engagement is with no bride--the worms! the worms expect me! I am
a dead man--I have been slain by robbers--my body lies at
Wurtzburg--at midnight I am to be buried--the grave is waiting
for me--I must keep my appointment!"

He sprang on his black charger, dashed over the drawbridge, and
the clattering of his horse's hoofs was lost in the whistling of
the night blast.

The baron returned to the hall in the utmost consternation, and
related what had passed. Two ladies fainted outright, others
sickened at the idea of having banqueted with a spectre. It was
the opinion of some that this might be the wild huntsman, famous
in German legend. Some talked of mountain-sprites, of
wood-demons, and of other supernatural beings with which the good
people of Germany have been so grievously harassed since time
immemorial. One of the poor relations ventured to suggest that it
might be some sportive evasion of the young cavalier, and that
the very gloominess of the caprice seemed to accord with so
melancholy a personage. This, however, drew on him, the
indignation of the whole company, and especially of the baron,
who looked upon him as little better than an infidel; so that he
was fain to abjure his heresy as speedily as possible and come
into the faith of the true believers.

But, whatever may have been the doubts entertained, they were
completely put to an end by the arrival next day of regular
missives confirming the intelligence of the young count's murder
and his interment in Wurtzburg cathedral.

The dismay at the castle may well be imagined. The baron shut
himself up in his chamber. The guests, who had come to rejoice
with him, could not think of abandoning him in his distress. They
wandered about the courts or collected in groups in the hall,
shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders at the troubles
of so good a man, and sat longer than ever at table, and ate and
drank more stoutly than ever, by way of keeping up their spirits.
But the situation of the widowed bride was the most pitiable. To
have lost a husband before she had even embraced him--and such a
husband! If the very spectre could be so gracious and noble, what
must have been the living man? She filled the house with

On the night of the second day of her widowhood she had retired
to her chamber, accompanied by one of her aunts, who insisted on
sleeping with her. The aunt, who was one of the best tellers of
ghost-stories in all Germany, had just been recounting one of her
longest, and had fallen asleep in the very midst of it. The
chamber was remote and overlooked a small garden. The niece lay
pensively gazing at the beams of the rising moon as they trembled
on the leaves of an aspen tree before the lattice. The castle
clock had just tolled midnight when a soft strain of music stole
up from the garden. She rose hastily from her bed and stepped
lightly to the window. A tall figure stood among the shadows of
the trees. As it raised its head a beam of moonlight fell upon
the countenance. Heaven and earth! she beheld the Spectre
Bridegroom! A loud shriek at that moment burst upon her ear, and
her aunt, who had been awakened by the music and had followed her
silently to the window, fell into her arms. When she looked again
the spectre had disappeared.

Of the two females, the aunt now required the most soothing, for
she was perfectly beside herself with terror. As to the young
lady, there was something even in the spectre of her lover that
seemed endearing. There was still the semblance of manly beauty,
and, though the shadow of a man is but little calculated to
satisfy the affections of a lovesick girl, yet where the
substance is not to be had even that is consoling. The aunt
declared she would never sleep in that chamber again; the niece,
for once, was refractory, and declared as strongly that she would
sleep in no other in the castle: the consequence was, that she
had to sleep in it alone; but she drew a promise from her aunt
not to relate the story of the spectre, lest she should be denied
the only melancholy pleasure left her on earth--that of
inhabiting the chamber over which the guardian shade of her lover
kept its nightly vigils.

How long the good old lady would have observed this promise is
uncertain, for she dearly loved to talk of the marvellous, and
there is a triumph in being the first to tell a frightful story;
it is, howover, still quoted in the neighborhood as a memorable
instance of female secrecy that she kept it to herself for a
whole week, when she was suddenly absolved from all further
restraint by intelligence brought to the breakfast-table one
morning that the young lady was not to be found. Her room was
empty--the bed had not been slept in--the window was open and the
bird had flown!

The astonishment and concern with which the intelligence was
received can only be imagined by those who have witnessed the
agitation which the mishaps of a great man cause among his
friends. Even the poor relations paused for a moment from the
indefatigable labors of the trencher, when the aunt, who had at
first been struck speechless, wrung her hands and shrieked out,
"The goblin" the goblin! she's carried away by the goblin!"

In a few words she related the fearful scene of the garden, and
concluded that the spectre must have carried off his bride. Two
of the domestics corroborated the opinion, for they had heard the
clattering of a horse's hoofs down the mountain about midnight,
and had no doubt that it was the spectre on his black charger
bearing her away to the tomb. All present were struck with the
direful probability for events of the kind are extremely common
in Germany, as many well-authenticated histories bear witness.

What a lamentable situation was that of the poor baron! What a
heartrending dilemma for a fond father and a member of the great
family of Katzenellenbogen! His only daughter had either been
rapt away to the grave, or he was to have some wood-demon for a
son-in-law, and perchance a troop of goblin grandchildren. As
usual, he was completely bewildered, and all the castle in an
uproar. The men were ordered to take horse and scour every road
and path and glen of the Odenwald. The baron himself had just
drawn on his jack-boots, girded on his sword, and was about to
mount his steed to sally forth on the doubtful quest, when he was
brought to a pause by a new apparition. A lady was seen
approaching the castle mounted on a palfrey, attended by a
cavalier on horseback. She galloped up to the gate, sprang from
her horse, and, falling at the baron's feet, embraced his knees.
It was his lost daughter, and her companion--the Spectre
Bridegroom! The baron was astounded. He looked at his daughter,
then at the spectre, and almost doubted the evidence of his
senses. The latter, too, was wonderfully improved in his
appearance since his visit to the world of spirits. His dress was
splendid, and set off a noble figure of manly symmetry. He was no
longer pale and melancholy. His fine countenance was flushed with
the glow of youth, and joy rioted in his large dark eye.

The mystery was soon cleared up. The cavalier (for, in truth, as
you must have known all the while, he was no goblin) announced
himself as Sir Herman Von Starkenfaust. He related his adventure
with the young count. He told how he had hastened to the castle
to deliver the unwelcome tidings, but that the eloquence of the
baron had interrupted him in every attempt to tell his tale. How
the sight of the bride had completely captivated him and that to
pass a few hours near her he had tacitly suffered the mistake to
continue. How he had been sorely perplexed in what way to make a
decent retreat, until the baron's goblin stories had suggested
his eccentric exit. How, fearing the feudal hostility of the
family, he had repeated his visits by stealth--had haunted the
garden beneath the young lady's window--had wooed--had won--had
borne away in triumph--and, in a word, had wedded the fair.

Under any other circumstances the baron would have been
inflexible, for be was tenacious of paternal authority and
devoutly obstinate in all family feuds; but be loved his
daughter; he had lamented her as lost; he rejoiced to find her
still alive; and, though her husband was of a hostile house, yet,
thank Heaven! he was not a goblin. There was something, it must
he acknowledged, that did not exactly accord with his notions of
strict veracity in the joke the knight had passed upon him of his
being a dead man; but several old friends present, who had served
in the wars, assured him that every stratagem was excusable in
love, and that the cavalier was entitled to especial privilege,
having lately served as a trooper.

Matters, therefore, were happily arranged. The baron pardoned the
young couple on the spot. The revels at the castle were resumed.
The poor relations overwhelmed this new member of the family with
loving-kindness; he was so gallant, so generous--and so rich. The
aunts, it is true, were somewhat scandalized that their system of
strict seclusion and passive obedience should be so badly
exemplified, but attributed it all to their negligence in not
having the windows grated. One of them was particularly mortified
at having her marvellous story marred, and that the only spectre
she had ever seen should turn out a counterfeit; but the niece
seemed perfectly happy at having found him substantial flesh and
blood. And so the story ends.


When I behold, with deep astonishment,
To famous Westminster how there resorte,
Living in brasse or stoney monument,
The princes and the worthies of all sorte;
Doe not I see reformde nobilitie,
Without contempt, or pride, or ostentation,
And looke upon offenselesse majesty,
Naked of pomp or earthly domination?
And how a play-game of a painted stone
Contents the quiet now and silent sprites,
Whome all the world which late they stood upon
Could not content nor quench their appetites.
Life is a frost of cold felicitie,
And death the thaw of all our vanitie.

ON one of those sober and rather melancholy days in the latter
part of autumn when the shadows of morning and evening almost
mingle together, and throw a gloom over the decline of the year,
I passed several hours in rambling about Westminster Abbey. There
was something congenial to the season in the mournful
magnificence of the old pile, and as I passed its threshold it
seemed like stepping back into the regions of antiquity and
losing myself among the shades of former ages.

I entered from the inner court of Westminster School, through a
long, low, vaulted passage that had an almost subterranean look,
being dimly lighted in one part by circular perforations in the
massive walls. Through this dark avenue I had a distant view of
the cloisters, with the figure of an old verger in his black gown
moving along their shadowy vaults, and seeming like a spectre
from one of the neighboring tombs. The approach to the abbey
through these gloomy monastic remains prepares the mind for its
solemn contemplation. The cloisters still retain something of the
quiet and seclusion of former days. The gray walls are discolored
by damps and crumbling with age; a coat of hoary moss has
gathered over the inscriptions of the mural monuments, and
obscured the death's heads and other funeral emblems. The sharp
touches of the chisel are gone from the rich tracery of the
arches; the roses which adorned the keystones have lost their
leafy beauty; everything bears marks of the gradual dilapidations
of time, which yet has something touching and pleasing in its
very decay.

The sun was pouring down a yellow autumnal ray into the square of
the cloisters, beaming upon a scanty plot of grass in the centre,
and lighting up an angle of the vaulted passage with a kind of
dusky splendor. From between the arcades the eye glanced up to a
bit of blue sky or a passing cloud, and beheld the sun-gilt
pinnacles of the abbey towering into the azure heaven.

As I paced the cloisters, sometimes contemplating this mingled
picture of glory and decay, and sometimes endeavoring to decipher
the inscriptions on the tombstones which formed the pavement
beneath my feet, my eye was attracted to three figures rudely
carved in relief, but nearly worn away by the footsteps of many
generations. They were the effigies of three of the early abbots;
the epitaphs were entirely effaced; the names alone remained,
having no doubt been renewed in later times (Vitalis. Abbas.
1082, and Gislebertus Crispinus. Abbas. 1114, and Laurentius.
Abbas. 1176). I remained some little while, musing over these
casual relics of antiquity thus left like wrecks upon this
distant shore of time, telling no tale but that such beings had
been and had perished, teaching no moral but the futility of that
pride which hopes still to exact homage in its ashes and to live
in an inscription. A little longer, and even these faint records
will be obliterated and the monument will cease to be a memorial.
Whilst I was yet looking down upon the gravestones I was roused
by the sound of the abbey clock, reverberating from buttress to
buttress and echoing among the cloisters. It is almost startling
to hear this warning of departed time sounding among the tombs
and telling the lapse of the hour, which, like a billow, has
rolled us onward towards the grave. I pursued my walk to an
arched door opening to the interior of the abbey. On entering
here the magnitude of the building breaks fully upon the mind,
contrasted with the vaults of the cloisters. The eyes gaze with
wonder at clustered columns of gigantic dimensions, with arches
springing from them to such an amazing height, and man wandering
about their bases, shrunk into insignificance in comparison with
his own handiwork. The spaciousness and gloom of this vast
edifice produce a profound and mysterious awe. We step cautiously
and softly about, as if fearful of disturbing the hallowed
silence of the tomb, while every footfall whispers along the
walls and chatters among the sepulchres, making us more sensible
of the quiet we have interrupted.

It seems as if the awful nature of the place presses down upon
the soul and hushes the beholder into noiseless reverence. We
feel that we are surrounded by the congregated bones of the great
men of past times, who have filled history with their deeds and
the earth with their renown.

And yet it almost provokes a smile at the vanity of human
ambition to see how they are crowded together and jostled in the
dust; what parsimony is observed in doling out a scanty nook, a
gloomy corner, a little portion of earth, to those whom, when
alive, kingdoms could not satisfy, and how many shapes and forms
and artifices are devised to catch the casual notice of the
passenger, and save from forgetfulness for a few short years a
name which once aspired to occupy ages of the world's thought and

I passed some time in Poet's Corner, which occupies an end of one
of the transepts or cross aisles of the abbey. The monuments are
generally simple, for the lives of literary men afford no
striking themes for the sculptor. Shakespeare and Addison have
statues erected to their memories, but the greater part have
busts, medallions, and sometimes mere inscriptions.
Notwithstanding the simplicity of these memorials, I have always
observed that the visitors to the abbey remained longest about
them. A kinder and fonder feeling takes place of that cold
curiosity or vague admiration with which they gaze on the
splendid monuments of the great and the heroic. They linger about
these as about the tombs of friends and companions, for indeed
there is something of companionship between the author and the
reader. Other men are known to posterity only through the medium
of history, which is continually growing faint and obscure; but
the intercourse between the author and his fellowmen is ever new,
active, and immediate. He has lived for them more than for
himself; he has sacrificed surrounding enjoyments, and shut
himself up from the delights of social life, that he might the
more intimately commune with distant minds and distant ages. Well
may the world cherish his renown, for it has been purchased not
by deeds of violence and blood, but by the diligent dispensation
of pleasure. Well may posterity be grateful to his memory, for he
has left it an inheritance not of empty names and sounding
actions, but whole treasures of wisdom, bright gems of thought,
and golden veins of language.

From Poet's Corner I continued my stroll towards that part of the
abbey which contains the sepulchres of the kings. I wandered
among what once were chapels, but which are now occupied by the
tombs and monuments of the great. At every turn I met with some
illustrious name or the cognizance of some powerful house
renowned in history. As the eye darts into these dusky chambers
of death it catches glimpses of quaint effigies--some kneeling in
niches, as if in devotion; others stretched upon the tombs, with
hands piously pressed together; warriors in armor, as if reposing
after battle; prelates, with crosiers and mitres; and nobles in
robes and coronets, lying as it were in state. In glancing over
this scene, so strangely populous, yet where every form is so
still and silent, it seems almost as if we were treading a
mansion of that fabled city where every being had been suddenly
transmuted into stone.

I paused to contemplate a tomb on which lay the effigy of a
knight in complete armor. A large buckler was on one arm; the
hands were pressed together in supplication upon the breast; the
face was almost covered by the morion; the legs were crossed, in
token of the warrior's having been engaged in the holy war. It
was the tomb of a crusader, of one of those military enthusiasts
who so strangely mingled religion and romance, and whose exploits
form the connecting link between fact and fiction, between the
history and the fairytale. There is something extremely
picturesque in the tombs of these adventurers, decorated as they
are with rude armorial bearings and Gothic sculpture. They
comport with the antiquated chapels in which they are generally
found; and in considering them the imagination is apt to kindle
with the legendary associations, the romantic fiction, the
chivalrous pomp and pageantry which poetry has spread over the
wars for the sepulchre of Christ. They are the relics of times
utterly gone by, of beings passed from recollection, of customs
and manners with which ours have no affinity. They are like
objects from some strange and distant land of which we have no
certain knowledge, and about which all our conceptions are vague
and visionary. There is something extremely solemn and awful in
those effigies on Gothic tombs, extended as if in the sleep of
death or in the supplication of the dying hour. They have an
effect infinitely more impressive on my feelings than the
fanciful attitudes, the over wrought conceits, the allegorical
groups which abound on modern monuments. I have been struck,
also, with the superiority of many of the old sepulchral
inscriptions. There was a noble way in former times of saying
things simply, and yet saying them proudly; and I do not know an
epitaph that breathes a loftier consciousness of family worth and
honorable lineage than one which affirms of a noble house that
"all the brothers were brave and all the sisters virtuous."

In the opposite transept to Poet's Corner stands a monument which
is among the most renowned achievements of modern art, but which
to me appears horrible rather than sublime. It is the tomb of
Mrs. Nightingale, by Roubillac. The bottom of the monument is
represented as throwing open its marble doors, and a sheeted
skeleton is starting forth. The shroud is falling from his
fleshless frame as he launches his dart at his victim. She is
sinking into her affrighted husband's arms, who strives with vain
and frantic effort to avert the blow. The whole is executed with
terrible truth and spirit; we almost fancy we hear the gibbering
yell of triumph bursting from the distended jaws of the spectre.
But why should we thus seek to clothe death with unnecessary
terrors, and to spread horrors round the tomb of those we love?
The grave should be surrounded by everything that might inspire
tenderness and veneration for the dead, or that might win the
living to virtue. It is the place not of disgust and dismay, but
of sorrow and meditation.

While wandering about these gloomy vaults and silent aisles,
studying the records of the dead, the sound of busy existence
from without occasionally reaches the ear--the rumbling of the
passing equipage, the murmur of the multitude, or perhaps the
light laugh of pleasure. The contrast is striking with the
deathlike repose around; and it has a strange effect upon the
feelings thus to hear the surges of active life hurrying along
and beating against the very walls of the sepulchre.

I continued in this way to move from tomb to tomb and from chapel
to chapel. The day was gradually wearing away; the distant tread
of loiterers about the abbey grew less and less frequent; the
sweet-tongued bell was summoning to evening prayers; and I saw at
a distance the choristers in their white surplices crossing the
aisle and entering the choir. I stood before the entrance to
Henry the Seventh's chapel. A flight of steps leads up to it
through a deep and gloomy but magnificent arch. Great gates of
brass, richly and delicately wrought, turn heavily upon their
hinges, as if proudly reluctant to admit the feet of common
mortals into this most gorgeous of sepulchres.

On entering the eye is astonished by the pomp of architecture and
the elaborate beauty of sculptured detail. The very walls are
wrought into universal ornament encrusted with tracery, and
scooped into niches crowded with the statues of saints and
martyrs. Stone seems, by the cunning labor of the chisel, to have
been robbed of its weight and density, suspended aloft as if by
magic, and the fretted roof achieved with the wonderful
minuteness and airy security of a cobweb.

Along the sides of the chapel are the lofty stalls of the Knights
of the Bath, richly carved of oak, though with the grotesque
decorations of Gothic architecture. On the pinnacles of the
stalls are affixed the helmets and crests of the knights, with
their scarfs and swords, and above them are suspended their
banners, emblazoned with armorial bearings, and contrasting the
splendor of gold and purple and crimson with the cold gray
fretwork of the roof. In the midst of this grand mausoleum stands
the sepulchre of its founder--his effigy, with that of his queen,
extended on a sumptuous tomb--and the whole surrounded by a
superbly-wrought brazen railing.

There is a sad dreariness in this magnificence, this strange
mixture of tombs and trophies, these emblems of living and
aspiring ambition, close beside mementos which show the dust and
oblivion in which all must sooner or later terminate. Nothing
impresses the mind with a deeper feeling of loneliness than to
tread the silent and deserted scene of former throng and pageant.
On looking round on the vacant stalls of the knights and their
esquires, and on the rows of dusty but gorgeous banners that were
once borne before them, my imagination conjured up the scene when
this hall was bright with the valor and beauty of the land,
glittering with the splendor of jewelled rank and military array,
alive with the tread of many feet and the hum of an admiring
multitude. All had passed away; the silence of death had settled
again upon the place, interrupted only by the casual chirping of
birds, which had found their way into the chapel and built their
nests among its friezes and pendants--sure signs of solitariness
and desertion.

When I read the names inscribed on the banners, they were those
of men scattered far and wide about the world--some tossing upon
distant seas: some under arms in distant lands; some mingling in
the busy intrigues of courts and cabinets,--all seeking to
deserve one more distinction in this mansion of shadowy
honors--the melancholy reward of a monument.

Two small aisles on each side of this chapel present a touching
instance of the equality of the grave, which brings down the
oppressor to a level with the oppressed and mingles the dust of
the bitterest enemies together. In one is the sepulchre of the
haughty Elizabeth; in the other is that of her victim, the lovely
and unfortunate Mary. Not an hour in the day but some ejaculation
of pity is uttered over the fate of the latter, mingled with
indignation at her oppressor. The walls of Elizabeth's sepulchre
continually echo with the sighs of sympathy heaved at the grave
of her rival.

A peculiar melancholy reigns over the aisle where Mary lies
buried. The light struggles dimly through windows darkened by
dust. The greater part of the place is in deep shadow, and the
walls are stained and tinted by time and weather. A marble figure
of Mary is stretched upon the tomb, round which is an iron
railing, much corroded, bearing her national emblem--the thistle.
I was weary with wandering, and sat down to rest myself by the
monument, revolving in my mind the chequered and disastrous story
of poor Mary.

The sound of casual footsteps had ceased from the abbey. I could
only hear, now and then, the distant voice of the priest
repeating the evening service and the faint responses of the
choir; these paused for a time, and all was hushed. The
stillness, the desertion, and obscurity that were gradally
prevailing around gave a deeper and more solemn interest to the

For in the silent grave no conversation,
No joyful tread of friends, no voice of lovers,
No careful father's counsel--nothing's heard,
For nothing is, but all oblivion,
Dust, and an endless darkness.

Suddenly the notes of the deep-laboring organ burst upon the ear,
falling with doubled and redoubled intensity, and rolling, as it
were, huge billows of sound. How well do their volume and
grandeur accord with this mighty building! With what pomp do they
swell through its vast vaults, and breathe their awful harmony
through these caves of death, and make the silent sepulchre
vocal! And now they rise in triumphant acclamation, heaving
higher and higher their accordant notes and piling sound on
sound. And now they pause, and the soft voices of the choir break
out into sweet gushes of melody; they soar aloft and warble along
the roof, and seem to play about these lofty vaults like the pure
airs of heaven. Again the pealing organ heaves its thrilling
thunders, compressing air into music, and rolling it forth upon
the soul. What long-drawn cadences! What solemn sweeping
concords! It grows more and more dense and powerful; it fills the
vast pile and seems to jar the very walls--the ear is
stunned--the senses are overwhelmed. And now it is winding up in
full jubilee--it is rising from the earth to heaven; the very
soul seems rapt away and floated upwards on this swelling tide of

I sat for some time lost in that kind of reverie which a strain
of music is apt sometimes to inspire: the shadows of evening were
gradually thickening round me; the monuments began to cast deeper
and deeper gloom; and the distant clock again gave token of the
slowly waning day.

I rose and prepared to leave the abbey. As I descended the flight
of steps which lead into the body of the building, my eye was
caught by the shrine of Edward the Confessor, and I ascended the
small staircase that conducts to it, to take from thence a
general survey of this wilderness of tombs. The shrine is
elevated upon a kind of platform, and close around it are the
sepulchres of various kings and queens. From this eminence the
eye looks down between pillars and funeral trophies to the
chapels and chambers below, crowded with tombs, where warriors,
prelates, courtiers, and statesmen lie mouldering in their "beds
of darkness." Close by me stood the great chair of coronation,
rudely carved of oak in the barbarous taste of a remote and
Gothic age. The scene seemed almost as if contrived with
theatrical artifice to produce an effect upon the beholder. Here
was a type of the beginning and the end of human pomp and power;
here it was literally but a step from the throne to the
sepulchre. Would not one think that these incongruous mementos
had been gathered together as a lesson to living greatness?--to
show it, even in the moment of its proudest exaltation, the
neglect and dishonor to which it must soon arrive--how soon that
crown which encircles its brow must pass away, and it must lie
down in the dust and disgraces of the tomb, and be trampled upon
by the feet of the meanest of the multitude. For, strange to
tell, even the grave is here no longer a sanctuary. There is a
shocking levity in some natures which leads them to sport with
awful and hallowed things, and there are base minds which delight
to revenge on the illustrious dead the abject homage and
grovelling servility which they pay to the living. The coffin of
Edward the Confessor has been broken open, and his remains
despoiled of their funereal ornaments; the sceptre has been
stolen from the hand of the imperious Elizabeth; and the effigy
of Henry the Fifth lies headless. Not a royal monument but bears
some proof how false and fugitive is the homage of mankind. Some
are plundered, some mutilated, some covered with ribaldry and
insult,--all more or less outraged and dishonored.

The last beams of day were now faintly streaming through the
painted windows in the high vaults above me; the lower parts of
the abbey were already wrapped in the obscurity of twilight. The
chapels and aisles grew darker and darker. The effigies of the
kings faded into shadows; the marble figures of the monuments
assumed strange shapes in the uncertain light; the evening breeze
crept through the aisles like the cold breath of the grave; and
even the distant footfall of a verger, traversing the Poet's
Corner, had something strange and dreary in its sound. I slowly
retraced my morning's walk, and as I passed out at the portal of
the cloisters, the door, closing with a jarring noise behind me,
filled the whole building with echoes.

I endeavored to form some arrangement in my mind of the objects I
had been contemplating, but found they were already falling into
indistinctness and confusion. Names, inscriptions, trophies, had
all become confounded in my recollection, though I had scarcely
taken my foot from off the threshold. What, thought I, is this
vast assemblage of sepulchres but a treasury of humiliation--a
huge pile of reiterated homilies on the emptiness of renown and
the certainty of oblivion? It is, indeed, the empire of death;
his great shadowy palace where he sits in state mocking at the
relics of human glory and spreading dust and forgetfulness on the
monuments of princes. How idle a boast, after all, is the
immortality of a name! Time is ever silently turning over his
pages; we are too much engrossed by the story of the present to
think of the characters and anecdotes that gave interest to the
past; and each age is a volume thrown aside to be speedily
forgotten. The idol of to-day pushes the hero of yesterday out of
our recollection, and will in turn be supplanted by his successor
of tomorrow. "Our fathers," says Sir Thomas Browne, "find their
graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be
buried in our survivors." History fades into fable; fact becomes
clouded with doubt and controversy; the inscription moulders from
the tablet; the statue falls from the pedestal. Columns, arches,
pyramids, what are they but heaps of sand, and their epitaphs but
characters written in the dust? What is the security of a tomb or
the perpetuity of an embalmment? The remains of Alexander the
Great have been scattered to the wind, and his empty sarcophagus
is now the mere curiosity of a museum. "The Egyptian mummies,
which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth;
Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams."*

What then is to ensure this pile which now towers above me from
sharing the fate of mightier mausoleums? The time must come when
its gilded vaults which now spring so loftily, shall lie in
rubbish beneath the feet; when instead of the sound of melody and
praise the wind shall whistle through the broken arches and the
owl hoot from the shattered tower; when the garish sunbeam shall
break into these gloomy mansions of death, and the ivy twine
round the fallen column; and the fox-glove hang its blossoms
about the nameless urn, as if in mockery of the dead. Thus man
passes away; his name passes from record and recollection; his
history is as a tale that is told, and his very monument becomes
a ruin.

* Sir T. Browne.


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 I cannot have more of him.

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

NOTHING in England 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 flavor of those honest
days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to
think the world was more homebred, 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 fervor 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 harmony.

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 mementos of

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 it 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 pleasure 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 loving-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 in 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 round upon the comfortable
chamber and the scene of domestic hilarity?

The English, from the great prevalence of rural habit throughout
every class of society, have always been found 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 antiquaries have given of
the quaint humors, 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
passengers to raise the latch and join the gossip knot huddled
round 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 parlor, 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 honors,
Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England.
It is gratifying to see that home-feeling completely aroused
which holds 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, heard sometimes 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 heart.

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 can 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.


Omne bene
Sine poena
Tempua est ludendi.
Venit hora
Absque mora
Libros deponendi.

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 school boys 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 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
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 buttonhole 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 colored
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 enamored
country lass. His waistcoat is commonly of some bright color,
striped, and his small-clothes extend far below the knees, to
meet a pair of jockey boots which reach about halfway up his

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 ostler, his duty
being merely to drive from one stage to another. When off the box
his hands are thrust into the pockets of his great coat, 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 ostlers, stableboys, shoeblacks, and those nameless hangers-on
that infest inns and taverns, and run errands and do all kind 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,
endeavor 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 the
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 house-maid
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 juntos 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
laboring 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 sulphurous gleams of the

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
preparation: "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, recognizing 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

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 him.

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 with 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 known
neither care nor sorrow and a holiday was the summit of earthly
felicity. We stopped a few moments afterwards 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
settles beside the fire. Trim housemaids 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 realized 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 post-chaise drove up to the
door. A young gentleman stept 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-humored 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-fashioned 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.


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 postboy
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 honorable 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 favorite
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 humor without
molestation. Being representative of the oldest family in the
neighborhood, 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 eccentricities that might otherwise appear

* 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 shrubbery.

The postboy rang a large porter's bell, which resounded though
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 a 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 seemed,
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 household.

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 vapor stealing up from
the low grounds and threatening gradually to shroud the

My companion looked around 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
could bestow."

We were interrupted by the clamor of a troop of dogs of all sorts
and sizes, "mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of lower
degree," that disturbed by the ring 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 leveling 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 conformably 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 snap dragon; the
Yule-clog and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the
mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril
of all the pretty housemaids.*

* The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses 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.

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 a
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
the physiognomist, with the advantage, like myself, of a previous
hint or two, might discover a singular mixture of whim and

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, comfortable
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 young
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 endeavored to restore it to
something of its primitive state. Over the heavy projecting
fireplace was suspended a picture of a warrior in armor, standing
by a white horse, and on the opposite wall hung a 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 parlor 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-clog, which
the squire was particular in having brought in and illumined on a
Christmas Eve, according to ancient custom.*

* 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 metric, merrie boys,
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 farm-houses 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.

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 old 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. Besides the accustomed lights, two great wax
tapers, called Christmas candles, wreathed with greens, were
placed on a highly polished beaufet 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 acquaintance.

The mirth of the company was greatly promoted by the humors 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 small-pox, with a dry perpetual bloom on it, like a
frostbitten 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 harping 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 to 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 be 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,
unaccommodating 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 favorite 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 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 humor 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 neighbors together;
And when they appear,
Let us make them such cheer,
As will keep out the wind and the weather, &c.

The supper had disposed every one to gayety, 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 hall."

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 couple 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 endeavoring 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-sorted matches to which antique gentlemen are
unfortunately prone.

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 favorite 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 misligbt thee;
Nor snake nor slow-worm bite thee;
But 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 or might not have been intended in compliment to
the fair Julia, for so I found his partner was called; 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 amused herself with plucking to
pieces a choice bouquet of hot-house 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 my 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 thought
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 neighboring 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 the quiet and moonlight. I
listened and listened--they became more and more tender and
remote, and, as they gradually died away, my head sunk upon the
pillow and I fell asleep.


Dark and dull night, flie hence away,
And give the honor 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 woke 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, slipt 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 vapor of
the preceding evening had been precipitated by the cold, and
covered all the trees and every blade of grass with its fine
crystalizations. 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 favorite
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 eye glistening and his voice rambling out of all
the bounds of time and tune:

"'Tis Thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
With guiltless mirth,
And givest 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
falling 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 keynote 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 gentlemanlike dogs,
that seemed loungers about the establishment, from the frisking
spaniel to the steady old stag-hound, 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 favorites 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

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, Isaac 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

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 observed,--

"At Christmas be merry, and thankful withal,
And feast thy poor neighbors, the great with 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 neighborhood; 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

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 Wynkyn
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
coinpanion; 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; which, if the face be indeed an
index of the mind, might be compared to a title-page of

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 armor with his legs crossed, a sign of
his having been a crusader. I was told it was one of the family
who had signalized 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
clarinet, and seemed to have blown his face to a point; and there
was another, a short pursy man, stooping and laboring 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 happened 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 Caesarea,
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 little of the present.

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 anti-christian, 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 ardor of his contest
and the host of imaginary foes with whom he had to combat; he had
a stubborn conflict with old Prynne and two or three other
forgotten champions of the Roundheads on the subject of Christmas
festivity; and concluded by urging his hearers, in the most
solemn and affecting manner, to stand to the traditional customs
of their fathers and feast and make merry on this joyful
anniversary of the Church.

* 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; I
Cor. xv. 14, 17; and in honor of the Lord's Day, grounded upon
these Scriptures, John xx. I; Rev. i. 10; Psalms cxviii. 24; Lev.
xxiii. 7, 11; Mark xv. 8; Psalms lxxxiv. 10, in which Christmas
is called Anti-christ's masse, and those Masse-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."

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 gayety 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 banded 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 overflowed 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
mid-winter. 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 farm-houses 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 on every churlish enemy to this honest festival:

"`Those who at Christmas do repine,
And would fain hence dispatch 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

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