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Title: Old Christmas From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving
Author: Irving, Washington, 1783-1859
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Old Christmas From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



[Illustration: CHRISTMAS]

[Illustration: publisher's logo]


[Illustration: "The old family mansion, partly thrown in deep shadow,
and partly lit up by the cold moonshine"


[Illustration: OLD CHRISTMAS:

          FROM THE
          Sketch Book
          Washington Irving.

          R CALDECOTT

          Macmillan & Co


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

                              _Hue and Cry after Christmas._

[Illustration: PREFACE]

Before the remembrance of the good old times, so fast passing, should
have entirely passed away, the present artist, R. Caldecott, and
engraver, James D. Cooper, planned to illustrate Washington Irving's
"Old Christmas" in this manner. Their primary idea was to carry out the
principle of the Sketch Book, by incorporating the designs with the
text. Throughout they have worked together and _con amore_. With what
success the public must decide.

          NOVEMBER 1875.

[Illustration: CONTENTS]


          CHRISTMAS                                     1

          THE STAGE COACH                              17

          CHRISTMAS EVE                                41

          CHRISTMAS DAY                                75

          THE CHRISTMAS DINNER                        117









   ANCIENT FIREPLACE                                             iv

   HEADING TO PREFACE                                             v

   HEADING TO CONTENTS                                          vii

   TAILPIECE TO CONTENTS                                        vii

   HEADING TO LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS                              ix

   TAILPIECE TO LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS                           xiv

   "THE POOR FROM THE GATES WERE NOT CHIDDEN"                   xvi

   HEADING TO CHRISTMAS                                           1

   THE MOULDERING TOWER                                           2

   CHRISTMAS ANTHEM IN CATHEDRAL                                  4

   THE WANDERER'S RETURN                                          5

   "NATURE LIES DESPOILED OF EVERY CHARM"                         6

   "THE HONEST FACE OF HOSPITALITY"                               8

   "THE SHY GLANCE OF LOVE"                                       8

   OLD HALL OF CASTLE                                            10

   THE GREAT OAKEN GALLERY                                       12

   THE WAITS                                                     14

   "AND SIT DOWN DARKLING AND REPINING"                          16

   THE STAGE COACH                                               19

   THE THREE SCHOOLBOYS                                          20

   THE OLD ENGLISH STAGE COACHMAN                                23


   THE STABLE IMITATORS                                          26

   THE PUBLIC HOUSE                                              28

   THE HOUSEMAID                                                 29

   THE SMITHY                                                    30

   "NOW OR NEVER MUST MUSIC BE IN TUNE"                          32

   THE COUNTRY MAID                                              32

   THE OLD SERVANT AND BANTAM                                    34

   A NEAT COUNTRY SEAT                                           35

   INN KITCHEN                                                   37

   THE RECOGNITION. TAILPIECE                                    40

   THE POST-CHAISE                                               43

   THE LODGE GATE                                                46

   THE OLD PRIMITIVE DAME                                        46

   "THE LITTLE DOGS AND ALL"                                     49

   MISTLETOE                                                     52

   THE SQUIRE'S RECEPTION                                        53

   THE FAMILY PARTY                                              54

   TOYS                                                          55

   THE YULE LOG                                                  57

   THE SQUIRE IN HIS HEREDITARY CHAIR                            58

   THE FAMILY PLATE                                              60

   MASTER SIMON                                                  61

   YOUNG GIRL                                                    62

   HER MOTHER                                                    62

   THE OLD HARPER                                                65

   MASTER SIMON DANCING                                          67

   THE OXONIAN AND HIS MAIDEN AUNT                               68

   THE YOUNG OFFICER WITH HIS GUITAR                             70

   THE FAIR JULIA                                                72

   ASLEEP                                                        74

   CHRISTMAS DAY                                                 77

   THE CHILDREN'S CAROL                                          78

   ROBIN ON THE MOUNTAIN ASH                                     80

   MASTER SIMON AS CLERK                                         81

   BREAKFAST                                                     84

   VIEWING THE DOGS                                              85

   MASTER SIMON GOING TO CHURCH                                  88

   THE VILLAGE CHURCH                                            91

   THE PARSON                                                    93

   REBUKING THE SEXTON                                           95

   EFFIGY OF A WARRIOR                                           96

   MASTER SIMON AT CHURCH                                        97

   THE VILLAGE CHOIR                                             97

   THE VILLAGE TAILOR                                            98

   AN OLD CHORISTER                                             100

   THE SERMON                                                   101

   CHURCHYARD GREETINGS                                         104

   FROSTY THRALDOM OF WINTER                                    106

   MERRY OLD ENGLISH GAMES                                      109

   THE POOR AT HOME                                             111

   VILLAGE ANTICS                                               112

   TASTING THE SQUIRE'S ALE                                     113

   THE WIT OF THE VILLAGE                                       115

   COQUETTISH HOUSEMAID                                         116

   ANTIQUE SIDEBOARD                                            119

   THE COOK WITH THE ROLLING-PIN                                120

   THE WARRIOR'S ARMS                                           121


   THE CHRISTMAS DINNER                                         123

   A HIGH ROMAN NOSE                                            124

   THE PARSON SAID GRACE                                        125

   THE BOAR'S HEAD                                              126

   THE FAT-HEADED OLD GENTLEMAN                                 129

   PEACOCK PIE                                                  130

   THE WASSAIL BOWL                                             132

   THE SQUIRE'S TOAST                                           134

   THE LONG-WINDED JOKER                                        136

   LONG STORIES                                                 138

   THE PARSON AND THE PRETTY MILKMAID                           139

   MASTER SIMON GROWS MAUDLIN                                   140

   THE BLUE-EYED ROMP                                           143

   THE PARSON'S TALE                                            144

   THE SEXTON'S REBUFF                                          146

   THE CRUSADER'S NIGHT RIDE                                    148

   ANCIENT CHRISTMAS AND DAME MINCE-PIE                         151

   ROBIN HOOD AND MAID MARIAN                                   152

   THE MINUET                                                   153

   ROAST BEEF, PLUM PUDDING, AND MISRULE                        153

   THE CHRISTMAS DANCE IN COSTUME                               154

   "CHUCKLING AND RUBBING HIS HANDS"                            155


   RETROSPECT                                                   159


[Illustration: CHRISTMAS]


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

                            _Old Song._

[Illustration: CHRISTMAS]

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


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


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


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



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


The English, from the great prevalence of rural habits throughout every
class of society, have always been fond of those festivals and holidays
which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life; and they were,
in former days, particularly observant of the religious and social rites
of Christmas. It is inspiring to read even the dry details which some
antiquarians have given of the quaint humours, the burlesque pageants,
the complete abandonment to mirth and good-fellowship, with which this
festival was celebrated. It seemed to throw open every door, and unlock
every heart. It brought the peasant and the peer together, and blended
all ranks in one warm generous flow of joy and kindness. The old halls
of castles and manor-houses resounded with the harp and the Christmas
carol, and their ample boards groaned under the weight of hospitality.
Even the poorest cottage welcomed the festive season with green
decorations of bay and holly--the cheerful fire glanced its rays through
the lattice, inviting the passenger to raise the latch, and join the
gossip knot huddled 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 home-bred
feelings, its honest fireside delights. The traditionary customs of
golden-hearted antiquity, its feudal hospitalities, and lordly
wassailings, have passed away with the baronial castles and stately
manor-houses in which they were celebrated. They comported with the
shadowy hall, the great oaken gallery, and the tapestried parlour, but
are unfitted to the light showy saloons and gay drawing-rooms of the
modern villa.


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


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

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

Amidst the general call to happiness, the bustle of the spirits, and
stir of the affections, which prevail at this period, what bosom can
remain insensible? It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling--the
season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but
the genial flame of charity in the 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, re-animates the drooping spirit,--as the Arabian
breeze will sometimes waft the freshness of the distant fields to the
weary pilgrim of the desert.

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


[Illustration: The Stage Coach]


            Omne benè
            Sine poenâ
          Tempus est ludendi;
            Venit hora,
            Absque morâ,
          Libros deponendi.

              _Old Holiday School Song._



[Illustration: I]

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


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

They were under the particular guardianship of the coachman, to whom,
whenever an opportunity presented, they addressed a host of questions,
and pronounced him one of the best fellows in the whole world. Indeed, I
could not but notice the more than ordinary air of bustle and
importance of the coachman, who wore his hat a little on one side, and
had a large bunch of Christmas greens stuck in the button-hole of his
coat. He is always a personage full of mighty care and business, but he
is particularly so during this season, having so many commissions to
execute in consequence of the great interchange of presents. And here,
perhaps, it may not be unacceptable to my untravelled readers, to have a
sketch that may serve as a general representation of this very numerous
and important class of functionaries, who have a dress, a manner, a
language, an air, peculiar to themselves, and prevalent throughout the
fraternity; so that, wherever an English stage-coachman may be seen, he
cannot be mistaken for one of any other craft or mystery.


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


All this costume is maintained with much precision; he has a pride in
having his clothes of excellent materials; and, notwithstanding the
seeming grossness of his appearance, there is still discernible that
neatness and propriety of person, which is almost inherent in an
Englishman. He enjoys great consequence and consideration along the
road; has frequent conferences with the village housewives, who look
upon him as a man of great trust and dependence; and he seems to have a
good understanding with every bright-eyed country lass. The moment he
arrives where the horses are to be changed, he throws down the reins
with something of an air, and abandons the cattle to the care of the
ostler; his duty being merely to drive from one stage to another. When
off the box, his hands are thrust in the pockets of his greatcoat, and
he rolls about the inn-yard with an air of the most absolute
lordliness. Here he is generally surrounded by an admiring throng of
ostlers, stable-boys, shoe-blacks, and those nameless hangers-on that
infest inns and taverns, and run errands, and do all kinds of odd jobs,
for the privilege of battening on the drippings of the kitchen and the
leakage of the tap-room. These all look up to him as to an oracle;
treasure up his cant phrases; echo his opinions about horses and other
topics of jockey lore; and, above all, endeavour to imitate his air and
carriage. Every ragamuffin that has a coat to his back thrusts his hands
in the pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang, and is an embryo




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



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


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

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


Off they set at last; one on the pony, with the dog bounding and barking
before him, and the others holding John's hands; both talking at once,
and overpowering him by questions about home, and with school anecdotes.
I looked after them with a feeling in which I do not know whether
pleasure or melancholy predominated: for I was reminded of those days
when, like them, I had neither known care nor sorrow, and a holiday was
the summit of earthly felicity. We stopped a few moments 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 seats 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 realised Poor Robin's humble idea
of the comforts of mid-winter.


          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.[A]

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



[A] Poor Robin's Almanack, 1684.

[Illustration: Christmas Eve]


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




[Illustration: I]

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

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 post-boy rang a large porter's bell, which resounded through the
still frosty air, and was answered by the distant barking of dogs, with
which the mansion-house seemed garrisoned. An old woman immediately
appeared at the gate. As the moonlight fell strongly upon her, I had 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 seems, was up at the house keeping Christmas eve in the servants'
hall; they could not do without him, as he was the best hand at a song
and story in the household.

[Illustration: "It was in a heavy magnificent old style, of iron bars,
fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and flowers."--PAGE 46.]

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

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


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

                  ----"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 animals.

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


As we approached the house, we heard the sound of music, and now and
then a burst of laughter from one end of the building. This, Bracebridge
said, must proceed from the servants' hall, where a great deal of
revelry was permitted, and even encouraged, by the Squire throughout the
twelve days of Christmas, provided everything was done 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
snapdragon: the Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and
the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of
all the pretty housemaids.[C]


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

[Illustration: "The company, which was assembled in a large
old-fashioned hall."--PAGE 54.]

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

The supper had disposed every one to gaiety, and an old harper was
summoned from the servants' hall, where he had been strumming all the
evening, and to all appearance comforting himself with some of the
Squire's home-brewed. He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told, of the
establishment, and though ostensibly a resident of the village, was
oftener to be found in the Squire's kitchen than his own home, the old
gentleman being fond of the sound of "harp in 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
couples with a partner with whom he affirmed he had danced at every
Christmas for nearly half-a-century. Master Simon, who seemed to be a
kind of connecting link between the old times and the new, and to be
withal a little antiquated in the taste of his accomplishments,
evidently piqued himself on his dancing, and was endeavouring to gain
credit by the heel and toe, rigadoon, and other graces of the ancient
school; but he had unluckily assorted himself with a little romping
girl from boarding-school, who, by her wild vivacity, kept him
continually on the stretch, and defeated all his sober attempts at
elegance;--such are the ill-assorted matches to which antique gentlemen
are unfortunately 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 favourite
among the women. The most interesting couple in the dance was the young
officer and a ward of the Squire's, a beautiful blushing girl of
seventeen. From several shy glances which I had noticed in the course of
the evening, I suspected there was a little kindness growing up between
them; and, indeed, the young soldier was just the hero to captivate a
romantic girl. He was tall, slender, and handsome, and, like most young
British officers of late years, had picked up various small
accomplishments on the Continent--he could talk French and Italian--draw
landscapes, sing very tolerably--dance divinely; but, above all, he had
been wounded at Waterloo:--what girl of seventeen, well read in poetry
and romance, could resist such a mirror of chivalry and perfection!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: "Indeed, so great was her indifference, that she was
amusing herself with plucking to pieces a choice bouquet of hot-house
flowers."--PAGE 72.]

My chamber was in the old part of the mansion, the ponderous furniture
of which might have been fabricated in the days of the giants. The room
was panelled with cornices of heavy carved-work, in which flowers and
grotesque faces were strangely intermingled; and a row of black-looking
portraits stared mournfully at me from the walls. The bed was of rich
though faded damask, with a lofty tester, and stood in a niche opposite
a bow-window. I had scarcely got into bed when a strain of music seemed
to break forth in the air just below the window. I listened, and found
it proceeded from a band, which I concluded to be the waits from some
neighbouring village. They went round the house, playing under the
windows. I drew aside the curtains, to hear them more distinctly. The
moonbeams fell through the upper part of the casement, partially
lighting up the antiquated apartment. The sounds, as they receded,
became more soft and aërial, and seemed to accord with quiet and
moonlight. I listened and listened--they became more and more tender
and remote, and, as they gradually died away, my head sank upon the
pillow and I fell asleep.



[B] Peacham's Complete Gentleman, 1622.

[C] See Note A.

[D] See Note B.

[Illustration: Christmas Day]


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




[Illustration: W]

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


After breakfast I walked about the grounds with Frank Bracebridge and
Master Simon, or Mr. Simon, as he was called by everybody but the
Squire. We were escorted by a number of gentlemen-like 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 button-hole, and in the midst of their
gambols would glance an eye occasionally upon a small switch he carried
in his hand.


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

[Illustration: "On reaching the church-porch, we found the parson
rebuking the gray-headed sexton for having used mistletoe."--PAGE 95.]

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

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


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.

[Illustration: "The orchestra was in a small gallery, and presented a
most whimsical grouping of heads."--PAGE 97.]


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



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


The parson gave us a most erudite sermon on the rites and ceremonies of
Christmas, and the propriety of observing it not merely as a day of
thanksgiving, but of rejoicing; supporting the correctness of his
opinions by the earliest usages of the Church, and enforcing them by the
authorities of Theophilus of Cesarea, St. Cyprian, St. Chrysostom, St.
Augustine, and a cloud more of Saints and Fathers, from whom he made
copious quotations. I was a little at a loss to perceive the necessity
of such a mighty array of forces to maintain a point which no one
present seemed inclined to dispute; but I soon found that the good man
had a legion of ideal adversaries to contend with; having in the course
of his researches on the subject of Christmas, got completely embroiled
in the sectarian controversies of the Revolution, when the Puritans made
such a fierce assault upon the ceremonies of the Church, and poor old
Christmas was driven out of the land by proclamation of parliament.[E]
The worthy parson lived but with times past, and knew but a 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 antichristian; and that Christmas had
been brought in again triumphantly with the merry court of King Charles
at the Restoration. He kindled into warmth with the ardour of his
contest, and the host of imaginary foes with whom he had to combat; had
a stubborn conflict with old Prynne and two or three other forgotten
champions of the Roundheads, on the subject of Christmas festivity; and
concluded by urging his hearers, in the most solemn and affecting
manner, to stand to the traditionary customs of their fathers, and feast
and make merry on this joyful anniversary of the Church.


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


On our way homeward his heart seemed overflowing with generous and happy
feelings. As we passed over a rising ground which commanded something of
a prospect, the sounds of rustic merriment now and then reached our
ears; the Squire paused for a few moments, and looked around with an air
of inexpressible benignity. The beauty of the day was of itself
sufficient to inspire philanthropy. Notwithstanding the frostiness of
the morning, the sun in his cloudless journey had acquired sufficient
power to melt away the thin covering of snow from every southern
declivity, and to bring out the living green which adorns an English
landscape even in 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 of every churlish
enemy to this honest festival:--

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


After the dance was concluded, the whole party was entertained with
brawn and beef, and stout home-brewed. The Squire himself mingled among
the rustics, and was received with awkward demonstrations of deference
and regard. It is true I perceived two or three of the younger peasants,
as they were raising their tankards to their mouths when the Squire's
back was turned, making something of a grimace, and giving each other
the wink; but the moment they caught my eye they pulled grave faces, and
were exceedingly demure. With Master Simon, however, they all seemed
more at their ease. His varied occupations and amusements had made him
well known throughout the neighbourhood. He was a visitor at every
farm-house and cottage; gossiped with the farmers and their wives;
romped with their daughters; and, like that type of a vagrant bachelor,
the humble bee, tolled the sweets from all the rosy lips of the country

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


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



[E] See Note C.

[F]       "Ule! Ule!
           Three puddings in a pule;
           Crack nuts and cry ule!"

[G] See Note D.

[Illustration: The Christmas Dinner]


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

                               WITHERS'S _Juvenilia._


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


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


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


[Illustration: "Never did Christmas board display a more goodly and
gracious assemblage of countenances."--PAGE 123.]


We were ushered into this banqueting scene with the sound of minstrelsy,
the old harper being seated on a stool beside the fireplace, and
twanging his instrument with a vast deal more power than melody. Never
did Christmas board display a more goodly and gracious assemblage of
countenances: those who were not handsome were, at least, happy; and
happiness is a rare improver of your hard-favoured visage. I always
consider an old English family as well worth studying as a collection of
Holbein's portraits or Albert Durer's prints. There is much antiquarian
lore to be acquired; much knowledge of the physiognomies of former
times. Perhaps it may be from having continually before their eyes those
rows of old family portraits, with which the mansions of this country
are stocked; certain it is, that the quaint features of antiquity are
often most faithfully perpetuated in these ancient lines; and I have
traced an old family nose through a whole picture gallery, legitimately
handed down from generation to generation, almost from the time of the
Conquest. Something of the kind was to be observed in the worthy company
around me. Many of their faces had evidently originated in a Gothic age,
and been merely copied by succeeding generations; and there was one
little girl, in particular, of staid demeanour, with a high Roman nose,
and an antique vinegar aspect, who was a great favourite of the
Squire's, being, as he said, a Bracebridge all over, and the very
counterpart of one of his ancestors who figured in the court of Henry


The parson said grace, which was not a short familiar one, such as is
commonly addressed to the Deity, in these unceremonious days; but a
long, courtly, well-worded one of the ancient school. There was now a
pause, as if something was expected; when suddenly the butler entered
the hall with some degree of bustle: he was attended by a servant on
each side with a large wax-light, and bore a silver dish, on which was
an enormous pig's head decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its
mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table.
The moment this pageant made its appearance, the harper struck up a
flourish; at the conclusion of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a
hint from the Squire, gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an
old carol, the first verse of which was as follows:--

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


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

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


The table was literally loaded with good cheer, and presented an epitome
of country abundance, in this season of overflowing larders. A
distinguished post was allotted to "ancient sirloin," as mine host
termed it; being, as he added, "the standard of old English hospitality,
and a joint of goodly presence, and full of expectation." There were
several dishes quaintly decorated, and which had evidently something
traditionary in their embellishments; but about which, as I did not like
to appear over-curious, I asked no questions.


I could not, however, but notice a pie, magnificently decorated with
peacocks' feathers, in imitation of the tail of that bird, which
overshadowed a considerable tract of the table. This the Squire
confessed, with some little hesitation, was a pheasant-pie, though a
peacock-pie was certainly the most authentical; but there had been such
a mortality among the peacocks this season, that he could not prevail
upon himself to have one killed.[J]

It would be tedious, perhaps, to my wiser readers, who may not have that
foolish fondness for odd and obsolete things to which I am a little
given, were I to mention the other makeshifts of this worthy old
humorist, by which he was endeavouring to follow up, though at humble
distance, the quaint customs of antiquity. I was pleased, however, to
see the respect shown to his whims by his children and relatives; who,
indeed, entered readily into the full spirit of them, and seemed all
well versed in their parts; having doubtless been present at many a
rehearsal. I was amused, too, at the air of profound gravity with which
the butler and other servants executed the duties assigned them, however
eccentric. They had an old-fashioned look; having, for the most part,
been brought up in the household, and grown into keeping with the
antiquated mansion, and the humours of its lord; and most probably
looked upon all his whimsical regulations as the established laws of
honourable housekeeping.


When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel
of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the Squire. Its
appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so
renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the
Squire himself; for it was a beverage in the skilful mixture of which he
particularly prided himself; alleging that it was too abstruse and
complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation,
indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being
composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened,
with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.[K]

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


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

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

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

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


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


When the ladies had retired, the conversation, as usual, became still
more animated; many good things were broached which had been thought of
during dinner, but which would not exactly do for a lady's ear; and
though I cannot positively affirm that there was much wit uttered, yet I
have certainly heard many contests of rare wit produce much less
laughter. Wit, after all, is a mighty tart, pungent ingredient, and much
too acid for some stomachs; but honest good humour is the oil and wine
of a merry meeting, and there is no jovial companionship equal to that
where the jokes are rather small, and the laughter abundant. The Squire
told several long stories of early college pranks and adventures, in
some of which the parson had been a sharer; though in looking at the
latter, it required some effort of imagination to figure such a little
dark anatomy of a man into the perpetrator of a madcap gambol. Indeed,
the two college chums presented pictures of what men may be made by
their different lots in life. The Squire had left the university to live
lustily on his paternal domains, in the vigorous enjoyment of
prosperity and sunshine, and had flourished on to a hearty and florid
old age; whilst the poor parson, on the contrary, had dried and withered
away, among dusty tomes, in the silence and shadows of his study. Still
there seemed to be a spark of almost extinguished fire, feebly
glimmering in the bottom of his soul; and as the Squire hinted at a sly
story of the parson and a pretty milkmaid, whom they once met on the
banks of the Isis, the old gentleman made an "alphabet of faces," which,
as far as I could decipher his physiognomy, I verily believe was
indicative of laughter;--indeed, I have rarely met with an old
gentleman who took absolutely offence at the imputed gallantries of his



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

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

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


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


When I returned to the drawing-room, I found the company seated round
the fire, listening to the parson, who was deeply ensconced in a
high-backed oaken chair, the work of some cunning artificer of yore,
which had been brought from the library for his particular
accommodation. From this venerable piece of furniture, with which his
shadowy figure and dark weazen face so admirably accorded, he was
dealing forth strange accounts of the popular superstitions and legends
of the surrounding country, with which he had become acquainted in the
course of his antiquarian researches. I am half inclined to think that
the old gentleman was himself somewhat tinctured with superstition, as
men are very apt to be who live a recluse and studious life in a
sequestered part of the country, and pore over black-letter tracts, so
often filled with the marvellous and supernatural. He gave us several
anecdotes of the fancies of the neighbouring peasantry, concerning the
effigy of the crusader which lay on the tomb by the church altar. As it
was the only monument of the kind in that part of the country, it had
always been regarded with feelings of superstition by the good wives of
the village. It was said to get up from the tomb and walk the rounds of
the churchyard in stormy nights, particularly when it thundered; and one
old woman, whose cottage bordered on the churchyard, had seen it,
through the windows of the church, when the moon shone, slowly pacing up
and down the aisles. It was the belief that some wrong had been left
unredressed by the deceased, or some treasure hidden, which kept the
spirit in a state of trouble and restlessness. Some talked of gold and
jewels buried in the tomb, over which the spectre kept watch; and there
was a story current of a sexton in old times who endeavoured to break
his way to the coffin at night; but just as he reached it, received a
violent blow from the marble hand of the effigy, which stretched him
senseless on the pavement. These tales were often laughed at by some of
the sturdier among the rustics, yet when night came on, there were many
of the stoutest unbelievers that were shy of venturing alone in the
footpath that led across the churchyard.



From these and other anecdotes that followed, the crusader appeared to
be the favourite hero of ghost stories throughout the vicinity. His
picture, which hung up in the hall, was thought by the servants to have
something supernatural about it; for they remarked that, in whatever
part of the hall you went, the eyes of the warrior were still fixed on
you. The old porter's wife, too, at the lodge, who had been born and
brought up in the family, and was a great gossip among the
maid-servants, affirmed, that in her young days she had often heard say,
that on Midsummer eve, when it is well known all kinds of ghosts,
goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad, the crusader used
to mount his horse, come down from his picture, ride about the house,
down the avenue, and so to the church to visit the tomb; on which
occasion the church-door most civilly swung open of itself: not that he
needed it; for he rode through closed gates and even stone walls, and
had been seen by one of the dairymaids to pass between two bars of the
great park gate, making himself as thin as a sheet of paper.

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

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



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

[Illustration: "The rest of the train had been metamorphosed in various
ways."--PAGE 153.]


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


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


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

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



[H] Sir John Suckling.

[I] See Note E.

[J] See Note F.

[K] See Note G.

[L] See Note H.

[M] From "Poor Robin's Almanack."

[N] See Note I.

[O] See Note J.

[P] See Note K.


NOTE A, p. 53.

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.

NOTE B, p. 58.

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

Herrick mentions it in one of his songs:--

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

The _Yule-clog_ is still burnt in many 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.

NOTE C, p. 102.

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

NOTE D p. 108.

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

NOTE E, p. 129.

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

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

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

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

NOTE F, p. 131.

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

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

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

NOTE G, p. 133.

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

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

NOTE H, p. 134.

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

NOTE I, p. 142.

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

NOTE J, p. 151.

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

NOTE K, p. 156.

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

_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh._

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

On page 18, the word "poenâ" is actually written with a ligature attaching
the oe. For the text version, this was not retained.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Old Christmas From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving" ***

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