christmas day. dark and dull night, flie hence away,and give the honor to this day that sees december turn'd to may.. . . . . . . why does the chilling winter's mornesmile like a field beset with corn? or smell like to a meade new-shorne,thus on the sudden?â€”come and see the cause why things thus fragrant be.herrick. when i woke the next morning it seemed asif all the events of the preceding evening had been a dream, and nothing but the identityof the ancient chamber convinced me of their reality. while i lay musing on my pillow iheard 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 ofwhich wasâ€” rejoice, our saviour he was bornon christmas day in the morning. i rose softly, slipt on my clothes, openedthe door suddenly, and beheld one of the most beautiful little fairy groups that a paintercould imagine. it consisted of a boy and two girls, the eldest not more than six, and lovelyas 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 momentplaying on their lips with their fingers, and now and then stealing a shy glance fromunder their eyebrows, until, as if by one
impulse, they scampered away, and as theyturned an angle of the gallery i heard them laughing in triumph at their escape. everything conspired to produce kind and happyfeelings in this stronghold of old-fashioned hospitality. the window of my chamber lookedout 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 clumpsof trees and herds of deer. at a distance was a neat hamlet, with the smoke from thecottage chimneys hanging over it, and a church with its dark spire in strong relief againstthe clear cold sky. the house was surrounded with evergreens, according to the englishcustom, which would have given almost an appearance
of summer; but the morning was extremely frosty;the light vapor of the preceding evening had been precipitated by the cold, and coveredall the trees and every blade of grass with its fine crystalizations. the rays of a brightmorning sun had a dazzling effect among the glittering foliage. a robin, perched uponthe top of a mountain-ash that hung its clusters of red berries just before my window, wasbasking himself in the sunshine and piping a few querulous notes, and a peacock was displayingall the glories of his train and strutting with the pride and gravity of a spanish grandeeon the terrace walk below. i had scarcely dressed myself when a servantappeared to invite me to family prayers. he showed me the way to a small chapel in theold wing of the house, where i found the principal
part of the family already assembled in akind of gallery furnished with cushions, hassocks, and large prayer-books; the servants wereseated 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 tosay that he acquitted himself with great gravity and decorum. the service was followed by a christmas carol,which mr. bracebridge himself had constructed from a poem of his favorite author, herrick,and it had been adapted to an old church melody by master simon. as there were several goodvoices among the household, the effect was extremely pleasing, but i was particularlygratified by the exaltation of heart and sudden
sally of grateful feeling with which the worthysquire delivered one stanza, his eye glistening and his voice rambling out of all the boundsof time and tune: "'tis thou that crown'st my glittering hearthwith guiltless mirth, and givest me wassaile bowles to drinkspiced to the brink; lord, 'tis thy plenty-dropping handthat soiles my land: and giv'st me for my bushell sowne,twice ten for one." i afterwards understood that early morningservice was read on every sunday and saint's day throughout the year, either by mr. bracebridgeor by some member of the family. it was once almost universally the case at the seats ofthe nobility and gentry of england, and it
is much to be regretted that the custom isfalling into neglect; for the dullest observer must be sensible of the order and serenityprevalent in those households where the occasional exercise of a beautiful form of worship inthe morning gives, as it were, the keynote to every temper for the day and attunes everyspirit to harmony. our breakfast consisted of what the squiredenominated true old english fare. he indulged in some bitter lamentations over modern breakfastsof tea and toast, which he censured as among the causes of modern effeminacy and weak nervesand the decline of old english heartiness; and, though he admitted them to his tableto suit the palates of his guests, yet there was a brave display of cold meats, wine, andale on the sideboard.
after breakfast i walked about the groundswith frank bracebridge and master simon, or mr. simon, as he was called by everybody butthe squire. we were escorted by a number of gentlemanlike dogs, that seemed loungers aboutthe establishment, from the frisking spaniel to the steady old stag-hound, the last ofwhich was of a race that had been in the family time out of mind; they were all obedient toa dog-whistle which hung to master simon's buttonhole, and in the midst of their gambolswould glance an eye occasionally upon a small switch he carried in his hand. the old mansion had a still more venerablelook in the yellow sunshine than by pale moonlight; and i could not but feel the force of thesquire's idea that the formal terraces, heavily
moulded balustrades, and clipped yew treescarried with them an air of proud aristocracy. there appeared to be an unusual number ofpeacocks about the place, and i was making some remarks upon what i termed a flock ofthem that were basking under a sunny wall, when i was gently corrected in my phraseologyby master simon, who told me that according to the most ancient and approved treatiseon hunting i must say a muster of peacocks. "in the same way," added he, with a slightair 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 informme that, according to sir anthony fitzherbert, we ought to ascribe to this bird "both understandingand 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 againas it was." i could not help smiling at this display ofsmall erudition on so whimsical a subject; but i found that the peacocks were birds ofsome consequence at the hall, for frank bracebridge informed me that they were great favoriteswith his father, who was extremely careful to keep up the breed; partly because theybelonged 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 peacockperched upon an antique stone balustrade. master simon had now to hurry off, havingan appointment at the parish church with the village choristers, who were to perform somemusic of his selection. there was something extremely agreeable in the cheerful flow ofanimal spirits of the little man; and i confess i had been somewhat surprised at his apt quotationsfrom authors who certainly were not in the range of every-day reading. i mentioned thislast circumstance to frank bracebridge, who told me with a smile that master simon's wholestock of erudition was confined to some half a dozen old authors, which the squire hadput into his hands, and which he read over and over whenever he had a studious fit, ashe sometimes had on a rainy day or a long
winter evening. sir anthony fitzherbert'sbook of husbandry, markham's country contentments, the tretyse of hunting, by sir thomas cockayne,knight, isaac walton's angler, and two or three more such ancient worthies of the penwere his standard authorities; and, like all men who know but a few books, he looked upto them with a kind of idolatry and quoted them on all occasions. as to his songs, theywere chiefly picked out of old books in the squire's library, and adapted to tunes thatwere popular among the choice spirits of the last century. his practical application ofscraps of literature, however, had caused him to be looked upon as a prodigy of book-knowledgeby all the grooms, huntsmen, and small sportsmen of the neighborhood.
while we were talking we heard the distanttoll of the village bell, and i was told that the squire was a little particular in havinghis household at church on a christmas morning, considering it a day of pouring out of thanksand rejoicing; for, as old tusser observed,â€” "at christmas be merry, and thankful withal,and feast thy poor neighbors, the great with the small." "if you are disposed to go to church," saidfrank 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 myfather's pack of hounds, according to the
directions of jervaise markham in his countrycontentments: for the bass he has sought out all the 'deep, solemn mouths,' and for thetenor the 'loud-ringing mouths,' among the country bumpkins, and for 'sweet-mouths,'he has culled-with curious taste among the prettiest lasses in the neighborhood; thoughthese last, he affirms, are the most difficult to keep in tune, your pretty female singerbeing exceedingly wayward and capricious, and very liable to accident." as the morning, though frosty, was remarkablyfine and clear, the most of the family walked to the church, which was a very old buildingof gray stone, and stood near a village about half a mile from the park gate. adjoiningit was a low snug parsonage which seemed coeval
with the church. the front of it was perfectlymatted with a yew tree that had been trained against its walls, through the dense foliageof which apertures had been formed to admit light into the small antique lattices. aswe passed this sheltered nest the parson issued forth and preceded us. i had expected to see a sleek well-conditionedpastor, 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 grizzledwig that was too wide and stood off from each ear; so that his head seemed to have shrunkaway within it, like a dried filbert in its shell. he wore a rusty coat, with great skirtsand pockets that would have held the church
bible and prayer-book: and his small legsseemed still smaller from being planted in large shoes decorated with enormous buckles. i was informed by frank bracebridge that theparson had been a chum of his father's at oxford, and had received this living shortlyafter the latter had come to his estate. he was a complete black-letter hunter, and wouldscarcely read a work printed in the roman character. the editions of caxton and wynkynde worde were his delight, and he was indefatigable in his researches after such old english writersas have fallen into oblivion from their worthlessness. in deference, perhaps, to the notions of mr.bracebridge he had made diligent investigations into the festive rites and holiday customsof 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 followup any track of study, merely because it is denominated learning; indifferent to its intrinsicnature, whether it be the illustration of the wisdom or of the ribaldry and obscenityof antiquity. he had pored over these old volumes so intensely that they seemed to havebeen reflected into his countenance; which, if the face be indeed an index of the mind,might be compared to a title-page of black-letter. on reaching the church-porch we found theparson rebuking the gray-headed sexton for having used mistletoe among the greens withwhich the church was decorated. it was, he observed, an unholy plant, profaned by havingbeen used by the druids in their mystic ceremonies;
and, though it might be innocently employedin the festive ornamenting of halls and kitchens, yet it had been deemed by the fathers of thechurch as unhallowed and totally unfit for sacred purposes. so tenacious was he on thispoint that the poor sexton was obliged to strip down a great part of the humble trophiesof 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 besidethe altar was a tomb of ancient workmanship, on which lay the effigy of a warrior in armorwith his legs crossed, a sign of his having been a crusader. i was told it was one ofthe family who had signalized himself in the
holy land, and the same whose picture hungover the fireplace in the hall. during service master simon stood up in thepew and repeated the responses very audibly, evincing that kind of ceremonious devotionpunctually 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 aflourish; possibly to show off an enormous seal-ring which enriched one of his fingersand which had the look of a family relic. but he was evidently most solicitous aboutthe musical part of the service, keeping his eye fixed intently on the choir, and beatingtime with much gesticulation and emphasis. the orchestra was in a small gallery, andpresented a most whimsical grouping of heads
piled one above the other, among which i particularlynoticed that of the village tailor, a pale fellow with a retreating forehead and chin,who played on the clarinet, and seemed to have blown his face to a point; and therewas another, a short pursy man, stooping and laboring at a bass-viol, so as to show nothingbut the top of a round bald head, like the egg of an ostrich. there were two or threepretty faces among the female singers, to which the keen air of a frosty morning hadgiven a bright rosy tint; but the gentlemen choristers had evidently been chosen, likeold 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 sometimessee on country tombstones.
the usual services of the choir were managedtolerably 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 passagewith prodigious celerity and clearing more bars than the keenest fox-hunter to be inat the death. but the great trial was an anthem that had been prepared and arranged by mastersimon, and on which he had founded great expectation. unluckily, there was a blunder at the veryoutset: the musicians became flurried; master simon was in a fever; everything went on lamelyand 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 shiftedfor himself, and got to the end as wellâ€”or,
rather, as soonâ€”as he could, excepting oneold chorister in a pair of horn spectacles bestriding and pinching a long sonorous nose,who happened to stand a little apart, and, being wrapped up in his own melody, kept ona quavering course, wriggling his head, ogling his book, and winding all up by a nasal soloof at least three bars' duration. the parson gave us a most erudite sermon onthe rites and ceremonies of christmas, and the propriety of observing it not merely asa day of thanksgiving but of rejoicing, supporting the correctness of his opinions by the earliestusages of the church, and enforcing them by the authorities of theophilus of caesarea,st. cyprian, st. chrysostom, st. augustine, and a cloud more of saints and fathers, fromwhom he made copious quotations. i was a little
at a loss to perceive the necessity of sucha 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, havingin the course of his researches on the subject of christmas got completely embroiled in thesectarian controversies of the revolution, when the puritans made such a fierce assaultupon the ceremonies of the church, and poor old christmas was driven out of the land byproclamation of parliament.* the worthy parson lived but with times past, and knew but littleof the present. shut up among worm-eaten tomes in the retirementof his antiquated little study, the pages of old times were to him as the gazettes ofthe day, while the era of the revolution was
mere modern history. he forgot that nearlytwo centuries had elapsed since the fiery persecution of poor mince-pie throughout theland; when plum porridge was denounced as "mere popery," and roast beef as anti-christian,and that christmas had been brought in again triumphantly with the merry court of kingcharles at the restoration. he kindled into warmth with the ardor of his contest and thehost of imaginary foes with whom he had to combat; he had a stubborn conflict with oldprynne and two or three other forgotten champions of the roundheads on the subject of christmasfestivity; and concluded by urging his hearers, in the most solemn and affecting manner, tostand to the traditional customs of their fathers and feast and make merry on this joyfulanniversary of the church.
* from the "flying eagle," a small gazette,published december 24, 1652: "the house spent much timethis day about the business of the navy, for settling theaffairs at sea, and before they rose, were presented witha terrible remonstrance against christmas day, groundedupon divine scriptures, 2 cor. v. 16; i cor. xv. 14, 17;and in honor of the lord's day, grounded upon these scriptures,john xx. i; rev. i. 10; psalms cxviii. 24; lev. xxiii.7, 11; mark xv. 8; psalms lxxxiv. 10, in which christmas iscalled anti-
christ's masse, and those masse-mongers andpapists who observe it, etc. in consequence of which parliamentspent some time in consultation about the abolitionof christmas day, passed orders to that effect, and resolvedto sit on the following day, which was commonly calledchristmas day." i have seldom known a sermon attended apparentlywith more immediate effects, for on leaving the church the congregation seemed one andall possessed with the gayety of spirit so earnestly enjoined by their pastor. the elderfolks gathered in knots in the churchyard, greeting and shaking hands, and the childrenran about crying ule! ule! and repeating some
uncouth rhymes,* which the parson, who hadjoined us, informed me had been handed down from days of yore. the villagers doffed theirhats to the squire as he passed, giving him the good wishes of the season with every appearanceof heartfelt sincerity, and were invited by him to the hall to take something to keepout the cold of the weather; and i heard blessings uttered by several of the poor, which convincedme that, in the midst of his enjoyments, the worthy old cavalier had not forgotten thetrue christmas virtue of charity. * "ule! ule!three puddings in a pule; crack nuts and cry ule!" on our way homeward his heart seemed overflowedwith generous and happy feelings. as we passed
over a rising ground which commanded somethingof a prospect, the sounds of rustic merriment now and then reached our ears: the squirepaused for a few moments and looked around with an air of inexpressible benignity. thebeauty of the day was of itself sufficient to inspire philanthropy. notwithstanding thefrostiness of the morning the sun in his cloudless journey had acquired sufficient power to meltaway the thin covering of snow from every southern declivity, and to bring out the livinggreen which adorns an english landscape even in mid-winter. large tracts of smiling verdurecontrasted with the dazzling whiteness of the shaded slopes and hollows. every shelteredbank 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 tothe thin haze that hung just above the surface of the earth. there was something truly cheeringin this triumph of warmth and verdure over the frosty thraldom of winter; it was, asthe squire observed, an emblem of christmas hospitality breaking through the chills ofceremony and selfishness and thawing every heart into a flow. he pointed with pleasureto the indications of good cheer reeking from the chimneys of the comfortable farm-housesand low thatched cottages. "i love," said he, "to see this day well kept by rich andpoor; it is a great thing to have one day in the year, at least, when you are sure ofbeing welcome wherever you go, and of having, as it were, the world all thrown open to you;and i am almost disposed to join with poor
robin in his malediction on every churlishenemy to this honest festival: "'those who at christmas do repine,and would fain hence dispatch him, may they with old duke humphry dine,or else may squire ketch catch'em.'" the squire went on to lament the deplorabledecay of the games and amusements which were once prevalent at this season among the lowerorders and countenanced by the higher, when the old halls of castles and manor-houseswere thrown open at daylight; when the tables were covered with brawn and beef and hummingale; when the harp and the carol resounded all day long; and when rich and poor werealike welcome to enter and make merry.* "our old games and local customs," said he, "hada great effect in making the peasant fond
of his home, and the promotion of them bythe 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 precisenessand 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; wehave 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 toread newspapers, listen to ale-house politicians, and talk of reform. i think one mode to keepthem in good-humor in these hard times would be for the nobility and gentry to pass moretime on their estates, mingle more among the
country-people, and set the merry old englishgames going again." * "an english gentleman, at the opening ofthe great dayâ€” i.e. on christmas day in the morningâ€”hadall his tenants and neighbors enter his hall by daybreak.the strong beer was broached, and the black-jacks went plentifullyabout, with toast, sugar and nutmeg, and good cheshirecheese. the hackin (the great sausage) must be boiledby daybreak, or else two young men must take the maiden (i.e.the cook) by the arms and run her round the market-placetill she is
shamed of her laziness."â€”round about oursea-coal fire. such was the good squire's project for mitigatingpublic 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. thecountry-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 neighborhood in one week than the parish officers couldget rid of in a year. since then he had contented himself with inviting the decent part of theneighboring peasantry to call at the hall on christmas day, and with 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 ofmusic was heard from a distance. a band of country lads, without coats, their shirt-sleevesfancifully tied with ribbons, their hats decorated with greens, and clubs in their hands, wasseen 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 ladsperformed 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, thetail of which flaunted down his back, kept capering round the skirts of the dance andrattling a christmas box with many antic gesticulations.
the squire eyed this fanciful exhibition withgreat interest and delight, and gave me a full account of its origin, which he tracedto the times when the romans held possession of the island, plainly proving that this wasa lineal descendant of the sword dance of the ancients. "it was now," he said, "nearlyextinct, but he had accidentally met with traces of it in the neighborhood, and hadencouraged its revival; though, to tell the truth, it was too apt to be followed up bythe rough cudgel play and broken heads in the evening." after the dance was concluded the whole partywas entertained with brawn and beef and stout home-brewed. the squire himself mingled amongthe rustics, and was received with awkward
demonstrations of deference and regard. itis true i perceived two or three of the younger peasants, as they were raising their tankardsto their mouths, when the squire's back was turned making something of a grimace, andgiving each other the wink; but the moment they caught my eye they pulled grave facesand 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 neighborhood.he was a visitor at every farmhouse and cottage, gossiped with the farmers and their wives,romped with their daughters, and, like that type of a vagrant bachelor, the humblebee,tolled the sweets from all the rosy lips of the country round.
the bashfulness of the guests soon gave waybefore good cheer and affability. there is something genuine and affectionate in thegayety of the lower orders when it is excited by the bounty and familiarity of those abovethem; the warm glow of gratitude enters into their mirth, and a kind word or a small pleasantryfrankly uttered by a patron gladdens the heart of the dependant more than oil and wine. whenthe squire had retired the merriment increased, and there was much joking and laughter, particularlybetween master simon and a hale, ruddy-faced, white-headed farmer who appeared to be thewit of the village; for i observed all his companions to wait with open months for hisretorts, and burst into a gratuitous laugh before they could well understand them.
the whole house indeed seemed abandoned tomerriment: as i passed to my room to dress for dinner, i heard the sound of music ina small court, and, looking through a window that commanded it, i perceived a band of wanderingmusicians with pandean pipes and tambourine; a pretty coquettish housemaid was dancinga jig with a smart country lad, while several of the other servants were looking on. inthe midst of her sport the girl caught a glimpse of my face at the window, and, coloring up,ran off with an air of roguish affected confusion.Coloring Pages Of A Castle With Knights