Page images
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

DECAY, followed by reproduction, is the order of nature ; and so, if the vital power of society be not extinct, the men of one generation attempt to repair what the folly or the wickedness of their predecessors has destroyed. Sumptuous abbeys were pulled down in the reign of Henry VIII. ; but humble parish-churches rose up in the reign of Elizabeth. Within four miles of Stratford, on the opposite bank of the Avon, is the pretty village of Welford ; and here is a church which bears the date of 1568 carved upon its wall. Although the church was new, the people would cling, and perhaps more pertinaciously than ever, to the old usages connected with their church. They certainly would not forego their Wake,—"an ancient custom among the Christians of this island to keep a feast every year upon a certain week or day in remembrance of the finishing of the building of their parish-church, and of the first solemn dedicating of it to the service of God."* For fifty years after the period of which we are writing, the wakes prevailed, more or less, throughout England. The Puritans had striven to put them down ; but the opposite party in the Church as zealously encouraged them. Charles I. spoke the voice of this party in one of his celebrated declarations for sports, which gave such deep, and in some

* Brand's “ Popular Antiquities," by Ellis, 1841, vol. ii. page 1.

respects just, offence. In 1633 the King's declaration in favour of wakes was as follows :-“ In some counties of this kingdom, his Majesty finds that, under pretence of taking away abuses, there hath been a general forbidding, not only of ordinary meetings, but of the feasts of the dedication of the churches, commonly called Wakes. Now, his Majesty's express will and pleasure is, that these feasts, with others, shall be observed ; and that his justices of the peace, in their several divisions, shall look to it, both that all disorders there may be prevented or punished, and that all neighbourhood and freedom, with manlike and lawful exercises, be used."* Neighbourhood and freedom, and manlike exercises, were the old English characteristics of the wakes. At the period when William Shakspere was just entering upon life, with the natural disposition of youth, strongest perhaps in the more imaginative, to mingle in the recreations and sports of his neighbours with the most cordial spirit of enjoyment, the Puritans were beginning to denounce every assembly of the people that strove to keep up the character of merry England. Stubbes, writing at this eract epoch, says, describing “The manner of keeping of Wakesses,” that "every town, parish, and village, some at one time of the year, some at another, but so that every one keep his proper day assigned and appropriate to itself (which they call their wake-day), useth to make great preparation and provision for good cheer ; to the which all their friends and kinsfolks, far and near, are invited.” Such were the friendly meetings in all mirth and freedom which the proclamation of Charles calls “neighbourhood.” The Puritans denounced them as occasions of gluttony and drunkenness. Excess, no doubt, was occasionally there. The old hospitality could scarcely exist without excess. But it must not be forgotten that, whatever might be the distinction of ranks amongst our ancestors in all matters in which “coatarmour " was concerned, there was a hearty spirit of social intercourse, constituting a practical equality between man and man, which enabled all ranks to mingle without offence and without suspicion in these public ceremonials; and thus the civilization of the educated classes told upon the manners of the uneducated. There is no writer who furnishes us a more complete picture of this ancient freedom of intercourse than Chaucer. The company who meet at the Tabard, and eat the victual of the best, and drink the strong wine, and submit themselves to the merry host, and tell their tales upon the pilgrimage without the slightest restraint, are not only the very high and the very humble, but the men of professions and the men of trade, who in these latter days too often jostle and look big upon the debateable land of gentility. And so, no doubt, this freedom existed to a considerable extent even in the days of Shakspere. In the next generation, Herrick, a parish priest, writes,

Come, Anthea, let us two
Go to feast, as others do.
Tarts and custards, creams and cakes,
Are the junkets still at wakes :
Unto which the tribes resort,
Where the business is the sport.”

With “ the tribes” were mingled the stately squire, the reverend parson, and the well-fed yeoman ; and, what was of more importance, their wives and daughters there exchanged smiles and courtesies. The more these meetings were frowned upon by the severe, the more would they be cherished by those who thought not that the proper destiny of man was unceasing labour and mortification. Some even of the most pure would exclaim, as Burton exclaimed after there had been a contest for fifty years upon the matter, “Let them freely feast, sing, and dance, have their

* Rushworth’s “Collections,” quoted in Harris's “ Life of Charles I.”

puppet-plays, hobby-horses, tabors, crowds, bagpipes, &c., play at ball and barleybreaks, and what sports and recreations they like best !”*

From sunrise, then, upon a bright summer morning, are the country people in their holiday dresses hastening' to Welford. It is the Baptist's day. There were some amongst them who had lighted the accustomed bonfires upon the hills on the vigil of the saint ; and perhaps a maiden or two, clinging to the ancient superstitions, had tremblingly sat in the church-porch in the solemn twilight, or more daringly had attempted at midnight to gather the fern-seed which should make mortals “walk invisible.” Over the bridges at Binton come the hill people from Temple Grafton and Billesley. Arden pours out its scanty population from the woodland hamlets. Bidford and Barton send in their tribes through the flat pastures on either bank of the river. From Stratford there is a pleasant and not circuitous walk by the Avon's side, now leading through low meadows, now ascending some gentle knoll, where a long reach of the stream may be traced, and now close upon the sedges and alders, with a glimpse of the river sparkling through the green.

“Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way,

And merrily hent the stile-a:
A merry heart goes all the day,

Your sad tires in a mile-a." + The church-bells of Welford send forth a merry peal. There is cordial welcome in every house. The tables of the Manor Hall are set out with a substantial English breakfast; and the farmer's kitchen emulates the same bounteous hospitality. In a little while the church-tower sends forth another note. A single bell tolls for matins. The church soon fills with a zealous congregation ; not a seat is empty. The service for this particular feast is attended to with pious reverence ; and when the people are invited to assist in its choral parts, they still show that, however the national taste for music may have been injured by the suppression of the chauntries, they are familiar with the fine old chaunts of their fathers, and can perform them with spirit and exactness, each according to his ability, but the most with some knowledge of musical science. The homily is ended. The sun shines glaringly through the white glass of this new church; and some of the Stratford people may think it fortunate that their old painted windows are not yet all removed. I The dew is off the green that skirts the churchyard ; the pipers and crowders are ready ; the first dance is to be chosen. Thomas Heywood, one of Shakspere's pleasant contemporaries, has left us a dialogue which shows how embarrassing was such a choice :

Jack. Come, what shall it be? 'Rogero?'
Jenkin. “Rogero ?' no; we will dance. The beginning of the world.'
Sisly. I love no dance so well as 'John, come kiss me now.'
Nicholas. I have ere now deserv'd a cushion; call for the Cushion-dance.'
Roger. For my part, I like nothing so well as Tom Tyler.'
Jenkin. No; we'll have 'The hunting of the fox.
Jack. "The hay, The hay;' there's nothing like 'The hay.'

Jenkin. Let me speak for all, and we'll have ‘Sellenger's round.'" $ * “ Anatomy of Melancholy," Part II., Sec. 2.

† “ Winter's Tale,” Act iv., Scene 11. The music of this song is given in the “Pictorial Shakspere," and in Mr. Chappell's admirable collection of English National Airs." We are indebted to Mr. Chappell for many of the facts connected with our ancient music noticed in the present chapter.

I "All images, shrines, tabernacles, roodlofts, and monuments of idolatry are removed, taken down, and defaced ; only the stories in glass windows excepted, which for want of sufficient store of new stuff, and by reason of extreme charge that should grow by the alteration of the same into white panes throughout the realm, are not altogether abolished in most places at once, but by little and little suffered to decay, that white glass may be provided and set up in their rooms."-Harrison's " Description of England :" 1586.

§ “A Woman Killed with Kindness.” 1600.

[ocr errors]

Jenkin, who rejects “Rogero," is strenuous for “ The Beginning of the World,” and he carries his proposal by giving it the more modern name of “Sellenger's Round.” The tune was as old as Henry VIII. ; for it is mentioned in “ The History of Jack of Newbury," by Thomas Deloney, whom Kemp called the great ballad-maker :-"In comes a noise of musicians in tawny coats, who, taking off their caps, asked if they would have any music? The widow answered, “No ; they were merry enough.' "Tut !' said the old man ; let us hear, good fellows, what you can do ; and play me ‘The Beginning of the World.” A quaint tune is this, by whatever name it be known—an air not boisterous in its character, but calm and graceful ;--a round dance "for as many as will ;” who “take hands and go round twice, and back again," with a succession of figures varying the circular movement, and allowing the display of individual grace and nimbleness :

“Each one tripping on his toe,
Will be here with mop and mowe.” *

The countryfolks of Shakspere's time put their hearts into the dance; and, as their cars were musical by education, their energy was at once joyous and elegant. Glad hearts are there even amongst those who are merely lookers-on upon this scene. The sight of happiness is in itself happiness; and there was real happiness in the " unreproved pleasures” of the youths and maidens

“Tripping the comely country-round

With daffodils and daisies crown'd.” +

If Jenkin carried the voices for “Sellenger's Round,” Sisly must next be gratified with “John, come kiss me now." Let it not be thought that Sisly called for a vulgar tune. This was one of the most favourite airs of Queen Elizabeth's “Virginal Book," and after being long popular in England it transmigrated into a “godly song” of Scotland. The tune is in two parts, of which the first part only is in the " Virginal Book," and this is a sweet little melody full of grace and tenderness. The more joyous revellers may now desire something more stirring, and call for “ Packington's Pound,” as old perhaps as the days of Henry VIII., and which survived for a couple of centuries in the songs of Ben Jonson and Gay.I The controversy about players, pipers, and dancers has fixed the date of some of these old tunes, showing us to what melodies the young Shakspere might have moved joyously in a round or a galliard. Stephen Gosson, for example, sneers at “Trenchmore.” But we know that “Trenchmore” was of an earlier date than Gosson's book. A writer who came twenty years after Gosson shows us that the “Trenchmore” was scarcely to be reckoned amongst the graceful dances : “ In this case, like one dancing the "Trenchmore,' he stamped up and down the yard, holding his hips in his hands."S It was the leaping, romping dance, in which the exuberance of animal spirits delights. Burton says— “ We must dance Trenchmore' over tables, chairs, and stools." Selden has a capital passage upon « Trenchmore,” showing us how the sports of the country were adopted by the Court, until the most boisterous of the dancing delights of the people fairly drove out "state and ancientry.” He says, in his “Table Talk,” - The Court of England is much altered. At a solemn dancing, first you had the grave measures, then the corantoes and the galliards, and this kept up with ceremony; and at length to "Trenchmore' and the Cushion-dance:' then all the company dances, lord and groom, lady and kitchen-maid, no distinction. So in our * “Tempest,” Act Iv., Scene II.

† Herrick's “Hesperides." i See Ben Jonson's song in “ Bartholomew Fair," beginning

“My masters, and friends, and good people, draw near.”

§ Deloney's “ Gentle Craft :" 1598.

Court in Queen Elizabeth's time, gravity and state were kept up; in King James's time things were pretty well ; but in King Charles's time there has been nothing but "Trenchmore,' and the Cushion-dance,' omnium gatherum, tolly polly, hoite come toite.” It was in this spirit that Charles II. at a court ball called for “ Cuckolds all arow," which he said was “the old dance of England.”* From its name, and its jerking melody, this would seem to be one of the country dances of parallel lines. They were each danced by the people ; but the round dance must unquestionably have been the most graceful. Old Burton writes of it with a fine enthusiasm :“ Joan's Placket," the delightful old tune that we yet beat time to, when the inspiriting song of “When I followed a lass" comes across our memories,t would be a favourite upon the green at Welford ; and surely he who in after-times said, “I did think by the excellent constitution of thy leg it was formed under the star of a galliard,” I might strive not to resist the attraction of the air of "Sweet Margaret," and willingly surrender himself to the inspiration of its gentle and its buoyant movements. One dance he must take part in ; for even the squire and the squire's lady cannot resist its charms,—the dance which has been in and out of fashion for two centuries and a half, and has again asserted its rights in England, in despite of waltz and quadrille. We all know, upon the most undoubted testimony, that the Sir Roger de Coverley who to the lasting regret of all mankind caught a cold at the County Sessions, and died in 1712, was the great-grandson of the worthy knight of Coverley, or Cowley, who “was inventor of that famous country-dance which is called after him,” with its graceful advancings and retirings, its bows and curtsies, its chain figures, its pretty knots unravelled in simultaneous movement. In vain for the young blood of 1580, might old Stubbes denounce peril to body and mind in his outcry against the “horrible vice of pestiferous dancing.” The manner in which the first Puritans set about making people better, after the fashion of a harsh nurse to a froward child, was very remarkable. Stubbes threatens the dancers with lameness and broken legs, as well as with severer penalties ; but, being constrained to acknowledge that dancing “is both ancient and general, having been used ever in all ages as well of the godly as of the wicked," he reconciles the matter upon the following principle :-“If it be used for man's comfort, recreation and godly pleasure, privately (every sex distinct by themselves), whether with music or otherwise, it cannot be but a very tolerable exercise." We doubt if this arrangement would have been altogether satisfactory to the young men and maidens at the Welford Wake, even if Philip Stubbes had himself appeared amongst them, with his unpublished manuscript in his pocket, to take the place of the pipers, crying out to them—“Give over, therefore, your occupations, you pipers, you fiddlers, you minstrels, and you musicians, you drummers, you tabretters, you fluters, and all other of that wicked brood."|| Neither, when the flowing cup was going round among the elders to song and story, would he have been much heeded, had he himself lifted up his voice, exclaiming, “ Wherefore should the whole town, parish, village, and country, keep one and the same day, and make such gluttonous feasts as they do ?" One young man might have answered, “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale ?"**

* Pepys's “Memoirs,” first 8vo., vol. i., p. 359.

† “Love in a Village.” I “Twelfth Night,” Act 1., Scene 11. § “Spectator," Nos. 2 and 517. 11 “ Anatomy of Abuses."

** * Twelfth Night,” Act II., Scene III.


« PreviousContinue »