Page images
PDF
EPUB

ancient ceremonies: it will have quite a modern character."

"A modern character! O ! now I understand: you are going to invite the chimney-sweepers to breakfast."

"No, no," said Angelina, rising from her chair, and smiling, " but I'll say no more to you about it, at present. When you are more seriously inclined, I will tell you what I wish to do."

"You need say no more," replied her father, also rising from his seat, with one hand taking his hat, whilst with the other he pressed his daughter affectionately: " I can see what you wish to do, (he continued) and can enter into your warm-hearted feelings. You have my ready consent: you wish to have a few friends, I suppose. I shall be most happy to join them." Then kissing her, he bade her good morning, and withdrew.

Angelina and Maria being now left with their mamma, they obtained her consent also; and nothing remained but to issue the invitations, and prepare for the festival. It was to be an out-of-door breakfast; and the garden was to be arranged for the occasion, under the direction of Angelina. For some days previously all was bustle amongst the servants; not one of whom was backward in aiding the wishes and suggestions of Miss Constance. The gardener particularly exerted himself to adorn the summer-house, make smooth the lawn, and clip and dress forth every shrub and plant to the best advantage. A May-pole was also procured, tastefully decorated with the flowers of the season; and stationed so as to form a beautiful contrast to the young and healthy green of the surrounding foliage. A bower, formed entirely of branches loaded with blossom, and flowers of splendid hue and sweet perfume, was designed for the reception of the "Lady of the May;" and over it, and round about it, were entwined, honeysuckle, lilac, whitethorn, the beau

tiful germander, and in short, every, flower, and every blossom that could be procured.

At length the morning arrived: a more beautiful one could not have been desired. It seemed as though it were Nature's own jubilee, and she had dressed the earth in gayest green. A serene sky and pure air also cheered, with their exhilarating influence, the hearts of all assembled; while the newly risen sun shed its warm glow upon every leaf and bud j and the flowers exhaled their fragrance, ascending, like the incense of a grateful offering, to the canopy of heaven. The birds carolled forth their sprightly lays; which, added to the swelling chord of the instruments, and the harmonized voices of the young vocalists assembled, produced an effect truly enchanting. It was at the moment that the minstrels of the party were singing in tasteful, because feeling style, one of Haydn's charming compositions from the " Seasons," that Mr. and Mrs. Constance stepped among them, and took the seats appointed for their reception. Their delight and kind approval were observable in their countenances: they looked around at the tasteful decorations, and appeared scarcely to know which most to admire, the gay and appropriate attire of the young party, who had each some seasonable ornament braiding their tresses or adorning their bosoms; or the profusion of early flowers and blossoms, which caused a most grateful and refreshing perfume throughout the area that was set apart for the festive scene.

When the voices and instruments had ceased, the fine swell of which harmonized delightfully with the joyous feelings created in each breast by the pure freshness of the morning, the young party handed Angelina to her bowery seat, as Queen of the festival. A wreath of flowers was then placed upon her head, and she was hailed as the « Lady May." An Ode to Spring was well delivered by one of the ladies, after which they took their seats at the breakfast-table, and made an excellent meal from the choice collection of viands set before them.

To describe the gaiety and good humour of the youthful assembly, would be to tell of all the delightful feelings inspired by the union of love and friendship, aided by the charms of music, the beauty of flowers, and the exhilarating freshness of a May morning. All seemed happy, all seemed grateful, and it appeared as though they were individually under the influence of that spirit of joyousness of which the poet sings—

"O how delightful is the bursting spring,

When the warm blood leaps nimbly thro* theveins;
And with the budding forth and blossoming

Of fields and groves, methinks the soul attains
Fresh life and greenness, wantons in the breeze,
Sings with the birds, and with the waving trees
Dances in unison. The spring-time gushes
In us as the lusty grass and bushes; - ..

And the same hand that o'er the meadow showers

King-cups and daisies, daffodils and pansies,
Garlands the human heart with all the flowers

Of love, hope, rapture, and poetic fancies." - i

AjJARl NTHUS.

The day was thus spent to the satisfaction of every one; and in the evening, when the assembly was equally numerous and equally gay, the conversation not only turned upon their own celebration of May-day, and the happy hours they had passed, but an anxious desire was expressed to know the origin of a custom so pleasing, and which was understood to have formerly been so universal.

In answer to their inquiries, Mr. Constance said, that the practice of celebrating the return of Spring by a marked festival, appeared to be as old as £he existence of society; although the particular rites of May-day, with its flowery pole, Jack in the Greeny and rural processions, probably arose from a custom among the Romans of holding a festival on the first of this month, in honour of Flora, the goddess of flowers. Whatever might have been the origin, kings, priests, nobles, and people, indiscriminately participated in the common sports of the day. But, like many other holydays which originated in good, fte festivals of May eventually became subverted, and the greatest excesses were committed. We now see that it is confined to the most degraded part of the community—the chimney-sweepers; from whose appearance, however, on the first of the month, we may form some faint idea of the gaiety and life which must have been apparent, when the Custom was general throughout every town, city, and village. That it was so is certain, from the many records of ancient historians. Stow tells us, that on May-day, in the morning, "every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice theiT spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet Bowers, and with the harmony of birds praising God in their kind." Herrick the poet also describes the general joy of this rural holiday in a few descriptive lines. He says:

"Come, my Coriniia, come: and coming, mavke
How each field turns a street; each street a park
Made green and trimm'd with trees: see how
Devotion gives each house a bough,
Or branch: each porch, each doorc, ere this
An arte, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorne, neatly interwove."

'*

From which we may understand, that the holyday was

once universal, although now very little observed.

William. May-day was also kept in rural simplicity

tyfhe renowned Robin Hood and his various parties,

Vhich were formerly scattered over the country. King

He^VIft.trteMed by his Queen and the nobility of both sexes, was once taking his morning's ride in Greenwich, on a May-day, when he was accosted by about two hundred men clothed in green, headed by a captain, who personated Robin Hood. They invited his Majesty and court to come and see how they lived; and the royal train was forthwith conducted by the archers, blowing their horns, to a greenwood under Shooter's Hill, and ushered into an arbour of boughs, formed into chambers, covered with flowers and sweet herbs, where Robin Hood, excusing the want of more delicate refreshment, said to the King: "Sir, we outlaws usually breakfast upon venison, and have no other food for you;" and the King and Queen sat down, and were served with venison and wine. It is said they were well pleased with their entertainment; and on their departure were met by two ladies, splendidly apparelled as the Lady May and the Lady Flora, riding in a rich open chariot, who, saluting the King with dirers goodly songs, brought him back to Greenwich.

Mr. Constance. Another anecdote in reference to that bold outlaw, Robin Hood, shows the respect in which he was held by the people; as also the regard paid to May-day by all classes of society. The good Bishop Latimer complains, in one of his sermons, that coming to preach in a certain town on a holyday, he found the church-door locked, and was told the parish could not hear him that day, for they were gone to gather for Robin Hood, it being Robin Hood's Day. The venerable bishop adds, "that for all his rochet, he was fain to give place to Robin Hood." Thus you see, my dears, that we have this day been engaged in an entertainment practised by princes, lords, and all classes of persons; and which would most probably now have been universal, but that every custom, however innocent in its character, becomes, in time, subverted by the weakness, avarice, and inherent sinfulness of the human heart. I hope, however, to see

« PreviousContinue »