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"It is also probable," said William," that the customary wassailing was at its height in Shakspeare's time; for he, in his play of Hamlet, describes the king as 'keeping wassail.' Ben Jonson also, the friend and contemporary of the immortal bard, has given, in his Masque of Christmas, the name of Wassail to one of the characters, who is attended with a brown bowl, decorated with ribands and rosemary. And the ill-managed merriment of the late wassailers is alluded to by Milton, in his enchanting and highly poetical Masque of Comus."
Each individual of the party having made himself acquainted with the flavour of this ancient new-year's beverage, and all drunk wms-hal and drinc-hcel to each other, and testified by their approbation of its goodness, that our ancestors understood the art of good living, Mr. Constance intimated that it was time to break up the party. They then separated, and returned to their homes by the light of a resplendent moon and glittering stars, highly gratified by their visit.
It was in the evening of one of those cheerless and extremely disagreeable days, so frequent in the month of February, when fogs, rain, and frost succeed each other in gloomy variety, that the young party assembled at the mansion of their kind patron, Mr. Constance. The dreariness of the weather out of doors, however, heightened the enjoyments within; and, under the influence of that social feeling which a winter's fireside seldom fails to inspire, every trifling circumstance was made a source of mirth and delight: thus, even the apparent distresses of each other were subjects for laughter; and no small degree of amusement was afforded to those already present, in observing the hoar-frost dress of each new comer, with their involuntary shrug of the shoulders, and the accompanying ejaculation—" What a shocking, miserable evening!" But when young Arthur entered, bis grotesque appearance added materially to the mirth of all present; and he was received with one of those hearty laughs which are alone the sure test of innocence and good nature. His hat was covered with sleet, and his long curly hair, which generally waved in graceful ringlets over his forehead, was now whitened with the frost; his face was almost blue with cold, and his hands so cramped, that he found it impossible to dislodge himself from his great coat. His sister Angelina, observing his distress, flow to
SECOND MONTH,FEBRUARY. 47
his assistance, and endeavoured, by heT good-natured raillery, to restore him to his wonted mirth. "I never remember," said she, laughing heartily, "seeing my poor little Arthur look so miserable: why, you are a complete picture of wretchedness; and your red nose, blue cheeks, and frosty locks, with your look of sadness, very strikingly indicate the dampness and severity of the weather. You -would make a good picture of old Winter!"
Arthur, however, was too piteously cold to be rallied into a smile, until his sister, who observed him making towards the fire, hastily seized him by the arm, and, with an assumed look of gravity, begged that he would not go near, saying, " I think your little nose is frost bitten; so the further you keep from the fire the better." Poor Arthur, scarcely knowing what he did, instinctively raised his hand to his face, at the same time looking up in his sister's, with a mixed look of doubt and belief. The effect was irresistibly laughable: the mirth became universal; and he, with a tear standing in one eye, and a smile glistening in the other, joined heartily in the general glee. As soon as he was enabled to speak, he endeavoured to turn the joke upon his sister, by saying, " And so this is what you call delightful winter, is it? If you had come with me across the fields this evening, I don't think you would have found any thing delightful in it. For my part," he added, taking a piece of toast which his mother handed to him, "I think the only thing delightful in it, is to sit by the fire, and thus to enjoy one's self. I don't like winter at all, and I wish it was over."
"How was it then," replied his sister, " that you -were so merry the other day when I caught you skaiting, and heard you say there was no sport like it?" "O! that's quite another thing," he exclaimed, as he jumped from his chair, and hastened to welcome his father, whose chaise he was the first to hear rattle towards the door.
Mr. Constance was also dressed in the livery of the night; and as the bright light in the hall reflected upon his hat and front, he made so gay an appearance, as to cause Arthur smilingly to remark, that he had arrived richly loaded with diamonds. Upon their entrance into the parlour, Mr. Constance received the usual compliments and welcome home; when, casting an eye of satisfaction upon the assembled party, he took his seat, pressed his son to his breast, and cheerfully exclaimed, in the words of Neale—
"O happy, in a night like this,
They now partook of tea; and when concluded, Mr. Constance requested William to commence the evening's Conversation by informing the company why this month is called February.
"Before doing so," said Charles, " I wish, Sir, to ask two or three general questions.—First, I should be pleased to learn what gave rise to the festivals which are now celebrated by our church; as also why so small a number of names appear in our calendar, in comparison with the vast host of martyrs, who are known to have suffered in the-cause of Christianity."
Mr. Constance. The great length of time which has elapsed since the crucifixion of our Saviour, and the few writings which have been handed down to us relating to the primitive Christians, leave us in comparative ignorance of their acts and ceremonies. Your first question therefore, Charles, is not readily answered. It is very reasonable to suppose, that the practice originated with the apostles themselves. Surrounded as they were by persecutors in every shape, and being made alike familiar with misfortune and long suffering, while mutually labouring in the same good cause, a sincere and brotherly affection must have naturally been created for each other. When, therefore, any of them were called to suffer on account of their religion, a lively sympathy must have been excited. Meetings amongst them and their followers were the consequence, and those days set apart for the observance of commemorative rites and ceremonies; and, we are told, so ardently were their memories revered, that it was thought the height of profaneness to be absent on those occasions. The affection, therefore, of the primitive Christians for each other, gave rise to the festival days, now celebrated by our church as "the birthdays of their martyrdom;" and it is to be wished that a more especial regard were paid to them than is now evident; for if in the earlier ages it was deemed profaneness to be absent on those anniversaries of love and veneration, what must be thought of the present lamentable indifference to them, when great ignorance of their ordination prevails, and a callous neglect of their duties?
Mrs. Constance. Considering the mighty benefits which we have received from the revealed light of Christianity, and the great sacrifices of blood and happiness made by early advocates for its dissemination, there certainly appears a cold indifference, indeed a total absence of proper feeling, on the days appropriated to their remembrance. Ignorance of their lives and sufferings is no doubt one cause: but another is to be found, I think, in the fact of the early proselytes to Christianity having gone to extreme lengths in bestowing homage on the martyred saints; so far, indeed, did their enthusiastic imaginations carry them, that, not unfrequently, immoderate and impious panegyrics were lavished on their memories, to the exclusion of those sacrifices which were due to God