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Description of the City of London, written by William Fitz-Stephen, in the reign of Henry II. There it is mentioned, as an ancient custom, that boys brought gamecocks to their schoolmaster on Shrove Tuesday, and that the whole morning was devoted to their battles in the school-house.
ARTHUR. In the school-house?
MR. CONSTANCE. Yes: and a similar custom prevailed in France, but it was abolished in the year 1260. It was prohibited in England at various periods; but Henry VIII. himself built a royal cock-pit at Westminster, for sports of this kind ; and James I. is said to have taken great pleasure in them.
WILLIAM. The present Cock-pit Royal, situate near St. James's Park, was erected, I believe, in the reign of King Charles II. who was likewise fond of the sport; and was doubtless of opinion, that scenes of bloodshed and cruelty promoted a spirit of bravery among the people.
CHARLES. There is one instance upon record of a cock-fight being rendered serviceable to a nation's interests, and wherein the bird's spirit excited a corresponding feeling in those who witnessed it. When Themistocles, one of the generals of the republic of Athens, was on the point of giving battle to the Persians, it happened that two cocks were fighting at the moment he was drawing out his troops; whence he took occasion to animate the soldiers, by remarking to them the obstinate courage with which the animals fought, although they had no object to contend for but mere victory, saying, “ They fight not for the monuments of their ancestors; neither do they endure the strife for glory, for liberty, nor for their children ; but merely because the one will not yield to the other." This address had its desired effect; they rushed on to battle and were victorious. '. .
WILLIAM. That anecdote, Charles, has been variously
related ; and the same fact has also been ascribed to Miltiades; notwithstanding which it is generally agreed that some similar event was the cause of the Athenians ordaining cock-fighting as a public sport; while some writers assert that the Greeks, from this circumstance, were the first people who introduced the sport itself..
ANGELINA. Is not this vile amusement much practised in the East ?
Mr. CONSTANCE. It is, my dear, to a shocking extent; and has been so practised time out of mind. And I believe it is not true that the sport originated with the Athenians, although the circumstance just related might have caused it to be one of the games patronized by the Athenian government. It is one of the chief amusements throughout the East Indies and China; and it is even a fashionable pastime for ladies in Peru. Indeed, I believe that, notwithstanding every interdiction, and the cruelty of the sport itself, cock-fighting is still practised in almost every quarter of the globe; and in no country has it been carried on to greater excess than in England. The birds are selected with as much attention to pedigree as a race-horse ; and the art of feeding them is a science of the most profound mystery, and its professors men of the greatest self-importance. The battle royal, the main, and the Welsh-main are the terms given to the different kinds of matches. The battle royal consists in letting loose a certain number of cocks, which fight till only one is left to claim the victory; a main is a set of matches between single pairs, and is determined by the majority of conquerors on either side ; while the Welsh-main, the most determinedly cruel, consists of sixteen pair of cocks, duly armed, as in the other combats, with long steel spurs, and pitted against each other in succession, 'until one of each pair is destroyed or disabled ; the sixteen victors are then matched against each other, and are made to fight until only eight remain; and these are again pitted until their number is reduced to four, which fight two more battles; until at length, after a fifth contest, and thirty-one cocks having been thus butchered, only one remains to claim the prize. Cock-throwing, which, I believe, is a sport peculiar to the English, and only practised by them on Shrove Tuesday, is said to have originated during a war with France, in the reign of Edward the Third, and to have been considered as a mark of hatred and contempt for the French people, of whom that bird was the national emblem. It is not, however, founded upon any solid authority, nor is the practice, I am happy to say, so frequent as formerly.
Maria. I believe the fast of Lent commences upon this day, does it not ?
WILLIAM. It is termed Fastern's E'en, being the night preparatory to the long fast of Lent, which begins on the next day, and is known by the name of Ash Wednesday. That day takes its name from the ceremony of applying ashes, in the form of a cross, to the heads of those persons who had neglected to conform to established rules of worship, or who had committed any particular sin. It is a relic of the ancient discipline of the Romish church, which, at the beginning of Lent, subjected public and scandalous sinners to public and canonical penance. The priest, or bishop, (having first heard their confession, clothed them in sackcloth, laid ashes on their heads, and sprinkled them with holy, water,) recited aloud over them the seven penitential psalms, assisted therein by all the clergy lying prostrate on the ground. The penitent sinners then walked in procession, in the dress of their humiliation, to the church door, where they were turned out, not again to be admitted to assist at the sacred mysteries, till Maunday Thursday, being the Thursday next before Easter. After this the church
doors were shut upon them, and the mass of the faithful began.
ANGELINA. It was surely not coal-ashes that were used to cover their heads.
Mrs. ConstanĆE. No: they were the ashes of the palm-tree, or some evergreen, burnt on the Palm Sunday of the preceding year; and the ceremony was to be performed with a contrite spirit, and a resolution of entering upon penitential practices. The sprinkling of ashes was also considered as an emblem of mortality; and “ Remember, man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return,” was the awful and salutary lesson impressed upon the human mind, to mortify vanity and humble pride.
WILLIAM. But now we must speak of the great fast of Lent, which is an old English word for the spring season, and is used to signify the celebration of the Christian fast, which takes place every spring, and which is thence sometimes called the Lenten (or Spring) fast. It was instituted in remembrance of our Saviour's fasting in the wilderness; and therefore appointed to be kept for forty days before the anniversary of his resurrection, in remembrance of his having fasted that number of days. Accordingly, Lent begins always on a Wednesday, in the seventh week before Easter ; so that by reckoning that day, and the three that follow it in the same week, and adding them to the number of week-days (exclusive of Sundays) in the six weeks of Lent that follow, (which are thirty-six), there are exactly forty days for that fast. It is à ceremony observed both by Protestant and Catholic communities: the latter by fasting and prayer, and the former by appropriate church services. The time of its first observance is not distinctly known: some authors assert that it originated with the Apostles.
MR. CONSTANCE. The fast of Lent is certainly one of the most important observances throughout the year, and is, by some persons, kept with a religious strictness worthy of the occasion it is ordained to commemorate. Much difference of opinion and apparent evasion, however, have been the consequences of the strict laws adopted for its fulfilment. The manner and degrees of fasting have been different at different periods: in the early days of its institution, the people took but one meal a day, and that in the evening, when they might partake of what they chose. One meal being considered sufficient for their support, the value of what they saved by this privation was, in all instances, given to the poor. After a time, however, a greater abstinence was enjoined, and, instead of eating flesh, the devotees were allowed only fish ; and those who did not conform to this regulation, subjected themselves to the severe punishment of being burnt alive; and it is recorded, that, in the year 1212, upwards of one hundred persons suffered death in this way, for merely asserting their opinion, that it was lawful for Christians to eat flesh during Lent. This alteration from flesh to fish no doubt opened the door to a further change, and introduced eggs, milk, butter, and cheese, which are the articles now allowed by the Pope, and whose regulations for the proper observance of the fast are uniformly posted in the Catholic chapels.
Maria. O! then the fasting now consists in feasting off fish, eggs, milk, cheese, &c. Living without any meat for so long a period as forty days may certainly be a matter of inconvenience, though I do not think that it can justly be termed fasting. It ought rather to be called an abstinence from animal food.
ANGELINA. And that, Maria, is the assumed meaning of the term. And, when we consider that a very small quantity of any kind of food is taken during the season of Lent, I think the word fąst not altogether misapplied : it is certainly a self-denial. No one can be so absurd as to