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A Christmas Jest






This is rather sorry stuff; but then in purely rural places, untouched
by that great civiliser, the railroad, a little wit goes a great way,
as we may see by the following story told in Pasquil's Jests, 1604.
There was some time an old knight, who, being disposed to make
himself merry on a Christmas time, sent for many of his tenants and
poore neighbours, with their wives to dinner; when, having made meat
to be set on the table, he would suffer no man to drinke till he that
was master over his wife should sing a carrol; great niceness there
was who should be the musician. Yet with much adoe, looking one upon
another, after a dry hemme or two, a dreaming companion drew out as
much as he durst towards an ill-fashioned ditty. When, having made an
end, to the great comfort of the beholders, at last it came to the
women's table, when, likewise, commandment was given that there should
no drinkes be touched till she that was master over her husband had
sung a Christmas carroll, whereupon they fell all to such a singing
that there never was heard such a catterwauling piece of musicke.
Whereat the knight laughed so heartily that it did him halfe as much
good as a corner of his Christmas pie.

Of Masques I have already written, in describing Royal Christ-tides,
but there is one, a notice of which must not be omitted, Ben Jonson's
Masque of Christmas, as it was presented at Court 1616. The dramatis
personae are:--

CHRISTMAS, attired in round hose, long stockings, a closed doublet, a
high-crowned hat, with a brooch, a long thin beard, a truncheon,
little ruffs, white shoes, his scarfs and garters tied cross, and his
drum beaten before him.

HIS SONS AND DAUGHTERS (ten in number) led in, in a string, by CUPID,
who is attired in a flat cap, and a prentice's coat, with wings at his
shoulders.

MISRULE, in a velvet cap, with a sprig, a short cloak, great yellow
ruff, his torch-bearer bearing a rope, a cheese, and a basket.

CAROL, a long tawney coat, with a red cap, and a flute at his girdle,
his torch-bearer carrying a song-book open.

MINCED PIE, like a fine cook's wife, drest neat; her man carrying a
pie, dish, and spoons.

GAMBOL, like a tumbler, with a hoop and bells; his torch-bearer arm'd
with a colt staff and a binding staff.

POST AND PAIR, with a pair-royal of aces in his hat; his garment all
done over with pairs and purs; his squire carrying a box, cards, and
counters.

NEW YEAR'S GIFT, in a blue coat, serving man like, with an orange, and
a sprig of rosemary gilt, on his head, his hat full of brooches, with
a collar of gingerbread; his torch-bearer carrying a march pane with a
bottle of wine on either arm.

MUMMING, in a masquing pied suit, with a vizard; his torch-bearer
carrying the box, and ringing it.

WASSEL, like a neat sempster and songster; her page bearing a brown
bowl, drest with ribands, and rosemary, before her.

OFFERING, in a short gown, with a porter's staff in his hand, a wyth
borne before him, and a bason, by his torch-bearer.

BABY CAKE (Twelfth cake), dressed like a boy, in a fine long coat,
biggin bib, muckender, and a little dagger; his usher bearing a great
cake, with a bean and a pease.

After some dialogue, Christmas introduces his family in the following
song:--

Now, their intent, is above to present,
With all the appurtenances,
A right Christmas, as, of old, it was,
To be gathered out of the dances.

Which they do bring, and afore the king,
The queen, and prince, as it were now
Drawn here by love; who over and above,
Doth draw himself in the geer too.

[Here the drum and fife sounds, and they march about once. In the
second coming up, Christmas proceeds to his Song.]

Hum drum, sauce for a coney;
No more of your martial music;
Even for the sake o' the next new stake,
For there I do mean to use it.

And now to ye, who in place are to see
With roll and farthingale hooped;
I pray you know, though he want his bow,
By the wings, that this is CUPID.

He might go back, for to cry What you lack?
But that were not so witty:
His cap and coat are enough to note,
That he is the Love o' the City.

And he leads on, though he now be gone,
For that was only his rule:
But now comes in, Tom of Bosom's-Inn,
And he presenteth MIS-RULE.

Which you may know, by the very show,
Albeit you never ask it:
For there you may see, what his ensigns be,
The rope, the cheese, and the basket.

This CAROL plays, and has been in his days
A chirping boy, and a kill-pot.
Kit cobler it is, I'm a father of his,
And he dwells in the lane called Fill-pot.

But, who is this? O, my daughter Cis,
MINCED PIE; with her do not dally
On pain o' your life; she's an honest cook's wife,
And comes out of Scalding-alley.

Next in the trace, comes GAMBOL in place;
And to make my tale the shorter,
My son Hercules, tane out of Distaff lane,
But an active man and a porter.

Now, POST AND PAIR, old Christmas's heir,
Doth make and a gingling sally;
And wot you who, 'tis one of my two
Sons, card makers in Pur-alley.

Next, in a trice, with his box and his dice,
Mac' pipin my son, but younger,
Brings MUMMING in; and the knave will win
For he is a costermonger.

But NEW YEAR'S GIFT, of himself makes shift
To tell you what his name is;
With orange on head, and his gingerbread,
Clem Waspe of Honey lane 'tis.

This, I you tell, is our jolly WASSEL,
And for Twelfth night more meet too;
She works by the ell, and her name is Nell,
And she dwells in Threadneedle street too.

Then OFFERING, he, with his dish and his tree,
That in every great house keepeth,
Is by my son, young Little-worth, done,
And in Penny-rich street he sleepeth.

Last BABY CAKE, that an end doth make
Of Christmas merry, merry vein-a,
Is child Rowlan, and a straight young man,
Though he comes out of Crooked lane-a.

There should have been, and a dozen, I ween,
But I could find but one more
Child of Christmas, and a LOG it was,
When I had them all gone o'er.

I prayed him, in a tune so trim,
That he would make one to prance it:
And I myself would have been the twelfth,
O! but LOG was too heavy to dance it.

Nor must we forget a Masque by Milton, Comus, a Masque, at Ludlow
Castle, 1634, in which appeared the Lord Brockley, Mr. Thomas
Egerton, his brother, and the Lady Alice Egerton.

But all Christmas sports were not so gentle as was the Masque, as the
following account of the Virgin Queen's amusements shows us. Amongst
the original letters preserved by the descendants of Sir John Kytson,
of Hengrave Hall, is one addressed by Christopher Playter to Mr.
Kytson, in 1572, which contains the following: At Chris-time here
were certayne ma^{rs} of defence, that did challenge all comers at all
weapons, as long sworde, staff, sword and buckler, rapier with the
dagger: and here was many broken heads, and one of the ma^{rs} of
defence dyed upon the hurt which he received on his head. The
challenge was before the quenes Ma^{tie}, who seemes to have pleasure
therein; for when some of them would have sollen a broken pate, her
Majesty bade him not to be ashamed to put off his cap, and the blood
was spied to run about his face. There was also at the corte new
plays, w^{h} lasted almost all night. The name of the play was huff,
suff, and ruff, with other masks both of ladies and gents.





Next: The Lord Of Misrule--the Emperor And King At Oxford

Previous: Ordinance Against Out-door Revelry



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