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.





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