Christ-tide Literature

The literature specially designed nowadays for Christmas reading is

certainly not of a high order, whether we take books--which are issued

at this time by the hundred--or the special numbers of magazines and

newspapers, all of which have rubbishing stories with some tag in them

relating to Christ-tide. Tales of ghosts, etc., were at one time very

fashionable, and even Dickens pandered to this miserable style of

not enhancing his reputation thereby.

Akin in merit to this literature are the mottoes we find in the bon

bon crackers, and the verses on Christmas cards, which are on a par

with those which adorned the defunct valentine. When first Christmas

cards came into vogue they were expensive and comparatively good; now

they are simply rubbish, and generally have no allusion either in the

design, or doggrel to Christ-tide, to which they owe their existence.

Their origin was thoroughly threshed out in Notes and Queries, and I

give the correspondence thereon (6th series, v. 155).

Christmas cards were first published and issued from Summerly's Home

Treasury Office, 12 Old Bond Street, in the year 1846. The design was

drawn by J.C. Horsley, R.A., at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole,

K.C.B., and carried out by De la Rue and Co.

(Ib. 376) Mr. Platt is somewhat in error in stating that the first

Christmas card was carried out by De la Rue and Co. This firm

republished it last year (1881) in chromo-lithography, but in 1846 it

was produced in outline by lithography, and coloured by hand by a

colourer of that time named Mason, when it could not have been sold

for less than a shilling. Last year chromo-lithography enabled it to

be produced for two pence. The original publisher was Mr. Joseph

Cundall. It may be well to place the design on record. A trellis of

rustic work in the Germanesque style divided the card into a centre

and two side panels. The sides were filled by representations of the

feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked; in the central

compartment a family party was shown at table--an old man and woman, a

maiden and her young man, and several children,--and they were

pictured drinking healths in wine. On this ground certain total

abstainers have called in question the morality of Mr. Horsley's


The Publishers' Circular, 31st December 1883 (p. 1432), says:

Several years ago, in the Christmas number of The Publishers'

Circular, we described the original Christmas card, designed by Mr.

J.C. Horsley, R.A., at the suggestion of Sir Henry Cole, and no

contradiction was then offered to our theory that this must have been

the real and original card. On Thursday, however, Mr. John Leighton,

writing under his nom de plume, 'Luke Limner,' comes forward to

contest the claim of priority of design, and says: 'Occasional cards

of a purely private character have been done years ago, but the

Christmas card pure and simple is the growth of our town and our time.

It began in 1862, the first attempts being the size of the ordinary

gentleman's address card, on which were simply put A Merry Christmas

and A Happy New Year; after that there came to be added robins and

holly branches, embossed figures and landscapes. Having made the

original designs for these, I have the originals before me now; they

were produced by Goodall and Son. Seeing a growing want, and the great

sale obtained abroad, this house produced (1868) a Little Red Riding

Hood, a Hermit and his Cell, and many other subjects in which snow

and the robin played a part.' We fail to see how a card issued in 1862

can ante-date the production of 1846, a copy of which is in our

possession; and although there is no copyright in an idea, the title

to the honour of originating the pretty trifle now so familiar to us

seems to rest with Sir Henry Cole.

The Times of 2nd January 1884 has the following letter:--

SIR--The writer of the article on Christmas Cards in The Times of

December 25th is quite right in his assertion. The first Christmas

card ever published was issued by me in the usual way, in the year

1846, at the office of Felix Summerly's Home Treasury, at 12 Old

Bond Street. Mr. Henry Cole (afterwards Sir Henry) originated the

idea. The drawing was made by J.C. Horsley, R.A.; it was printed in

lithography by Mr. Jobbins of Warwick Court, Holborn, and coloured by

hand. Many copies were sold, but possibly not more than 1000. It was

of the usual size of a lady's card. Those my friend Luke Limner speaks

of were not brought out, as he says, till many years after.--JOSEPH


As works of art--compared with the majority of Christmas cards, which

are mostly made in Germany--the card almanacs presented by tradesmen

to their customers are generally of a very superior character.

In the old days, when there were oil lamps in the streets, the

lamplighter, like the bellman and the watchman, used annually at

Christmas to leave some verses at every house to remind its occupier

that Boxing day drew nigh. One example will suffice, and its date is



Humbly Presented to all His worthy Masters and Mistresses.

Compos'd by a Lamplighter.

Revolving Time another Glass has run,

Since I, last year, this Annual Task begun,

And Christmas now beginning to appear

(Which never comes, you know, but once a year),

I have presum'd to bring my Mite once more,

Which, tho' it be but small, is all my Store;

And I don't doubt you'll take it in good Part,

As 'tis the Tribute of a grateful Heart.

Brave Prussia's king, that true Protestant Prince,

For Valour Fam'd, endow'd with Martial Sense;

Against three mighty Potentates did stand,

Who would have plundered him of all his Land:

But God, who knew his Cause was Just and Right,

Gave him such Courage and Success in Fight:

Born to oppose the Pope's malignant clan,

He'll do whatever Prince or Hero can;

Retrieve that martial Fame by Britons lost,

And prove that Faith which graceless Christians boast.

O! make his Cause, ye Powers above! your Care;

Let Guilt shrink back, and Innocence appear.

But, now, with State Affairs I must have done,

And to the Business of my Lamps must run;

When Sun and Moon from you do hide their Head,

Your busy Streets with artful Lights are spread,

And gives you Light with great indulgent Care,

Makes the dark Night like the bright Day appear;

Then we poor useful Mortals nimbly run

To light your Lamps before the Day is gone:

With strictest Care, we to each Lamp give Fire,

The longest Night to burn: you do require

Of us to make each Lamp to burn that time,

But, oft, we do fall short of that Design:

Sometimes a Lamp goes out at Master's Door,

This happens once which ne'er did so before:

The Lamp-man's blamed, and ask'd the reason why

That should go out, and others burning by?

Kind, worthy Sirs, if I may be so bold,

A truer Tale to you was never told;

We trim, we give each Lamp their Oil alike,

Yet some goes out, while others keep alight:

Why they do so, to you we can't explain,

It ne'er did sink into our shallow Brain:

Nor have we heard that any one could tell,

That secret Place where Life of Fire does dwell,

Such various Motions in it we do find,

And a hard Task with it to please Mankind.

Now, our kind Master, who Contractor is,

If a Complaint he hears of Lamps amiss,

With strictest Care the Streets looks round about,

And views the Lamps, takes Notice which are out;

Then, in great Fury, he to us replies,

Such Lamps were out, why have I all this Noise?

Go fetch those Burners all down here to me,

That where the Fault is I may plainly see:

Then straight he views them, with Remains of Oil,

Crys, ah! I thought you did these Lamps beguile;

But now the thing I do more plainly see,

The Burning Oil is a great Mystery:

Then come, my Boys, to work, make no delay,

Keep from Complaints, if possible you may;

Clean well each Glass, I'll spare for no Expence

Where I contract, to please th' Inhabitants.

Since Time still flies, and Life is but a Vapour,

'Tis now high time that I conclude my Paper,

And, if my Verses have the Luck to Please,

My Mind will be exceedingly at ease;

But, if this shouldn't Please, I know what will,

And that's with Diligence to serve you still.


Hone, in his Every-Day Book (vol. i. p. 1627), gives, date 1823:--


presented to the


By their Humble Servants, the late Watchmen,


Your pardon, Gentles, while we thus implore,

In strains not less awakening than of yore,

Those smiles we deem our best reward to catch,

And, for the which, we've long been on the Watch;

Well pleas'd if we that recompence obtain,

Which we have ta'en so many steps to gain.

Think of the perils in our calling past,

The chilling coldness of the midnight blast,

The beating rain, the swiftly-driving snow,

The various ills that we must undergo,

Who roam, the glow-worms of the human race,

The living Jack-a-Lanthorns of the place.

'Tis said by some, perchance to mock our toil,

That we are prone to waste the midnight oil!

And that a task thus idle to pursue

Would be an idle waste of money, too!

How hard that we the dark designs should rue

Of those who'd fain make light of all we do!

But such the fate which oft doth merit greet,

And which now drives us fairly off our beat!

Thus it appears from this, our dismal plight,

That some love darkness rather than the light.

Henceforth, let riot and disorder reign,

With all the ills that follow in their train;

Let TOMS and JERRYS unmolested brawl

(No Charlies have they now to floor withal).

And rogues and vagabonds infest the Town,

Far cheaper 'tis to save than crack a crown.

To brighter scenes we now direct our view--

And, first, fair Ladies, let us turn to you.

May each NEW YEAR new joys, new pleasures bring,

And Life for you be one delightful spring!

No summer's sun annoy with fev'rish rays,

No winter chill the evening of your days!

To you, kind Sirs, we next our tribute pay:

May smiles and sunshine greet you on your way!

If married, calm and peaceful be your lives;

If single, may you, forthwith, get you wives!

Thus, whether Male or Female, Old or Young

Or Wed, or Single, be this burden sung:

Long may you live to hear, and we to call,

A Happy Christmas and New Year to all.

The present generation has never seen, and probably never heard of,

Christmas pieces, or specimens of handwriting, which went out of

vogue fifty years ago. It was very useful, as the boy took great pride

in its writing, and parents could judge of their children's

proficiency in penmanship. Sometimes these sheets were surrounded with

elaborate flourishings of birds, pens, scrolls, etc., such as the

writing-master of the last century delighted in; others were headed

with copper-plate engravings, sometimes coloured. Here are a few of

the subjects: Ruth and Boaz, Measuring the Temple (Ezekiel), Philip

Baptising the Eunuch, The Good Samaritan, Joshua's Command, John the

Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, The Seven Wonders of the World,

King William III., St. Paul's Shipwreck, etc., etc.

A publisher, writing to Notes and Queries in 1871 (4 series, vi.

462) about these Christmas Pieces, says: As a youngster, some

thirty years ago, in my father's establishment, the sale of 'school

pieces,' or 'Christmas pieces,' as they were called, was very large.

My father published some thirty different subjects (a new one every

year, one of the old ones being let go out of print). There were also

three other publishers of them. The order to print used to average

about 500 of each kind, but double of the Life of our Saviour. Most of

the subjects were those of the Old Testament. I only recollect four

subjects not sacred. Printing at home, we generally commenced the

printing in August from the copper-plates, as they had to be coloured

by hand. They sold, retail, at sixpence each, and we used to supply

them to the trade at thirty shillings per gross, and to schools at

three shillings and sixpence per dozen, or two dozen for six shillings

and sixpence. Charity boys were large purchasers of these pieces, and

at Christmas time used to take them round their parish to show, and,

at the same time, solicit a trifle. The sale never began before

October in the country, and December in London; and early in January

the stock left used to be put by until the following season. It is

over fifteen years since any were printed by my firm, and the last new

one I find was done in lithography.