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Offer to remonstrate with these people, and they grin sardonically as they ask you if you take them for children or fools. No, faith! You would that they were wise enough to become either, for, according to the old saying, it takes a wise man to make a fool-which means a seasonable fool, an appropriate and consistent fool, who knows when ginger should be hot i' the mouth, and the tankard brought in and the log set a burning. He is the poorest fool of all who for ever has the dulness of no play upon him, and it is from having forgotten this that the wordy orators and unsympathetic philanthropists who seek to "elevate the masses" often fail so signally. The tendency of our social legislation is not to promote rational holidays and harmless amusements; and the efforts of many of our most earnest pastors and masters are directed rather to their discouragement. This may account for the dull, brooding, or listless faces that may be seen in neighbourhoods inhabited by the British workman. The old-fashioned customs and jolly ceremonies which did occasionally suggest a holiday season have been abandoned, and nothing has come in their place. We have abolished hunt the slipper, without the substitution even of Shakespeare and the musical-glasses, so that the labourers in large towns, with all their quickened intelligence and capacity for enjoyment, are worse off than the agricultural poor, whose very work is marked by periods of merry-making, when, if they have no very great addition to their means of making cheer, they are at least reminded of some common sentiment, of which each season brings the recollection and the observance.
Perhaps there are few parts of the country where the great Yule log is dragged into the hall on Christmas-eve with songs and acclamations; the big Yule candle no longer stands on the table to light the guests; but the churches are still decked with branches of holly, bay, laurel, and rosemary (ivy is not; according to the old ecclesiastical rule, in having once been sacred to Bacchus; and mistletoe is mysterious, Druidical, heathenish, and modernly too suggestive for church solemnity); and there are few prettier sights than a little old-fashioned, highpewed, oak-carved church, all embowered in this winter greenery. Even in London this custom is not yet extinct, and the parish accounts derive a sort of cheerful lustre from the item "holly, etc., for decorating church on Christmas-eve." In fact, Covent Garden, on Christmas-eve, is the one touch of nature which makes modern London kin to the olden observances, and the old fogies and children who have so much. to lament, love to walk there to look at the great carts and waggons
laden with the glistening green leaves and bright berries, which are to be hung up in so many cosy parlours, after they have been carried away by the costermongers. These boughs and branches, and the gay glitter of grocers' windows, and the extra gas lights that flare upon the prize meat at butchers' shops, and the sprigs of holly and rosettes that decorate fat rabbits, geese, and turkeys, at the poulterers, are the few sights and sounds that warm the cockles of our hearts for the coming festival. For we have no carols now in London. In country villages the children still go round on Christmas morning singing those queer old melodies, half jovial, half sacred, but surely all grateful and genial.
"When Christ was born of Mary free,
In Bethlehem, in that fair citie.
So one of the oldest of them begins; and surely the mirth and glee which strive to remind one of that of the angels, need not have much harm in it, especially if it moves the hearers of the carol to give something to the young singers, wherewith to glorify their own Christmas dinner.
Till very lately might be heard, even in London, the shrill piping of some urchin, or the united squall of “ a mother and six," but they have been moved on, perhaps not much to the public loss. At any rate, the carols have gone the way of the maypoles; and a great business city, having its worldly interest to consider, cannot be expected
to listen to
"God rest you, merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay."
There is no rest for the caroller, at all events, and he might almost as well take to picking pockets. There is very little "comfort and joy" to him in the reflection that the law regards stealing and singing for alms, as about equally punishable offences.
The carols, however, were always more of the country than of town; and in the disputes about the very origin of the word carol, those who held that it was derived from the old Saxon churl, because it was a rustic song or chaunt, seem to have had a good deal on their side.
The London institution was that of the Waits; and the meaning
of this name, which was given to the minstrels who celebrated the advent of the Christmastide by serenading the citizens after nightfall, is now rather obscure. It is pretty evident, however, from the records of old account-books, in which the items of expenses for pageants and the like were entered, that the waits were extra guards, waiting-men, or watchmen employed on occasions of state, and who added minstrelsy to their other accomplishments. In the days when the watch patrolled the City, and cried to all loyal people to hang out their lights, there was an attempt at cadence in their summons; and even in later times, some of the ancient Charleys (we old fogies remember them, and tell the children about their ways) used to sing, "ten o'clock, and a fine starlight night," in a quavering recitative, which was not altogether devoid of a certain suspicion of music. It is pretty certain that the regular watchmen were once called waits, and that they gave their name (or took it from) a sort of hautboy, through which they used to blow a tune when they went their rounds, as an encouragement to peaceable people, and a warning to evil doers. Perhaps it would be a serviceable addition to the accoutrements of our modern police constables, who are many of them tolerable proficients on the cornet or the trombone, as their performance in the "police bands" will testify. Indeed, it might be suggested that these very police bands should take the place of the waits of our youth, and soothe us with dulcet strains during the week that heralds in Christmas. There is precedent for such official minstrelsy; for in Southwark, if not elsewhere, the master of the waits held his position by license, until competition and freetrade were too many for him. Then the practice began to decline, although late wayfarers at Christmastide, would often come upon a ghostly party of seedy-looking men standing at street corner, over their half boots in snow, and blowing as much steam as music from their half-frozen instruments. If he were charitably disposed he could invite them to the nearest tavern, where the fire, ining through the red curtain, made one warm in anticipation, and there order a can of egg-hot, or that favourite mixture called dog's nose, composed of hotspiced ale, qualified with Geneva. It is a poor heart that never rejoices; and when he was snug in bed listening to the last tune on Christmas-eve, and the waits, he would feel none the colder for having remembered the season.