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Lord, 'tis thy plenty-dropping hand
That soiles my land:
Twice ten for one."
I afterwards understood that early morning service was read on every Sunday and saint's day throughout the year, either by Mr. Bracebridge or some member of the family. It was once almost universally the case at the seats of the nobility and gentry of England, and it is much to he regretted that the custom is falling into neglect; for the dullest observer must be sensible of the order and serenity prevalent in those households, where the occasional exercise of a beautiful form of worship in the morning gives, as it were, the key-note to every temper for the day, and attunes every spirit to harmony.
Our breakfast consisted of what the 'Squire denominated true old English fare. He indulged in some bitter lamentations over modern breakfasts of tea and toast, which he censured as among the causes of modern effcminacy and weak nerves, and the decline of old English heartiness : and though he admitted them to his table to suit the palates of his griests, yet there was a brave display of cold meats, wine, and ale, on the sideboard.
After breakfast, I walked about the grounds with Frank Bracebridge and Master Simon, or Mr. Simon, as he was called by every body but the 'Squire. We were escorted by a number of gentleman-like dogs, that seemed loungers about the establishment; from the frisking spaniel to the steady old stag-hound—the last of which was of a race that had been in the family time out of mind--they were all obedient to a dog. whistle which hung to Master Simon's button-hole, and in the midst of their gambols would glance an eye occasionally upon a small switch he carried in his hand.
The old mansion had a still more venerable look in the yellow sunshine than by pale moonlight; and I could not but feel the force of the 'Squire's idea, that the formal terraces, heavily moulded ballustrades, and clipped yew trees, carried with them an air of proud aristocracy.
There appeared to be an unusual number of peacocks about the place, and I was making some remarks upon
what I termed a flock of them that were basking under a sunny wall, when I was gently corrected in my phraseology by Master Simon, who told me that according to the most ancient and approved trcatise on hunting, I must say a muster of peacocks. " In the same way," added he, with a slight air of pedantry, “ we say a flight of doves or swallows, a bevy of quails, a herd of deer, of wrens, or cranes, a skulk of foxes, or a building of rooks." He went on to inform me that, according to Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, we ought to ascribe to this bird "both understanding and glory; for, being praised, he will presently set up his tail, chiefly against the sun, to the intent you may the better behold the beauty thereof But at the fall of the leaf, when his tail falleth, he will mourn and hide himself in corners, till his tail come again as it was.”
I could not help smiling at this display of small erudition on so whimsical a subject; but I found that the peacocks were birds of soine consequence at the Hall; for Frank Bracebridge informed me that they were great furourites' with his father, who was estremely careful to keep up the breed, partly because they belonged to chivalry, and were in great request at the stately banquets of the olden time; and partly because they had a pomp and magnificence about them, highly becoming an old family inansion. Nothing, he was accustomed to say, had an air of greater state and dignity, than a peacock perched upon an antique stone ballustrade.
Master Simon had now to hurry off, having an appointment at the parish church with the village choristers, who were to perform some music of his selection. There was something extremely agreeable in the cheerful flow of animalspirits of the little man; and I confess I had been somewhat surprised at luis apt quotations from authors who certainly were not in the range of every-day reading. I mentioned this last circumstance to Frank Bracebridge, who told me with a smile that Master Simon's whole stock of erudition was confined to some half-a-dozen old authors, which the 'Squire had put into his hands, and which he read over and over, whenever he had a studious fit; as he sometimes had on a rainy day, or a long winter evening. Sir Anthony Fitzherbert's Book of Husbandry; Markham's Country Contentments; the Tretyse of Hunting, by Sir Thomas Cockayne, Knight; Isaac Walton's Angler, and two or three more such ancient
worthies of the pen, were his standard authorities; and, like all men who know but a few books, he looked up . to them with a kind of idolatry, and quoted them on all occasions. As to his songs, they were chiefly picked out of old books in the 'Squire's library, and adapted to tunes that were popular among the choice spirits of the last century. His practical application of scraps of literature, however, had caused him to be looked upon as a prodigy of book-knowledge by all the grooms, huntsmen, and small sportsmen of the neighbourhood.
While we were talking, we heard the distant toll of the village bell, and I was told that the 'Squire was a little particular in having his household at church on a Christmas morning; considering it a day of puuring out of thanks and rejoicing; for, as old Tusser observcd,
“ At Christmas be merry, and thankful withal, And feast thy poor neighbours, the great with the small."
“ If you are disposed to go to church," said Frank Bracebridge, “I can promise you a specimen of my cousin Simon's musical achievements. As the church is destitute of an organ, he has formed a band from the village amateurs, and established a musical club for their improvement; he has also sorted a choir, as he sorted my father's pack of hounds, according to the directions of Jervaise Markham, in his Country Contentments; for the bass he has sought out all the deep, solemn mouths,' and for the tenor the loud ringing mouth,' among the country bumpkins; and
for sweet mouths,' he has culled with curious taste among the prettiest lasses in the neighbourhood; though these last, he affirms, are the most difficult to keep in tune; your pretty female singer being exceedingly wayward and capricious, and very liable to accident."
As the morning, though frosty, was remarkably fine and clear, the most of the family walked to the church, which was a very old building of gray stone, and stood near a village, about half a mile from the park gate. Adjoining it was a low snug parsonage, which seemed coeval with the church. The front of it was perfectly matted with a yew tree, that had been trained against its walls, through the dense foliage of which, apertures had been formed to admit light into the small antique lattices. As we passed this sheltered nest, the parson issued forth and preceded us.
I had expected to see a sleek well-conditioned pastor, such as is often found in a snug living in the vicinity of a rich patron's table, but I was disappointed. The parson was a little, meagre, black-looking man, with a grizzled wig that was too wide, and stood off from each ear; so that his head seemed to have shrunk away within it, like a dried filbert in its shell. He wore a rusty coat, with great skirts, and pockets that would have held the church bible and prayer-book : and his small legs seemed still smaller, from being planted in large shoes, decorated with enormous buickles.
I was informed by Frank Bracebridge, that the parson had been a chum of his father's at Oxford, and