Page images
PDF
EPUB

bridge all over, and the very counterpart of one of his ancestors who figured in the court of Henry VIII. The parson said

grace,

which was not a short familiar one, such as is commonly addressed to the Deity in these unceremonious days; but a long, courtly, well-worded one of the ancient school. There was now a pause, as if something was expected; when suddenly the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle: he was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light, and bore a silver dish, on which was an enormous pig's head, decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table. The moment this pageant made its appearance, the harper struck up a flourish; at the conclusion of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint from the 'Squire, gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an old carol, the first verse of which was 'as follows:

Caput apri defero

Reddens laudes Domino.
The boar's head in hand bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary.
I pray you all synge merily

Qui estis in convivio.

Though prepared to witness many of these little eccentricities, from being apprized of the peculiar hobby of mine host; yet, I'confess, the parade with which so odd a dish was introduced somewhat perplexed me, until I gathered from the conversation of

the 'Squire and the parson, that it was meant to represent the bringing in of the boar's head-a dish formerly served up with much ceremony, and the sound of minstrelsy and song, at great tables on Christmas day. “I like the old custom,” said the Squire, “not merely because it is stately and pleasing in itself, but because it was observed at the college at Oxford, at which I was educated. When I hear the old song chanted, it brings to mind the time when I was young and gamesome-and the noöle old collegehall--and my fellow-students loitering about in their black gowns; many of whom, poor lads, are now in their graves!"

The parson, however, whose mind was not haunted by such associations, and who was always more taken up with the text than the sentiment, objected to the Oxonian's version of the carol; which he affirined was different from that sung at college. He went on, with the dry perseverance of a commentator, to give the college reading, accompanied by sundry annotations; addressing himself at first to the company at large; but finding their attention gradually diverted to other talk, and other objects, he lowered his tone as his number of auditors diminished, until he concluded his remarks in an under voice, to a fal-headed old gentleman next him, who was silently engaged in the discussion of a huge plate-full of turkey:*

* The old ceremony of serving up the boar's head on Christmas day, is still observed in the hall of Queen's College, Oxford. I was favoured by the parson with a copy of the carol as now

The table was literally loaded with good cheer, and presented an epitome of country abundance, in this season of overflowing larders. A distinguished post was allotted to "ancient sirloin,” as nine host termed it; being, as he added, “the standard of old English hospitality, and a joint of goodly presence, and full of expectation.” There were several dishes quaintly decorated, and which had evidently something traditional in their embellishments; but about which, as I did not like to appear over-curious, I asked no questions.

I could not, however, but notice a pie, magnificently decorated with peacocks' feathers, in imitation of the

sung, and as it may be acceptable to such of my readers as are curious in these grave and learned matters, I give it entire.

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio.

Caput apri defero.
Reddens laudes Domino.

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico.

Caput apri defero, &c.
Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is
In Regioensi Atrio.
Caput apri defero,

&c. &c. &c.

tail of that bird, which overshadowed a considerable tract of the table. This, the 'Squire confessed, with some little hesitation, was a pheasant pie, though a peacock pie was certainly the most authentical; but there had been such a mortality among the peacocks this season, that he could not prevail upon himself to have one killed. *

It would be tedious, perhaps, to my wiser readers, who may

not have that foolish fondness for odd and obsolete things to which I am a little given, were I to mention the other make-shifts of this worthy old humorist, by which he was endeavouring to follow up, though at humble distance, the quaint customs of antiquity. I was pleased, however, to see the respect shown to his whims by his children and relatives ; who, indeed, entered readily into the full spirit of

* The peacock was ancieatly in great demand for stately entertainments. Sometimes it was made into a pie, at one end of which the head appeared above the crust in all its plumage, with the beak richly gilt; at the other end the tail was displayed. Such pies were served up at the solemu banquets of chivalry when Knights-errant pledged themselves to undertake any perilous enterprise, whence came the ancient oath, used by Justice Shallow," by cock and pie."

The peacock was also an important dish for the Christmas feast; and Massinger, in his City, Madam, gives some idea of the extravagance with which this, as well as other dishes, was prepared for the gorgeous revels of the olden times :

Men may talk of Country Christmasses,
Their thirty pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carps' tongues.
Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris; the carcases of

three fat wethers bruised for gravy to make sauce for a
single peacock!

in

them, and seemed all well versed in their parts ; havmg doubtless been present at many a rehearsal. I was amused, too, at the air of profound gravity with which the butler and other servants executed the duties assigned them, however eccentric. They had an oldfashioned look; having, for the most part, been brought up in the household, and grown into keeping with the antiquated mansion, and the humours of its lord; and most probably looked upon all his whimsical regulations as the established laws of honouraole housekeeping

When the cloth was removed, the butler brought

a huge silver vessel, of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the 'Squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the 'Squire himself; for it was a beverage, in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself: alleging that it was too abstruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.*

The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of indwelling delight, as he stirred

* The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine; with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs; in this way the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old

« PreviousContinue »