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DIVISION VI.

CHRISTMAS VERSES OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.

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FEW words will suffice by way of introduction to the Christmas Poems of the nineteenth century, as these, for the most part, treat of customs and peculiarities familiar to all. The picturesque ceremonies and rude festivities that distinguished the Christmas of bygone times have passed away, and, for ourselves, we can regard the loss of them without regret. We are too thankful to have lighted upon a more civilized age, and to have escaped all the troubles, dangers, and miseries with which the “ good old times” were so thickly beset, to grieve overmuch for the

loss of even the better part of them. We AVO

conceive that Queen Victoria can celebrate wwwwww.000000www her Christmas with her accustomed gracious hospitality, without its being necessary for the Lord Chamberlain to assume the character, and perform all the absurdities, of a Lord of Misrule. And, although the office of poet-laureate has come to be regarded as inconsistent with the spirit of the present age, yet it was an advantageous change for the fooleries of a court-jester. We are well content, too, that the Christmas pantomime, and an occasional bal-masquè, should be the only existing remnants of the absurd Mummings of our ancestors. The Yule log and the Wassail bowl are beyond revival, and even the Christmas Carol is falling into desuetude. The practice of decking churches and houses with evergreens is, perhaps, the most honoured of all the old Christmas customs. The Boar's head has still a place in the Christmas banquet at one of our colleges, and at the mansions of some few of our nobility; yet, even this once favourite dish is very nigh displaced by the formidable baron of beef. It is at Queen's College, Oxford, that the Boar's head is brought, on Christmas day, to the high table in the Hall, while an altered version of the Old Carol printed by Wynkin de Worde, is chanted forth by a band of attendant choristers.

The following picturesque and oft-quoted description of Christmas in the olden time is from the introduction to the sixth canto of “Marmion.”

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HEAP on more wood !—the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hall was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe;
Then opened wide the baron’s hall
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all ;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doffed his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.

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The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair.”
All hailed, with uncontrolled delight,
And general voice, the happy night,
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide ;
The huge hall-table's oaken face,
Scrubbed till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn
By old blue-coated serving man ;
Then the grim boar's head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;

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What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round, in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbons, blithly trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Vor failed old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roared with blithsome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong,
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made ;
But, O! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England, when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’T was Christmas broached the mightiest ale;
'T was Christmas told the merriest tale ;
A Christmas gambol oft could cheer
The poor man's heart through half the year.

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WASSAIL.

WASSAIL.

(From “ Ainsworth's Magazine,” 1848.)

Wassail! wassail! Ye merry men, hail,

Who brightened the days of old ;
What brave conceits, and humoursome feats,

Are sung of our fathers bold.
From morning chime, unto vesper time,

They revelled in careless glee,
And danced at night with spirits as light

As the notes of their minstrelsy.

Wassail! wassail! At the knight's regale

'Twas the signal for deep carouse, Nor there alone, for the joyous tone

Shook many a priestly house;
The monks forgot their bachelor's lot,

Surrounded by goodly cheer,
And raised the cup, in its brim full up,

To the utter contempt of care.

Wassail! wassail! cried the yeoman hale,

As he shouldered his quarter-staff,
And homeward rode where the spiced ale stood

Awaiting his hearty quaff;
The cot meanwhile, lit up by the smile

Of a frank good-hearted mirth,
And free to all who might chance to call,

Was the happiest place on earth!

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