Page images

confounded punch ; and, I think, I'll never say “No, I don't" as long as I live ; at least not to you, my boy; that is to say,

if you behave yourself. Lane. Ah, you feel a little angry with me still.

Lloyd. No, I-(Lane laughs.) Damn it. Well, I do; but not half so angry as happy, either. So, come along.



F the three great annual holidays, Christmas

day is, for many reasons, the greatest; and one reason among others is, that it stands out of the winter-time, the first and warmest of

them. It is the eye and fire of the season, as the fire is of Christmas and of one's room. We have always loved it, and ever shall ; first (to give a child's reason, and a very good one, too, in this instance), because Christmas day is Christmas day ; second (which is included in that reason, or rather includes it, for it is the greatest), because of a high argument, which will more properly stand by itself at the close of this article; third, because of the hollies and other evergreens which people conspire to bring into cities and houses on this day, making a kind of summer in winter, and reminding us that

“The poetry of earth is never dead ;” fourth, because we were brought up in a cloistered school, * where carols had not gone out of fashion, and used to sit in circles round huge fires, fit to roast an ox, making inconceivable bliss out of cakes and sour oranges; fifth, because of the fine things which the poets and others have

* Christ's Hospital.


said of it ; sixth, because there is no business going on, “Mammon” is suspended; and seventh, because NewYear's-day and Twelfth-day come after it; that is to say, because it is the leader of a set of holidays, and the spirit is not beaten down into commonplace the moment it is over. It closes and begins the year with cheerfulness. We have collected, under the head of “ The Week,”* some notices of the other principal points connected with Christmas. Most of them are now losing their old lustre, only to give way, we trust, by and by, to better evidences of rejoicing. The beadle we can dispense with, and even the Christmasboxes ; especially as we hope nobody will then want them. And the “Bellman's Verses” shall turn to something nobler, albeit we have a liking for him; ay, for his very absurdities; there is something in them so old, so unpretending, and so reminiscent about him. As long as the bellman is alive, one's grandfather does not seem dead, and his cocked hat lives with him. Good “Bellman's Verses" will not do at all. There have been some such things of late, “most tolerable and not to be endured.” We have even seen them witty, which is a great mistake. Warton and Cowper unthinkingly set the way to them. You may be childlike at Christmas ; you may


merry ; you may be absurd, in the worldly sense of the term; but you must write with a faith, and so redeem your old Christmas reputation somehow. Belief in something great and good preserves a respectability, even in the most childish mistakes; but it feels that the company of banter is unworthy of it. The very absurdity of the “Bellman's Verses” is only bearable, nay, only pleasant, when we sup

* A column of original and selected miscellany published under this caption in the “ London Journal.” — - ED.

pose them written by some actual doggerel-poet in good faith. Mere mediocrity hardly allows us to give our Christmas-box, or to believe it nowadays in earnest; and the smartness of your cleverest worldly-wise men is felt to be wholly out of place. No, no; give us the good old decrepit “Bellman's Verses,” hobbling as their bringer, and taking themselves for something respectable like his cocked-hat, or give us none at all. We should not like even to see him in a round hat. He would lose something of the old and oracular by it. If in a round hat, he should keep out of sight, and not contradict the portrait of himself at the top of his sheet of verses, with his bell and his beadle's staff. The pictures round the verses may be new; but we like the old better, no matter how worn-out, provided the subject be discernible; no matter what blots for the eyes, and muddiness for the clouds. The worst of these old wood-cuts are often copied from good pictures; and, at all events, they wear an aspect of the old sincerity.*

Give us, in short, a foundation of that true old Christmas sincerity to go upon (no matter under what modification of belief, provided it be of a Christian sort), and, like the better sort of Catholics, who go to church in the morning and to their dance in the evening, we can begin the day with a mild gravity of recollection, and finish it with all kinds of forgetful mirth, - forgetful, because realizing the happiness for which we are thoughtful. It is a pernicious mistake among persons who exclusively call themselves religious, to think they ought never to be cheerful, without calling to mind considerations too vast and grand for cheerfulness; thereby representing the object of their reverence after the fashion of an officious and tyrannical parent, who should cast the perpetual shadow of his dignity over his children's sports. Those sports are a part of the general ordinance of things. Man is a laughing as well as a thinking creature; and “there is a time ,” says the wise man,

* We learn from Hone's “Every-Day Book” that for the use of this personage there was a book, entitled “The Bellman's Treasury, containing above a hundred several verses, fitted for all Humours and Fancies, and suited to all times and seasons.” London, 1707, 8vo. - ED.

“ for all things." Formal set times for being religious and thoughtful are, to be sure, not the only times; but a perpetual formality is merely the same mistake rendered thoroughgoing and entire ! It might be thought unnecessary to touch upon this point nowadays, and a violation of our own inculcations of seasonableness to notice it in the present article ; but a periodical writer who is in earnest is much hampered by certain inconsistencies in the demands of some of his readers; and what we feel, we express.

To have a thorough sense, then, of Christmas, grave and

gay, and to reconcile as much as possible of its old times to the new, one ought to begin with Christmas Eve, to see the log put on the fire, the boughs fixed somewhere in the room, and to call to mind what is said by the poets, and those beautiful accounts of angels singing in the air, which inspired the seraphical strains of Handel and Corelli. Those who possess musical instruments should turn to these strains, or procure them, and warm their imaginations by their performance. In paintings from Italy (where the violin, on account of its greater mastery, and the enthusiasm of the people, is held in more esteem than with us), we often see choral visions of angels in the clouds, singing and playing on that instrument as well as the harp; and certainly, if ever a sound which may be supposed to resemble them, was yet heard upon earth, it is in some of the harmonies of Arcangelo Corelli. And the recitative of Handel's divine strain, “ There were shepherds abiding in the fields,” is as exquisite for truth and simplicity as the cheek of innocence. See what Milton has sung of these angelic symphonies in the ode “On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.” Shakespeare has touched upon Christmas Eve with a reverential tenderness, sweet as if he had spoken it hushingly.

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes,
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm;
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time."

Upon which (for it is a character in Hamlet who is speaking) Horatio observes, in a sentence remarkable for the breadth of its sentiment as well as the niceness of its sincerity (like the whole of that apparently favorite character of the poet, who loved a friend),

“So have I heard, and do in part believe it :"

that is to say, he believed all that was worthy, and recognized the balmy and Christian effect produced upon welldisposed and sympathetic minds by reflections on the


The Waits, that surprise us with music in the middle of the night, evidently originated in honor of the heavenly visitation. They are, unfortunately, not apt to be very celestial of their kind. There is a fellow in particular, that plays the bass, who seems to make a point of being out of tune. He has two or three notes that are correct enough, that enable him to finish in a style of grandeur

« PreviousContinue »