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LITERATURE, SCIENCE, AND ART
ESTABLISHED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, 1832
No. 64.-VOL. II.
SATURDAY, MARCH 21, 1885.
Ix days gone by, one of the most important anniversaries in many of our old country parishes was the 'Church-ale,' a festival which, originally instituted in honour of the church saint, was in after-years frequently kept up for the purpose of contributing towards the repair and decoration of the church. Anyhow, it was by all classes recognised as the gala season of the parish; and from the various accounts and incidental allusions that have been bequeathed to us in connection with it, there can be no doubt that this yearly festival was the occasion of every kind of merry-making coupled with a complete cessation from business.
In the time of Shakspeare, and indeed for a century or two before his day, it appears that the term ale was synonymous with festival; and hence its occurrence in such phrases as Leetale, Whitsun-ale, Bride-ale, &c., numerous references to which we meet with in the literature of that period. Thus Chaucer uses it in this sense; and Ben Jonson, in his Masque of Queens, makes one of the hags say: 'A piper it got at a church-ale.' Shakspeare also employs the expression in Pericles:
It hath been sung at festivals,
As at these festivals, ale seems to have been the predominant liquor, it is highly probable that from this circumstance the term took its origin. On such an occasion, for instance, it was the business of the churchwardens to have specially brewed a considerable quantity of strong ale, which was sold to the visitors; a practice which, it is recorded, led to 'great pecuniary advantage, for the rich thought it a meritorious duty, besides paying for their ale, to offer largely to the church fund.' Hence, it was no uncommon thing in some parishes to have several of these ales in the course of the year, and sometimes one or more parishes would agree to hold annually a certain number of them. As an
illustration of this usage, we may quote the following curious stipulation, preserved in the Bodleian Library: The parishioners of Elvaston and Okebrook, in Derbyshire, agree jointly to brew four ales betwixt this (the time of the contract) and the feast of St John Baptist next coming; and that every inhabitant of the said town of Okebrook shall be at the several ales; and every husband and his wife shall pay twopence, and every cottager one penny; and all the inhabitants of Elvaston shall have and receive all the profits and advantages coming of the said ales, to the use and behoof of the said church of Elvaston.'
Unfortunately, however, these festive gatherings were in course of time greatly abused; and we read how even in the body of the church, when the people were assembled together for devotion, they not only turned their attention to diversions, but actually introduced drinking. It is easy to understand how such scenes were received with considerable ill-favour amongst a certain number of persons, and indeed so scandalised the Puritans of the seventeenth century that in many places they were wholly discontinued. Thus Stubbs, in his Anatomie of Abuses (1585), speaks in no friendly term of the church-ale; and after describing the usual method of procedure at these times, adds: 'In this kind of practice they continue six weeks, a quarter of a year, yea, half a year together. That money, they say, is to repair their churches and chapels with, to buy books for service, cups for the celebration of the sacrament, and such other necessaries. And they maintain other extraordinary charges in their parish besides.' Although, of course, Stubbs has given a somewhat exaggerated account of the case, yet it is evident that the bounds of moderation were only too frequently ignored. An additional cause of complaint, moreover, arose from these church-ales being now and then held on Sunday, as appears from a sermon preached by one William Kethe at Blandford Forum in the year 1570, wherein occurs the following passage: 'Which holyday, the multitude call their revelyng day,
which day is spent in bulbeatings, bearebeatings, dicyng, cardyng, daunsynges, drunkenness, &c.'
It must not be supposed, however, that of the many holiday observances which marked the social life of our forefathers, the church-ale was more than any other specially abused, the same fault having been laid to the charge of most of the principal festive anniversaries, many of the observances connected with which have for this very reason long ago fallen into disuse. In the history of the church-ale, it is curious and interesting to note the gradual development of a custom from its original purpose. Thus, as we have already pointed out, whereas this institution was at first intended to be a commemorative rejoicing in honour of the church saint, it was by degrees extended to the holiday festivities connected with such anniversaries as Easter or Whitsuntide, and lastly, was applied to any number of similar festal gatherings which might be summoned in the course of the year by the parish authorities to defray church expenses.
year of the reign of Edward VI. In this year, the parish having lost seven shillings and sixpence by the festival, it was discontinued till the year 1559, when it once more regained its attractions, and was attended with profit.
Hutchinson, in his History of Northumberland, informs us that in the northern counties the church-ale was a very popular institution. The manner of holding these festivals, he tells us, was under tents and booths erected in the churchyard, where all kinds of diversions were introduced. Interludes were performed, 'being a species of theatrical performance, consisting of a rehearsal of some passages in Holy Scripture further adds, 'great feasts were displayed, and On these occasions, he personated by actors." vast abundance of meat and drink.' Once more, the festivities of a church-ale were so intimately associated with the sacred fabric itself, that several pieces of sculpture in Cirencester Church commemorate these merrymakings, in which music, too, held an important place. In the porch of Chalk Church, Kent, have been preserved some grotesque figures, illustrating the merry scenes of a church-ale.
That these church-ales were not unattended with expense may be gathered from many of the old churchwardens' accounts. Thus, we read how in the year 1603 the pewter for the churchale at Minchinhampton cost twenty-six shillings and sixpence; the best pan, twenty-four shillings; the two spits and the pair of racks, twenty shillings and fourpence; the furnace and the other pan, fifty-three shillings and threepence. At Broad Blunsdon, in North Wilts, an old manuscript informs us how on one occasion the churchale gained four pounds and fourteen shillings profit. In Coates's History of Reading (1802), under the churchwardens' accounts of St Mary's parish, we find sundry references to the churchale expenses. Under the year 1557, for example, and the mynstrelles mete and drink at Whytoccurs this item: 'Payed to the morrys-daunsers sontide, iijs. iiijd.' Among the churchwardens' accounts, too, of the parish of St Laurence for the year 1504, we may quote the following: Payed for bred and ale spent to the use of the church at Whitsontyd, ijs. vjd. Item for wyne at the same tyme, xiiijd.' 1505. Item recvd of the mayden's gaderyng at Whitsontyde by the tre at the church dore, iijd.'
Amongst some of the many well-known churchales formerly kept up throughout the country, may be mentioned one noticed by Carew in his Survey of Cornwall, who has thus described it: 'For the church-ale, two young men of the parish are yearly chosen by their last foregoers to be wardens, who make collection among the parishioners of whatsoever provision it pleaseth them voluntarily to bestow. This they employ in brewing and baking against Whitsuntide, upon which holydays the neighbours meet at the church-house, and there merrily feed on their own victuals. When the feast is ended, the wardens yield in their accounts to the parishioners, and such money as exceedeth the disbursement is laid up to defray any extraordinary charges arising in the parish.' But this custom has long ago vanished, and is numbered now amongst the things of the past. Again, Aubrey in his introduction to the Natural History of Wiltshire, tells us that there were no rates for the poor in his grandfather's days, the church-ale of Whitsuntide doing the business. According to his account, in every parish was a church-house, to which To cover the expenses of the church-ale, perbelonged spits, crooks, and other utensils for dressing provisions. Here the housekeepers met. bequests for this purpose. sons not unfrequently left in their wills special Thus, Sir Richard The young people were there too, and had Worsley, in his History of the Isle of Wight, in dancing, bowling, shooting at butts, &c.' The his description of the parish of Whitwell, tells church-ale of Castle-Combe, in the same county, us that there is a lease in the parish chest dated was long kept up with much enthusiasm; and to 1574, of a house called the Church-house, held encourage the celebration of this festival, no one by the inhabitants of Whitwell, parishioners of was allowed to brew so long as any of the Gatcombe, of the lord of the manor, and demised church-ale remained unsold. According to Britton, by them to John Brode, in which is the following the inhabitants met at this annual festival 'to shall need at any time to make a quarter-ale proviso: Provided always, that if the quarter distribute alms to the indigent and to make merry. or church-ale for the maintenance of the chapel, Near the church was a house furnished with that it shall be lawful for them to have the use the utensils required for dressing victuals. After of the said house, with all the rooms both above a sober entertainment, the younger individuals and beneath, during their ale.' We may also comof the party amused themselves with dancing.' pare a similar bequest at Biddenham, in BedfordAt Tarring, near Worthing, Sussex, the church-shire. According to Edward's Old English Customs ale was yearly kept up without interruption from and Remarkable Charities (1842), an ancient cusa very early period till the year 1548, the second tomary donation of a quantity of malt was made
annually at Whitsuntide by the proprietor of Kempston Mill, near the parish. The malt was always delivered to the overseers of the parish of the poor for the time being, and turned by them into ale, which was distributed among all the poor inhabitants of Biddenham on WhitTuesday.'
It would seem that occasionally fines were enacted in the case of those who were absent from the church-ale. Thus, in an old parish document relating to the parish of Walsall, in Staffordshire, we read how, in the year 1496, 'John Arundel, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, by a decree of confirmation, under the seal of the diocese, directed to the Mayor of Walsall and his bretheren, for the advantage of Walsall Church, declaring that they (the mayor and his bretheren) shall keepe the drynkynges iiii. times in the year, and hee that is absent at any of these drynkynges to forfeit a pounde of waxe to burn for the light of the chapell of Sointe Kateryn, in the sayd church.'
Apart from the feasting and merry-making which took place at these gatherings, it appears that certain amusements were provided for the recreation of the visitors. Miss Baker, in her Glossary of Northamptonshire Words (1854), describing the celebration of a Whitsun or church-ale early in the present century in a barn at King's Sutton, says that it was specially fitted up for the occasion. The lord, as the principal, carried a mace made of silk, finely plaited with ribbons, and filled with spices and perfumes for such of company to smell as desired it. Six morrisdancers were amongst the performers. From the same source, we also learn that at an ale kept at Greatworth in the year 1785, all those who misconducted themselves were obliged to ride a wooden horse; and if still more unruly, were put into the stocks, which was termed being my lord's organist.'
has been likened to our yearly fairs of the present day, was naturally made as attractive as possible, its primary object, after all, having been to provide adequate funds for parish wants.
A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.
THE days ran on for about a week with a suppressed and agitating expectation in them which seemed to Frances to blur and muddle all the outlines, so that she could not recollect which was Wednesday or which was Friday, but felt it all one uncomfortable long feverish sort of day. She could not take the advantage of any pleasure there might be in them-and it was to catch the many glimpses of so different a life, a pleasure to watch Constance, to hear her talk, which came from the careless, easy monologue which was her style of conversation-for the exciting sense that she did not know what might happen any moment, or what was going to become of her. Even the change from her familiar place at table, which Constance took without any thought, just as she took her father's favourite chair on the loggia, and the difference in her room, helped to confuse her mind, and add to the feverish sensation of a life altogether out of joint.
Constance had not observed any of those signs of individual habitation about the room which Frances had fancied would lead to a discovery of the transfer she had made. She took it quite calmly, not perceiving anything beyond the ordinary in the chamber which Frances had adorned with her sketches, with the little curiosities she had picked up, with all the little collections of Another feature of the church was the 'rush- her short life. It was wanting still in many bearing, various allusions to which custom we things which to Constance seemed simple necesfind in the literature of the past. In the church- sities. How was she to know how many things wardens' accounts of Minchinhampton, amongst were in it which were luxuries to that primitive the items of expenses connected with the church- locality? She remained altogether unconscious, ale we are told that the church-house was mossed in the year 1611 at the cost of twelve shillings accordingly, of the sacrifice her sister had made and eightpence. Usually, rushes were employed for her, and spoke lightly of poor Frances' pet for this purpose; but in this case there may decorations, and of the sketches, the authorship have been no rushes, or else moss might have of which she did not take the trouble to suspect. been preferred. Bridges, in his Northamptonshire, What funny little pictures,' she had said. speaking of the parish of Middleton-Chenduit, 'Where did you get so many odd little things? says: 'It is a custom here to strew the church They look as if the frames were home-made, as in summer with hay gathered from six or seven well as the drawings.' swaths in Ash-meadow, which have been gathered for this purpose.' This strewing of the church with rushes seems to have been attended with no small amount of festive ceremony, which thus harmonised with the general surrounding of the
Fortunately, she was not in the habit of waiting for an answer to such a question, and she did not remark the colour that rose to Frances' checks. But all this added to the disturbing influence, and made these long days look unlike any other Such, then, were some of the principal char- days in her life. She took the other side of acteristics of the English church-ale, an institution the table meekly with a half-smile at her father, which, in spite of its widespread popularity, is warning him not to say anything; and she lodged now almost completely forgotten, its memory in the blue room without thinking of adding to only lingering here and there in a few of our its comforts, for what was the use, so long as country villages. Existing at a period prior to the establishment of church-rates, the conthis possible alteration hung over her head? Life tributions levied at this season were a real seemed to be arrested during these half-dozen necessity, if the fabric of the church was to be days. They had the mingled colours and huddled kept in repair; indeed, the church-ale, which outlines of a spoiled drawing; they were not like
anything else in her life, neither the established calm and certainty that went before, nor the strange novelty that followed after.
There were no confidences between her father and herself during this period. Since their conversation on the night of Constance's arrival, not a word had been said between them on the subject. They mutually avoided all occasion for further talk. At least Mr Waring avoided it, not knowing how to meet his child, or to explain to her the hazard to which her life was exposed. He did not take into consideration the attraction of the novelty, the charm of the unknown mother and the unknown life, at which Frances permitted herself to take tremulous and stealthy glimpses as the days went on. He contemplated her fate from his own point of view as something like that of the princess who was doomed to the dragon's maw, but for the never-to-be-forgotten interposition of St George, that emblem of chivalry. There was no St George visible on the horizon, and Waring thought the dragon no bad emblem of his wife. And he was ashamed to think that he was helpless to deliver her; and that, by his fault, this poor little Una, this hapless Andromeda, was to be delivered over to the waiting monster.
He avoided Frances, because he did not know how to break to her this possibility, or how, since Constance probably had made her aware of it, to console her in the terrible crisis at which she had arrived. It was a painful crisis for himself as well as for her. The first evening on which, coming into the loggia to smoke his cigarette after dinner, he had found Constance extended in his favourite chair had brought this fully home to him. He strolled out upon the open-air room with all the ease of custom, and for the first moment he did not quite understand what it was that was changed in it, that put him out, and made him feel as if he had come, not into his own familiar domestic centre, but somebody else's place. He hung about for a minute or two, confused, before he saw what it was; and then, with a half-laugh in his throat, and a mingled sense that he was annoyed, and that it was ridiculous to be annoyed, strolled across the loggia, and half seated himself on the outer wall, leaning against a pillar. He was astonished to think how much annoyed he was, and with what a comical sense of injury he saw his daughter lying back so entirely at her ease in his chair. She was his daughter, but she was a stranger, and it was impossible to tell her that her place was not there. Next evening, he was almost angry, for he thought that Frances might have told her, though he could not. And indeed Frances had done what she could to warn her sister of the usurpation. But Constance had no idea of vested rights of this description, and had paid no attention. She took very little notice, indeed, of what was said to her, unless it arrested her attention in some special way; and she had never been trained to understand that the master of a house has sacred privileges. She had not so much as known what it is to have a master to a house.
This and other trifles of the same kind gave to Waring something of the same confused and feverish feeling which was in the mind of Frances. And there hung over him a cloud as of some
thing further to come, which was not so clear as her anticipations, yet was full of discomfort and apprehension. He thought of many things, not of one thing, as she did. It seemed to him not impossible that his wife herself might arrive some day as suddenly as Constance had done, to reclaim her child, or to take away his, for that was how they were distinguished in his mind. The idea of seeing again the woman from whom he had been separated so long, filled him with dread; and that she should come here and see the limited and recluse life he led, and his bare rooms, and his homely servants, filled him with a kind of horror. Rather anything than that. He did not like to contemplate even the idea that it might be necessary to give up the girl, who had flattered him by taking refuge with him and seeking his protection; but neither was the thought of being left with her and having Frances taken from him endurable. In short, his mind was in a state of mortal confusion and tumult. He was like the commander of a besieged city, not knowing on what day he might be summoned to surrender; not able to come to any conclusion whether it would be most wise to yield, or if the state of his resources afforded any feasible hopes of holding out.
Constance had been a week at the Palazzo before the trumpets sounded. The letters were delivered just before the twelve o'clock breakfast, and Frances had received so much warning as this, that Mariuccia informed her there had been a large delivery that morning. The Signor padrone had a great packet; and there were also some letters for the other young lady, Signorina Constanza. 'But never any for thee, carina, Mariuccia had said. The poor girl thus addressed had a momentary sense that she was indeed to be pitied on this account, before the excitement of the certainty, that now something definite must be known as to what was to become of her, swelled her veins to bursting; and she felt herself grow giddy with the thought that what had been so vague and visionary, might now be coming near, and that in an hour or less she would know! Waring was as usual shut up in his bookroom; but she could see Constance on the loggia with her lap full of letters, lying back in the long chair as usual, reading them as if they were the most ordinary things in the world. Frances for her part had to wait in silence until she should learn from others what her fate was to be. It seemed very strange that one girl should be free to do so much, while another of the same age could do nothing at all.
Waring came in to breakfast with the letters in his hand. I have heard from your mother,' he said, looking straight before him, without turning to the right or the left. Frances tried to appropriate this to herself, to make some reply, but her voice died in her throat; and Constance, with the easiest certainty that it was she who was addressed, answered before she could recover herself.
"Yes? So have I. Mamma is rather fond of writing letters. She says she has told you what she wishes, and then she tells me to tell you. I don't suppose that is of much use?'
'Of no use at all,' said he. 'She is pretty explicit. She says'
Constance leant over the table a little, holding
up her finger. 'Don't you think, papa,' she said, 'as it is business, that it would be better not to enter upon it just now? Wait till we have had our breakfast.'
He looked at her with an air of surprise. 'I don't see,' he said-then, after a moment's reflection: Perhaps you are right, after all. It may be better not to say anything just now.' Frances had recovered her voice. She looked from one to another as they spoke with a cruel consciousness that it was she, not they, who was most concerned. At this point she burst forth with feelings not to be controlled. 'If it is on my account, I would rather know at once what it is,' she cried.
attention and anger. The suggestion was detestable, but yet
And then,' she went on, there is another thing. It might have been all very well when we were children; but now we are of an age to judge for ourselves. At eighteen, you can choose which you will stay with. Oh, younger than that. There have been several trials in the papers. No one can force Frances to go anywhere she does not like, at her age.'
'I wish,' he said with a little irritation, restrained by politeness, for Constance was still a young-lady visitor to her father, that you would leave this question to be discussed afterwards.-- Your sister was right, Frances-after And then she had to bear the looks of both breakfast-after I have had a little time to her father's astonished half-remorseful gaze, and think of it. I cannot come to any decision all the eyes of Constance, which conveyed a warning. at once.' Why should Constance, who had told her of the danger, warn her now not to betray her know-approvingly. ledge of it? Frances had got beyond her own control. She was vexed by the looks which were fixed upon her, and by the supposed consideration for her comfort which lay in their delay. 'I know,' she said quickly, that it is something about me. If you think I care for breakfast, you are mistaken; but I think I have a right to know what it is, if it is about me.papa, I don't mean to be-disagreeable,' she cried suddenly, sinking into her own natural tone as she caught his eye.
'That is not very much like you, certainly,' he said, in a confused voice.
'Evil communications,' said Constance, with a laugh. I have done her harm already.'
Frances felt that her sister's voice threw a new irritation into her mood. 'I am not like myself,' she said, 'because I know something is going to happen to me, and I don't know what it is.— Papa, I don't want to be selfish, but let me know, please, only let me know what it is.'
'It is only that mamma has sent for you,' said Constance lightly. That is all. It is nothing so very dreadful.-Now, do let us have our breakfast in peace.'
Is that true, papa?' Frances said.
'My dear little girl-I had meant to explain it all-to tell you-and I have been so silly as to put off. Your sister does not understand how we have lived together, Frances, you and I.'
Am I to go, papa?'
He made a gesture of despair. 'I don't know what to do. I have given my promise. It is as bad for me as for you, Frances. But what am I to do?'
'I suppose,' said Constance, who had helped herself very tranquilly from the dish which Domenico had been holding unobserved at his master's elbow, 'that there is no law that could make you part with her, if you don't wish to. Promises are all very well with strangers; but they are never kept are they?-between husband and wife. The father has all the right on his side; and you are not obliged to give either of us up.-What a blessing,' she cried suddenly, 'to have servants who don't understand. That was why I said don't talk of it till after breakfast. But it does not at all matter. It is as good as if he were deaf and dumb.-Papa, you need not give her up unless you like.'
Waring looked at his daughter with mingled
'That is a great deal better,' said Constance One can't tell all in a moment. Frances is like mamma in that too. She requires you to know your own mind-to say Yes or No at once.-You and I are very like each other, papa. I shall never hurry your decision, or ask you to settle a thing in a moment.-But these cutlets are getting quite cold. Do have some before they are spoiled.'
Waring had no mind for the cutlets, to which he helped himself mechanically. He did not like to look at Frances, who sat silent, with her hands clasped on the table, pale, but with a light in her eyes. The voice of Constance running on, forming a kind of veil for the trouble and confusion in his own mind, and doubtless in that of her sister, was half a relief and half an aggravation; he was grateful for it, yet irritated by it. He felt himself to play a very poor figure in the transaction altogether, as he had felt ever since she arrived. Frances, whom he had regarded as a child, had sprung up into a judge, into all the dignity of an injured person, whose right to complain of the usage to which she had been subjected no one could deny. And when he stole a furtive glance at her pale face, her head held high, the new light that burned in her eyes, he felt that she was fully aware of the wrong he had done her, and that it would not be so easy to dictate what she was to do, as everybody up to this moment had supposed. He saw, or thought he saw, resistance, indignation in the gleam that had been awakened in Frances' dove's eyes. And his heart fell-yet rose also-for how could he constrain her, if she refused to go? He had no right to constrain her. Her mother might complain; but it would not be his doing. On the other side, it would be shameful, pitiable on his part to go back from his word-to acknowledge to his wife that he could not do what he had pledged himself to do.
In every way, it was an uncomfortable breakfast, all the forms of which he followed, partly for the sake of Constance, partly for that of Domenico. But Frances ate nothing, he could see. He prolonged the meal, through a sort of fear of the interview afterwards, of what he must say to her, and of what she should reply. He felt ashamed of his reluctance to encounter this young creature, whom a few days ago he had smiled at as a child; and ashamed to look her in the face, to explain and argue with, and intreat,