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time when they are laying their eggs, yet so concerned were they at this gentleman's death, that notwithstanding this tye of the law of nature, which has ever been held to be universal and perpetual, they left their nest and eggs; and though they made some attempts of laying again at Offley-Moss, yet they were still so disturbed that they bred not at all that year. The next year after they went to Aqualat, to another gentleman's estate of the same family, (where though tempted to stay with all the care imaginable) yet continued there but two years, and then returned again to another poole of the next heir of John Skrymsher deceased, called Shebben-poole in the parish of High Offley where they continue to this day, and seem to be the propriety, as I may say (though a wildfowle) of the right worshipful Sir Charles Skrymsher, knight, their present lord and master.'
It is amusing to find a learned doctor of laws gravely recording such absurdities as these without the slightest doubt or hesitation. A useful lesson, however, may be derived from it by those who choose to do so. If things of this nature can be so attested, it is plain that human testimony is absolutely worthless when opposed to reason, and the necessity for the constant exercise of our own understanding becomes the more evident.
* Dr. Plot's Natural History of Staffordshire; p. 231. folio. Oxford, 1686.
DECEMBER is so called from the Latin December, as being the tenth month from March, while with our Anglo-Saxon forefathers it had the name of Christmonat-because in this month Christ was born-Wintermonath, or Midwintermonath, and Giul Erra, meaning the first or former Giul. It was the feast of Thor, and was celebrated in the mother-night, that is to say at the winter solstice. Of the derivation of Giul I have already spoken at some length, and any repetition would be useless. In Northumberland this month was called Hagmana, a word of which I shall presently have occasion to make mention.
It may now be said to be winter, both according to the weather and the almanack, though they do not always agree. The winds about this time are high and frequent,
* The seasons, however, do not admit of being fixed with absolute precision, although for common purposes they may be thus divided :WINTER-popularly comprises December, January, and February : Astronomically, it begins when the sun enters Capricorn, which is about the 21st of December, that is to say at the time of the Winter Solstice; and ends when the sun enters Aries, which is about the 21st of March, that is to say, at the time of the Vernal Equinox.
SPRING-popularly comprises March, April, and May: Astronomically, it begins when the sun enters Aries; and ends when the sun
and as a natural consequence all the trees are leafless, with the exception only of a few oaks and beeches that stoutly defy the worst violence of the season. Yet amidst this desolation winter is not without its Flora, the berries of the evergreens and of other shrubs supplying in some sort the absence of buds and flowers; thus we have the Holly with its scarlet berries: the Ivy with its green berries; and the Pyracantha with its berries of deep orange; all of them moreover dressed out in their winter foliage. Then we find, though with bare branches, the White-Thorn or May-Bush, presenting its red berries, and the Black Thorn loaded with its blueish-grey sloes, besides the DogRose and other Roses. Nor is there any want of plants; the Scented Coltsfoot blows now, and in mild seasons continues to do so till the middle of February, scenting the air with odours that are by no means ungrateful. Yet later-perhaps not till the middle of January-the White Coltsfoot blossoms; and soon after Christmas the Winter Hellebore, or Aconite, unfolds its yellow flowers. About the same time the Black Hellebore, or Christmas Rose, blossoms; while Daisies, Stocks, Wallflowers, Leopard's Bane, Dead Nettles, Polyanthuses, Primroses, Laurestine, the Arbutus, Misletoe, and some others will also often continue in flower up to Christmas.
VIGIL OF ST. NICHOLAS. December 5th. In this country the Eve of St. Nicholas meets with little notice,
enters Cancer, which is about the 21st of June, that is to say, at the time of the Summer Solstice.
SUMMER-popularly comprises June, July, and August: Astronomically, it begins when the sun enters Cancer; and ends when the sun enters Libra, which is about the 22nd of September, that is to say, at the time of the Autumnal Equinox.
AUTUMN-popularly comprises September, October, and November: Astronomically, it begins when the sun enters Libra; and ends when the sun enters Capricorn, about the 21st of December, the time of the Winter Solstice.
but a custom at one time prevailed in Franconia, which as it tends to illustrate ancient manners, and is therefore not altogether unconnected with our subject, may be thought worthy of mention. Parents in that country used to supply their children with secret presents, pretending that they had come from St. Nicholas, who, according to them, had a fairy-like fancy for popping in at the closed windows and leaving his gifts behind him. To keep up this delusion they would convey the intended gifts into the children's shoes, which had been left under the table to be the more ready for the reception of whatever might be sent; and so eager were the young expectants, and such strict fast would they at times maintain to secure the hoped-for donations, that the sage deluders, who had led them on to this folly, would find it necessary to interfere for their health's sake.* A similar custom of conveying secret gifts on this day did prevail, and perhaps is not yet obsolete, in Italy and France. The boarders in certain convents would each one, upon the Eve of St. Nicholas, place a silk stocking at the Abbess' door, with
Vigiliam diei pueri a parentibus jejunare eo modo invitantur, quòd persuasum habeant ea munuscula, quæ noctu ipsis in calceos sub mensam ad hoc locatos imponuntur, se a largissimo præsule Nicolao percipere; unde tanto desiderio plerique jejunant, ut quia eorum sanitati timeatur ad cibum compellendi sunt."-BOEMI AUBANI ORBIS TERRARUM EPITOME; Lib. iii. cap. 15, p. 242.
Hildebrand also makes mention of the same sort of thing :-" Denique in nostris ecclesiis nocte natali parentes varia munuscula, crepundia, cistellas, vestes, vehicula, poma, nuces, &c. liberis suis donant, quibus plerumque virga additur, ut metu castigationis eò facilius regnantur. Dantur hæc munuscula nomine S. Christi, quem per tegulas, vel fenestras illabi, vel cum angelis domos obire fingunt. Mos iste similiter a Saturnalibus Gentilium descendere videtur, in quibus ethnicos sportulas sive varia munera ultrò citròque misisse antiquissimus Patrum, Tertullianus, meminit in Lib. de Persecutione."-J. HILDEBRANDI DE DIEBUS FESTIS LIBELLUS, p. 23. Festum Nativit. Christi. § 8.
a piece of paper enclosed commending themselves to Great St. Nicholas of her Chamber. The next day all the votarists assembled to see how far they had been noticed by the saint, when they were sure to find the stockings filled with sweetmeats and other trifles of the same kind, upon which they afterwards made a holy feast.*
These customs are said to have originated in the saint's disposition to secret charity, as exemplified in the following legend-A poor man, in the village of Patara, had three handsome daughters, and, not being able to support them, advised them to seek a subsistence by prostitution. This coming to the ears of St. Nicholas, he determined to relieve them; but as he did not like his little charities to be known, the holy man sallied forth at night upon his benevolent expedition, and, perceiving by the moonlight that their chamber-window was open, he flung in a purse of money, and then took himself off as fast as possible.†
FEAST OF ST. NICHOLAS.—December 6th.-This saint, whose Eve I have just been recording, and who was * See BRADY'S CLAVIS CALENDARIA, vol. ii. p. 297.
En la ville de Patare, un homme de bonne maison avoit trois fort belles filles, toutes trois, en âge d'estre mariées, qui par diverses infortunes estoit tombé en si grande necessité, que non seulement il n'avoit pas le moyen de marier ses filles, mais il n'avoit pas desquoy les nourir. Et comme les hommes perdent ordinairement le respect qu'ils doivent porter à Dieu, sans reconnoitre d'ou leur vient le dommage, ce miserable conseilla à ses filles de se prostituer pour gayner leur vie, comme si Dieu ne les eust pû sustenter sans estre offense, et comme s'il n'eust pas esté plus expedient de mourir mille fois de faim que de l'offenser. Le desastre de cette maison vint à la connoissance de Saint Nicolas, qui resolut aussi-tost de remedier à cette necessité, neanmoins en sorte qu'on ne sceust point que cela vinst de luy; car son humilité luy faisoit fuïr la vaine gloire. Il prit une bonne somme d'or, l'envelopa en un linge, et sortit de nuit de sa maison pour s'en aller auprés de celle ou estoit logé ce pauvre gentilhomme; il découvrit à la clarté de la lune une fenestra de la chambre, où il estoit couché, entr'ouverte, et jettant son aumône par là se retira plus viste que le pas."—RIBADENEIRA-Les Fleurs des VIES DES SAINTES, p. 553, tome ii. Folio. Paris, 1686.