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in its use to a song, or hymn upon the nativity, but, as we shall presently see, the carol was sung at other seasons also; thus for example, Les Noëls du Sieur François Colletet sont de plaisans Noëls.*
Thirdly, it signifies news or tidings; as for instance,
"I come from Heaven to tell
The best nowellis that ever befell;
To you this tythings trewe I bring."+
Fourthly, it was used merely as an exclamation of joy, if indeed it would not still seem to be employed as before, News! news! thus,
"Nowell! nowell! nowell! nowell!
Who ys ther that syngyt so, nowell! nowell ?"‡¦
But though this would appear to be one and the same word only used in different senses, I can not help suspecting that we have two words sprung from very different roots and corrupted by time into the same mode of writing and pronouncing. Noël, when signifying, " tidings," is likely enough to have come from the French nouvelles, though I would not venture to affirm it; but in the other cases, I have no doubt whatever as to its origin; and in nce of so many opposite derivations assert that Noël is neither more nor less than a corruption of Yole, Yule, Gule, or Ule, for it was written in all these ways; § the addition of N to words beginning with a vowel is so common in our old writers that * See DICTIONNAIRE DE LA LANGUE FRANCOISE DE PIERRE RICHELET-sub voce, Noel; 3 vols. folio, Lyons, 1769.
ANE SANG OF THE BIRTH OF CHRIST, as quoted by Brand. vol. i. p. 264.
RITSON'S ANCIENT SONGS AND BALLADS, vol. ii. p. 17, No. viii. § Even the authority of the learned Vallancey can not shake my belief in noel being nothing more than the Hindoo Huli, the yole, yule, or gule, of the Egyptians. It is right however that he should be allowed to speak for himself." This festival (Allhallow) lasted 'till the beginning of December, which was named Mi.Nolagh, or the month of the New-Born, from the Hebrew, Nolah, i.e. parire, to bring forth young; from whence the French word, noel; and the Irish Nolagh, CHRISTMAS DAY.". Vallancey, COLLECT. DE REBUS HIBERNICIS, vol. iii. p. 445. Essay on "Allhallow Eve."
few can be ignorant of it,* and the phrase is just as applicable to Christmas as it was to Midsummer, seeing that at either time it bore a reference to the solstice. From having been used to designate Christmas, we may easily imagine how it came to be applied to the songs of the season, and even from frequent repetition to become a mere cry of joy. I am the more confirmed in my notion by the fact that yol, or yule, so repeatedly occurs as a simple exclamation, either to express boisterous mirth or as an accompaniment to some superstitious ceremony. As to Todd's derivation of the word from the Hebrew GNOUL, a child, it is too absurd for argument.
Among the Anglo-Saxons this day was the beginning of the year; and in the shows of a later, but still remote,
* Thus in Fenn's PASTON LETTERS (vol. i. p. 58), "It coste me of my noune p'per goods;" i. e. "It cost me of my own proper goods." Again; (p. 14.) 'Smote hym on the hede wt a nedge tole;" i. e. "Smote him on the head with an edge tool." "Because of a nold debate ;" i. e. "Because of an old debate." So also in the word, NONCE-for the nonce-i.e. for the once. And again in Chaucer;
"A coronne on hire hed they have ydressed,
And sette hire ful of nouches gret and small"—
i.e. ouches or precious stones. In the same way the letter y was constantly used as an expletive; as, YERLY for erly, i. e. early; YERLE for erle, i. e. earl; VEVER for ever; and so YULE for ule. And again in another old writer;
Naught can at once be begonne, or present made to be perfect;
Yer that Apelles could Cytherea's beauty depolish
Had he not time to delyne, her picture finely to finnyshe ?" THE FIRST BOOKF OF THE PRESERVATION OF KING HENRY VII. Epistle Dedicatorie, 12mo. London, 1590. Yer is for ere, i.e. before. The book from which this is taken, is exceedingly curious, and I believe unique. In process of time the y was changed into a when used before verbs, as we still find it retained in some few; as abide, arise, &c. while in others it is lost altogether, or only retained by the vulgar, as, in abear, "I can't abear it."
"Incipiebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Januariarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. BEDE OPERA. De Temporum Ratione. Tom. ii. p. 63.
time Christmas was personified in his pageant by man hung round with savoury dainties."*
"" an old
No sooner had midnight passed, and the Day of the Nativity commenced, than the people hastened to welcome it with carols, and these, as Bourne tells us, were "generally sung with some others from the nativity to the Twelveth Day, the continuance of Christmas." In the present day the place of the carols is supplied amongst the higher and middling classes by tunes played just before midnight by the so-called Waits, whilst the carols themselves are annually published in the humblest form and with the coarsest wood cuts for the amusement of the people.
On the Christmas Day these carols used at one time to take the place of psalms in the churches, and more particularly at the afternoon service, the whole congregation joining in them. At the end of the carol the clerk would declare in a loud voice his wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all the parishioners.‡
Carol-singing was, and still is, a custom on the continent, as we find mentioned in Lady Morgan's Italy; and, though now it is confined with us to the humbler classes, yet in former times it amused the very highest. "At the table," says Leland, in the medell of the hall sat the Deane and thoos of the king's chapell, whiche incontynently after the king's furst course singe a carall."§
In conclusion, so far as regards this part of my subject, I am tempted to say a few words upon the etymology of CAROL. Johnson would seem to be unquestionably
* See ANDREW'S HISTORY OF GREAT BRITAIN, connected with Chronology, &c. Vol. i., part ii. p. 329, 4to. London. 1795.
BOURNE'S ANTIQUITATES VULGARES, p. 139.
See DAVIES GILBERT'S CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Preface, p. 1. 8vo. Lond. 1823. Hone (Ancient Mysteries, 106,) has blundered his name into Gilbert Davies.
"Ballo tondo, che comunemente si soleva accompagnar col canto e si faceva pigliandosi più persone per le mani e fermando così di tutti un circolo." DIZIONARIO DELLA LINGUA ITALIANA.
right in deducing it from the Italian, carola, though carola does not mean a song, but "a round dance accompanied by song, ,"* being itself derived from the Greek xopos, or the Latin chorus, both of which equally signified mixture of song and dance. It is true that carol is restricted in its meaning to song only, but precisely the same limitation of sense has happened with the word chorus, which has been borrowed from the same original, and which yet with us excludes all idea of dancing. The only thing that appears to militate against the supposition is that we have in the middle-age Latinity the word carola with four very different meanings. In the barbarous language of the cloisters, it signified :-1st, a balustrade or railing-2ndly, a procession around chapels enclosed within railings3rdly, a chest to hold writing materials, with a lock and key, such as was forbidden to be kept in the monks' dormitories without especial permission of the Abbot-and lastly, it was used for some smaller specimens of gold or silver work, but of what particular kind it is impossible to say. Now the connexion between this word and our carol is by no means evident, and yet, the two being so exactly similar in sound and spelling, one can not altogether get rid of the idea of their somehow being the same, though to all appearance so completely sundered by diffeence of meaning.
The earliest known collection of carols supposed to have been published is only known from the last leaf of a volume, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521. It is now in the Bodleian Library, and has two carols upon it; the one "a caroll of huntynge" reprinted in the last edition of Juliana Berner's "Boke of St. Albans ;" the other, a "Caroll on bringing up a bore's head to the table on
* In the Romance Language, it has exactly the same meaning"CAROLE; carolle; Danse, assembleè, divertissement." GLOSSAIRE DE LA LANGUE ROMANE, par. J. B. B. Roquefort.
+ See DUCANGE, sub voce.
Christmas Day," which is given by Ritson in the second volume of his ANCIENT SONGS, p. 14. The carol, however, as it is now heard at Queen's College, Oxford, differs much from the old version, and is sung every Christmas Day in the Hall to the common chaunt of the prose ver. sion of the psalms in Cathedrals.*
*The Carol, (as given by Ritson.)
The Carol as sung at Queen's College, Oxford, and given in Dibdin's Ames. Vol. ii. p. 252.
The boar's-head in hand bear I,
Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.