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have amended all that. The poet, whether laureate or not, who should flatter a sovereign in our day as Ben Jonson and Dryden flattered theirs would be laughed at as much as that modest Welshman mentioned in one of Cowper's playful and affectionate letters:
“I have been applied to within these few days by a Welshman, with a wife and many children, to get him made Poet Laureate as fast as possible. If thou wouldst wish to make the world merry twice a year, thou canst not do better than procure the office for him. I will promise thee that he shall afford thee a hearty laugh in return every birthday and every new year.”
Jonson's Masque at Christmas, presented at Court, 1616, says :
Now their intent is above to present,
With all the appurtenances,
To be gathered out of the dances.
OF PLEASURE AND VIRTUE.
So interweave the curious knot,
Which lines are Pleasure's, and which not.
First figure out the doubtful way
Then, as all actions of mankind
Are but a labyrinth or maze,
Yet not perplex men unto gaze.
Not only shows the mover's wit,
As he hath power to rise to it. Thus there was philosophy, as well as fancy, in the Old English birthday dances.
Our modern ingenuity and splendour of machinery, dresses, and appointments in operas and pantomimes are poor and trivial, at their best, compared with the inventive genius and elaborate workmanship lavished on the Court entertainments, in the days of the Tudors and the Stuarts; in the days of Shakespeare and his contemporaries ; in the days when Milton wrote his exquisitely beautiful Masque of Comus.
The old English custom of presenting costly gifts on New Year's Day reached its height in the reign of Elizabeth. The queen accumulated a vast quantity of lace, jewellery, and rich dresses, all the birthday and new year's gifts of the great officers of the State, the nobility of the kingdom, and even the tradespeople, members of the household, and servants of the palace. These presents were sometimes made in money—the Archbishop of Canterbury giving £40, the Archbishop of York £30, and the temporal lords £20 and £10. Returns were generally made for these curious presents, but always of inferior value.
The list of the gifts received by Elizabeth's successor on New Year's Day, 1603, and of the gifts bestowed by his Majesty in return, filled a roll of vellum ten feet long.
We may form an excellent notion of how the country gentry kept their birthdays in the reign of Queen Elizabeth when living in the country, from that striking picture of the manners of the time, the ballad of the old and young courtier. The following verses describe the Old Courtier : An old song made by an agèd old pate, Of an old worshipful gentleman who had a great
estate; That kept a brave old house at a bountiful rate, And an old porter to relieve the poor at his gate ;
Like an old courtier of the queen's,
And the queen's old courtier. With an old lady whose anger one word assuages, They every quarter paid their old servants their
wages ; And never knew what belonged to coachmen, foot
men, nor pages, But kept twenty old fellows with blue coats and
Like an old courtier, &c. With an old study filled with learned old books ; With an old reverend chaplain, you might know him
by his looks ; With an old buttery hatch worn quite off the hooks ; And an old kitchen that maintained half-a-dozen old
Like an old courtier, &c.
With an old hall hung about with pikes, guns, and
bows, With old swords and bucklers that had borne many
shrewd blows, And an old frieze coat to cover his worship’s trunk
hose, And a cup of old sherry to comfort his copper nose;
Like an old courtier, &c. With a good old fashion when Christmas was come, To call in his neighbours with bagpipe and drum, With good cheer enough to furnish every old room, And old liquor enough to make a cat speak and a
Like an old courtier of the queen's,
And the queen's old courtier. Unfortunately we know, from the lives of too many of the dramatists and poets of those times, that they, and their patrons, sometimes fell into wild excess on the occasions of both public and private feasts. To this Milton alludes
But drive far off the barbarous dissonance
Of Bacchus and his revellers. We have enough and to spare of Bacchanalian revels in the festal anniversaries of our day, with far less excuse for them than our forefathers had.
Now, leaving courtly pageants and old English revels, until we come to birthday poems of middle and later life, let us look in on a homelier Christmas scene: The green leaves stript have left the woods
Towering—their tall arms bleak and bare; And now they choke the sounding floods,
Or fill in clouds the rushing air.
Yet turn we here! The winter's fire,
Its crackling faggots blazing bright, Hath joys that never, never tire,
And looks that fill us with delight. Home's joys! Ah, yes, 'tis these are ours,
Home's looks and hearts ; 'tis these can bring A something sweeter than the flowers,
And purer than the airs of spring. Then welcome be old winter here !
Ay! welcome be the stormy hour; Our kindly looks and social cheer,
Shall cheat the monarch of his power!
Love to our festival we'll bring,
The cold moaning wind
How Scotland kept the “holy-tide," down to the time of Sir Walter Scott, we are informed by the Wizard of the North himself:
Heap on more wood! the wind is shrill ;
At Iol * more deep the mead did drain; * lol was a great winter feast among the Danes, and the word is still used in Scotland.