Page images
PDF
EPUB

groundless and absurd; yet its tendency was certainly a very good one, as it necessarily induced men to be tender of the lives and happiness, the being and the well-being of the animal creation. 2. As another very cogent motive to this benevolence of disposition and behaviour, let us never forget that all the miseries and hardships, under which the brute creation labour, together with mortality itself, to which they are liable, are, primarily, owing to the sin of man: which reflection must influence every considerate and truly ingenuous inind, to treat them with the greatest lenity upon that very account. Nor can I omit just mentioning an argument, which may be deduced from the care of Providence. If God hath respect to the meanest of his creatures, and despises not the workmanship of his own hands; let us, whose supreme glory it is to resemble Deity, imitate him in these amiable and gracious views. As Dr. Young truly and nobly observes, “ There is not a fly, but infinite wisdom is concerned both in its structure and its destination.” How dare we, then, be destroyers of their ease, which we ought to promote; or wantonly deprive them of that life which we cannot restore.

[ocr errors]

POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS AND CUSTOMS.

[Continued from Page 306.]

MAY-DAY. On the calends, or the first of May, commonly called May-Day, the juvenile part of both sexes were wont to rise a little after midnight, and walk to some neighbouring woods, accoippanied with music; where they broke down branches from the trees, and adorned them with nosegays and crowns of flowers. When this was done, they returned with their booty homewards, about the rising of the sun, and made their doors and windows to triumph in the flowery spoil. The after part of the day was chiefly spent in dancing round a tall pole, called a May-Pole, which being placed in a convenient part of the village, stood there, consecrated, as it were, to the Goddess of Flowers, without the least violation offered to it, in the whole circle of the year. And this is not the custom of the British common people only, but it is the custom of the generality of other nations ; particularly of the Italians, where Polydore Virgil tells

us*, the youth of both sexes were accustomed to go into the fields on the calends of May, and bring thence the branches of trees, singing all the way as they came home, and so place them on the doors of their houses.

Stow tells us, in his survey of Londont, “ that in the month of May, namely, on May-Day, in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meddows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds praising God in their kinde.”

He quotes from Hall, an account of Henry VIII. riding a maying, from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooter's Hill, with queen Katherine his wife, accompanied with many Lords and Ladies,

He further tells us, “I find also that, in the month of May, the citizens of London (of all estates) lightly, in every parish, or sometimes two or three parishes, joining together, had their several Mayingst, and did fetch in May-poles, with divers warlike shews, with good archers, morrice dancers, and other devices for pastime, all the day long; and, towards the evening, they had stage plaies, and bonfires in the streets."

* Est autem consuetudinis, ut juventus promiscui sexus lætæbunda cal, Maii exeat in agros, & cantitans inde vịrides reportet arborum ramos eosque ante domorum fores ponat præsertim apud Italos.

&c. Poly. Virg. 302. + " The Mayings,” says Mr. Strutt, “ are in some sort yet kept up by the milk-maids at London, who go about the streets with their garlands and music, dancing. But this tracing is a very imperfect shadow of the original sports: for May-poles were set up in the streets with various martial shews, morris dancing, and other devices, with which, and revelling and good cheer, the day was passed away. At night they rejoiced and lighted up their bonfires.”

English Æra. Vol. 2. P. 99. Mr. Pennant tells us, that on the first of May, in the Highlands of Scotland, the herdsmen of every village hold their Beltein, a rural sacrifice. They cut a square trench in the ground, leaving the turf in the middle; on that they make a fire of wood, on which they dress a large caudle of eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk, and bring, besides the ingredients of the caudle, plenty of beer and whiskey; for each of the company must contribute something. The rites begin with spilling some of the caudle on the ground by way of libation. On that, every one takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs ; each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them. Each person then turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his

And again he says, “in the reign of Ilenry VI. the aldermena sheriffs of London, being on Muy-day, at the bishop of London's wood, and having there a worshipful dinner for themselves and other commers, Lydgate, the monk of Bury, sent them, by a pursivant, a joyful commendation of that seasou, beginning thus:

Mighty Flora, goddess of fresh flowers,
“ Which clothed hath the soil in lusty green,
“ Made buds to spring with her sweet showers,
“ By infuence of the sun sheene,
“To do pleasance of intent full cleane,
“ Unto the states which now sit here

“ Hath Ver sent down her oun daughter dear*." P. 80. Mr. Borlase, in his curious account of the manners of Cornwall, tells us, “An ancient custom still retained by the Cornish, is that of decking their doors and porches on the first of May, with green Sycamore and Hawthorn boughs, and of planting trees, or rather stumps of trees, before their houses: and on May eve, they from towns make excursions into the country, and having cut down a tall

elm, shoulder, says, “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses : this to thee, preserve thou iny sheep;" and so on. After that they use the same ceremony to the poxious animais. “ This I give to thee, O fox! spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O hooded crow! this to thee, O eagle !" When the ceremony is over, they dine on the caudle, and, after the feast is finished, what is left is hid by two persons, deputed for that purpose; but on the next Sunday, they re-as. semble, and finish the reliques of the first entertainment. P.91.

* Browne, in his Britannia's Pastorals, thus describes some of the May revellings.

As I have seene the lady of the May
Set in an arbour
Built by the May-pole, where the jocund swaines
Dance with the maidens to the bagpipe's straines;
When en vious night commands them to be gone,
Call for the merry youngsters one by one,
And for their well-performance soone disposes,
To this, a garlund interwove with roses :
To that a carved hooke, or well-wrought scrip,
Gracing another with her cherry lip:
To one her garter, to another then
A handkerchief cast o're and o're again.
And none returneth empty, that hath spent
His pains to fill their rural merriment.
So, &c.

P. 122

elm, brought it into town, fitted a straight and taper pole to the end of it, and painted the same, erect it in the most public places, and, on holidays and festivals, adorn it with flower garlands, or ensigns and streamers.” He adds, “ This usage is nothing more than a gratulation of the spring season; and every house exhibited a proper signal of its approach, to testify their universal joy at the revival of vegetation."

The author of the pamphlet, entitled, “ The Way to Things by Words, and to Words by Things,” in his specimen of an Etymological Vocabulary, considers the May-pole* in a new and curious light: we gather from him, that our ancestors held an anniversary assembly on May-day; the column of the May (whence our Maypole) was the great standard of justice in the Ey-commons, or fields of May. Here it was that the people, if they saw cause, depased or punished their governors, their barons, their kings. The judge's bough or wand, (at this time discontinued, and only faintly repres sented by a trilling nosegay) and the staff or rod of authority in the civil, and in the military (for it was the mace of civil power, and the truncheon of the field officers) are both derived from hence. A mayor, he says, received his name from this May, in the sense of lawful power. The crown, a mark of dignity and symbol of power, like the mace and sceptre, was also taken from the May, being sepresentative of the garland or crown; when hung on the top of the mayor-pole, was the great signal for convening the people. The arches of it, which spring from the circlet, and meet together at the mound or round ball, being necessarily so formed to suspend it on the top of the pole.

The word May-pole, he observes, is a pleonasm ; in French it is called singly the Mai.

This is, he further tells us, one of the ancientest castoms, whicb, from the remotest ages, has been, by repetition, from year to year, perpetuated down to our days, not being at this instant totally exploded, especially in the lower class of life: It was considered as the boundary duy, that divided the confines of winter and summer, allusively to which there was instituted a sportful war between two parties; the one in defence of the continuance of winter, the other for bringing in the summer. The youth were divided into troops, the one in winter livery, the other in the gay babit of the spring, The mock battle was always fought booty, the spring was sure to obtain the victory, which they celebrated by carrying* triumphantly green branches, with May flowers, proclaiming and singing the song of joy, of which the burthens was in these, or equivalent terms:

* Dr. Moresin gives us his opinion concerning the origin of this custom in the following words: “ Mažo mense exire in Agros 86 cantando viridem frondent reportare, quam in Domibus & Domorum foribus appendant, aut a Flora, fasciviæ Romanæ Dea, aut ab Atheniensibus est. Deprav. Rel. Orig. P. 91.

“We have brought the summer home.

[ocr errors][merged small]

VR. EDITOR, A real astronomical Discovery cannot be too early, and too generally made known. But I fear the Planet suppos’d to be discovered by Dr. Olbens, is most justly doubted. The distance is vretty nearly that in which a Planet might be to observe the Harmonic proportion between Saturn and the Herschelian with itself, Nor is the magnitude assign'd to it improbable. But the periodic Tine, compar'd with the distance, does not appear to come out as it should do by a very considerable difference. I cannot make it more than 174, or at most 180 years, instead of 211,

Supposing that there were such a Planet, it must be more easily visible than Mercury, and much more so than the Herschelian planet ; as its Diameter seen from the Earth, would be about 13 or 15", and the Sun, instead of appearing to it like one of the smallest Fürt Stars, would appear larger than Jupiter or Venus do ta us, as it would be seen under an Angle of 1' 4"; and much brighter iban Capella, Antares, Aldebaran, or even Sirius itself.

The Account therefore is either wholly unfounded or mixt with much error in its passage. Add to this, nothing was known of it very lately at the Observatory at Greenwich: not only not by Observa, tion, but no Intelligence had been there received of such a Disco

* It is common at Newcastle for women, early on May morning, to sing about the streets, with garlands in their hands, and which, if I mistake not, they sell to any, who are superstitious enough to buy them. The verse is homely and low, but it must be remembered that our treatise is not“ on the sublime."

Rise up niaidens ! fie for shame,
I've been four long miles from home,
I've been gathering my garland gay,

Rise up, fair maids, and take in your Mıy.
Here is no pleonasm. It is singly, as the F.ench have it, your May,

« PreviousContinue »