Page images
PDF
EPUB

99

PEASCOD WOOING.

[It is somewhat surprising that a custom of a very singular character, which was common in this country some centuries ago, and is still partly retained in some counties, should have altogether escaped the notice of all writers on our popular customs and superstitions; and the commentators on Shakespeare have entirely misunderstood a passage in the works of our great dramatic poet, from not having been aware that our ancestors were frequently accustomed in their love affairs to employ the divination of a peascod, by selecting one growing on the stem, snatching it away quickly, and if the good omen of the peas remaining in the husk were preserved, then presenting it to the lady of their choice. Touchstone, in As You Like it, act ii. scene 4, thus alludes to this practice : “I remember, when I was in love, I broke my sword upon a stone, and bid him take that for coming a-night to Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batler, and the cow's dugs that her pretty chapped hands had milked ; and I remember the wooing of a peascod instead of her, from whom I took two cods, and, giving her them again, said, with weeping tears, • Wear these for my sake.'”

Mr. Davy, of Ufford, in Suffolk, informs me that the efficacy of peascods in the affairs of sweethearts is not yet forgotten among our rustic vulgar. The kitchen-maid, when she shells green peas, never omits, if she finds one having nine peas, to lay it on the lintel of the kitchen-door, and the first clown who enters it is infallibly to be her husband, or at least her sweetheart. Anderson mentions a custom in the North, of a nature somewhat similar. A Cumbrian girl, when her lover proves unfaithful to her, is, by way of consolation, rubbed with peas-strawl by the neighbouring lads; and when a Cumbrian youth loses his sweetheart, by her marriage with a rival, the

1 [In the south of Scotland the superstition about the cod with nine peas in it is equally prevalent; and the present statement will explain a line in a beautiful Scottish pastoral, perhaps little understood :

“ If you meet a bonnie lassie,

Gie her a kiss and let her gae;
If you meet a dirty hussey,

Fie, gae rub her o'er wi' strae !"]

same sort of comfort is administered to him by the lasses of the village. “Winter time for shoeing, peascod time for wooing,” is an old proverb in a MS. Devon Gl. The divination by peascods, alluded to by Mr. Davy, is thus mentioned by Gay:

“As peascods once I pluck’d, I chanced to see

One that was closely fillid with three times three;
Which, when I cropp'd, I safely home convey'd,
And o'er the door the spell in secret laid;
The latch mov'd up, when who should first come in,

But in his proper person.—Lubberkin !" But perhaps the passage in Shakespeare is best illustrated by the following passage from Browne's Britannia's Pastorals, p. 71, which seems to have escaped the notice of all writers on this subject :

The peascod greene, oft with no little toyle

He'd seek for in the fattest fertil'st soile,
And rend it from the stalke to bring it to her,

And in her bosom for acceptance wooe her.” Grose tells us that “a scadding of peas” is a custom in the North of boiling the common gray peas in the shell, and eating them with butter and salt, first shelling them. A bean, shell and all, is put into one of the pea-pods; whoever gets this bean is to be first married.]

RING AND BRIDECAKE.

AMONG the customs used at marriages, those of the RING and BRIDECAKE seem of the most remote antiquity. Confarreation and the ring' were used anciently as binding ceremo

IAnnulus sponsæ dono mittebatur a viro qui pronubus dictus. Alex. ab Alexandro, lib. ii. c. 5. Et, mediante annulo contrahitur matrimonium papanorum.Moresini Papatus, p. 12. It is farther observable that the joining together of the right hands in the marriage ceremony is from the same authority : “ Dextra data, acceptaque invicem, Persæ et Assyrii fædus matrimonii ineunt. Alex. ab Alexandro, lib. ii. cap. 5. Papatus retinet.” Ibid. p. 50.

nies by the heathens! in making agreements, grants,? &c., whence they have doubtless been derived to the most solemn of our engagements.

The ceremony used at the solemnization of a marriage was called confarreation, in token of a most firm conjunction between the man and the wife, with a cake of wheat or barley.

This, Blount tells us, is still retained in part with us, by that which is called the bridecake used at weddings. Moffet, in his Health's Improvement, p. 218, informs us that “the English, when the bride comes from church, are wont to cast wheat upon her head ; and when the bride and bridegroom return home, one presents them with a pot of butter, as presaging plenty, and abundance of all good things.”

This ceremony of confarreation has not been omitted by the learned Moresin : “SUMANALIA, panis erat formam rotæ factus ; hoc utuntur papani in nuptiis, &c.” Papatus, p. 165. Nor has it been overlooked by Herrick in his Hesperides. At p. 128, speaking to the bride, he says :3

“While some repeat Your praise, and bless you, sprinkling you with wheat.The connexion between the bridecake and wedding is strongly marked in the following custom, still retained in Yorkshire, where the former is cut into little square pieces, thrown over the bridegroom's and bride's head, and then put through the ring. The cake is sometimes broken over the

i Quintus Curtius tells us, lib. i. de Gest. Alexandri M., “Et rex medio cupiditatis ardore jussit afferri patrio more PANEM (hoc erat apud Macedones sanctissimum coeuntium pignus) quem divisum gladio uterque libabat."

The following extract is from an old grant, cited in Du Cange's Glossary, o. Confarreatio : “ Miciacum concedimus et quicquid est fisci nostri intra fluminum alveos et per sanctam confarreationem et annulum inexceptionaliter tradimus.”

3 It was also a Hebrew custom. See Selden's Uxor Hebraica, lib. ii. cap. xv. Opera, iii. 633. In the same volume, p. 668, is a passage much to our purpose: “Quanquam sacra quæ fuere in confarreatione paganica, utpote Christianismo plane adversantia, sub ejusdem initia, etiam apud Paganos evanuêre-nihilominus farris ipsius usus aliquis solennis in libis conficiendis, diffringendis, communicandis, locis saltem in nonnullis semper obtinuit. Certè frequentissimus apud Anglos est et antiquitus fuit liborum admodum grandium in nuptiis usus, quæ BRIDECAKES, id est, liba sponsalitia seu nuptialia appellitant. Ea quæ tum a sponsis ipsis confecta tum ab propinquis amicisque solenniter muneri nuptiali data."

bride's head, and then thrown away among the crowd to be scrambled for. This is noted by the author of the Convivial Antiquities, f. 68, in his description of the rites of marriages in his country and time: “Peracta re divina sponsa ad sponsi domum deducitur, indeque panis projicitur, qui a pueris certatim rapitur.” In the North, slices of the bridecake are put through the wedding ring: they are afterwards laid under pillows, at night, to cause young persons to dream of their lovers. Douce says this custom is not peculiar to the north of England. It seems to prevail generally. The pieces of the cake must be drawn nine times through the wedding ring.

Aubrey, in the Remains of Gentilisme and Judaisme, MS. Lansd. 226, f. 109, says: “When I was a little boy (before the civil wars), I have seen, according to the custome then, the bride and bridegroome kisse over the bridecakes at the table. It was about the latter end of dinner; and the cakes were layd one upon another, like the picture of the shewbread in the old Bibles. The bridegroom waited at dinner.”

The supposed Heathen origin of our marriage ring had well-nigh caused the abolition of it during the time of the Commonwealth. The facetious author of Hudibras (11. Ü. 303) gives us the following chief reasons why the Puritans wished it to be set aside :

“Others were for abolishing

That tool of matrimony, a ring,
With which th’unsanctify'd bridegrooin
Is marry'd only to a thumb
(As wise as ringing of a pig
That us'd to break up ground and dig);
The bride to nothing but her will,

That nulls the after-marriage still.”
The following thought on the marriage ring, in Herrick's
Hesperides, p. 72, is well expressed :

“ And as this round
Is no where found

To flaw, or else to sever:
So let our love
As endlesse prove,

And pure as gold for ever."!

" In Swinburne's Treatise of Spousals, p. 207, we read : “ The first in. ventor of the ring, as is reported (he cites Alberic de Rosa in suo Dic. tionar. v. Annulus), was one Prometheus. The workman which made it The allusion both to the form and metal of which it is composed is elegant. Were it not too long, it would be the best poesie for a wedding ring that ever was devised.

Vallancey, in his Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, xiii. 98, says that “there is a passage in Ruth, chap. iv., v. 7, which gives room to think the ring was used by the Jews as a covenant.” He adds, that the Vulgate have translated narthick (which ought to be a ring) a shoe. “In Irish, nuirt is an amulet worn on the finger or arm, a ring.” “Sphæra solis est narthick,” says Buxtorf in his Chaldee Lexicon. Leo Modena, in his History of the Rites, Customes, and Manner of Life of the present Jews throughout the World, translated by Chilmead, 1650, p. 176, speaking of their contracts and manner of marrying, says that, before the writing of the bride's dowry is produced and read, “the bridegroom putteth a ring upon her finger, in the presence of two witnesses, which commonly used to be the Rabbines, saying withal unto her, “Behold, thou art my espoused wife, according to the custome of Moses and of Israel.""

The wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, because it was anciently believed, though the opinion has been justly exploded by the anatomists of modern times, that a small artery ran from this finger to the heart. Wheatley, on the authority of the Missals, calls it a vein. “It is,” says he, “because from thence there proceeds a particular vein to the heart. This, indeed, is now contradicted by experience; but several eminent authors, as well Gentiles as Christians, as well physicians as divines, were formerly of this opinion, and therefore they thought this finger the properest to bear this pledge of love, that from thence it might be conveyed, as it were, to the heart.”

In the Hereford, York, and Salisbury Missals the ring is directed to be put first upon the thumb, afterwards upon the second, then on the third, and lastly, on the fourth finger,

was Tubal-Cain : and Tubal-Cain, by the counsel of our first parent Adam (as my author telleth me), gave it unto his son to this end, that therewith he should espouse a wife like as Abraham delivered unto his servants bracelets and ear-rings of gold. The form of the ring being circular, that is, round and without end, importeth thus much, that their mutual love and hearty affection should roundly flow from the one to the other as in a circle, and that continually and for ever."

« PreviousContinue »