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was originally intended to symbolise the approaching descent of the sun, then in its highest place in the zodiac. But as the early idea faded away under the influence of Christianity, an idle superstition took the place of a beautiful symbol, and people fancied all their ill-luck rolled away with the wheel. The church, too, had its own version of the matter, and one not a jot more rational than the popular belief, the wheels according to the priests signifying that the fame of St. John, who had been falsely supposed to be Christ, diminished on the appearance of the latter, just as the sun was then beginning to descend from the highest point of the zodiac.
“ The bonfires were only one feature in the festivities of this season, though I have given them precedence because in their very nature they point out the pagan origin of the whole. A yet more striking part of the Midsummer pageant was the array and marching of the city watch, as we find it described by Stow. Then had ye
besides the standing watches all in bright harness, in every ward and street of this city and suburbs, a marcbing watch that passed through the principal streets thereof. The whole way for this marching watch extendeth to three thousand two hundred tailor's yards of assize; for the furniture whereof with lights there were appointed seven hundred cressets, five hundred of them being found by the companies, the other two hundred by the chamber of London. Besides the which lights every constable in London, in number more than two hundred and forty, had his cresset; the charge of every cresset was in light two shillings and fourpence;
every cresset had two men, one to bear or hold it, another to bear a bag with light, and to serve it, so that the poor men pertaining to the cressets, taking wages, besides that every one had a straw hat, with a badge painted, and his breakfast in the morning, amounted in number to almost two thousand. The marching watch contained in number about two thousand men, part of them being old soldiers of skill, to be captains, lieutenants, serjeants, corporals, &c., wiflers, drummers, and fifes, standard and ensign bearers, sword-players, trumpeters on horseback, demilances on great horses, gunners with hand-guns, or half bakes, archers in coats of white fustion, signed on the
MIDSUMMER WATCH OF LONDON.
breast and back with the arms of the city, their bows bent in their hands, with sheaves of arrows by their sides, pikemen in bright corselets, burgonets, &c., halberds, the like bilmen in almaine rivets and apernes of maile in great number; there were also divers pageants, morrisdancers, constables, the one half, which was one hundred and twenty, on St. John's Eve, the other half on St. Peter's Eve, in bright harness, some overgilt, and every one a jornet of scarlet thereupon and a chain of gold, his henchman following him, his minstrels before him, and his cresset light passing by him, the waits of the city, the mayor's officers for his guard before, all in a livery of worsted or say jackets party-coloured, the mayor himself well-mounted on horseback, the sword-bearer before him in fair armour, well mounted also, the mayor's footmen and the like torchbearers about him, henchmen twain upon great stirring horses following him. The sheriffs' watches come one after the other in like order, but not so large in number as the mayor's; for where the mayor had, besides his giant, three pageants, each of the sheriffs had, besides their giants, but two pageants, each their morris-dance and one henchman, their officers in jackets of worsted or say party-coloured, differing from the mayor's, and each from other, but having harnessed men a great many, &c. This Midsummer Watch was thus accustomed yearly, time out of mind, until the year 1539, the 31st of Henry VIII., in which year on the 8th of May a great muster was made by the citizens at the Mile's end, all in bright armour, with coats of white silk, or cloth and chains of gold, in three great battles, to the number of fifteen thousand, which passed through London to Westminster, and so through the Sanctuary, and round about the park of St. James, and returned home through Old-borne. King Henry then considering the great charges of the citizens,' (jealous rather of so large an armed force), for the furniture of this unusual muster forbad the marching watch provided for at Midsummer for that year, which being once laid down was not raised again till the year 1548, the 2nd of Edward VI., Sir John Gresham, then being mayor, who caused the marching watch, both on the Eve of St. John the Baptist, and of St. Peter the Apostle, to be revived and set forth in as comely order as it hath been accustomed, which watch was also beautified by the number of more than three hundred demilances and light horsemen prepared by the citizens to be sent into Scotland for the rescue of the town of Haddington, and others kept by the Englishmen.'
“St. John's Eve and Day, as the shadowy relics of a Pagan festival, were naturally connected with a multitude of superstitious observances. Thus the rain, if it should fall on this day is particularly injurious to nuts, a fact which is allowed by that arch-protestant, Hospinian, who even attempts to assign a cause for it, though he has the grace to say he has heard some maintain the opinion to be vain and superstitious. It was a famous time too for charms and divinations, which appear to have been of various kinds. Not the least singular of these was the drawing of lots, which we find mentioned with much other curious matter in the scholiasts on the sixth Trullan council The demoniacal mystery of fires and drawing lots prevailed till the time of the most holy patriarch Michael, who was the prince of philosophers in this queen of cities, and in this
On the 23rd evening of the month of June, men and women assembled on the sea-shore and in certain houses, and adorned some first-born maiden like a bride. After they had feasted, and leaped and danced in Bacchanalian fashion, and had shouted as was their wont on holidays, they poured sea-water into a narrow-necked vessel, and flung into it some articles belonging to each of them; then, as if the maiden had received from Satan the faculty of predicting future events, they would interrogate her in loud voice as to their good or evil fortunes; hereupon she would draw out any of the things thrown into the vessel, which the foolish owner receiving imagined he was now more certain as to the good or evil that would happen to him.'
“Another superstition of the day may be deduced from the following tale told by Bovet, with all the simple earnestness of Defoe in his narrative of Mrs. Veal's ghost. “At South Petherton, in the county of Somerset, lives a gentlewoman (very well known to all the neighbouring gentry) whom I cannot mention without an honourable respect, having often had the happiness to have been entertained
with most obliging respect both by the virtuous mother and her congenerous issue. It was on Midsummer day, in the year 1680, I happened to pay a visit to that worthy family, and finding the lady and her daughters at home, after passing common civilities, the eldest of the daughters (who is a very ingenious and accomplisht lady,) informed me that there had been the strangest thing done in their family the preceding night that ever was heard on, for their servant maids had raised the devil, &c., and so went on to give a thorow relation of what you will hear by and by ; only I think it best to let the maids themselves tell the story; which, after the old lady had called them into the room, they did after this manner :
666 66 We had been told divers times, that if we fasted on Midsummer Eve, and then at twelve o'clock at night laid a cloth on the table, with bread and cheese, and a cup of the best beer, setting ourselves down as if we were going to eat, and leaving the door of the room open, we should see the persons, whom we should afterwards marry, come into the room and drink to us. Accordingly we kept a true fast all the day yesterday, unknown to any of the family; and at night, having disposed of my mistresses to bed, we fastened the stair-door of their rooms, which came down into the hall, and locked all the doors of the yard, and whatever way besides led into the house, except the door of the kitchen, which was left open to the yard for the sweethearts to enter. It being then near twelve o'clock, we laid a clean cloath on the kitchen table, setting thereon a loaf and cheese, and a stone jug of beer, with a drinking glass, seating ourselves together in the inside of the table with our faces towards the door. We had been in this posture but a little while before we heard a mighty rattling at the great gate of the yard as if it would have shook the house down; there was a jingling of chains, and something seemed to prance about the yard like a horse, which put us into great terror and affrightment, so that we wisht we had never gone so far in it; but now we knew not how to go back, and therefore kept the place where we were. My master's spaniel (for the young captain was then alive) got against the door of the stair-foot, and there made so great a noise with howling and rattling the door, that we feared
they might have taken notice of the disturbance; but presently came a young man into the kitchen (here one of the young ladies interrupted her, saying, housewife, it was the devil, to which the maid replied, "Madam, I do not believe that, but perhaps it might be the spirit of a man') and making a bow to me, he took up the glass, which was full of beer on the table, and drunk to me, filling the glass again and setting it on the table as before; then making another bow, went out of the room. Immediately after which, another came in the same manner, and did the same to the other maid (whom she named, but I have forgot) and then all was quiet, and after we had eaten some bread and cheese we went to bed.'"
“ From the same authority we learn that those who fasted on St. John's Eve, and then sate in the church-porch at midnight, would see who should die in that parish the subsequent year, and that the spirits of such would (in the same order they were to die in) come one after another and knock at the church-door. Upon one occasion it appears a watcher fell asleep so soundly that nobody could wake him, and during this unnatural torpor his spirit appeared and gave the usual warning, though he himself was totally unconscious of any thing of the kind.
“Aubrey in his usual gossiping vein tells us, 'the last summer on St. John's Day (1694) I accidentally was walking in the pasture behind Montague House, it was twelve o'clock. I saw there about two or three and twenty young women, most of them well habited, on their knees very busie, as if they had been weeding. I could not presently learn what the matter was; at last a young man told me that they were looking for a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their heads that night, and they should dream who would be their husbands. It was to be found that day and hour.'
« The writer here alluded to is, I suppose, Mizaldus, an especial trafficker in ware of this kind, and he is farther corroborated by Lupton, who affirms with as much solemnity as if he had been upon his oath, 'I know it to be of truth, for I have found them the same day under the root of plan
But in spite of these authorities, Dr. Decker, in his notes upon Barbette does not scruple to assert that