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ST.DISTAFF'S DAY, OR THE MORROW AFTER TWELFTH DAY.
Partly worke and partly play,
Bring in pailes of water then,
PlouGH MONDAY; the first Monday after Twelfth Night. -This day is more peculiarly the ploughman's holiday, for though Tusser says:
Plough Monday next, after that Twelfthtide is past,
yet it is plain from the custom of the Stot Plough, White Plough, or Fond Plough, i.e. Fool Plough, that the days of merry-making are not yet over. It belongs to the olden times of papal supremacy, and is incidentally noticed by John Bale in his never-ending catalogue of the sins pertaining to Catholicism.
In speaking of the ceremonies appertaining to this day, it must be recollected that they varied much according to the time and place in which they were enacted. Sometimes the sword-dance formed a part of them, and the whole formed a sort of character-pageants, the dancers in strange attire dragging a plough, preceded by music, and accom. panied by the Bessy " in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and the fool, almost covered with skins, a hairy cap on, and the tail of some animal hanging from his back. The office of one of these characters is to go about rattling a box amongst the spectators of the dance, in which he receives their little donations."
In Yorkshire," the principal characters in this farce are the conductors of the plough, the plough-driver with a blown bladder at the end of a stick by way of whip, the fiddler, a huge clown in female attire, and the commanderin-chief, Captain Cauf-Tail, dressed out with a cockade and a genuine calf's tail, fantastically crossed with various coloured ribbands. This whimsical hero is also an orator and a dancer, and is ably supported by the manual wit of the plough-driver, who applies the bladder with great and sounding effect to the heads and shoulders of his team," who are ploughmen harnessed in the place of horses or
In some places the ceremony was of a much more simple nature. A number of men,—often as many as twentywould be harnessed to a plough, and draw it about before the houses and cottages, when, if they received the expected gift, they would cry out, “largess," and go on again; but if refused at any dwelling they would drive their plough through the pavement and raise up the ground in front of it. But in other parts women were harnessed to the plough, and the ceremony took place on Ash Wednesday, when it had a very different meaning, though it doubtless had the same origin. The maidens slected for the purpose were such as were supposed to have addicted themselves too much to dancing throughout the year, and in this guise they were driven into the nearest piece of water, a piper playing all the time as he sat upon the plough. Boemus Aubanus, who records this Franconian mode of treating the women, is much puzzled to account for it, except it be that the fair transgressors submitted voluntarily to be thus harnessed and ducked, by way of expiating their sins in having been too fond of holiday making, contrary to the express inhibitions of the Church. Another writer tells much the same story, with the addition of a whip being used by the driver of this female team, while a man follows the plough with antic gestures but grave face, and sows the furrows with sand or ashes.
I have already alluded to the Popish origin of Plough Monday, and in two customs yet to be mentioned we shall see the undeniable proofs of it. The first of these was the plough-light, maintained by the husbandman before some image. It will perhaps be replied that this was not necessarily connected with the day itself, since for aught that
appears to the contrary, it may have burnt at other times
; but allowing such to be the case, the same cannot be said of the drawing the plough about the fire upon this day-a custom evidently springing from the same source as the many fire-observances already noticed.*
ST. AGNES' Day, January 21.–St. Agnes, or as it is more correctly written, Hagnes, was a Roman young lady, of only thirteen years
who had the misfortune as she passed to and fro in her daily visits to school to be seen and admired by the son of the city-prefect, Symphorianus. As she did not choose to return his passion, the angry lover caused her to be thrown into the fames, and, these being extinguished by her prayers, recourse was had, as was usual in all such cases, to the sword; and she was elected into the host of saints, as was made manifest by her appearance on the eighth day after her decease. It was then that her parents, who were praying at her tomb, beheld a choir of virgins all radiant in shining garments, and in the midst of them the blessed Agnes similarly attired, while at her right hand stood a lamb whiter than snow. Hence she is always painted with a lamb; and yearly also on this day two are offered to her by the Roman women, which are then placed in some rich pasture till the time comes for sheep-shearing, when they are clipt, and their wool woven by some dexterous hand into an archiepiscopal pall or pallium.
• It is mentioned in the thirty-fourth chapter of DIVES AND Pauper (sig. e. ii.) amongst the things prohibited by law_“Ledynge of the plough about the fire as for gode begynnyng of the yere that they shulde fare the better alle the yere followyng, &c.” But, though the form of the rights might vary, most nations bare had their sacred ploughings; the Greeks, the Persians, and the Chinese had them, beyoud a question. The Athenians had three sacred ploughings. This custom of Plough Monday was kept up in some parts of Staffordshire to within about thirty years, when it was suddenly terminated by order of Sessions from the so-called Bullocks having, in one instance, driven their ploughshare too deeply into a gentleman's court and thrown down his iron pallisades, and in another, the same year, having come to affray with the choleric master of a country mansion, when they ploughed up his shrubbery, and he shot one of them. Within ten years they have been seen in Nottinghamshire, where they were an inoffensive show, suddenly making their appearance before the breakfast-room windows, a quaint bit of mediæval life, leaping about in parti-coloured garments, the most faithful representation of the costume of the middle ages, although the material was of the commonest kind, and the fabricators were mere peasants, totally unconscious of the antiquity and poetic significance of their attire. This proves how strong a hold these ancient customs have on the popular mind.
If saints and saints' days were not things altogether beyond the pale of human reason, we might wonder how so bitter an enemy to the marriage state, as far as concerned herself, should ever be induced to reveal to curious maids and bachelors the forms of their future partners in wedlock. Yet so it was. “ On St. Agnes night," says Aubrey, “ take a row of pins and pull out every one, one after another, saying a pater-noster or our father, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and
will dream of him or her you shall marry." Fasting however, according to some authorities, was a requisite part of the ceremony, or perhaps if this were observed the pin-sticking might be dispensed with. Thus, in the old comedy of “ Cupid's Whirligig," the alderman's daughter Nan tells her friend, that she could find in her heart " to pray nine times to the moone, and fast three Saint Agnes' Eves, so that I might bee sure to have him to my husband.” So too Burton: “they'll give anything to know when they shall be married, how many husbands they shall have, by cromnyomantia, a kinde of divination with onions laid on the altar on Christmass Eve, or by fasting on St. Agnes' Eve or night, who shall be their first husband; or by amphitomantia, by beans in a cake, &c., to burn the same.”
We cannot close this antiquarian lore more agreeably than by giving some portions of Keats's poem of “The Eve of St. Agnes":
St. Agues' Eve? Ah, bitter chill it was !
They told her how upon St. Agnes' Eve,
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Out went the taper as she hurried in,
A casement high and triple arched there was,
And twilight saints, with dim emblazonings,
Full on the casement shone the wintry moon,
Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees
In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,