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I AM glad that my late going into the country has increased the number of my correspondents, one of whom sends me the following letter:
" SIR, THOUGH you are pleased to retire from us so soon into the city, I hope you will not think the affairs of the country altogether unworthy of your inspection for the future. I had the honour of seeing your short face at Sir Roger de Coverley's, and have ever since thought your person and writings both extraordinary. Had you staid there a few days longer, you would have seen a country wake, which you know in most parts of England is the eve-feast of the dedication of our churches. I was last week at one of these assemblies which was held in a neighbouring parish; where I found their green covered with a promiscuous multitude of all ages and both sexes, who esteem one another more or less the following part of the year, according as they distinguish themselves at this time. The whole company were in their holiday clothes, and divided into several parties, all of them endeavouring to shew themselves in those exercises wherein they excelled, and to gain the approbation of the lookers
I found a ring of cudgel-players, who were breaking one another's heads in order to make some impression on their mistresses' hearts. I observed a lusty young fellow, who had the misfortune of a broken pate; but what considerably added to the anguish of the wound, was his overhearing an old man, who shook his head and said, "That he questioned now if Black Kate would marry him these three years." I was diverted from a farther observation of these combatants
by a foot-ball match, which was on the other side of the green: where Tom Short behaved himself so well, that most people seemed to agree," it was impossible that he should remain a bachelor until the next wake." Having played many a match myself, I could have looked longer on this sport, had I not observed a country girl, who was posted on an eminence at some distance from me, and was making so many odd grimaces, and writhing and distorting her whole body in so strange a mani.er, as made me very desirous to know the meaning of it. Upon my coming up to her, I found that she was over-looking a ring of wrestlers, and that her sweetheart, a person of small stature, was contending with a huge brawny fellow, who twirled him about, and shook the little man so violently, that by a secret sympathy of hearts it produced all those agitations in the person of his mistress, who I dare say, like Cælia in Shakspeare on the same occasion, could have wished herself "invisible to catch the strong fellow by the leg."* The 'squire of the parish treats the whole company every year with a hogshead of ale; and proposes a beaver hat as a recompense to him who gives most falls. This has raised such a spirit of emulation in the youth of the place, that some of them have rendered them selves very expert at this exercise; and I was often surprised to see a fellow's heels fly up, by a trip which was given him so smartly that I could scarce discern it. I found that the old wretlers seldom entered the ring until some one was grown formidable by having thrown two or three of his opponents; but kept themselves as it were in a reserved body to defend the hat, which is always hung up by the person who gets it in one Act i. Sc. 6. Shaksp.
As You like it.
of the most conspicuous parts of the house, and looked upon by the whole family as something redounding much more to their honour than a coat of arms. There was a fellow who was so busy in regulating all the ceremonies, and seemed to carry such an air of importance in his looks, that I could not help inquiring who he was, and was immediately answered, "That he did not value himself upon nothing, for that he and his ancestors had won so many hats, that his parlour looked like a haberdasher's shop." However, this thirst of glory in them all was the reason that no one man stood "lord of the ring" for above three falls while I was among them.
'The young maids, who were not lookers-on at these exercises, were themselves engaged in some diversion; and upon my asking a farmer's son of my own parish what he was gazing at with so much attention, he told me, "That he was seeing Betty Welch," whom I knew to be his sweetheart, pitch a bar."
'In short, I found the men endeavoured to shew the women they were no cowards, and that the whole company strived to recommend themselves to each other, by making it appear that they were all in a perfect state of health, and fit to undergo any fatigues of bodily labour.
Your judgment upon this method of love and gallantry, as it is at present practised among us in the country, will very much oblige,
If I would here put on the scholar and politician, I might inform my readers how these bodily exercises or games were formerly encouraged in all the commonwealths of Greece; from
whence the Romans afterwards borrowed their pentathlum, which was composed of running, wrestling, leaping, throwing, and boxing, though the prizes were generally nothing but a crown of cypress or parsley, hats not being in fashion in those days: that there is an old statute, which obliges every man in England, having such an estate, to keep and exercise the long-bow; by which means our ancestors excelled all other nations in the use of that weapon, and we had all the real advantages, without the inconvenience, of a standing army and that I once met with a book of projects, in which the author considering to what noble ends that spirit of emulation, which so remarkably shews itself among our common people in these wakes, might be directed, proposes that for the improvement of all our handicraft trades there should be annual prizes set up for such persons as were most excellent in their several arts. But laying aside all these political considerations, which might tempt me to pass the limits of my paper, I confess the greatest benefit and convenience that I can observe in these country festivals, is the bringing young people together, and giving them an opportunity of shewing themselves in the most advantageous light. A country fellow that throws his rival upon his back, has generally as good success with their common mistress; as nothing is more usual than for a nimble-footed wench to get a husband at the same time that she wins a smock. Love and marriages are the natural effects of these anniversary assemblies. I must therefore very much approve the method by which my correspondent tells me each sex endeavours to recommend itself to the other, since nothing seems more likely to promise a healthy offspring, or a happy coha
bitation. And I believe I may assure my country friend, that there has been many a court lady who would be contented to exchange her crazy young husband for Tom Short, and several men of quality who would have parted with a tender yoke-fellow for Black Kate.
am the more pleased wit having love made the principal end and design of these meetings, as it seems to be most agreeable to the intent for which they were at first instituted, as we are informed by the learned Dr. Kennet,* with whose words I shall conclude my present paper.
'These wakes, says he, were in imitation of the ancient dyάal, or love-feasts; and were first established in England by Pope Gregory the Great, who, in an epistle to Miletus the abbot, gave orders that they should be kept in sheds or arbories made up with the branches or boughs of trees round the church.'
He adds, that this laudable custom of wakes prevailed for many ages, until the nice puritans began to exclaim against it as a remnant of popery; and by degrees the precise humour grew so popular, that at an Exeter assizes the Lord Chief Baron Walter made an order for the sup pression of all wakes; but on Bishop Laud's complaining of this innovating humour, the king commanded the order to be reversed.' X.
* In his Parochial Antiquities, 4to. 1695, p. 610, 614.