Page images

The Hon. Daines Barrington, in his Observations on the Ancient Statutes, p. 153, tells us : “ Curfew is written curphour in an old Scottish poem, published in 1770, with many others from the MS. of George Bannatyne, who collected them in the year 1568. It is observed in the annotations on these poems, that by act 144, parl. 13, Jam. I., this bell was to be rung in boroughs at nine in the evening; and that the hour was afterwards changed to ten, at the solicitation of the wife of James Stewart, the favourite of James the Sixth.”

There is a narrow street in the town of Perth, in Scotland, still called Couvre-feu Row, leading west to the Black Friars, where the couvre-feu bell gave warning to the inhabitants to cover their fires and go to rest when the clock struck ten. Muses' Threnodie, note, p. 89.

“At Ripon, in Yorkshire, at nine o'clock every evening, a man blows a large horn at the Market Cross, and then at the mayor's door.” Gent. Mag. for Aug. 1790, 1x. 719.

The curfew bell is still tolled at Hastings at eight o'clock in the evening, from Michaelmas to Lady Day.

The bell-ringing in the city of London is not to be invariably attributed to the curfew, but in numerous instances to bequests in wills for the purpose. In the parish of St. Mary-le-Bow, one Mr. Donne, a mercer and citizen of London, had devised two tenements in Bow lane (then called Hosier lane), for the ringing of the tenor bell of Bow church (now the most celebrated peal in the kingdom), at six o'clock in the morning and eight o'clock in the evening. Mr. Lott, after considerable research for this will, has at last discovered it in the Hustings' Court of London. The early ringing was supposed to be for the purpose of waking up the London apprentices. The poetical remonstrance of these personages to the parish clerk of Bow, in consequence of his neglect of his duty, is thus recorded by Stow :

“Clerk of the Bow bell,

With thy yellow locks,
For thy late ringing,

Thy head shall have knocks.” The clerk of that day was a match for his young complain. ants, and replied in equal poetical vein

“Children of Cheap,

Hold you all still,
For you shall hear the Bow bell

Rung at your will.”

Mr. N. Gould, F.S.A., informs us that, during his parochial reign, he had kept the beadle to a strict performance of this duty, which is performed to this day. Mr. Gould describes, in a humorous vein, his ascent to the summit of the steeple, on the back of the dragon, during the repairs of 1820, and refuted the alleged fulfilment of the old prophecy of the visits of the Exchange grasshopper and dragon of Bow, the latter having never quitted the country during the repairs. We may also notice a bequest in Spitalfields, for matinal and evening bell-ringing; and another provincial bequest for the same purpose, by a lady who had lost her way on a moor, and was guided home by the sound of a church bell.


The word Lake Wake, that is, a watching with the dead, is plainly derived from the Anglo-Saxon lic or lice, a corpse, and wæcce, a wake, vigil, or watching. It is used in this sense by Chaucer, in his Knight's Tale :

“Shall not be told by me
How that Arcite is brent to ashen cold,
Ne how that there the liche-wake was y-hold

All that night long." They were wont, says Bourne, to sit by the corpse from the time of death till its exportation to the grave, either in the house it died in, or in the church itself. To prove this he cites St. Austin, concerning the watching the dead body of his mother Monica; and Gregory.Turon., concerning that of St. Ambrose, whose body was carried into the church the same hour that he died.

Under the word Walkin, in Ruddiman's Glossary to Douglas's Virgil, we read : “Proper like-wakes (Scotch) are the meelings of the friends of the deceased a night or nights before the burial.”

Dr. Jamieson says: “ This ancient custom most probably originated from a silly superstition with respect to the danger of a corpse being carried off by some of the agents of the invisible world, or exposed to the ominous liberties of brute animals. But, in itself, it is certainly a decent


Pennant, in describing Highland ceremonies, says: “The late-wake is a ceremony used at funerals. The evening after the death of any person, the relations or friends of the deceased meet at the house, attended by a bagpipe or fiddle: the nearest of kin, be it wife, son, or daughter, opens a melancholy ball, dancing and greeting, i. e. crying violently at the same time; and this continues till daylight, but with such gambols and frolics among the younger part of the company, that the loss which occasioned them is often more than supplied by the consequences of that night. If the corpse remain unburied for two nights, the same rites are renewed. Thus, Scythian-like, they rejoice at the deliverance of their friends out of this life of misery.” He tells us in the same place that the Coranich, or singing at funerals, is still in use in some places. "The songs are generally in praise of the deceased,

recital of the valiant deeds of their ancestors.” —Tour in Scotland, 1769, p. 112.

“In North Wales,” says Pennant, speaking of the manners of the eighteenth century, “the night before a dead body is to be interred, the friends and neighbours of the diseased resort to the house the corpse is in, each bringing with him some small present of bread, meat, drink (if the family be something poor), but more especially candles, whatever the family be; and this night is called wyl nốs, whereby the country people seem to mean a watching night. Their going to such a house, they say, is i wilior corph, i. e. to watch the corpse; but wylo signifies to weep and lament, and so wyl nós may be a night of lamentation. While they stay together on that night they are either singing psalms, or reading some part of the holy scriptures. Whenever anybody comes into a room where a dead body lyes, especially the wyl nôs and the day of its interment, the first thing he does, he falls on his knees by the corpse, and says the Lord's prayer.”

In the Irish Hudibras, a burlesque of Virgil's story of Æneas going down to visit his father in the shades, 1689, p. 34, is the following description of what is called in the margin an Irish Wake : and proper one; because of the possibility of the person, considered as dead, being only in a swoon. Whatever was the original design, the likwake seems to have very early degenerated into a scene of festivity extremely incongruous to the melancholy occasion."

“To their own sports (the masses ended)

The mourners now are recommended.
Some for their pastime count their beads,
Some scratch their breech, some louse their heads;
Some sit and chat, some laugh, some weep;
Some sing cronans (songs), and some do sleep ;
Some pray, and with their prayers mix curses ;
Some vermin pick, and some pick purses ;
Some court, some scold, some blow, some puff ;
Some take tobacco, some take snuff ;
Some play the trump, some trot the hay;
Some at macham, some at noddy' play,
With all the games they can devise ;
And (when occasion serves 'em) cries.

Thus did mix their grief and sorrow,
Yesterday bury'd, kill'd to-morrow.”

An account of the wake, less overcharged, will be read with pleasure from the glossary of Castle Rackrent, by Miss Edgeworth, ed. 1810, p. 214: “In Ireland a wake is a midnight meeting, held professedly for the indulgence of holy sorrow, but usually it is converted into orgies of unholy joy. When an Irish man or woman of the lower order dies, the straw which composed the bed, whether it has been contained in a bag to form a mattress, or simply spread upon

the earthen floor, is immediately taken out of the house, and burned before the cabin door, the family at the same time setting up the death-howl. The ears and eyes of the neighbours being thus alarmed, they flock to the house of the deceased, and by their vociferous sympathy excite, and at the same time soothe, the sorrows of the family. It is curious to observe how good and bad are mingled in human institutions. In countries which were thinly inhabited, this custom prevented private attempts against the lives of individuals, and formed a kind of coroner's inquest upon the body which had recently expired, and burning the straw upon which the sick man lay, became a simple preservative against infection. At night the dead body is waked ; that is to say, all the friends and neighbours of the deceased collect in a barn or stable, where the corpse is laid upon some boards, or an unhinged door, supported upon stools, the face exposed, the rest of the body covered with a white sheet. Round the body are stuck in brass can

Macham and noddy are games at cards.

dlesticks, which have been borrowed perhaps at five miles distance, as many candles as the poor person can beg or borrow, observing always to have an odd number. Pipes and tobacco are first distributed, and then, according to the ability of the deceased, cakes and ale, and sometimes whiskey, are dealt to the company:

• Deal on, deal on, my merry men all,

Deal on your cakes and your wine;
For whatever is dealt at her funeral to-day,

Shall be dealt to-morrow at mine.' After a fit of universal sorrow, and the comfort of a universal dram, the scandal of the neighbourhood, as in higher circles, occupies the company. The young lads and lasses romp with one another ; and when the fathers and mothers are at last overcome with sleep and whiskey (vino et somno) the youth become more enterprising, and are frequently successful. It is said that more matches are made at wakes than at weddings."! (The verses used by the Irish on the occasion of their wakes and funerals are called keens, from caoine, which is explained by Lloyd as "a sort of verse used in elegies or funeral poems, and sometimes also in panegyricks and satyrs." An excellent collection of keens has been published by Mr. Crofton Croker for the Percy Society, 1844.)

That watching with the corpse was an ancient custom everywhere practised, numerous passages from ecclesiastical writers might be cited to prove, could there be any doubt of the an

See also the Survey of the South of Ireland, 8vo. p. 210. In the Gent. Mag. for August 1771, xli. 351, it is said of a girl who was killed by lightning in Ireland, that she could not be waked within doors, an ex. pression which is explained as alluding to a custom among the Irish of dressing their dead in their best clothes, to receive as many visitors as please to see them; and this is called keeping their wake. The corpse of this girl, it seems, was so offensive, that this ceremony could not be performed within doors.

? Hutchinson, in his History of Cumberland, i. 553, speaking of the parish of Whitbeck, says : “ People always keep wake with the dead." In the Statistical Account of Scotland, parish of Cruden, Aberdeenshire, v. 435, we read : “ Of all those who attended the late-wake of a person who died of a putrid fever, not one escaped catching the infection." And a note tells us that the late-wake is a practice common in many parts of Scotland, and not yet exploded here, of people sitting up all night with the corpse in the chamber of the deceased. Ibid. xv. 372, parish of

« PreviousContinue »