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THE FEAST OF SHEEP-SHEARING.
TIIe author of the Convivial Antiquities tells us that the pastoral life was anciently accounted an honorable one, particularly among the Jews and the Romans. Mention occurs in the Old Testament of the festive entertainments of the former on this occasion, particularly in the second book of Samuel, where Absalom the king's son was master of the feast. And Varro may be consulted for the manner of celebrating this feast among the latter. In England, particularly in the southern parts, for these festivities are not so common in the north, on the day they begin to shear their sheep, they provide a plentiful dinner for the shearers and their friends who visit them on the occasion : a table, also, if the weather permit, is spread in the open village for the young people and children. The washing and shearing of sheep, is attended with great mirth and festivity. Indeed, the value of the covering of this very useful animal must always have made the shearing-time, in all pastoral countries, a kind of Harvest Home. In Tusser's Five Ilundred Points of Husbandry, under “The Ploughman's Feast-days,” are the following lines, alluding to this festivity:
“ Wife, make us a dinner, spare flesh neither corne,
Make wafers and cakes, for our sheepe must be shorne;
But good cheere and welcome like neighbours to have.”
I “ Apud Latinos oves tondere, ut et sementem facere omnino non fuit licitum, priusquam Catulatio, hoc est, ex cane sacrum fieret : ut Gyraldus testatur de Diis gentium. Ex his ergo omnibus constat illam ovium ton. suram (quam Luna decrescente à veteribus fieri fuisse solitam M. Varro testatur: de tempore autem oves lavandi et tondendi, vide Plin. lib. xvii. c. 17) magna cum festivitate, lætitia, atque conviviis fuisse celebratam ; id quod mirum non est. Nam in animalibus primum non sine causa putant oves assumptas, et propter utilitatem et propter placiditatem : maxime enim hæ natura quietæ et aptissimæ ad vitam hominum. Ad cibum enim lac et caseum adhibitum : ad corpus vestitum et pelles attulerunt. Itaque cum in illis tot presertim numero tondendis plurimum pastoribus atque famulis esset laboris exantlandum, justa profectò de causa patres-familias atque Domini illos conviviali hujusmodi lætitia recreare rursus atque ex. hilarare voluerunt."-Antiq. Conviv. p. 62.
Poem called “The Fleece,” at the end of the first book, 1. 601:
“At shearing-time, along the lively vales,
Rural festivities are often heard ;
- With light fantastic toe, the nymphs
Such custom holds along th' irriguous vales
The jolly chear
Thus, also, Thomson in his Summer, describes the washing and shearing of sheep :
In one diffusive band
At last, of snowy white, the gather'd flocks
Fear not, ye gentle tribes ! 'tis not the knife
Will send you bounding to your hills again.” By the following passage in Ferne's Glory of Generositie, p. 71, it should seem that cheese-cakes composed a principal dainty at the feast of Sheep-shearing. “Well vor your paines (if you come to our Sheep-shearing veast) bum vaith yous taste of our CHEESE-CAKE. This is put into the mouth of Columell the Plowman. In Braithwaite's Lancashire Lovers, 1640, Camillus the Clown, courting Doriclea, tells her : “We will have a lustie CHEESE-CAKE at our sheepe wash,” p. 19.
The expense attending these festivities appears to have afforded matter of complaint. Thus in Questions of profitable and pleasant Concernings, &c., 1594: "If it be a Sheepshearing feast, Master Baily can entertain you with his bill of reckonings to his maister of three sheapherds' wages, spent on fresh cates, besides spices, and saffron pottage.”
In Ireland, “On the first Sunday in harvest, viz. in August, they will be sure to drive their cattle into some pool or river and therein swim them : this they observe as inviolable as if it were a point of religion, for they think no beast will live the whole year through unless they be thus drenched. I deny not but that swimming of cattle, and chiefly in this season of the year, is healthful unto them, as the poet hath observed :
• Balantumque gregem fluvio mersare salubri.'—Virg.
In th' healthful flood to plunge the bleating flock.' But precisely to do this on the first Sunday in harvest, I look on as not only superstitious, but profane." --Piers's Desc. of West Meath, in Vállancey's Collectanea, i. 121.
BOURNE observes that in his time it was usual in country villages, where the politeness of the age had made no great conquest, to pay a greater deference to Saturday afternoon than to any other of the working days of the week. The first idea of this cessation from labour at that time was, that every one might attend evening prayers as a kind of preparation for the ensuing Sabbath. The eve of the Jewish Sabbath is called the Preparation, Moses having taught that people to remember the Sabbath over night.
In Hearing and Doing the ready Way to Blessednesse, by Henry Mason, parson of St. Andrew Undershaft, 1635, p. 537, is the following, which would seem to prove that at that time Saturday afternoon was kept holy by some even in the metropolis: "For better keeping of which the seventh) day, Moses commanded the Jews (Exod. xvi. 23) that the day before the Sabbath they should bake what they had to bake, and seeth what they had to seeth ; so that they might have no businesse of their own to do, when they were to keepe God's holy day. And from hence it was that the Jews called the sixth day of the week, the preparation of the Sabbath. (Matt. xxvii. 62, and Luke xxiii. 54.) -answerably whereunto, and (as I take it) in imitation thereof, the Christian Church hath beene accustomed to keep Saterday half holyday, that in the afternoon they might ridd by-businesses out of the way, and by the evening service might prepare their mindes for the Lord's day then ensuing. Which custome and usage of God's people, as I will not presse it upon any man's conscience as a necessarie dutie ; so every man will grant mee, that God's people, as well Christian as Jewish, have thought a time of preparation most fit for the well observing of God's holy day.”
In Jacob's History of Faversham, p. 172, in ‘Articles for the Sexton of Faversham,' 22, Hen. VIII. I find : “Item, the said sexton, or his deputy, every Saturday, Saint's even, and principal feasts, shall ring noon with as many bells as shall be convenient to the Saturday, saint's even, and principal feasts,” &c.
The following curious extract is from a MS. volume of Sermons for all the Saints' days and remarkable Sundays in the year, in the Episcopal Library at Durham : “It is writen in the liffe of Seynt ***** that he was bisi on Ester Eve before None that he made one to shave him or the sunne went doune. And the fiend aspied that, and gadirid up his heeris; and whan this holi man sawe it, he conjured him and badde him tell him whi he did so. Thane said he, bycause yo didest