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April 24th

Born: Edmund Cartwright, inventor of the power loom, 1743, Marnham, Notts.

Died: James Beaton, archbishop of Glasgow, 1603, Paris; Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, &c., 1731, London; William Seward, miscellaneous writer, 1799; Pierre de Beaumarchais, musician, 1799, Paris.

Feast Day: St. Mellitus, third Archbishop of Canterbury, 624. Saints Beuve and Doda, of Rheims, 7th century. St. Robert, of Chase-dieu, Auvergne, 1067. St. Fidelis, martyr, 1622.

BEAUMARCHAIS

Pierre Augustine Caron de Beaumarchais, the son. of an eminent Parisian watchmaker, served an apprenticeship to his father's business, and gained a prize from the French Academy of Sciences, for an improvement in watchmaking, when only twenty-one years of age. His knowledge of musical instruments, and skill in music, obtained him the high post of music-master to the daughters of Louis the Fifteenth. Possessed of an attractive figure, great talents, and an unbounded assurance, he was early employed in political intrigues by the leading statesmen of France, yet still found time to distinguish himself as an author and dramatist, as well as to realize a large fortune by financial and mercantile speculations. Two of the most popular and best known dramatic pieces in the world, the Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro, are from his witty and prolific pen. His many accomplishments, however, were obscured by an inordinate self-conceit, which he never cared to suppress; and it has been wittily remarked, that if he had been condemned to be hanged, he would have petitioned for a gallows as high as Haman's, to render his end the more conspicuous. But, with all his egotism, he had the good sense never to blush at the lowness of his birth.

One day, a number of noblemen of high rank having been kept waiting for a considerable time in an ante-room while Beaumarchais was closeted with a minister in high office, it was determined to insult the ci-devant watchmaker, when he came out from the audience chamber. On Beaumarchais appearing, one of them said aloud:—'Pray, Monsieur de Beaumarchais, have the goodness to examine my watch, and inform me what is the matter with it; it very often stops, and I am sure from your youthful experience you will be able to tell me the cause.' 'Certainly, my lord,' replied Beaumarchais, with a profound bow, 'I served my apprenticeship to the watchmaking trade under my respected father.' So, taking the proffered watch from the nobleman's hand, Beaumarchais opened and examined it with profound interest, a number of courtiers crowding round to witness the curious scene. All at once, as if by an awkward inadvertence, he let the valuable watch fall heavily on the floor, and, amidst the uproarious laughter of the bystanders, walked away, begging ten thousand pardons of the enraged nobleman for the unlucky accident.

SWINTON MAY-SONGS

A correspondent sends us the following account of a custom in South Lancashire, which, he says, is new to him, and of which he can find no notice in Brand, or Strutt, or Hone, or in Notes and Queries, and which has therefore the recommendation of novelty, though old:

While reading one evening towards the close of April, 1861, I was on a sudden aware of a party of waits or carollers who had taken their stand on the lawn in my garden, and were serenading the family with a song. There were four singers, accompanied by a flute and a clarinet; and together they discoursed most simple and rustic music. I was at a loss to divine the occasion of this local custom, seeing the time was not within any of our great festivals—Easter, May-day, or Whitsuntide.

Inquiry resulted in my obtaining from an old 'Mayer' the words of two songs, called by the singers themselves 'May Songs,' though the rule and custom are that they must be sung before the first day of May. My chief informant, an elderly man named Job Knight, tells me that he 'went out' a May-singing for about fourteen years, but has now left it off. He says that the Mayers usually commence their singing rounds about the middle of April, though some parties start as early as the beginning of that month. The singing invariably ceases on the evening of the 30th April. Job says he can remember the custom for about thirty years, and he never heard any other than the two songs which follow. These are usually sung, he says, by five or six men, with a fiddle or flute and clarinet accompaniment.

The songs are verbally as recited by Job Knight, and when I ventured to hint that one tune (the third in the third verse of the New May Song), was too long, he sang the verse, to show that all the words were deftly brought into the strain. The first song bears marks of some antiquity, both in construction and phraseology. There is its double refrain—the second and fourth lines in every stanza—which, both musically and poetically, are far superior to the others. Its quaint picture of manners, the worshipful master of the house in his chain of gold, the mistress with gold along her breast, &c; the phrases, 'house and harbour,' 'riches and store,'—all seem to point to earlier times. The last line of this song appears to convey its object and to indicate a simple superstition, that these songs were charms to draw or drive ' these cold winters away.' There are several lines in both songs, in which the sense, no less than the rhythm, seems to have been marred, from the songs having been handed down by oral tradition alone; but I have not ventured on any alteration. In the second, and more modern song, the refrain in the fourth line of each stanza is again the most poetical and musical of the whole. But I detain your readers too long from the ballads themselves.

OLD MAY SONG

All in this pleasant evening, together comers [? come are] we,
   For the Summer springs so fresh, green, and gay;
We shall not sing you May again until another year,
   For to draw you these cold winters away.
We'll tell you of a blossom and buds on every tree,
   Drawing near to the merry month of May.
Rise up, the master of this house, put on your chain of gold,
   For the Summer springs so fresh, green, and gay;
We hope you're not offended, [with] your house we make so bold,
   Drawing near to the merry month of May.
Rise up, the mistress of this house, with gold along your breast.
   For the Summer springs so fresh, green, and gay;
And if your body be asleep, we hope your soul's at rest,
   Drawing near to the merry month of May.
Rise up, the children of this house, all in your rich attire,
   For the Summer springs so fresh, green, and gay;
For every hair upon your head[s] shines like the silver wire,
   Drawing near to the merry month of May.
God bless this house and harbour, your riches and your store,
   For the Summer springs so fresh, green, and gay;
We hope the Lord will prosper you, both now and evermore,
   Drawing near to the merry month of May.
So now we're going to leave you, in peace and plenty here,
   For the Summer springs so fresh, green, and gay;

NEW MAY SONG

Come listen awhile unto what we shall say,
   Concerning the season, the month we call May;
For the flowers they are springing, and the birds they do sing,
   And the baziers are sweet in the morning of May.
When the trees are in bloom, and the meadows are green,
   The sweet-smelling cowslips are plain to be seen;
The sweet ties of nature, which we plainly do see,
   For the baziers are sweet in the morning of May.
All creatures are deem'd, in their station below,
   Such comforts of love on each other bestow;
Our flocks they're all folded, and young lambs sweetly do play,
   And the baziers are sweet in the morning of May.
So now to conclude, with much freedom and love,
   The sweetest of blessings proceeds from above;
Let us join in our song that right happy may we be,
   For we'll bless with contentment in the morning of May.

THE PASSING BELL

There are many practices and ceremonies in use amongst us at the present day for the existence of which we are at a loss to account. The change which takes place in circumstances, as well as in the opinions of men, as time rolls on, causes us no longer to see the origin of numberless institutions which we still possess, and which we retain with respect and affection, although we no longer know their cause or their meaning, and in which we often unconsciously celebrate that of which we might not approve.

Of such is the ceremony of tolling the bell at the time of death, formerly called the passing-bell, or the soul-bell, which seems to be as ancient as the first introduction of bells themselves, about the seventh century. Venerable Bede is the first who makes mention of bells, where he tells us that, at the death of St. Thilda, one of the sisters of a distant monastery, as she was sleeping, thought she heard the bell which called to prayers when any of them departed this life. The custom was therefore as ancient as his days, and the reason for the institution was not, as some imagine, for no other end than to acquaint the neighbourhood that such a person was dead, but chiefly that whoever heard the bell should put up their prayers for the soul that was departing, or passing.

In Bourne's Antiquitates Vulgacres there is this passage on the subject, which goes to show that at times the custom had been disapproved:

'In a vestry-book belonging to the chapel of All Saints, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, it is observable that the tolling of the bell is not mentioned in the parish accounts from the year 1643 till 1655, when we find it ordered to be tolled again at a vestry holden January 21st, 1655. The order stands thus "Whereas for some years past the collecting of the duty for bell and tolling hath been foreborne and laid aside, which hath much lessened the revenue of the church, by which, and such like means, it is brought into dilapidation, and having now taken the same into serious consideration, and fully debated the objections made by some against the same, and having had the judgment of our ministers concerning any superstition that might be in it, which being made clear, it is this day ordered, that from henceforth the church-officer appointed thereunto do collect the same, and bring the money unto the church wardens, and that those who desire to have the use of the bells may freely have them as formerly, paying the accustomed fees!" It is certain they laid it aside because they thought it superstitious, and it is probable, if they had not wanted money, they had not seen the contrary.'

There are also some regulations belonging to the parish of Wolchurch for the fines of the ringing and tolling of bells, amongst which one item is:

'The clerke to have for tollynge of the passynge belle, for manne, womanne, or childes, if it be in the day, four-pence; if it be in the night, eight-pence for the sanie.'

Of the reason for calling it the soul-bell, Bishop Hall says:

'We call them soul-bells because they signify the departure of the soul, not because they help the passage of the soul.' Whatever its origin and meaning, as it remains to us at present, it is a ceremony which accords well with our feelings upon the loss of a friend, and when we hear the tolling of the bell, whether at the hour of death or at the hour of burial, the sound is to us like the solemn expression of our grief.'

April 25th