Christmas Past: Richard Polwhele and a Necromantic Trump

PolwheleMy final festive clipping of the year coems from a 1798 edition of the European Magazine and London Review. This runs a poem by Richard Polwhele, which describes a Christmas celebtation held at Andarton Hall…


In the gay circle of convivial cheer,
Blithe Christmas came which chaplets never fear,
How beam’d delight, in every eye, unblam’d,
When at the hallow’d eve for carols fam’d,
The greenwood towering o’er the heapy turves,
Frist fum’d and stacked in elastic curves,
When brightly blaz’d the sap-besprinkled ash,
And listening holly danc’d with many a flash,
And, every bularfire design’d to mock,
Repos’d in sombroud state the Christmas-stock.
Alas! uprooted in the tempest’s roar,
And hewn in sunder to its hallow core;
Andearton’s oldest oak the flame attacks–
For ages yet it ‘scap’d the firest-axe!
Rais’d high amid the turf, the kindled sprays,
It bids awhile defiance to the blaze;
And, though it redden deep, preserves is claim
Twelve days and twelve long nights to feed the flame

The rites now paid, their pipes they clear’d, to chime
The current carols of unletter’d rhyme;
Or told appropriate tales with gamerous glee
“How once an owlet from the Christmas-tree;
9Such as, perhaps, now glow’d amid the blaze)
Flew with-schorcht-oiuions to the wondering gaze;
Or how a cuckoo scar’d the circling throng,
As a new warmth reviv’d her April song.


After these anecdotes about birds in firewood, the poem touches upon aspects of Christmas celebration including music (“kiss-her-sweet” played on the fiddle) and food (roast ox, mince pies, geese stuffed with tongue, turkeys “cram’d” with pork). In sheer scale, this banquet is said to rival the Trojan Horse, prompting the poem to go off on a tangent about Troy (this takes up an entire verse). A course of plum-cake follows, and the poem concludes with a description of general festivities, the last being a mumming-play in which St. George is resurrected by “necromantic trump”:


Yes! all-the gay, the serious–prompt to share
The merry pastime, cried–avaunt to care!
All-while each slip a forfeit would incur,
9A slip that hardly left a lasting slur!)
With the same ardor as when childhood dawns,
Survey’d the accumulating store of pawns;
And all enjoy’d, with eyes that rapture beam’d
The frolic penance that each pawn redeem’d–
Perhaps, self-doom’d to ply the gipsey’s trade,
Or thro’ the gridiron kiss the kitchen-maid,
Or, by a gentle metaphoric trick,
With cleaner lips salute the candlestick,
Or catch the elusive apple with a bound
As with its taper it flew whizzing round,
Or, with the mouth, halg-diving to the neck,
“The splendid shilling” in a meal-tab sek,
Or, into wildness as the spirits work,
Display a visage blacken’d o’er with cork.

Meantime, the geese-dance gains upon the sight,
In all the pride of mimic splendor bright;
As urchin bands display the pageant show,
in tinsel glitter, and in ribbons flow;
And pigmy kings with carnage stain their path,
Shake their cock-plumes, and lift their swords of lath;
And great St. George sturts, valorous, o’er the plain,
Deck’d with the trophies of the dragon slain,
And in a speech, the stoutest hearts to daunt,
Paints the dread conflict, at the monster’s haunt;
And, thick where shivered lances strew the ground,
A champion falls, transfixt by many a wound,
But sudden, by the necromantic trump
Awaken’d, sits erect upon his rump;
And little dames their favouring smiles bestow,
And “father Christmas” bows his head of snow!

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