Born: Sharon Turner,
historian, 1768, London.
Died: Pepin, king of
France, 768; Michael III, Greek emperor, assassinated,
867; Pope Innocent II, 1143; William of Wykeham,
founder of Winchester School, 1404, South Waltham;
Samual Butler, author of Hudibras, 1680, London;
Henry, Viscount Hardinge, governor-general and
commander in India, 1856, South Park, near Tunbridge.
Feast Day: St. Rusticus
or Rotiri, bishop of Auvergne, 5th century. St.
Chuniald or Conald, priest and missionary. St. Germer
or Geremar, abbot, 658. St. Gerard, bishop of Chonad,
THE FEAST OF
Wherever, throughout the
earth, there is such a thing as a formal harvest,
there also appears an inclination to mark it with a
festive celebration. The wonder, the gratitude, the
piety felt towards the great Author of nature, when it
is brought before us that, once more, as it has ever
been, the ripening of a few varieties of grass has
furnished food for earth's teeming millions, insure
that there should every where be some sort of feast of
In England, this festival passes
generally under the endeared name of Harvest-Home. In
Scotland, where that term is unknown, the festival is
hailed under the name of the Kirn In the north of
England, its ordinary designation is the Mell-Supper.
And there are perhaps other local names. But every
where there is a thankful joy, a feeling which
pervades all ranks and conditions of the rural people,
and for once in the year brings all upon a level. The
servant sympathises with the success of his master in
the great labours of the year. The employer looks
kindly down upon his toiling servants, and feels it
but due to them that they should have a banquet
furnished out of the abundance which God has given
him—one in which he and his family should join them,
all conventional distinctions sinking under the
overpowering gush of natural, and, it may be added,
religious feeling, which so well befits the time.
Most of our old
harvest-customs were connected with the ingathering of
the crops, but some of their began with the
commencement of harvest-work. Thus, in the southern
counties, it was customary for the labourers to elect,
from among themselves, a leader, whom they denominated
their 'lord.' To him all the rest were required to
give precedence, and to leave all transactions
respecting their work. He made the terms with the
farmers for mowing, for reaping, and for all the rest
of the harvest-work; he took the lead with the scythe,
with the sickle, and on the 'carrying days;' he was to
be the first to eat, and the first to drink, at all
their refreshments; his mandate was to be law to all
the rest, who were bound to address him as 'My Lord,'
and to shew him all due honour and respect.
Disobedience in any of these particulars was punished
by imposing fines according to a scale previously
agreed on by 'the lord' and all his vassals. In some
instances, if any of his men swore or told a lie in
his presence, a fine was inflicted. In Buckinghamshire
and other counties, 'a lady' was elected as well as 'a lord,' which often added much merriment to the
harvest-season. For, while the lady was to receive all honours due to the lord from the rest of the labourers,
he (for the lady was one of the workmen) was required
to pass it on to the lord. For instance, at
drinking-time, the vassals were to give the horn first
to the lady, who passed it to the lord, and when he
had drunk, she drank next, and then the others
indiscriminately. Every departure from this rule
incurred a fine. The blunders which led to fines, of
course, were frequent, and produced great merriment.
In the old simple days of
England, before the natural feelings of the people had
been checked and chilled off by Puritanism in the
first place, and what may be called gross
Commercialism in the second, the harvest-home was such
a scene as Horace's friends might have expected to see
at his Sabine farm, or Theocritus described in his
Idylls. Perhaps it really was the very same scene
which was presented in ancient times. The grain last
cut was brought home in its wagon—called the Hock
Cart—surmounted by a figure formed of a sheaf with gay
dressings—a presumable representation of the goddess
Ceres—while a pipe and tabor went merrily sounding in
front, and the reapers tripped around in a
hand-in-hand ring, singing appropriate songs, or
simply by shouts and cries giving vent to the
excitement of the day.
We have ploughed, we have sowed,
We have reaped, we have mowed,
We have brought home every load,
Hip, hip, hip, harvest-home!'
So they sang or shouted. In
Lincolnshire and other districts, hand-bells were
carried by those riding on the last load, and the
following rhymes were sung:
'The boughs do shake, and
the bells do ring,
So merrily comes our harvest in,
Our harvest in, our harvest in,
So merrily comes our harvest in!
Troops of village children,
who had contributed in various ways to the great
labour, joined the throng, solaced with plum-cake in
requital of their little services. Sometimes, the
image on the cart, instead of being a mere dressed-up
bundle of grain, was a pretty girl of the
reaping-band, crowned with flowers, and hailed as the
Maiden. Of this we have a description in a ballad of
'Home came the jovial
Last of the whole year's crop,
And Grace among the green boughs rode,
Right plump upon the top.
This way and that the wagon reeled,
And never queen rode higher;
Her cheeks were coloured in the field,
And ours before the fire.'
In some provinces—we may
instance Buckinghamshire—it was a favourite practical
joke to lay an ambuscade at some place where a high
bank or a tree gave opportunity, and drench the
hock-cart party with water. Great was the merriment,
when this was cleverly and effectively done, the
riders laughing, while they shook themselves, as
merrily as the rest. Under all the rustic jocosities
of the occasion, there seemed a basis of pagan custom;
but it was such as not to exclude a Christian
sympathy. Indeed, the harvest-home of Old England was
obviously and beyond question a piece of natural
religion, an ebullition of jocund gratitude to the
divine source of all earthly blessings.
Herrick describes the
harvest-home of his epoch (the earlier half of the
seventeenth century) with his usual felicity of
'Come, sons of summer, by
We are the Lords of wine and oile;
By whose tough labours, and rough hands,
We rip up first, then reap our lands,
Crown'd with the cares of come, now come,
And, to the pipe, sing harvest-home.
Come forth, my Lord, and see the cart,
Drest up with all the country art.
See here a maukin, there a sheet
As spotlesse pure as it is sweet:
The horses, mares, and frisking fillies,
Clad, all, in linnen, white as lillies,
The harvest swaines and wenches bound
For joy, to see the hock-cart crown'd.
About the cart heare how the rout
Of rural younglings raise the shout;
Pressing before, some coming after,
Those with a shout, and these with laughter.
Some blesse the cart; some kisse the sheaves;
Some prank them up with oaken leaves:
Some crosse the fill-horse; some with great
Devotion stroak the home-borne wheat:
While other rusticks, lesse attent
To prayers than to merryment,
Run after with their breeches rent.
Well, on, brave boyes, to your Lord's hearth
Glitt'ring with fire, where, for your mirth,
You shall see first the large and cheefe
Foundation of your feast, fat beefe:
With upper stories, mutton, veale,
And bacon, which makes full the meale;
With sev'rall dishes standing by,
As here a custard, there a pie,
And here all-tempting frumentie.
And for to make the merrie cheere
If smirking wine be wanting here,
There's that which drowns all care, stout beere,
Which freely drink to your Lord's health,
Then to the plough, the commonwealth;
Next to your flailes, your fanes, your fatts,
Then to the maids with wheaten hats;
To the rough sickle, and the crookt sythe
Drink, frollick, boyes, till all be blythe,
Feed and grow fat, and as ye eat,
Be mindfull that the lab'ring neat,
As you, may have their full of meat;
And know, besides, ye must revoke
The patient oxe unto the yoke,
And all goe back unto the plough
And harrow, though they 're hang'd up now.
And, you must know, your Lord's word's true,
Feed him ye must, whose food fils you.
And that this pleasure is like raine,
Not sent ye for to drowne your paine.
But for to make it spring againe.'
In the north, there seem to
have been some differences in the observance. It was
common there for the reapers, on the last day of their
business, to have a contention for superiority in
quickness of dispatch, groups of three or four taking
each a ridge, and striving which should soonest get to
its termination. In Scotland, this was called a
kemping, which simply means a striving. In the north
of England, it was a melt, which, I suspect, means the
same thing (from Fr. mêlée). As the reapers went on
during the last day, they took care to leave a good
handful of the grain uncut, but laid down fiat, and
covered over; and, when the field was done, the '
bonniest lass' was allowed to cut this final handful,
which was presently dressed up with various sewings,
tyings, and trimmings, like a doll, and hailed as a
Corn Baby. It was brought home in triumph, with music
of fiddles and bagpipes, was set up conspicuously that
night at supper, and was usually preserved in the
farmer's parlour for the remainder of the year. The
bonny lass who cut this handful of grain, was deemed
the Har'st Queen. In Hertfordshire, and probably other
districts of England, there was the same custom of
reserving a final handful; but it was tied up and
erected, under the name of a Mare, and the reapers
then, one after another, threw their sickles at it, to
cut it down. The successful individual called out: 'I
have her!' 'What have you?' cried the rest. 'A mare, a
mare, a mare!' he replied. 'What will you do with her
P' was then asked. 'We'll send her to John Snooks,'
or whatever other name, referring to some neighbouring
farmer who had not yet got all his grain cut down.
This piece of rustic
pleasantry was called Crying the Mare. It is very
curious to learn, that there used to be a similar
practice in so remote a district as the Isle of Skye.
A farmer having there got his harvest completed, the
last cut handful was sent, under the name of Goabbir
Bhacagh (the Cripple Goat), to the next farmer who was
still at work upon his crops, it being of course
necessary for the bearer to take some care that, on
delivery, he should be able instantly to take to his
heels, and escape the punishment otherwise sure to
The custom of
Crying the Mare
is more particularly described by the Rev. C. H.
Hartshorne, in his Salopia Antigua (p. 498). 'When a
farmer has ended his reaping, and the wooden bottle is
passing merrily round, the reapers form themselves
into two bands, and commence the following dialogue in
loud shouts, or rather in a kind of chant at the
utmost pitch of their voice. First band: I have her, I
have her, I have her! (Every sentence is repeated
three times.) Second: What hast thee? What bast thee?
What bast thee? First: A mare, a mare, a mare! Second:
Whose is her? Whose is her? Whose is her? First: A.
B.'s (naming their master, whose corn is all cut.
Second: Where shall we send her? &c. First: To C. D.
(naming some neighbour whose corn is still standing).
And the whole concludes with a joyous shout of both
In the south-eastern part of
Shropshire, the ceremony is performed with a slight
variation. The last few stalks of the wheat are left
standing; all the reapers throw their sickles, and he
who cuts it off, cries: " I have her, I have her, I
have her I" on which the rustic mirth begins; and it
is practised in a manner very similar in Devonshire.
The latest farmer in the neighbourhood, whose reapers
therefore cannot send her to any other person, is said
to keep her all the winter. This rural ceremony, which
is fast wearing away, evidently refers to the time
when, our county lying all open in common fields, and
the corn consequently exposed to the depredations of
the wild mares, the season at which it was secured
from their ravages was a time of rejoicing, and of
exulting over a tardier neighbour.'
Mr Bray describes the same
custom as practised in Devonshire, and the chief
peculiarity in that instance is, that the last handful
of the standing grain is called the Nack. On this
being cut, the reapers assemble round it, calling at
the top of their voices, 'Arnack, arnack, arnack! we
have'n, we have'n, we have'n,' and the firkin is then
handed round; after which the party goes home dancing
and shouting. Mr. Bray considers it a relic of
Druidism, but, as it appears to us, without any good
reason. He also indulges in some needlessly profound
speculations regarding the meaning of the words used.
'Arnack' appears to us as simply ' Our nag,' an idea
very nearly corresponding to 'the Mare;' and 'we
have'n' seems to be merely 'we have him.'
In the evening of
harvest-home, the supper takes place in the barn, or
some other suitable place, the master and mistress
generally presiding. This feast is always composed of
substantial viands, with an abundance of good ale, and
human nature insures that it should be a scene of
intense enjoyment. Some one, with better voice than
his neighbours, leads off a song of thanks to the host
and hostess, in something like the following strain:
Here 's a health to our
The lord of the feast;
God bless his endeavours,
And send him increase!
May prosper his crops,
And we reap next year;
Here 's our master's good health, boys,
Come, drink off your beer!
Now harvest is ended,
And supper is past
Here 's our mistress's health, boys,
Come, drink a full glass.
For she 's a good woman,
Provides us good cheer;
Here's your mistress's good health, boys,
Come, drink off your beer?
One of the rustic assemblage,
being chosen to act as 'lord,' goes out, puts on a
sort of disguise, and comes in again, crying in a
prolonged note, Lar-gess! He and some companions then
go about with a plate among the company, and collect a
little money with a view to further regalements at the
village ale-house. With these, protracted usually to a
late hour, the harvest-feast ends.
In Scotland, under the name of
the Kirn or Kirn Supper (supposed to be from the churn
of cream usually presented on the occasion),
harvest-home ends in like manner. The description of
the feast given by Grahame, in his British Georgics,
includes all the characteristic features:
'The fields are swept, a
tranquil silence reigns,
And pause of rural labour, far and near.
Deep is the morning's hush; from grange to grange
Responsive cock-crows, in the distance heard,
Distinct as if at hand, soothe the pleased ear;
And oft, at intervals, the flail, remote,
Sends faintly through the air its deafened sound.
Bright now the shortening
day, and blithe its close,
When to the Kirn the neighbours, old and young,
Come dropping in to share the well-earned feast.
The smith aside his ponderous sledge has thrown,
Raked up his fire, and cooled the hissing brand.
His sluice the miller shuts; and from the barn
The threshers hie, to don their Sunday coats.
Simply adorned, with ribands, blue and pink,
Bound round their braided hair, the lasses trip
To grace the feast, which now is smoking ranged
On tables of all shape, and size, and height,
Joined awkwardly, yet to the crowded guests
A seemly joyous show, all loaded well:
But chief, at the board-head, the haggis round
Attracts all eyes, and even the goodman's grace
Prunes of its wonted length. With eager knife,
The quivering globe he then prepares to broach;
While for her gown some ancient matron quakes,
Her gown of silken woof, all figured thick
With roses white, far larger than the life,
On azure ground—her grannam's wedding-garb,
Old as that year when Sheriffmuir was fought.
Old tales are told, and well-known jests abound,
Which laughter meets half-way as ancient friends,
Nor, like the worldling, spurns because
When ended the repast, and
board and bench
Vanish like thought, by many hands removed,
Up strikes the fiddle; quick upon the floor
The youths lead out the half-reluctant maids,
Bashful at first, and darning through the reels
With timid steps, till, by the music cheered,
With free and airy step, they bound along,
Then deftly wheel, and to their partner's face,
Turning this side, now that, with varying step.
Sometimes two ancient couples o'er the floor,
Skim through a reel, and think of youthful years.
Meanwhile the frothing
bickers, soon as filled,
Are drained, and to the gauntrees oft return,
Where gossips sit, unmindful of the dance.
Salubrious beverage! Were thy sterling worth
But duly prized, no more the alembic vast
Would, like some dire volcano, vomit forth
Its floods of liquid fire, and far and wide
Lay waste the land; no more the fruitful boon
Of twice ten shrievedoms, into poison turned,
Would taint the very life-blood of the poor,
Shrivelling their heart-strings like a burning
Such was formerly the method
of conducting the harvest-feast; and in some instances
it is still conducted much in the same manner, but
there is a growing tendency in the present day, to
abolish this method and substitute in its place a
general harvest-festival for the whole parish, to
which all the farmers are expected to contribute, and
which their labourers may freely attend. This festival
is usually commenced with a special service in the
church, followed by a dinner in a tent, or in some
building sufficiently large, and continued with rural
sports; and sometimes including a tea-drinking for the
women. But this parochial gathering is destitute of
one important element in the harvest-supper. It is of
too general a character. It provides no particular
means for attaching the labourers to their respective
masters. If a labourer have any unpleasant feeling
towards his master, or is conscious of neglecting his
duty, or that his conduct has been offensive towards
his master, he will feel ashamed of going to his house
to partake of his hospitality, but he will attend
without scruple a general feast provided by many
contributors, because he will feel under no special
obligation to his own master. But if the feast be
solely provided by his master, if he receive an
invitation from him, if he finds himself welcomed to
his house, sits with him at his table, is encouraged
to enjoy himself, is allowed to converse freely with
him, and treated by him with kindness and cordiality,
his prejudices and asperities will be dispelled, and
mutual good-will and attachment established. The
hospitality of the old-fashioned harvest-supper, and
other similar agricultural feasts, was a bond of union
between the farmer and his work-people of inestimable
value. The only objection alleged against such a
feast, is that it often leads to intemperance. So
would the harvest-festival, were not regulations
adopted to prevent it. If similar regulations were
applied to the farmer's harvest-feast, the objection
would be removed. Let the farmer invite the clergyman
of his parish, and other sober-minded friends, and
with their assistance to carry out good regulations,
temperance will easily be preserved.
The modern harvest-festival,
as a parochial thanksgiving for the bounties of
Providence, is an excellent institution, in addition
to the old harvest-feast, but it should not be
considered as a substitute for it.
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