Spenser's description of May in the Mutability Cantos (FQ 7.7.34) leads Leigh Hunt (writing without a signature) to reflect on time, pageantry, and community. After some opening remarks on Spenser's pictorialism, Hunt declaims against the contemporary manner of celebrating May in London, a holiday for chimney-sweeps who would dance in the streets hoping that the citizens would throw coins at them. This leads Hunt to compose a burlesque of Spenser's stanza to underscore the incongruity between chimney-sweeps and the Queen of May: "Lord! how the sweeps all grinn'd, when her they spied, | And leapt and daunc't, as they had scorched been! | And Jack himself about her lumber'd all in green" p. 461.
In explaining the decline of traditional celebrations Hunt mentions the rise of trade and religious fanaticism, but his real target is the eighteenth-century sense of propriety: "It is equally difficult to conceive Addison and Shaftesbury entering warmly into the sports of a neighbourhood, or Hume and Wesley, or Abraham Newland and my Lord Chesterfield. There is a paper in the Spectator (written, however, not by Addison, but his friend Budgell) warning the fair sex not to go into the fields in May, lest it should be dangerous to their virtue. A polite and ingenuous admonition!" p. 460. This is contrasted with the exuberance displayed in the reign of Elizabeth when poets were not ashamed to mix high with low: "Nothing that has a spirit of health in it, a heart to feel, and lungs to give it utterance, was thought alien to a noble humanity; and therefore the 'sage and serious Spenser' can make his very creation laugh, and leap at the coming of a holiday; and introduce May, the flowery beauty, borne up on the shoulders of a couple of demigods."
Hunt's conclusion describes an attempt to revive the traditional ceremonies in a village remote from London in a ritual uniting persons of high and low degree in a common enterprise. There the local peasantry, educated by means of mechanics' libraries, relishes Nathan Drake's Shakespeare and his Times (1817) as much as any genteel antiquary. Hunt describes their May-day pageant, with an anti-masque composed to ridicule May-day celebrations in London, including their misguided presentation of the sweeps. At the conclusion of the masque the sets are pulled down to expose the village Maypole, and the festivities begin.
Sumner Lincoln Fairfield: "Among rival works, and even in the newspapers, it is fashionable to abuse Campbell's magazine, and call it the nucleus of cockneyism — the empress of cockaign; but such satirical remarks never injure a good book or a good man; they show merely the impotent ill nature of disappointed rivals. This magazine is deservedly popular for its information and general candour; indeed, in the latter respect, it is a happy exception to magazines in general Campbell observed to me, that he was employed, as I found him, reading manuscripts and correcting proof-sheets for about three hundred and fifty days in the year" "Four Months in Europe" New-York Literary Gazette 3 (14 October 1826) 62.
Then came faire May, the fayrest mayd on ground,
Deckt all with dainties of her season's pryde,
And throwing flowres out of her lap around
Upon two brethren's shoulders she did ride,
The twinnes of Leda; which on eyther side
Supported her, like to their soveraine queene:
Lord! how all creatures laught, when her they spide,
And leapt and daunc't, as they had ravisht beene!
And Cupid selfe about her fluttred all in greene.
The descriptions of Spenser often look like absolute paintings on canvass, especially when comprised within the limits of the stanza. This may seem a conceit; but I believe he felt it himself; and perhaps the old lady, to whom Pope recommend him, had an eye to the same fancy, when she said it appeared to her as if she had been reading a gallery of pictures. The stanza furnishes the picture with a boundary. It squares the tablet. — What a lovely one has he given its here! The principal figure is a female beauty, decked with colours and May-blossom. She is supported aloft by two figures of masculine beauty; creation laughs at her approach; and the god of Love flutters round about her, his little white body contrasted with green drapery, swelling and flowing away against the blue aether. We fancy him holding it with his two hands like a sail, and making a may-game of the livery. He comes careering and singing along; tickled as a butterfly, weighty and full of intention as a bee. May scatters her flowers, her lip moist, her cheeks dimpled, her air too divine for bashfulness or immodesty; a virgin figure, yet announcing plumpness and hilarity. The twinnes of Leda carry her with easy strength and enamoured eyes. Birds warble; fawns and kids are in motion; youths and maidens catch her blossoms, and strew branches in her way. She comes, invested with light, like a new dawn; like a rosier morning, risen upon the common one; and,
Lord! how all creatures laught, when her they spide!
These are the passages that silence critics in the old poets, and make them angry with modern ones. They contain two ideas instead of one — an amalgamation of opposite feelings; seriousness and levity, the familiar and the dignified; and this is what they cannot reconcile to the formality of their judgments. "Nature puts them out."
Alas! we too often become like the critics; and, in obedience to a sorry notion of dignity, help to put Nature out in our turn. Spenser's May was the May of his time, — no foolish time either. It was the May of Shakspeare and Milton, the May of Chaucer, the May of Sidney, and Raleigh, and Surrey, and Elizabeth — herself as much a queen of the May in May-time, as she was a great queen at all times. At present, they might as well be blotted out of the calendar, for all that we know of it in the metropolis, or in a great many other places. In Spenser's time, all England was in motion on May-day, doing, homage to Nature, and shewing a grateful sense of something besides their dinner. The whole city went out to invite, as it were, the country to town; and to welcome her beauty and her bounties with dances, and shouts of joy. Now-a-days, we require a flapper worse than the most mechanical one in Laputa — the clattering of a chimney-brush — to remind us of her existence.
The reader has heard of that modest request of two absent lovers, — that the gods would be so obliging as to annihilate space and time. There is another, recorded of some reading gentleman, who, calling upon a modern poet, and finding him from home, was asked if he had any message to leave. "Merely," said he, "my compliments, and say that I will trouble Mr. S., if not inconvenient, to write me an epic poem." I have a modest request of my own, not quite so bashful as these — "Will any body have the goodness to abolish the May-day chimney sweepers?"
They are a blot upon the season; a smear; a smutting of one's face; a piece of soot in one's soup; a cinder in one's gravy; a rotten core to one's apple. They are like a tea-kettle on a sopha. They are "a story, alas! too true:" "shadowy," without "setting off the face of things:" children, yet not happy: merry-making, and nobody is the blither. They are out of their element at all times; and never more so than on this, their only holiday. Their dancing is that of lame legs; their music a clattering of stumps; their finery like a harlequin's leavings thrown in the dust-hole. They come like a contradiction to the season, as if, because nothing clean, wholesome, and vernal could be got up, the day should be spited with the squalidest and sickliest of our in-door associations. They do not say, We come to make you happy; but to show to the unhappiest man on this very uncomfortable day, that there are youths and little boys who beat his unhappy lot. They understand their perverse business well, and dress up some of their party like girls, because of all masqueraders their dirty dinginess is least suitable to the sex. They contradict even the spirit of masquerade itself; and, like the miser in the novel, wear real chimney-sweeping clothes, with a little tinsel to make the reality more palpable. It is doubtful even whether they keep their own pence; whether the pittance, which charity itself is ashamed to give them on such a day (angry with the bad joke, and with forgetting them at other times) is not surrendered, at the close of their hopping exposure, to the sturdier keepers who attend them. Nothing is certainly their own but the dirt of which they cannot get rid; and a disease, or the liability to a disease, peculiar to the trade, and disgraceful to human nature.
Our jest has become serious; but so it must, if we think well of it. Will nobody undertake to admonish these sorry-makers off the ground, or substitute real merry-makers instead? I have spoken to my friend Mordaunt about it. He is a dandy of a very public spirit; and says, that if no one else obliges me in this matter, he will see, the year after next, what is to he done. I am in hopes he will begin sooner. Some time ago, a lady gave the chimney-sweepers a great dinner at the west end of the town. She died; and honest Jem White (who had a taste of Shakspeare in him; — see his Falstaff's Letters,) followed up that more serious drama of beef and pudding, with a merry anniversary meal of sausages in Smithfield. There is an association for abolishing the use of chimney-sweepers. Could not that benevolent society do something for May-day? And would it not help them in their greater purpose? Suppose all the youths who had originally been intended for chimney-sweepers, but escaped into some better though humble trade, together with others rescued out of it, were to form parties in honour of May-day, presenting a fair and agreeable spectacle, in opposition to the dirty dreariness of the present one? Encourage, in addition to this, the milk-maids to revive their "garlands," or any other decent young people to come forth with dances and flowers, and the metropolis might not only have a taste of its old pleasures, but the speculation become a profitable one to those who have the spirit to undertake it. If it were done in high style, there should be processions, with branches of May. The parties ought to take the squares by surprise; fix up their branches round the rails of the parterres; and then levy contributions at every door, to be further paid by dances and music. Next time, perhaps, the leading inhabitants of the square (if wise enough to be so good-humoured), might set up a maypole in the midst of it, hung with garlands; and thus, without admitting the populace inside, the rails (which might be too much for those tender bits of gardening), restore a proper old Mayday spectacle, as good as it could possibly be had in town, and as graceful as it would be popular. But one thing must not be omitted. The chimney-sweepers, as long as they last, ought, above all, not to miss a holiday of some sort. Their dinner should be revived, though the dancing be quashed: or, if that be all, let them dance, in God's name, provided they partake of the hilarity of others, and are not the sole spectacle of the day, and a mockery of it.
Formerly the inhabitants of the metropolis used to go out early in the morning to fetch May from the neighbouring fields, and return with it in triumph. They had dances round Maypoles, in the street. The church of St. Andrew Undershaft, in Leadenhall-street, is so called from a pole, or shaft, which used to be set up there on May-day, higher than the church steeple. It is mentioned in Chaucer. Another, alluded to in Beaumont and Fletcher, flourished in the Strand, up to a late period. A third must have been set up in May-fair, where a fair, which still gives its name to the spot, was held for fifteen days. Such long holidays are not desirable, nor great fairs either. But our ancestors, who took many pleasures, were not less industrious at other times than we; and they were healthier and stronger. "In the holidays all the summer," says old Stowe, "the youths are exercised in leaping, dancing, shooting, wrestling, casting the stone, and practising their shields. The maidens trip with their timbrels, and dance as long as they can well see." The court of the romantic and stately Elizabeth was as dancing a one as that of Charles II.; and much more addicted to rural holidays. At present, all our poetry is in books.
Several reasons have been assigned for the decline of May-day throughout England, and for its total fall in the metropolis. The only real ones, however, are the growth of trade in the first instance; that of fanaticism afterwards; and finally, the conquest of this island by the pretended politeness and reasoning spirit of the French, which rendered us unpoetical and effeminate. It is curious, that the most light and dancing of nations should have conspired to put an end to our merriment; but so it was. The Parisian gentry could sooner baulk our naturally graver temper, and pique it on being as reasonable as themselves, than they could stop the out-of-door pastimes of their own Boulevards and provinces. Our dancing was now to be confined, like a sick person, to its apartment. We might have as much gallantry as we pleased in a private way (a permission, of which our turn of mind did not allow us to avail ourselves, to the extent of our teachers); but none in a more open and innocent one. All our ordinary pleasures were to be sedentary. We were to show our refinement by being superior to every rustic impulse; and do nothing but doubt, and gentlemanly, and afraid of committing ourselves. Men of all parties, opinions, and characters, united to substitute this false politeness and quiescence to the higher spirit of old English activity. The trader was too busy for pastime; the dissenter too serious; the sceptic too philosophical; the gentleman too high-bred; — and, like master like man, apprentices became too busy, like their employers; the dissenter must stop the dancing of the village; the philosophers were too much occupied with reading Plato, to remember that he was equally for cultivating mind and body; and the footman must be as genteel as his master, and have a spirit above clownish gambols. It is equally difficult to conceive Addison and Shaftesbury entering warmly into the sports of a neighbourhood, or Hume and Wesley, or Abraham Newland and my Lord Chesterfield. There is a paper in the Spectator (written, however, not by Addison, but his friend Budgell) warning the fair sex not to go into the fields in May, lest it should be dangerous to their virtue. A polite and ingenuous admonition! As if they could not stop in town, and do worse. Let us be assured, that a taste for Nature will do none of us harm. What it finds strong in us, it will strengthen. What it finds weak, it will at least divide and render graceful. When Sir Richard Steele retired into the country, after all his experience of the town and mankind, he found no recreation more pleasant than that of setting the young rustics upon their sports and races. Some have wondered, why there is no Shakspeare now-a-days. It is lucky for us, that we have had one; and I think we may reasonably wait some centuries for another. It will cost the world a great deal of change and variety. But if we have no such writers as we had in Shakspeare's time, one of the reasons is, that we have no such variety in our manners to draw upon; and what variety we could have, we do not choose to revive. Knowledge is more diffused; but what is the use of learning the way to be wiser, if we do not take it? Almost every poet now belongs either to town or country. If to the town, he knows, or feels, nothing of the country. If to the country, he knows nothing of the town. I speak of him according to his books. Our authors are poor in images; have no costume, no movement; nothing that implies a healthy possession of all their faculties, physical as well as mental. They are sovereigns of petty districts, not a gallant aristocracy ruling over all England; not
A thousand demigods on golden seats,
Frequent and full.
The poetry of Shakspeare's time represents the age and the whole nation. There are pelting villages in it, as well as proud cities; forests, as well as taverns. There are gardens and camps; courts of kings and mobs of coblers; and every variety of human life; its pains and its pastimes; business and holiday; our characters, minds, bodies, and s persons are not all obliged to be monotonous; to have but one idea or character to sustain, and find that a heavy one. Its heroines can venture to "run on the green-sward," as well as figure in a great scene. Its heroes are not afraid of laughing and being companionable. Nothing that has a spirit of health in it, a heart to feel, and lungs to give it utterance, was thought alien to a noble humanity; and therefore the "sage and serious Spenser" can make his very creation laugh, and leap at the coming of a holiday; and introduce May, the flowery beauty, borne up on the shoulders of a couple of demigods.
Lord! how all creatures taught when her they spide;
And leapt and daunc't, as they had ravisht beene;
And Cupid self about her fluttred all in greene.
Let its see what a picture we make of this now in London:
Then came dark May, the darkest maid on ground,
Deckt with no dainties of the season's pride,
And throwing soot out of her lap around.
Having grown scorn'd, on no one she did ride,
Much less on gods; who once on either side
Supported her, like to their sovereign queen.
Lord! how the sweeps all grinn'd, when her they spied,
And leapt and daunc't, as they had scorched been!
And Jack himself about her lumber'd all in green.
Such is May-day in London, — once the gayest of its holidays, furnishing the inhabitants with a pleasant prospect and retrospect, perhaps for half the year. May was the central object of one half the year, as Christmas was of the other. Neither is scarcely worth mention now.
The celebration of May in the country is almost as little attended to. The remoter the scene from London, the more it flourishes. In some villages a pole is set up, but there is no dance. In others, the boys. go about begging with garlands, and do nothing else. A lump of half-dead bluebells and primroses is sent in at your door, to remind you that May was once a festival.
I wish they who live in the country, and have any good-natured ambition on this point, would take pattern by our attempts at M., and try to do better. The village of M. is a long way from London, and has always retained a more than ordinary regard for this season. The late lady of the manor, who was a lover of books, revived the old personations of Robin Hood and Maid Marian, but with a difference, and to the exceeding delight of the natives. It was on one of these occasions I became acquainted with her. The relations who came from a distant part of the country to inherit her estate, were nothing remote from her spirit. They have continued every one of the improvements, both grave and gay, — schools, music-meetings, and holidays: (for we borrow wisdom from men of all parties, and from men of none; and have introduced among us the musical science of New Lanark). Every new invention is added, that can do us good. We have a public library (as well as music-room), where, after working-hours, which are sooner over with us than in most places, you may find a white-headed old farmer with his son on one side of him, and a young gentleman from the manor-house opposite, reading the periodical works. There is the Agriculturist's Magazine, the Mechanic's Magazine, and other popular helps to science; besides three or four newspapers of different opinions, and a variety of periodical works. We have also Cooke's British Poets, and the Novelist's Magazine, well thumbed; St. Pierre's Studies of Nature; Bingley's Animal Biography, with other books on natural history; the Tatler, Spectator, &c.; the Arabian Nights; the Adventures of Hai Ebn Yokhdan; the works of Shakspeare, Sir Philip Sidney, &c.; but I will give a catalogue of our books another time. Suffice to say, at present, that the rich fear no information for the poor, because the poor fear no ill-treatment, or hindrance to their knowledge, from the rich.
The publication of Dr. Drake's two quarto volumes on Shakspeare and his Times made a great sensation at M—. We were intimate with the great humanist: we longed to know all about his age and the customs of it; what clothes he wore; what sort of people he lived with, &c. The picture was not so much to our disadvantage, as some of us had looked for. He indeed remained what he was; but we congratulated ourselves that we all had as much real regard and respect for each other, perhaps greater, though the distance was not so striking between rich and poor: and it pleased us that our men could be courageous without bear-baiting. But we found ourselves sadly deficient in sports. Our only games were stool-ball and cricket; and both May and Christmas, though kept with good heart, wanted a certain poetry and exuberance. It appeared to us, that we could now plump up our holidays to some purpose; and we grew ashamed that our sports had not a little more daring in them. We envied the thumps in the back given by the quintain; we sighed for a broken head from quarter-staff. The gentle spirit of Mrs. S. was startled at first, when this new ambition was laid before her; but a woman finds it difficult not to let a man be as stout and bold as he may; and after some delay, she consented that a little bodily pain should be added to the list of our comforts. An express condition was included, that the combatants should on no pretence whatsoever be encouraged to trespass beyond the limits of a proper human courage; and that the brutal and hog-like wallowing in blood, and dirt, of the prize-ring, should never be admitted into the village. A short bout at fisty-cuffs; whether betwixt boys or men, is permitted by the by-standers occasionally, in order to put an end to a sudden heat, and prevent ill-blood and sulking; but we have hits and points that settle a battle within reasonable time; and be who has proved his courage is seldom inclined either to triumph in victory, or to brood over a well-resisted defeat.
But I shall digress a second time. — Till of late years the villagers were content on May-day, with gathering boughs, making garlands, and dancing round a may-pole. They have now revived some of the ancient customs, and improved upon others. They elect a Lady of the May. They choose a Robin Hood, who selects his Maid Marian: and three or four young fellows, who carry away the prize at archery, become his officers under the titles of Little John, Will Scarlett, &c. Our Little John sometimes puzzles us, by being neither little nor big; but jokes make up all deficiencies. The merry-makings last a couple of days, but the holidays altogether continue a fortnight, during which there is no school, and a great deal of playing. But the girls spend four hours every morning in preparing such clothes and other things, as the old people may want for summer-time; and the young men perform exclusively all the work, which the latter would otherwise be obliged to attend to.
On the morning of the first day (which is the first day of the month, if fine, but put off to the twelfth, or Old May-day, if otherwise) half the village goes out at dawn to gather May, and is met by the other half on returning, with songs and shouts. They then decorate their abodes, and breakfast; after which the Lady of the May is elected; a little drama is performed, of which I shall speak presently; and then there is dancing round the may-pole till dinner-time. The pole is set up the day before, on the half-holiday. In the afternoon, the Lady of the May is brought in procession to the manor-house, where she is welcomed with much respect, and a concert takes place in the great room, which, with an entertainment of cakes and junkets, lasts till bed-time.
On the second day, the other half the village goes out to meet the one that went first. Breakfast follows as before, and then the archery takes place, and Robin Hood's officers are elected. He himself, agreeably to his history, is not chosen for his superiority in that art to the rest, but from the general consent of the village on account of his having made himself acceptable for some gallantry or cleverness in the course of the twelvemonth. In this respect, he holds a kind of moral rank, like the Lady of the May. But the latter is his superior, and queen of the season. Maid Marian is his companion. She is generally some damsel to whom he is seriously attached, and whose attachment is mutual. Robin and his officers being thus chosen, disappear with their fair mistress and a troop of followers; and then the dancing begins. In the midst of it, Robin returns. He declares that he has heard so much good of the village, and of the estimation in which justice and fair-play of all sorts are held in it, to the utter destruction of tyranny, and the opening of every noble opportunity for knowledge and success, that he and his merry men cannot find it in their heart to live any longer in the woods. He had left Sherwood, he says, to come into the neighbouring forest, but, finding that there was no excuse for his living "a man forbid," he has ventured into the village to know if he may come and reside among them, and take a part in their blessings. Upon this, a lady and a village-damsel step forward, hand in hand, to bid him welcome. He pays some gallant compliment, sometimes in verse; and then setting his horn to his mouth, his merry men appear, as of old, running down the hill. Robin joins those of the company who are at rest. His men fall in with the dance; and by and by, Robin falls in too, together with others of the gentry. I say others, because we have ventured upon some peculiar, notions respecting gentility, which all manor-houses could not afford. Every body who unites gentleness and manliness with a certain reasonable address to give the union effect, — in other words, he who possesses real good breeding, whether natural or acquired, is considered by us as gentle-manly in the best sense of the word; and I am happy to say that my friend Mordaunt not only agrees with us in this reading, but had a main hand in bringing it into vogue; feeling a malicious pleasure, I suspect, in contradicting the notions of the mere men of fashion with whom he is sometimes confounded, and a more genuine one in cultivating the spirit of so many gallant young peasants, whom he is aware he should have resembled in their state of life. It is really pleasant to see, how little difference there is between him and some of them, when they are playing together with their coats off at cricket; for Mordaunt is a fine stout person of a fellow, and could send a ball from one end of Bond-street to the other. "Tom," said be one day to the miller's son, during a little dispute at cricket, "you are a gentleman. I hope you don't think me less a gentleman?" "Mr. Mordaunt," said Tom blushing, and with an air of passionate regard, "I could cut my heart out, if I thought I had meant you the least shadow of a disrespect." — Fine words, cries a reader, for villagers! — Yes; we have a way of talking, — that's certain; but all manly and unaffected. Consider; — we are readers; — are deep in Tom Jones and Robinson Crusoe; and can all write and spell better than people of fashion used to do a hundred years back.
Mention has been made of a drama. It is too great a name to give to a scene or so, adopted for the sole purpose of introducing the dances with additional zest. A painted scene, with other screens at the side, is put up at the opening of the street leading upon the village-green; where the first set of dancers, already assembled round the may-pole, are thus concealed. The others, that is to say the rest of the inhabitants, with the old people, crowd into the street, and the piece commences. It generally contains some allusion to the metropolis, not to the latter's advantage. For instance, last year the scene was a lonely street at the west end of the town; time, May-day. A footman, two maid-servants, the footman's master, and a banker's clerk from the city, successively made their appearance, affording instances of the dullness of the season, which indeed the banker's clerk is the only person that is aware of. The latter is talking with the master of the house, when — But the scene is not long, and it makes such little pretensions that I may as well repeat it as describe it.
Scene. — A long set of houses. Enter from one of the doors a footman.
FOOTMAN. (Feeling the air with his hand, to see if it rains.) Humph! The rain's over. I hope it isn't going to be fine; for I'm cursed feverish with last night's debauch. I could dabble in rain, like a duck. (Yawns, and stretches himself. Then pulls out his watch.) What brings its up so early this morning, I wonder? Ten o'clock. We are doing a bit of moral, I suppose. Setting an exa-a-a-mple (yawns) of early rising. My master a going out; and I (yawning) am going to bed again. (Turns and sees a servant-maid next door at a window, hanging out a bird in a cage.) Ah, Betty, pretty Betty! How do you find yourself after your supper?.
BETTY. Horribly narvous, Mr. John.
(Shuts down the window.)
FOOTMAN. Horribly narvous! Poor delicate Betty.
(Sees a servant-maid on his left, at another window.)
Ah! and Molly too. Flow d'ye do, Molly, after your dancing?
MOLLY. None the better for you.
(Shuts down the window.)
FOOTMAN. None the better for you! Good-tempered Molly. We all seem in a hopeful way this morning. That fellow the other night from Bowering Park has done us no good, I fear, with his cruel hard dancing, and his songs. I'm as melancholy as a cat myself, that's the truth on't.
[Enter his Master from the door, dressed for walking.]
MASTER. John, what day of the month is it?
FOOTMAN. Can't say indeed, sir. Believe it's the 28th or 29th of April.
MASTER. If any body calls, I shall be back at 3.
FOOTMAN. Very well, sir. — (Aside) Come, there's four hours sleep good, and then time for breakfast.
MASTER. And John — Take that message I told you of in the meantime.
FOOTMAN. Yes, sir. I'll be sure and go — (aside) to bed, or I'm a Dutchman. The lady's not at home, I can tell him that.
(Exit into the house.)
MASTER. I was up so late last night, I believe I had time enough to get a habit of waking; for I cannot sleep, somehow or other. If I go to bed soon, I get a habit of sleeping, and overdo the business that way. Something's always wrong. Now which way shall I betake me? To my coachmaker's or my banker's? I'll astonish somebody with a little premature business.
Tower'd cities please us then,
And the busy hum of men.
Hum with a vengeance. I wonder whether it will rain. I wonder what Jones would say. I wonder what day of the month it is. I'll go and buy another pocket-book. Stop — let me see.
[Enter a Stranger.]
MASTER. I beg your pardon. Can you tell me what day of the month it is?
STRANGER. The first of May, sir.
MASTER. The devil it is! Are you sure of it?
STRANGER. As sure as I have the honour of seeing Mr. Jephson. I bring you those papers, sir, from the banking-house.
MASTER. Ah — thankye; — I was just thinking of coming. May I ask what book you have there? It does not look official. — "Milton's Poems." — You are fond of poetry.
STRANGER. So fond, that reading his verses on May-morning just now, I was ready to run my head against the rails, to think that this was May-day, and I a banker's clerk.
MASTER. It is a hard employment, indeed.
STRANGER. It is nailing a man alive to a piece of wood; unless indeed he has the luck to be out all day on his legs. My walk this morning is but a chance thing with me; and its being on the 1st of May has embittered instead of improved it.
MASTER. You speak feelingly, sir. And yet I doubt whether you are worse off on this 1st of May, than I am. You, it seems, are not rich enough to do justice to the activity of your mind; and I am just rich enough to be an idle useless fellow, poking about (as I am this very minute) in search of a sensation. I think, sir, I ought to come and relieve you of part of your work, and you spend a part of my day properly for me.
STRANGER. You do me honour, sir, — and honour to yourself. You speak like a friend of our house, who invited me (the more 'a the pity) to go down and spend a day or two with him this season at a delightful place called Bowering Park.
MASTER. Oh ho, — you and I must be acquainted; for I suspect I know your friend. And so you are mad that you are not down to-day at Bowering Park? Well, so am I; for I was invited too.
STRANGER. You were, and did not go!
MASTER. Come; we will console one another somehow. Let us begin by persuading ourselves that it is not the first of May.
STRANGER. A good proposition; but hark! They will not let us. See who comes here.
Now the bright morning-star, day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
MASTER. Chimney-sweepers, by all that's frightful.
[Enter Chimney-sweepers, in soot and tinsel, dancing. They cross the Stage; the Gentlemen giving them money, and urging them off.]
MASTER. Get on, get on, ye poor devils. There's nobody up in this street; — you'll do better in the next.
CHIMNEY-SWEEPERS. God bless your honour. Any thing for your noble honour's sake.
MASTER. Poor devils! I could find it in my heart to pelt them into their dens with hard money.
STRANGER. And I could see you do it with all the money out of our house.
(Exeunt all together. Scene is removed, and presents to the shouting spectators the sight of their village-green, with the dance going round the May-pole.)
CHORUS OF VILLAGERS.
Youths and lasses, dance away
Round the merry shaft of May.
'Tis her ensign crown'd with flowers;
We, the merry dancing hours.
Is come to-day;
May the green has come to dress us;
May the good and fair, to bless us;
May the gentle, May the strong,
To set our hearts up with a song,
And twirl the round so smooth and clear,
'Twill spin them sweet for half the year.