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THE PREVIOUS EDITION.
BY SIR HENRY ELLIS.
THE respected Author of the following work, as will be seen by the date of his Preface, had prepared it to meet the public eye so long ago as 1795. The subjects, however, which form the different sections were then miscellaneously arranged, and he had not kept even to the chronological order of the Feasts and Fasts observed by his predecessor Bourne.
The idea of a more perspicuous method was probably the first occasion of delay; till the kindness of friends, the perseverance of his own researches, and the vast accession of intelligence produced by the statistical inquiries in Scotland, so completely overloaded his manuscript, that it became necessary that the whole work should be remodelled. This task, even to a person of Mr. Brand's unwearied labour, was discouraging; and, though he projected a new disposition of his materials, he had made no progress in putting them in order at the time of his death.
In this state, at the sale of the second part of Mr. Brand's library, in 1808, the manuscript of his 'Observations on Popular Antiquities' was purchased for the sum of six hundred pounds. An examination, however, soon proved that great revision was wanting; and though one or two antiquaries of eminence engaged in the task of its publication, each, after a time, abandoned it.
In 1810 the present Editor undertook the work, and gave it to the public in 1813, in two volumes, quarto. The whole was entirely rewritten with his own hand, and in many parts augmented by additional researches. Mr. Brand's extracts
from books and manuscripts, too, which were very faulty, were all, as far as possible, collated with their originals; and a copious index added to the whole.
Whatever of importance has occurred to the Editor in augmentation of the work since the publication of the last edition has been added to the present, and another copious index supplied.
The arrangement of the work, founded on a sketch drawn out by Mr. Brand, is the same in the present as in the last edition, beginning with the days of more particular note in the calendar, to which popular observations attach, taken in chronological order. These, now, fill the first volume. The two which follow contain, first, the Customs at Country Wakes, Sheep-shearings, and other rural practices, with such usages and ceremonies as are not assignable to any particular period of the year. The Customs and Ceremonies of Common Life are next introduced, followed by the numerous train of Popular Notions, Sports, and Errors.
Mr. Brand, the author of the present work, was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as is believed, about 1743, and was educated at Lincoln College, Oxford. He was, for a short time, usher at Newcastle School.
His earliest literary production was a Poem "written among the ruins of Godstow Nunnery," 4to, 1775. His next was the first edition of the present work, printed at Newcastleupon-Tyne in 1777. He was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, on May 29th of that year, and in 1784, upon the death of Dr. Morell, succeeded to the office of its resident secretary. In 1784 he was also presented to the London rectory of St. Mary-at-Hill, by the Duke of Northumberland, to whom he was likewise librarian. In 1789 he published the History of his native town, in two volumes, quarto. He died, in a fit of apoplexy, September 10, 1806. A small volume of his Letters to Mr. Ralph Beilby, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was published there in 1825. The History of Newcastle, and the Observations on Popular Antiquities, afford proofs of deep research, too evident to need a panegyric here.
TRADITION has in no instance so clearly evinced her faithfulness as in the transmittal of vulgar rites and popular opinions.
Of these, when we are desirous of tracing them backwards to their origin, many may be said to lose themselves in the mists of antiquity. They have indeed travelled to us through a long succession of years, and the greater part of them, it is not improbable, will be of perpetual observation: for the generality of men look back with superstitious veneration on the ages of their forefathers, and authorities that are gray with time seldom fail of commanding those filial honours claimed even by the appearance of hoary age.
It must be confessed that many of these are mutilated, and, as in the remains of ancient statuary, the parts of some have been awkwardly transposed: they preserve, however, the principal traits that distinguished them in their origin.
Things that are composed of such flimsy materials as the fancies of a multitude do not seem calculated for a long duration; yet have these survived shocks by which even empires have been overthrown, and preserved at least some form and colour of identity, during a repetition of changes both in the religious opinions and civil polity of states.
1 The following very sensible observation occurs in the St. James's Chronicle from Oct. 3d to Oct. 5th, 1797:-" Ideas have been entertained by fanciful men of discovering the languages of ancient nations by a resolution of the elements and powers of speech, as the only true ground of etymology; but the fact is, that there is no constant analogy in the organs of different people, any more than in their customs from resemblance of their climates. The Portuguese change l into r, ll into ch, ch into yt, but not always. The Chinese change b, d, r, s, x, z, into p, t, l, s, s. For Crux they say Culusu; for Baptizo, Papetizo; for Cardinalis, Kzaulsinalis; for Spiritus, Supelitisu; for Adam, Vatam. Here the words are so changed that it is impossible to say that they are the same. A more sure way of going to work is by a comparison of customs, as when we find the same customs in any two remote countries, Egypt and China for instance, which customs exist nowhere else, they probably originated in one of them."
But the strongest proof of their remote antiquity is, that they have outlived the general knowledge of the very causes that gave rise to them.1
The reader will find, in the subsequent pages, my most earnest endeavours to rescue many of those causes from oblivion.2 If, on the investigation, they shall appear to any to be so frivolous as not to have deserved the pains of the search, the humble labourer will at least have the satisfaction of avoiding censure by incurring contempt. How trivial soever such an inquiry may seem to some, yet all must be informed that it is attended with no inconsiderable share of literary toil and difficulty. A passage is to be forced through a wilderness, intricate and entangled: few vestiges of former labours can be found to direct us in our way, and we must oftentimes
"The study of popular antiquities," says a writer with the signature of V. F., in the Monthly Magazine for April 1798, p. 273, "though the materials for it lie so widely diffused, and indeed seem to obtrude themselves upon every one's attention, in proportion to the extent of his intercourse with the common people, does not appear to have engaged so much of the notice of inquirers into human life and manners as might have been expected."
2 In the year 1777 I republished Bourne's Antiquitates Vulgares, a little work on this subject, which then had become extremely scarce, and sold very high, making observations on each of his chapters, and throwing new discoveries into an appendix at the end. That volume, too, by those who have mistaken accident for merit, is now marked in catalogues at more than double its original price. In the following work I have been advised to dissolve amicably the literary partnership under the firm of Bourne and Brand, and to adopt a very different plan, presenting to the public a collection which, not only from the immense variety of fresh matter, but also, from the totally different arrangement of the subjects, I flatter myself I may, with equal truth and propriety, venture to denominate an entirely
In this I shall only cite my predecessor Bourne in common with the other writers on the same topics. I am indebted for much additional matter to the partiality and kindness of Francis Douce, Esq., who, having enriched an interleaved copy of my edition of 1777 with many very pertinent notes and illustrations, furnished from his own extensive reading on the subject, and from most rare books in his truly valuable library, generously permitted me to make whatever extracts from them I should think interesting to my present purpose. It were invidious also not to make my acknowledgments on this occasion to George Steevens, Esq., the learned and truly patient, or rather indefatigable, editor of Shakspeare, who had the goodness to lend me many scarce tracts, which no collection but his own, either public or private, that I know of, could have supplied me with.
trace a very tedious retrospective course, perhaps to return at last, weary and unsatisfied, from researches as fruitless as those of some ancient enthusiastic traveller, who, ranging the barren African sands, had in vain attempted to investigate the hidden sources of the Nile.
Rugged, however, and narrow as this walk of study may seem to many, yet must it be acknowledged that Fancy, who shares with Hope the pleasing office of brightening a passage through every route of human endeavours, opens from hence, too, prospects that are enriched with the choicest beauties of her magic creation.
The prime origin of the superstitious notions and ceremonies of the people is absolutely unattainable. We must despair of ever being able to reach the fountain-head of streams which have been running and increasing from the beginning of time.1 All that we can aspire to do is only to trace their
'Misson, in his Travels in England, translated by Ozell, p. 66, has some sensible observations upon customs. "All reasonable people will imagine," he says, "that, as there is man and man, so there is custom and custom. It has been in all ages a practice to talk and write upon the manners and customs of different nations; but it has also in all ages been known that there was nothing so general as not to admit of some exception. By degrees, customs alter in the very same country, conformably to the quality and education of the inhabitants. By a nation we always understand the greater number; and this greater number is not made up of the persons of the highest birth or merit, no more than it is of the beggars and scoundrels that compose the lees and chaff of the country. It consists of the people that live in a certain state of mediocrity, and whose humour, taste, and manners, as to certain respects, differ from each other only as to more or less."
White, in his Natural History of Selborne, p. 202, observes: "It is the hardest thing in the world to shake off superstitious prejudices: they are sucked in as it were with our mother's milk; and, growing up with us at a time when they take the fastest hold and make the most lasting impressions, become so interwoven with our very constitutions, that the strongest sense is required to disengage ourselves from them. No wonder, therefore, that the lower people retain them their whole lives through, since their minds are not invigorated by a liberal education, and therefore not enabled to make any efforts adequate to the occasion. Such a preamble seems to be necessary before we enter on the superstitions of this district, lest we should be suspected of exaggeration in a recital of practices too gross for this enlightened age.'
"Superstition," says Mr. Harris, in the Life of Charles I., p. 52, note, "is a debasement of reason and religion; 'tis entertaining misapprehensions of Almighty God; 'tis the practice of things weak and ridiculous, in