Elia and The Last Essays of Elia / Charles Lamb, by Charles Lamb

Rejoicings Upon the New Year’s Coming of Age

The Old Year being dead, and the New Year coming of age, which he does, by Calendar Law, as soon as the breath is out of the old gentleman’s body, nothing would serve the young spark but he must give a dinner upon the occasion, to which all the Days in the year were invited. The Festivals, whom he deputed as his stewards, were mightily taken with the notion. They had been engaged time out of mind, they said, in providing mirth and good cheer for mortals below; and it was time they should have a taste of their own bounty. It was stiffly debated among them, whether the Fasts should be admitted. Some said, the appearance of such lean, starved guests, with their mortified faces, would pervert the ends of the meeting. But the objection was over-ruled by Christmas Day, who had a design upon Ash Wednesday (as you shall hear), and a mighty desire to see how the old Domine would behave himself in his cups. Only the Vigils were requested to come with their lanterns, to light the gentlefolks home at night.

All the Days came to their day. Covers were provided for three hundred and sixty-five guests at the principal table: with an occasional knife and fork at the side-board for the Twenty–Ninth of February.

I should have told you, that cards of invitation had been issued. The carriers were the Hours; twelve little, merry, whirligig foot-pages, as you should desire to see, that went all round, and found out the persons invited well enough, with the exception of Easter Day, Shrove Tuesday, and a few such Moveables, who had lately shifted their quarters.

Well, they all met at last, foul Days, fine Days, all sorts of Days, and a rare din they made of it. There was nothing but, Hail! fellow Day — well met — brother Day— sister Day — only Lady Day kept a little on the aloof, and seemed somewhat scornful. Yet some said, Twelfth Day cut her out and out, for she came in a tiffany suit, white and gold, like a queen on a frost-cake, all royal, glittering, and Epiphanous. The rest came, some in green, some in white — but old Lent and his family were not yet out of mourning. Rainy Days came in, dripping; and sun-shiny Days helped them to change their stockings. Wedding Day was there in his marriage finery, a little the worse for wear. Pay Day came late, as he always does; and Doomsday sent word — he might be expected.

April Fool (as my young lord’s jester) took upon himself to marshal the guests, and wild work he made with it. It would have posed old Erra Pater to have found out any given Day in the year, to erect a scheme upon — good Days, bad Days, were so shuffled together, to the confounding of all sober horoscopy.

He had stuck the Twenty First of June next to the Twenty Second of December, and the former looked like a Maypole siding a marrow-bone. Ash Wednesday got wedged in (as was concerted) betwixt Christmas and Lord Mayor’s Days. Lord! how he laid about him! Nothing but barons of beef and turkeys would go down with him — to the great greasing and detriment of his new sackcloth bib and tucker. And still Christmas Day was at his elbow, plying him the wassail-bowl, till he roared, and hiccup’d, and protested there was no faith in dried ling, but commended it to the devil for a sour, windy, acrimonious, censorious, hy-po-crit-crit-cri-tical mess, and no dish for a gentleman. Then he dipt his fist into the middle of the great custard that stood before his left-hand neighbour, and daubed his hungry beard all over with it, till you would have taken him for the Last Day in December, it so hung in icicles.

At another part of the table, Shrove Tuesday was helping the Second of September to some cock broth — which courtesy the latter returned with the delicate thigh of a hen pheasant — so there was no love lost for that matter. The Last of Lent was spunging upon Shrovetide’s pancakes; which April Fool perceiving, told him he did well, for pancakes were proper to a good fry-day.

In another part, a hubbub arose about the Thirtieth of January, who, it seems, being a sour puritanic character, that thought nobody’s meat good or sanctified enough for him, had smuggled into the room a calf’s head, which he had had cooked at home for that purpose, thinking to feast thereon incontinently; but as it lay in the dish, March manyweathers, who is a very fine lady, and subject to the megrims, screamed out there was a “human head in the platter,” and raved about Herodias’ daughter to that degree, that the obnoxious viand was obliged to be removed; nor did she recover her stomach till she had gulped down a Restorative, confected of Oak Apple, which the merry Twenty Ninth of May always carries about with him for that purpose.

The King’s health21 being called for after this, a notable dispute arose between the Twelfth of August (a zealous old Whig gentlewoman,) and the Twenty Third of April (a new-fangled lady of the Tory stamp,) as to which of them should have the honour to propose it. August grew hot upon the matter, affirming time out of mind the prescriptive right to have lain with her, till her rival had basely supplanted her; whom she represented as little better than a kept mistress, who went about in fine clothes, while she (the legitimate BIRTHDAY) had scarcely a rag, &c.

April fool, being made mediator, confirmed the right in the strongest form of words to the appellant, but decided for peace’ sake that the exercise of it should remain with the present possessor. At the same time, he slily rounded the first lady in the ear, that an action might lie against the Crown for bi-geny.

It beginning to grow a little duskish, Candlemas lustily bawled out for lights, which was opposed by all the Days, who protested against burning daylight. Then fair water was handed round in silver ewers, and the same lady was observed to take an unusual time in Washing herself.

May Day, with that sweetness which is peculiar to her, in a neat speech proposing the health of the founder, crowned her goblet (and by her example the rest of the company) with garlands. This being done, the lordly New Year from the upper end of the table, in a cordial but somewhat lofty tone, returned thanks. He felt proud on an occasion of meeting so many of his worthy father’s late tenants, promised to improve their farms, and at the same time to abate (if any thing was found unreasonable) in their rents.

At the mention of this, the four Quarter Days involuntarily looked at each other, and smiled; April Fool whistled to an old tune of “New Brooms;” and a surly old rebel at the farther end of the table (who was discovered to be no other than the Fifth of November,) muttered out, distinctly enough to be heard by the whole company, words to this effect, that, “when the old one is gone, he is a fool that looks for a better.” Which rudeness of his, the guests resenting, unanimously voted his expulsion; and the male-content was thrust out neck and heels into the cellar, as the properest place for such a boutefeu and firebrand as he had shown himself to be.

Order being restored — the young lord (who to say truth, had been a little ruffled, and put beside his oratory) in as few, and yet as obliging words as possible, assured them of entire welcome; and, with a graceful turn, singling out poor Twenty Ninth of February, that had sate all this while mumchance at the side-board, begged to couple his health with that of the good company before him — which he drank accordingly; observing, that he had not seen his honest face any time these four years, with a number of endearing expressions besides. At the same time, removing the solitary Day from the forlorn seat which had been assigned him, he stationed him at his own board, somewhere between the Greek Calends and Latter Lammas.

Ash Wednesday, being now called upon for a song, with his eyes fast stuck in his head, and as well as the Canary he had swallowed would give him leave, struck up a Carol, which Christmas Day had taught him for the nonce; and was followed by the latter, who gave “Miserere” in fine style, hitting off the mumping notes and lengthened drawl of Old Mortification with infinite humour. April Fool swore they had exchanged conditions: but Good Friday was observed to look extremely grave; and Sunday held her fan before her face, that she might not be seen to smile.

Shrove-tide, Lord Mayor’s Day, and April Fool, next joined in a glee —

Which is the properest day to drink?

in which all the Days chiming in, made a merry burden.

They next fell to quibbles and conundrums. The question being proposed, who had the greatest number of followers — the Quarter Days said, there could be no question as to that; for they had all the creditors in the world dogging their heels. But April Fool gave it in favour of the Forty Days before Easter; because the debtors in all cases outnumbered the creditors, and they kept lent all the year.

All this while, Valentine’s Day kept courting pretty May, who sate next him, slipping amorous billets-doux under the table, till the Dog Days (who are naturally of a warm constitution) began to be jealous, and to bark and rage exceedingly. April Fool, who likes a bit of sport above measure, and had some pretensions to the lady besides, as being but a cousin once removed — clapped and halloo’d them on; and as fast as their indignation cooled, those mad wags, the Ember Days, were at it with their bellows, to blow it into a flame; and all was in a ferment: till old Madam Septuagesima (who boasts herself the Mother of the Days) wisely diverted the conversation with a tedious tale of the lovers which she could reckon when she was young; and of one Master Rogation Day in particular, who was for ever putting the question to her; but she kept him at a distance, as the chronicle would tell — by which I apprehend she meant the Almanack. Then she rambled on to the Days that were gone, the good old Days, and so to the Days before the Flood— which plainly showed her old head to be little better than crazed and doited.

Day being ended, the Days called for their cloaks and great coats, and took their leaves. Lord Mayor’s Day went off in a Mist, as usual; Shortest Day in a deep black Fog, that wrapt the little gentleman all round like a hedge-hog. Two Vigils— so watchmen are called in heaven — saw Christmas Day safe home — they had been used to the business before. Another Vigil— a stout, sturdy patrole, called the Eve of St. Christopher— seeing Ash Wednesday in a condition little better than he should be-e’en whipt him over his shoulders, pick-a-back fashion, and Old Mortification went floating home, singing —

On the bat’s back do I fly,

and a number of old snatches besides, between drunk and sober, but very few Aves or Penitentiaries (you may believe me) were among them. Longest Day set off westward in beautiful crimson and gold — the rest, some in one fashion, some in another; but Valentine and pretty May took their departure together in one of the prettiest silvery twilights a Lover’s Day could wish to set in.

21 The late King.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38