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As Christmas Day drew nearer and nearer, my heart glowed with the more gladness; and the question came more and more pressingly—Could I not do something to make it more really a holiday of the Church for my parishioners? That most of them would have a little more enjoyment on it than they had had all the year through, I had ground to hope; but I wanted to connect this gladness—in their minds, I mean, for who could dissever them in fact?—with its source, the love of God, that love manifested unto men in the birth of the Human Babe, the Son of Man. But I would not interfere with the Christmas Day at home. I resolved to invite as many of my parishioners as would come, to spend Christmas Eve at the Vicarage.

I therefore had a notice to that purport affixed to the church door; and resolved to send out no personal invitations whatever, so that I might not give offence by accidental omission. The only person thrown into perplexity by this mode of proceeding was Mrs. Pearson.

"How many am I to provide for, sir?" she said, with an injured air.

"For as many as you ever saw in church at one time," I said. "And if there should be too much, why so much the better. It can go to make Christmas Day the merrier at some of the poorer houses."

She looked discomposed, for she was not of an easy temper. But she never ACTED from her temper; she only LOOKED or SPOKE from it.

"I shall want help," she said, at length.

"As much as you like, Mrs. Pearson. I can trust you entirely."

Her face brightened; and the end showed that I had not trusted her amiss.

I was a little anxious about the result of the invitation—partly as indicating the amount of confidence my people placed in me. But although no one said a word to me about it beforehand except Old Rogers, as soon as the hour arrived, the people began to come. And the first I welcomed was Mr. Brownrigg.

I had had all the rooms on the ground-floor prepared for their reception. Tables of provision were set out in every one of them. My visitors had tea or coffee, with plenty of bread and butter, when they arrived; and the more solid supplies were reserved for a later part of the evening. I soon found myself with enough to do. But before long, I had a very efficient staff. For after having had occasion, once or twice, to mention something of my plans for the evening, I found my labours gradually diminish, and yet everything seemed to go right; the fact being that good Mr Boulderstone, in one part, had cast himself into the middle of the flood, and stood there immovable both in face and person, turning its waters into the right channel, namely, towards the barn, which I had fitted up for their reception in a body; while in another quarter, namely, in the barn, Dr Duncan was doing his best, and that was simply something first-rate, to entertain the people till all should be ready. From a kind of instinct these gentlemen had taken upon them to be my staff, almost without knowing it, and very grateful I was. I found, too, that they soon gathered some of the young and more active spirits about them, whom they employed in various ways for the good of the community.

When I came in and saw the goodly assemblage, for I had been busy receiving them in the house, I could not help rejoicing that my predecessor had been so fond of farming that he had rented land in the neighbourhood of the vicarage, and built this large barn, of which I could make a hall to entertain my friends. The night was frosty—the stars shining brilliantly overhead—so that, especially for country people, there was little danger in the short passage to be made to it from the house. But, if necessary, I resolved to have a covered-way built before next time. For how can a man be THE PERSON of a parish, if he never entertains his parishioners? And really, though it was lighted only with candles round the walls, and I had not been able to do much for the decoration of the place, I thought it looked very well, and my heart was glad that Christmas Eve—just as if the Babe had been coming again to us that same night. And is He not always coming to us afresh in every childlike feeling that awakes in the hearts of His people?

I walked about amongst them, greeting them, and greeted everywhere in turn with kind smiles and hearty shakes of the hand. As often as I paused in my communications for a moment, it was amusing to watch Mr. Boulderstone's honest, though awkward endeavours to be at ease with his inferiors; but Dr Duncan was just a sight worth seeing. Very tall and very stately, he was talking now to this old man, now to that young woman, and every face glistened towards which he turned. There was no condescension about him. He was as polite and courteous to one as to another, and the smile that every now and then lighted up his old face, was genuine and sympathetic. No one could have known by his behaviour that he was not at court. And I thought—Surely even the contact with such a man will do something to refine the taste of my people. I felt more certain than ever that a free mingling of all classes would do more than anything else towards binding us all into a wise patriotic nation; would tend to keep down that foolish emulation which makes one class ape another from afar, like Ben Jonson's Fungoso, "still lighting short a suit;" would refine the roughness of the rude, and enable the polished to see with what safety his just share in public matters might be committed into the hands of the honest workman. If we could once leave it to each other to give what honour is due; knowing that honour demanded is as worthless as insult undeserved is hurtless! What has one to do to honour himself? That is and can be no honour. When one has learned to seek the honour that cometh from God only, he will take the withholding of the honour that comes from men very quietly indeed.

The only thing that disappointed me was, that there was no one there to represent Oldcastle Hall. But how could I have everything a success at once!—And Catherine Weir was likewise absent.

After we had spent a while in pleasant talk, and when I thought nearly all were with us, I got up on a chair at the end of the barn, and said:—

"Kind friends,—I am very grateful to you for honouring my invitation as you have done. Permit me to hope that this meeting will be the first of many, and that from it may grow the yearly custom in this parish of gathering in love and friendship upon Christmas Eve. When God comes to man, man looks round for his neighbour. When man departed from God in the Garden of Eden, the only man in the world ceased to be the friend of the only woman in the world; and, instead of seeking to bear her burden, became her accuser to God, in whom he saw only the Judge, unable to perceive that the Infinite love of the Father had come to punish him in tenderness and grace. But when God in Jesus comes back to men, brothers and sisters spread forth their arms to embrace each other, and so to embrace Him. This is, when He is born again in our souls. For, dear friends, what we all need is just to become little children like Him; to cease to be careful about many things, and trust in Him, seeking only that He should rule, and that we should be made good like Him. What else is meant by 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you?' Instead of doing so, we seek the things God has promised to look after for us, and refuse to seek the thing He wants us to seek—a thing that cannot be given us, except we seek it. We profess to think Jesus the grandest and most glorious of men, and yet hardly care to be like Him; and so when we are offered His Spirit, that is, His very nature within us, for the asking, we will hardly take the trouble to ask for it. But to-night, at least, let all unkind thoughts, all hard judgments of one another, all selfish desires after our own way, be put from us, that we may welcome the Babe into our very bosoms; that when He comes amongst us—for is He not like a child still, meek and lowly of heart?—He may not be troubled to find that we are quarrelsome, and selfish, and unjust."

I came down from the chair, and Mr Brownrigg being the nearest of my guests, and wide awake, for he had been standing, and had indeed been listening to every word according to his ability, I shook hands with him. And positively there was some meaning in the grasp with which he returned mine.

I am not going to record all the proceedings of the evening; but I think it may be interesting to my readers to know something of how we spent it. First of all, we sang a hymn about the Nativity. And then I read an extract from a book of travels, describing the interior of an Eastern cottage, probably much resembling the inn in which our Lord was born, the stable being scarcely divided fron the rest of the house. For I felt that to open the inner eyes even of the brain, enabling people to SEE in some measure the reality of the old lovely story, to help them to have what the Scotch philosophers call a true CONCEPTION of the external conditions and circumstances of the events, might help to open the yet deeper spiritual eyes which alone can see the meaning and truth dwelling in and giving shape to the outward facts. And the extract was listened to with all the attention I could wish, except, at first, from some youngsters at the further end of the barn, who became, however, perfectly still as I proceeded.

After this followed conversation, during which I talked a good deal to Jane Rogers, paying her particular attention indeed, with the hope of a chance of bringing old Mr Brownrigg and her together in some way.

"How is your mistress, Jane?" I said.

"Quite well, sir, thank you. I only wish she was here."

"I wish she were. But perhaps she will come next year."

"I think she will. I am almost sure she would have liked to come to-night; for I heard her say"——

"I beg your pardon, Jane, for interrupting you; but I would rather not be told anything you may have happened to overhear," I said, in a low voice.

"Oh, sir!" returned Jane, blushing a dark crimson; "it wasn't anything particular."

"Still, if it was anything on which a wrong conjecture might be built"—I wanted to soften it to her—"it is better that one should not be told it. Thank you for your kind intention, though. And now, Jane," I said, "will you do me a favour?"

"That I will, sir, if I can."

"Sing that Christmas carol I heard you sing last night to your mother."

"I didn't know any one was listening, sir."

"I know you did not. I came to the door with your father, and we stood and listened."

She looked very frightened. But I would not have asked her had I not known that she could sing like a bird.

"I am afraid I shall make a fool of myself," she said.

"We should all be willing to run that risk for the sake of others," I answered.

"I will try then, sir."

So she sang, and her clear voice soon silenced the speech all round.

 "Babe Jesus lay on Mary's lap; The sun shone in His hair: And so it was she saw, mayhap, The crown already there. "For she sang: 'Sleep on, my little King! Bad Herod dares not come; Before Thee, sleeping, holy thing, Wild winds would soon be dumb. "'I kiss Thy hands, I kiss Thy feet, My King, so long desired; Thy hands shall never be soil'd, my sweet, Thy feet shall never be tired. "'For Thou art the King of men, my son; Thy crown I see it plain; And men shall worship Thee, every one, And cry, Glory! Amen." "Babe Jesus open'd His eyes so wide! At Mary look'd her Lord. And Mary stinted her song and sigh'd. Babe Jesus said never a word." 

When Jane had done singing, I asked her where she had learned the carol; and she answered,—

"My mistress gave it me. There was a picture to it of the Baby on his mother's knee."

"I never saw it," I said. "Where did you get the tune?"

"I thought it would go with a tune I knew; and I tried it, and it did. But I was not fit to sing to you, sir."

"You must have quite a gift of song, Jane!" I said.

"My father and mother can both sing."

Mr Brownrigg was seated on the other side of me, and had apparently listened with some interest. His face was ten degrees less stupid than it usually was. I fancied I saw even a glimmer of some satisfaction in it. I turned to Old Rogers.

"Sing us a song, Old Rogers," I said.

"I'm no canary at that, sir; and besides, my singing days be over. I advise you to ask Dr. Duncan there. He CAN sing."

I rose and said to the assembly:

"My friends, if I did not think God was pleased to see us enjoying ourselves, I should have no heart for it myself. I am going to ask our dear friend Dr. Duncan to give us a song.—If you please, Dr. Duncan."

"I am very nearly too old," said the doctor; "but I will try."

His voice was certainly a little feeble; but the song was not much the worse for it. And a more suitable one for all the company he could hardly have pitched upon.

 "There is a plough that has no share, But a coulter that parteth keen and fair. But the furrows they rise To a terrible size, Or ever the plough hath touch'd them there. 'Gainst horses and plough in wrath they shake: The horses are fierce; but the plough will break. "And the seed that is dropt in those furrows of fear, Will lift to the sun neither blade nor ear. Down it drops plumb, Where no spring times come; And here there needeth no harrowing gear: Wheat nor poppy nor any leaf Will cover this naked ground of grief. "But a harvest-day will come at last When the watery winter all is past; The waves so gray Will be shorn away By the angels' sickles keen and fast; And the buried harvest of the sea Stored in the barns of eternity." 

Genuine applause followed the good doctor's song. I turned to Miss Boulderstone, from whom I had borrowed a piano, and asked her to play a country dance for us. But first I said—not getting up on a chair this time:—

"Some people think it is not proper for a clergyman to dance. I mean to assert my freedom from any such law. If our Lord chose to represent, in His parable of the Prodigal Son, the joy in Heaven over a repentant sinner by the figure of 'music and dancing,' I will hearken to Him rather than to men, be they as good as they may."

For I had long thought that the way to make indifferent things bad, was for good people not to do them.

And so saying, I stepped up to Jane Rogers, and asked her to dance with me. She blushed so dreadfully that, for a moment, I was almost sorry I had asked her. But she put her hand in mine at once; and if she was a little clumsy, she yet danced very naturally, and I had the satisfaction of feeling that I had an honest girl near me, who I knew was friendly to me in her heart.

But to see the faces of the people! While I had been talking, Old Rogers had been drinking in every word. To him it was milk and strong meat in one. But now his face shone with a father's gratification besides. And Richard's face was glowing too. Even old Brownrigg looked with a curious interest upon us, I thought.

Meantime Dr Duncan was dancing with one of his own patients, old Mrs Trotter, to whose wants he ministered far more from his table than his surgery. I have known that man, hearing of a case of want from his servant, send the fowl he was about to dine upon, untouched, to those whose necessity was greater than his.

And Mr Boulderstone had taken out old Mrs Rogers; and young Brownrigg had taken Mary Weir. Thomas Weir did not dance at all, but looked on kindly.

"Why don't you dance, Old Rogers?" I said, as I placed his daughter in a seat beside him.

"Did your honour ever see an elephant go up the futtock-shrouds?"

"No. I never did."

"I thought you must, sir, to ask me why I don't dance. You won't take my fun ill, sir? I'm an old man-o'-war's man, you know, sir."

"I should have thought, Rogers, that you would have known better by this time, than make such an apology to ME."

"God bless you, sir. An old man's safe with you—or a young lass, either, sir," he added, turning with a smile to his daughter.

I turned, and addressed Mr Boulderstone.

"I am greatly obliged to you, Mr Boulderstone, for the help you have given me this evening. I've seen you talking to everybody, just as if you had to entertain them all."

"I hope I haven't taken too much upon me. But the fact is, somehow or other, I don't know how, I got into the spirit of it."

"You got into the spirit of it because you wanted to help me, and I thank you heartily."

"Well, I thought it wasn't a time to mind one's peas and cues exactly. And really it's wonderful how one gets on without them. I hate formality myself."

The dear fellow was the most formal man I had ever met.

"Why don't you dance, Mr Brownrigg?"

"Who'd care to dance with me, sir? I don't care to dance with an old woman; and a young woman won't care to dance with me."

"I'll find you a partner, if you will put yourself in my hands."

"I don't mind trusting myself to you, sir."

So I led him to Jane Rogers. She stood up in respectful awe before the master of her destiny. There were signs of calcitration in the churchwarden, when he perceived whither I was leading him. But when he saw the girl stand trembling before him, whether it was that he was flattered by the signs of his own power, accepting them as homage, or that his hard heart actually softened a little, I cannot tell, but, after just a perceptible hesitation, he said:

"Come along, my lass, and let's have a hop together."

She obeyed very sweetly.

"Don't be too shy," I whispered to her as she passed me.

And the churchwarden danced very heartily with the lady's-maid.

I then asked him to take her into the house, and give her something to eat in return for her song. He yielded somewhat awkwardly, and what passed between them I do not know. But when they returned, she seemed less frightened at him than when she heard me make the proposal. And when the company was parting, I heard him take leave of her with the words—

"Give us a kiss, my girl, and let bygones be bygones."

Which kiss I heard with delight. For had I not been a peacemaker in this matter? And had I not then a right to feel blessed?—But the understanding was brought about simply by making the people meet—compelling them, as it were, to know something of each other really. Hitherto this girl had been a mere name, or phantom at best, to her lover's father; and it was easy for him to treat her as such, that is, as a mere fancy of his son's. The idea of her had passed through his mind; but with what vividness any idea, notion, or conception could be present to him, my readers must judge from my description of him. So that obstinacy was a ridiculously easy accomplishment to him. For he never had any notion of the matter to which he was opposed—only of that which he favoured. It is very easy indeed for such people to stick to their point.

But I took care that we should have dancing in moderation. It would not do for people either to get weary with recreation, or excited with what was not worthy of producing such an effect. Indeed we had only six country dances during the evening. That was all. And between the dances I read two or three of Wordsworth's ballads to them, and they listened even with more interest than I had been able to hope for. The fact was, that the happy and free hearted mood they were in "enabled the judgment." I wish one knew always by what musical spell to produce the right mood for receiving and reflecting a matter as it really is. Every true poem carries this spell with it in its own music, which it sends out before it as a harbinger, or properly a HERBERGER, to prepare a harbour or lodging for it. But then it needs a quiet mood first of all, to let this music be listened to.

For I thought with myself, if I could get them to like poetry and beautiful things in words, it would not only do them good, but help them to see what is in the Bible, and therefore to love it more. For I never could believe that a man who did not find God in other places as well as in the Bible ever found Him there at all. And I always thought, that to find God in other books enabled us to see clearly that he was MORE in the Bible than in any other book, or all other books put together.

After supper we had a little more singing. And to my satisfaction nothing came to my eyes or ears, during the whole evening, that was undignified or ill-bred. Of course, I knew that many of them must have two behaviours, and that now they were on their good behaviour. But I thought the oftener such were put on their good behaviour, giving them the opportunity of finding out how nice it was, the better. It might make them ashamed of the other at last.

There were many little bits of conversation I overheard, which I should like to give my readers; but I cannot dwell longer upon this part of my Annals. Especially I should have enjoyed recording one piece of talk, in which Old Rogers was evidently trying to move a more directly religious feeling in the mind of Dr Duncan. I thought I could see that THE difficulty with the noble old gentleman was one of expression. But after all the old foremast-man was a seer of the Kingdom; and the other, with all his refinement, and education, and goodness too, was but a child in it.

Before we parted, I gave to each of my guests a sheet of Christmas Carols, gathered from the older portions of our literature. For most of the modern hymns are to my mind neither milk nor meat—mere wretched imitations. There were a few curious words and idioms in these, but I thought it better to leave them as they were; for they might set them inquiring, and give me an opportunity of interesting them further, some time or other, in the history of a word; for, in their ups and downs of fortune, words fare very much like human beings.

And here is my sheet of Carols:—

 AN HYMNE OF HEAVENLY LOVE. O blessed Well of Love! O Floure of Grace! O glorious Morning-Starre! O Lampe of Light! Most lively image of thy Father's face, Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might, Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight, How can we Thee requite for all this good? Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood? Yet nought Thou ask'st in lieu of all this love, But love of us, for guerdon of Thy paine: Ay me! what can us lesse than that behove? Had He required life of us againe, Had it beene wrong to ask His owne with gaine? He gave us life, He it restored lost; Then life were least, that us so little cost. But He our life hath left unto us free, Free that was thrall, and blessed that was bann'd; Ne ought demaunds but that we loving bee, As He himselfe hath lov'd us afore-hand, And bound therto with an eternall band, Him first to love that us so dearely bought, And next our brethren, to His image wrought. Him first to love great right and reason is, Who first to us our life and being gave, And after, when we fared had amisse, Us wretches from the second death did save; And last, the food of life, which now we have, Even He Himselfe, in His dear sacrament, To feede our hungry soules, unto us lent. Then next, to love our brethren, that were made Of that selfe mould, and that self Maker's hand, That we, and to the same againe shall fade, Where they shall have like heritage of land, However here on higher steps we stand, Which also were with self-same price redeemed That we, however of us light esteemed. Then rouze thy selfe, O Earth! out of thy soyle, In which thou wallowest like to filthy swyne, And doest thy mynd in durty pleasures moyle, Unmindfull of that dearest Lord of thyne; Lift up to Him thy heavie clouded eyne, That thou this soveraine bountie mayst behold, And read, through love, His mercies manifold. Beginne from first, where He encradled was In simple cratch, wrapt in a wad of hay, Betweene the toylfull oxe and humble asse, And in what rags, and in how base array, The glory of our heavenly riches lay, When Him the silly shepheards came to see, Whom greatest princes sought on lowest knee. From thence reade on the storie of His life, His humble carriage, His unfaulty wayes, His cancred foes, His fights, His toyle, His strife, His paines, His povertie, His sharpe assayes, Through which He past His miserable dayes, Offending none, and doing good to all, Yet being malist both by great and small. With all thy hart, with all thy soule and mind, Thou must Him love, and His beheasts embrace; All other loves, with which the world doth blind Weake fancies, and stirre up affections base, Thou must renounce and utterly displace, And give thy selfe unto Him full and free, That full and freely gave Himselfe to thee. Then shall thy ravisht soul inspired bee With heavenly thoughts farre above humane skil, And thy bright radiant eyes shall plainly see Th' idee of His pure glorie present still Before thy face, that all thy spirits shall fill With sweet enragement of celestial love, Kindled through sight of those faire things above. Spencer NEW PRINCE, NEW POMP. Behold a silly tender Babe, In freezing winter night, In homely manger trembling lies; Alas! a piteous sight. The inns are full, no man will yield This little Pilgrim bed; But forced He is with silly beasts In crib to shroud His head. Despise Him not for lying there, First what He is inquire; An orient pearl is often found In depth of dirty mire. Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish, Nor beast that by Him feed; Weigh not his mother's poor attire, Nor Joseph's simple weed. This stable is a Prince's court, The crib His chair of state; The beasts are parcel of His pomp, The wooden dish His plate. The persons in that poor attire His royal liveries wear; The Prince himself is come from heaven— This pomp is praised there. With joy approach, O Christian wight! Do homage to thy King; And highly praise this humble pomp Which He from heaven doth bring. SOUTHWELL. A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THREE SHEPHERDS. 1. Where is this blessed Babe That hath made All the world so full of joy And expectation; That glorious Boy That crowns each nation With a triumphant wreath of blessedness? 2. Where should He be but in the throng, And among His angel-ministers, that sing And take wing Just as may echo to His voice, And rejoice, When wing and tongue and all May so procure their happiness? 3. But He hath other waiters now. A poor cow, An ox and mule stand and behold, And wonder That a stable should enfold Him that can thunder. Chorus. O what a gracious God have we! How good! How great! Even as our misery. Jeremy Taylor. A SONG OF PRAISE FOR THE BIRTH OF CHRIST. Away, dark thoughts; awake, my joy; Awake, my glory; sing; Sing songs to celebrate the birth Of Jacob's God and King. O happy night, that brought forth light, Which makes the blind to see! The day spring from on high came down To cheer and visit thee. The wakeful shepherds, near their flocks, Were watchful for the morn; But better news from heaven was brought, Your Saviour Christ is born. In Bethlem-town the infant lies, Within a place obscure, O little Bethlem, poor in walls, But rich in furniture! Since heaven is now come down to earth, Hither the angels fly! Hark, how the heavenly choir doth sing Glory to God on High! The news is spread, the church is glad, SIMEON, o'ercome with joy, Sings with the infant in his arms, NOW LET THY SERVANT DIE. Wise men from far beheld the star, Which was their faithful guide, Until it pointed forth the Babe, And Him they glorified. Do heaven and earth rejoice and sing— Shall we our Christ deny? He's born for us, and we for Him: GLORY TO GOD ON HIGH. JOHN MASON. 
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