Lordings, From A Distant Home
Words: Seignors Ore Entendez À Nus, “An Anglo-Norman Song,” early 13th Century from a manuscript in the British Library, MS. Reg. 16, E. viii, 13th century
Translation: Francis Douce
Source: Francis Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare and Ancient Manners. Volume Two of Two Volumes. (London: Longman, Hurst, Reeds and Orme, 1807), Hamlet, Scene 4, pp. 217-219.
1. Lordings, from a distant home,
To seek old Christmas we are come,
Who loves our minstrelsy:
And here, unless report mis-say,
The grey-beard dwells; and on this day
Keeps yearly wassel, ever gay,
With festive mirth and glee.
To all who honour Christmas, and commend our lays,
Love will his blessings send, and crown with joy their days.*
2. Lordings list, for we tell you
Christmas loves the jolly crew
That cloudy care defy:
His liberal board is deftly spread
With manchet loves and wastel-bread;
His guests with fish and flesh are fed,
Nor lack the stately pye.**
3. Lordings, you know that far and
The saying is, "Who gives good cheer,
And freely spends his treasure;
On him will bounteous Heaven bestow
Twice treble blessings here below,
His happy hours shall sweetly flow,
In never-ceasing pleasure."
4. Lordings, believe us, knaves
In every place are flatterers found,
May all their arts be vain!
But chiefly from these scenes of joy,
Chase sordid souls that mirth annoy,
And all who with their base alloy,
Turn pleasure into pain.
5. Christmas quaffs our English
Nor Gascoigne juice, nor French declines,
Nor liquor of Anjou:
He puts th' insidious goblet round,
Till all the guests in sleep are drown'd
Then wakes 'em with the tabor's sound,
And plays the prank anew.
6. Lordings, it is our host's command,
And Christmas joins him hand in hand,
To drain the brimming bowl:
And I'll be foremost to obey:
Then pledge me, sirs, and drink away,
For Christmas revels here to day,
And sways without controul.
Now wassel to you all! and merry may ye be!
But foul that wight befall, who drinks not health to me!
Footnotes from Douce:
* “These two lines seem intended, in the original, as a kind of burden or chorus at the end of each stanza; but as they only intrude upon the measure, the translation were perhaps better without them.” [Editor's Note: This would seem to display an ignorance by Douce of the traditional form of the carol in English tradition, where the burden begins the song and is played between each stanza for the benefit of the dancers.]
** It was the custom at this time to serve up at entertainments peacock and pheasant pies, the forms of those elegant birds being externally preserved, and much pomp bestowed on their appearance. See what has been already said on this subject in vol. 1. p. 472.
*** This is a stubborn fact against the opinion of those who maintain that wine was not made in England. See the controversy on this subject in Archaeologia, vol. iii.
Also found in: William Sandys, Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852), pp. 217-8
William Hone also reproduces three of these verses from Douce in his entry for December 25 in Volume 1.
The following text preceded this song:
The wassel songs were sung during the festivities of Christmas, and, in earlier times, principally by those itinerant minstrels who frequented the houses of the gentry, where they were always certain of the most welcome reception. It has indeed been the chief purpose in discussing the present subject, to introduce to the reader's notice a composition of this kind, which is perhaps at the same time to be regarded as the most ancient drinking song, composed in England, that is extant. This singular curiosity has been written on a spare leaf in the middle of a valuable miscellaneous manuscript of the fourteenth century, preserved in the British Museum, Bibl. Reg. 16, E. viii. It is probably more than a century older than the manuscript itself, and must have been composed at a time when the Norman language was very familiar in England. In the endeavour to translate it, some difficulties were to be encountered ; but it has been an object to preserve the whole and sometimes literal sense of the original, whilst from the nature of the English stanza it was impossible to dispense with amplification.
Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 1, Scene IV:
The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.
Is it a custom?
Ay, marry, is't:
But to my mind, though I am native here
And to the manner born, it is a custom
More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduced and tax'd of other nations:
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed it takes
From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin--
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo--
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault: the dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.
Also found in William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827. A second translation:
Now, lordings, listen to our ditty,
Strangers coming from afar;
Let poor minstrels move your pity,
Give us welcome, soothe our care:
In this mansion, as they tell us,
Christmas wassell keeps to day;
And, as the king of all good fellows,
Reigns with uncontrouled sway.
Lordings, in these realms of pleasure,
Father Christmas yearly dwells;
Deals out joy with liberal measure,
Gloomy sorrow soon dispels:
Numerous guests, and viands dainty,
Fill the hall and grace the board;
Mirth and beauty, peace and plenty,
Solid pleasures here afford.
Lordings, 'tis said the liberal mind,
That on the needy much bestows,
From Heav'n a sure reward shall find;
From Heav'n, whence ev'ry blessing flows.
Who largely gives with willing hand,
Or quickly gives with willing heart,
His fame shall spread throughout the land,
His memory thence shall ne'er depart.
Lordings, grant not your protection
To a base, unworthy crew,
But cherish, with a kind affection,
Men that are loyal, good, and true.
Chace from your hospitable dwelling
Swinish souls, that ever crave;
Virtue they can ne'er excel in,
Gluttons never can be brave.
Lordings, Christmas loves good drinking,
Wines of Gascoigne, France, Anjou,1
English ale, that drives out thinking,
Prince of liquors old or new.
Every neighbour shares the bowl,
Drinks of the spicy liquor deep,
Drinks his fill without controul,
Till he drowns his care in sleep.
And now—by Christmas, jolly soul!
By this mansion's generous sire!
By the wine, and by the bowl,
And all the joys they both inspire!
Here I'll drink a health to all.
The glorious task shall first be mine:
And ever may foul luck befal
Him that to pledge me shall decline!
Hail, father Christmas! hail to thee!
Honour'd ever shalt thou be!
All the sweets that love bestows,
Endless pleasures, wait on those
Who, like vassals brave and true,
Give to Christmas homage due.
1. “My fond shepherds of late were so blest.” A favourite air in Dr. Arne's “Eliza.” Return