Monday, December 10, 2018


Merry Christmas in the Baron’s Hall (1838)
Daniel Maclise’s painting Merry Christmas in the Baron’s Hall (1838) contains many aspects of the traditional Christmas festivities. The Lord of Misrule stands in the centre holding his staff and leading the procession of musicians and carolers coming down the stairs. Father Christmas, ‘ivy crown’d’, sits in front of the wassail bowl and is surrounded by mummers (the Dragon and St George sit side by side) and local people. On the left side of the picture we see a group of people playing a parlour game called Hunt the Slipper.
Maclise was influenced by Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field, published in 1808. Marmion is a historical romance in verse of 16th-century Britain, ending with the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Marmion has a section referring to Christmas festivities:
“The wassel round, in good brown bowls,
Garnish’d with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reek’d; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie:
Nor fail’d old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry maskers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visors made;
But, O! what maskers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!”
(See full text here)
It seems that Maclise was also taken enough by the poem to pen his own poem about his painting which was published in Fraser’s Magazine for May in 1838. The poem is titled: Christmas Revels: An Epic Rhapsody in Twelve Duans and was published under the pseudonym, Alfred Croquis, Esq. The painting includes over one hundred figures covering many different traditions of Christmas and in his poem Maclise describes most of the activities taking place as some these excerpts from the poem demonstrate:
“Before him, ivied, wand in hand,
Misrule’s mock lordling takes his stand;
Drummers and pipers next appear,
And carollers in motley gear;
Stewards, butlers, cooks, bring up the rear.
Some sit apart from all the rest,
And these for merry masque are drest;
But now they play another part,
Distinct from any mumming art.
First, Father Christmas, ivy-crown’d,
With false beard white, and true paunch round,
Rules o’er the mighty wassail-bowl,
And brews a flood to stir the soul:
That bowl’s the source of all their pleasures,
That bowl supplies their lesser measures”

The full text of the poem is republished below:

BY ALFRED CROQUIS, ESQ. (Daniel Maclise)

(After the painting:
Merry Christmas in the Barons Hall by Daniel Maclise)

(Fraser's Magazine Vol 16 May 1838 p635 to 644)

HURRAH ! Hurrah!
'Tis the Feast of Yule, and all are gay
For Christendom's brave holiday.
Room for old Christmas, crowned with holly:
No other days are half so jolly!
Room, room for Christmas, ivy-crown'd :
No merry days like his are found!
We cast our cares and maxims trite,
And wise remarks away to-night !

Up to the fretted roof is sent
The mingled roar of merriment :
With blithesome laugh and joyous shout
Of comely maid or handsome lout,
That oaken roof full oft has rung
To laughing lilt from lusty lung,-
To boisterous mirth and honest glee
Reflected from its canopy;
But never lent its sheltering aid
To blither groups than here portray'd ;
And never will its arch spread o'er
Such merry-making Christmas more.
The Baron with a courteous grace
Then sits him down, in pride of place;
And ready vassals near him stand,
And watch his eye for a command;
Towards gentle dames turn valiant knights,
Fierce from the brunt of fifty fights;
The haught eye quenched, the voice hushed low,
Quailing beneath a fairer foe, -
That voice the war-cry erst above,
Sunk in soft accents to his love.
Oh! not alone in youth's soft hour
Love can assert his mystic power,
But may in manhood's hour of noon
To soft strains his stern heart attune;
The ills of man's decline assuage,
And tinge the sunset of his age.
Circling the fire, a merry band
The slipper hunt from hand to hand;
A romping group of happy faces,
As bright with ribands as with graces.
That shriek of glee! that laugh—that shout—
Tell the hid slipper is found out,
But not yet gain'd ; though yon page tries
To check its progress as it flies.

Ah, happy boyhood ! merry page;
Of just the frolic-loving age,
Ere serious chase your life engage.
The oaken table's mighty length
Will soon require its utmost strength,-
For, heap'd upon its ample board,
Good cheer in mountains will be stored ;
A numerous clan,—but first, and chief,
In place and space, bold Baron Beef.
A merry king, in festive prank,
His virtues felt, and gave his rank;
Sir Loin, as renown'd a name
As heralds' blazon'd parchments claim,
For virtues rare, and wide-spread ſame.
His vassal-meats are ranged around,
And pasties huge might there be found,
Where every dainty did abound;
The mighty chine, the savoury goose,
Capons, and turkeys crammed for use,
The lusty brawn, the venison haunch,
And all that wholesome was, and stanch :
Such famous sweetmeats, too, stood nigh,
Plumb-porridge there, and eke mince-pie;
And now the boar's head is brought in,
'Mid song, and shout, and music's din,
By lusty serving man, in pride,
With form erect, and scarf o'er side;
Between the tusks a pippin's placed,
Rosemary wreaths around it traced,
Garlands of flowers the dish has graced ;
With laurel his fierce head is crown'd,
And loud the applause that rings around.
Before him, ivied, wand in hand,
Misrule's mock lordling takes his stand;
The baron's spear lauds to the skies,
And eke the boar's vast strength and size.
With vauntings huge he well can tell
The time, the place, and how he fell;
How such a famous hound he tore,
Describe his eye, his crest, his roar;
And, ending, swear such chase, such boar,
He ne'er shall see, nor saw before.
On either side a gay page stands,
Mustard and spice-box 'tween his hands;
And close behind might there be seen
The woodman in his garb of green ;
Drummers and pipers next appear,
And carollers in motley gear;
Stewards, butlers, cooks, bring up the rear.
Some sit apart from all the rest,
And these for merry masque are drest;
But now they play another part,
Distinct from any mumming art.
Ah! we're not able for the task,
To conjure up “The Christmas Masque;”
Or, if we were, what needs it, when
Preserv'd in pages of “rare Ben,”
It shines on us in all its glory,
From the bright regions of his story—
A Poet's heaven; and now not fainter
Glows on the canvass of the Painter;
And, as our tints cannot be warmer,
We'll merely name you each performer.

First, Father Christmas, ivy-crown'd,
With false beard white, and true paunch round,
Rules o'er the mighty wassail-bowl,
And brews a flood to stir the soul:
That bowl's the source of all their pleasures,
That bowl supplies their lesser measures;
And as he brews, loud rings the laughter,
He tastes before, and likewise after;
For as he throws in each ingredient
To try th' effect is but expedient.
And see them still fresh bottles bringing,
While loud the hall with mirth is ringing.
Once more the mixture, then, he tries,—
His lips approve, judge by his eyes.
Spices and wine are in the bowl,
And o'er the surface apples roll;
With rosemary sprig he stirs the whole.
At Christmas time, whate'er betide,
The hobby-horse was ne'er denied;
And dull that festal day had been
Where his gay prancing was not seen,
The maddest sport upon the green.
Where'er he bounds among the crowd,
There is the laugh and scream most loud,
Resounding as he goes along
Amid the gay and shifting throng.
All day the village through to roam,
At eve he makes the hall his home;
And, tired of being such a ranger,
Behold him now at rack and manger,
Replenishing his faded prime
To grace the sports of supper-time.
And so the hobby's turned his tail,
And sits his half-man to regale
On mighty beef and humming-ale.
Enters the wonder of the night,
The Dragon, with St. George to fight;
Armed cap-à-pie, from head to tail,
Against St. George in scaly mail.
What face is from his jaws a peeper
But that of honest John the Reaper.
The village tailor only all knows,
But keeps the secret of his smallclothes.
John deems an extra cup no sin,
Well to sustain his man within,
And thus to fortify his heart
Up to the pitch of Dragon part;
A reason John thinks of besides,
He carries with him two insides.
But, oh beware, my worthy Reaper,
Wassail may turn you to a sleeper.
Wassail a Dragon's eyes will close,
And lull e'en him into repose;
Lifting too oft a foaming flagon
Is not decorous in a Dragon.
But now he sets him at the table,
To eat and drink while he is able, -
Folds up his tail, thrusts forth his head,
And asks of Saint George to be fed;
For mark how Christmas old feuds ends,
The Dragon and Saint George are friends.

Enters Saint George in all his pride,
And takes his seat by Dragon's side,
Completely armed in pasteboard bright,
A famous champion and a knight.
The maidens wond'ringly admire
The hero in his rich attire.
One ties a sash, one pins a shawl,
And one a scarf flings over all.
The merry rogue who acts the Saint,
With smutted beard and cheek of paint,
Repays these favours of the misses,
Beneath the misletoe, with kisses.
And well they know the laughing eyes
That peep beneath the helm's disguise.
He now forgets both helm and mail,
And Dragon's wings and scaly tail;
Both from the same full beaken quaff,
And shout and sing, and roar and laugh.
That Turk, by Christian knight to fall,
"Mid laughter and applause of all,
The creed forgets which Turk denies;
Unchristianlike, the bowls supplies:
Yet he's rehearsing but his part
Allotted of the drama's art,
And lifts the brimming cup on high,
His nerve's firm steadiness to try,
With practised hand and steady eye;
Judge by that cup, which sheds no drop
Till at his mouth the brimmer stop,
That the wide whirling of his sabre
Will be performed with little labour.
Others in tiring room are nigh—
Sir Loin, Saint Distaff, and Mince Pie,
Plum Porridge, Carol, Wassail, enter,
Straight to the board as their own centre;
Mumming and Misrule, Baby Cake,
Now altogether merry inake;
And he who acted to his name
Did best perform his part of game:
They ate and drank, till they in fact did
Look quite the heroes they enacted.
Such are the persons of the masque;
And now proceed we with our task.
Rogues, gipsies, jugglers, have got in,
From simple souls their pence to win.
Mark, first they sit in lowly place,
Nor of their calling shew a trace;
But as the strong ale goes about,
And lulls suspicion, they come out;
Till, bolder grown, they may be found
Where jokes and laughter most abound,
Tricking and juggling all around.
See, one on table takes his stand,
And one beside on either hand—
Wonder on wonder quick succeeds;
And good folks, puzzled, praise the deeds.
The old, with ill-concealed shame,
Look on and wonder, while they blame;
The young devour with ardent gaze,
And looks half doubting—whole amaze—
And give youths' ever ready praise.

The brave old Hall was then to be seen
Prank'd out in garb of bright evergreen.
Over the hearth, and over the door,
Adown the wainscot from roof to the floor,
Along the cornice, and over the arch,
The triumph of holly and ivy doth march.
Suits of grim armour look bright and look gay—
Garlands of berries, like scarfs, o'er them lay;
And corslet and helm, shield, battle-axe, and blade,
Together in green robe of peace were arrayed.
High on the places where ladies may go,
Roof, door, and mantel-shelf, hangs mistletoe:
The maiden who stays 'neath this licensing bough,
To the gallant who claims it a kiss must allow.
Hail to the mistletoe’s magic, that spreads,
Like a glory, its circle above their young heads!
Hail to the bough that, like wizard's wand, weaves
A spell such as this from its mystical leaves—
Rains its sweet dew as from heaven above,
And hovers protecting o'er those who may love!

The license much they seem to prize,
For many a pair the charm still tries.
Judge by the kissing that is there,
The mistletoe hangs every where.
An honest mirth flows all around,
Rasing distinctions to the ground.
No stateliness is to be seen,
Nor chilling distance intervene—
Good humour flows, and fills between.
The baron, see, nods to the squire;
The serf unto his lord sits nigher :
And hooded coif, and cap of pride,
Were oft seen seated side by side.
The village damsel might be seen,
In scarlet vest and kirtle green,
Blushing acceptance to the heir,
Who seeks a tenant's daughter fair,
Her dimpled land as boon to crave,
In accents humble as a slave,
To join with him the festive dance,
And thus the day's delights enhance.
For Rank stooped from his airy height,
In honour of this single night;
State kept his robe for other places,
Nor of his grandeur shewed the traces;
And Ceremony's jewelled gear,
As deem'd too cumberous to wear,
Was changed for lightsome trappings gay,
Such as best serve a holiday.
Then, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.

Room, room for Christmas, ivy crown'd!
No merry days like his are found.
All mirth, all games throughout the year,
At merry Christmas reappear.

To Christmas each a tribute pays,
Levies of merriment to raise.
More joyous each seems to have grown,
When Christmas takes them for her own.
Then, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.
The proof of this truth is quite ample—
Take what succeeds for an example.
On New Year's eve, a tinge of sorrow,
Reverting to the past, may borrow.
The future of an untried year
Less food for hope may give than fear.
The past, or friends or foes removed--
The next year's fealty must be proved.
Then, room for Christmas, ivy crown'd
No merry days like his are found.
A Twelfth Night's jollity, at best,
Is but a little Christmas drest
In smiles and trappings of the old,
But less in mirth a hundred fold :
It is from borrowed lustre light,
But dimmer by a good twelfth night;
Yet let none from that lustre take,
Hid in the bushel of Twelfth Cake.
But, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.
Shrove Tuesday's grave guests but appear
To bid adieu to all good cheer;
And o'er that night a shade is cast,
That for a while its feast's the last,
For morrow brings the sacred fast.
So, room for Christmas, ivy crown'd!
No merry days like his are found.
Then through the Holy Passion week,
If joy there be, 'tis joy so meek,
When you reflect on Christmas gladness,
It seems to be allied to sadness.
Could o'er the soul such wish be stealing,
A kiss, in point of fact or feeling,
Could then be but committed kneeling.
But, room for Christmas, crown'd with holly
No other days are half so jolly.

May-day was gamesome eke of yore,
But all his pranks are wellnigh o'er;
Or else th' observance's so degraded,
'Twere better far if all had faded.
Though earth is clad in vesture meet,
Fit to receive May's dancing feet;
Though April sheds her rainbow showers,
To give to May her brightest flowers—
Lends to the hedge a sweet perfume,
And gifts it with a precious bloom ;
Falls the laburnum's showers of gold
To earth's, like Danae's lap of old,

When Jove omniscient took that form
Deem'd surest maiden's heart to warm,
And shelter gained in Danae's bower
By virtue of a golden shower;
Clusters the lilac's flowery cone,
Luxuriant piled for May alone,
That takes the sky's sweet violet hue,
And heaven so bathes with its own dew,
It seems as if in heaven it grew,
Without one taint of earthly soil
Its native purity to spoil.
Though still the fields expect their queen,
Bedecked in daisied garb of green;
And the glad streams have found a voice
To wake an anthem, and rejoice;
And the lark heavenward soars and sings,
O'er earth exulting as he wings;
And the wide landscape round looks gay,
In honour of her own sweet May:
Man seldom now his homage pays
In gaudy groups and gay arrays,
That cheer'd the May of other days.
No more the village Maypole high
Tapers into the clear blue sky;
By joyous youths 'twas reared erect,
By maids with flowers and ribands decked,
While both, uniting, gaily trace
The dance in circles round the base.
Wide as December is from May,
Or Christmas-night from young May-day,
The mirth with which each is supplied
— Though mirth 'tis still — is still as wide.
Christmas the hearth-stone clusters round ;
May o'er the fields is to be found:
Yet something in our feelings tell,
If May we love, ’tis not so well —
They're centered in that place of pride,
Our hearty, homely, warm fireside.
Lo, room for Christmas, crowned with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.

When the blithe year is in its spring,
And 'neath its influence the woods ring,
With notes of life, and joy, and love,
Springing from dell, and glade, and grove,
The earth wakes from its trance supine,
To honour sweet Saint Valentine;
And Nature, like a bride, rejoices
To greet her lover with glad voices,
Framing for him such roundelays
As she, in spring, can only raise.
Still, room for Christmas, ivy-crowned!
No merry days like his are found:
For there be other merry days,
Deserving well a separate praise.

And Michaelmas and Hallowe'en
Has each his merriment, I ween ;
And many more than I can name
To joy and jollity lay claim,

Gladdening the heart as they appear,
Like stars to light us through the year;
Till breaks upon our view the light
That issues from the Christmas night.
The sky of life would be but dark,
If stars like these withheld their spark;
But, shining through this life-long night,
They give us glimpses of the light.
Blessings of peace and joy we call
On festive days, whene'er they fall;
But be more bounteously supplied,
Above the rest, to Christmas tide.
Then, room for Christmas, ivy-crowned!
No merry days like his are found:
Room, room for Christmas, crowned with holly!
No other days are half so jolly.

But, well-a-day, those days are o'er!
Christmas may smile, but laughs no more
With all the lustiness of yore;
And faint the picture; vain to say,
The mirth that lighted up that day —
That light, which spread o'er home and heart,
Was of the Sun of Joy a part;
A gladsome beam, from heaven astray,
To cheer and bless us with its ray.
That light o'er lordly fane was spread,
And glistened through the cheerless shed —
Cheerless no more when hut and hall
Partakes the joy which pervades all.
For, like the sun, which lends his beam
To the vast sea and petty stream,
To objects bright new lustre brings,
And glorifies the meanest things.
Like that rare stone by sages told,
Which all it touched turned into gold,
So Christmas time made all hearts gay —
Made lord and slave alike that day;
And which the happiest — who can say?
Equality of joy to all,
In honour of high festival

Large were man's thoughts, for notions vast
Possessed his soul in days long past.
Huge was the table; vast the hall;
And free the bounty that gave all.
This gave the Yule-log to the fire,
And made the blaze burn brighter, higher;
The board with plenteous cheer supplied,
Nor to the guest aught wished denied.
In all wise-dwarfed, small is our praise,
For there were giants in those days;
Unlike to these, where, glories yet,
The Sun of Christmas had not set.
If snow-wreathed gable, roof, and wall,
Flower-wreaths decked window, hearth, and all;
If casements shook to winter wild,
The hearth with glow more ruddy smiled;
And eke our hearts with warmth were stored,
Chill winter's contrast to afford;

And treasured up those feelings gay
Which may illume the darkest day.
Young bright-winged Joy, with aspect fair,
His herald's flag waved every where,
And held a truce with hostile care.
Oh! that was not the olden time,
When the glad world was in its prime;
Then was its youth, and then its bloom:
Now it seems fitted for the tomb :
Its lustiness and vigour fled —
Its graces gone — its joys lie dead.
We're the true ancients. Habits fine
Serve but to glorify decline.
Our age is age, not youth imbued
With life, but eld's decrepitude.
If those were barbarous ages then,
Let us be barbarous again.

Then, room for old Christmas, with his crown of bright holly!
May his days all be glad, and his nights be kept jolly!
Laurel, holly, and joy, entwine in his crown,
For no king that e'er reigned merits half his renown.
For he smiles in due season, when our hearts want a cheer,
When all nature and man are both chilly and drear,
And illumes the decline and the dawn of each year.
Thus he's loved, as the nightingale's loved for his song,
When the village he cheers through the summer-night long,
By a soft serenade to his sweet-blushing rose,
As she peeps from her lattice, but feigns to repose:
For one love-song's more precious, while the moon shines so bright,
Than a hundred and one by the day's garish light.
Thus he's loved, as the robin is loved, when his lay
Is sung near the window the cold winter's day;
When, trusting to us, and forgetting his fears,
As the winter approaches our shelter he nears—
(Such reliance we love !), his small claim to allow.
He has ever been sacred — we worship him now.
Thus he's loved, as we love his own sweet evergreen,
Which rejoices our hearts when no flower is seen;
When bright holly, old ivy, themselves all alone,
Make of winter itself a spring-time of their own.
And the other gay festival days that appear,
Are the sunshiny summer-day things of the year.
But more grateful we feel for the sweet, precious light,
Which shines through our winter from bright Christmas night;
And winter is but the long night of the year,
Brightened up with the full light of good Christmas cheer.
And the full heart that speaks in the nightingale's tone,
Is not half so joyous or full as our own ;
Nor the summer's long day of bright birds and gay flowers,
Half so gay or so bright as this night-time of ours:
For we turn from the bowers when the bird's song is loudest,
And regard not the flowers when the parterre is proudest.
They rejoice not for us. In the sunlight they smile,
And when his eyelids droop, then they slumber awhile.
No, for us they shine not; but, when summer is o'er,
The bird, and the flower, and the sun are no more.
Then the bird of the moon; and the rose we love best,
That a sentinel seems to watch over our rest;
And the robin we love, as he sings his sweet lay,
Near the window, to cheer us the cold winter's day;
And the flowers that love us, and to us are most dear,
Are the green things which help our old Christmas to cheer.

Then, long life to King Christmas! his reign has been long
In our hearts and our homes, in our story and song.
Though his doubtful accession's enigma's not solved,
Obscure in the gloom of past ages involved,
Yet of one thing we're sure — it is no little while
Since “King Arthur kept Christmas in merry Carlisle.”
Through the long list of kings do his triumphs appear,
And their pageants and battles are not half so dear;
With a king oft for guest, and a prince for his slave,
He his honours received, and in like manner gave.
He created his peers, too, so generous and grand,
To equal them none might be found in the land,
With power complete o'er the great feast of Yule;
A noble and churchman, of the true good old school,
Yclept Un-reason's Abbot and Lord of Misrule.
Then, room for old Christmas, with his crown of bright holly!
May his days all be glad, and his nights be kept jolly!
Laurel, holly, and ivy, entwine in his crown,
For no king that e'er reigned merits half his renown!

Digital copy:

'Catalogue of pictures and other works of art in the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery of Ireland'

Merry Christmas in the Barons Hall

By Daniel Maclise

6 ft. H., 12 ft. w.

"This picture, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838, is an example both of the merits and defects of Maclise, The interior of an English Baron's hail in the olden time towards Christmas evening, it is crowded with figures of various ranks and degrees, each engaged in some appropriate action. The whole picture is full of varied expression and complicated grouping ; unhappily the colour is bad and the impasto leathery. Signed and dated. Purchased in 1872. This picture was the subject of a long description in verse in Fraser's Magazine for May, 1838, written by Maclise himself, also in the DublinUniversity Magazine, 1847 (vol. xxix.)."

'Catalogue of pictures and other works of art in the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery of Ireland'

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