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ALTHOUGH We will endeavour, for the sake of convenience, to divide the story of drink in England into something like epochs, the distinction between any two periods must by no means be considered arbitrary. The conquering Danes are said to have stimulated and intensified the passion for drink in the Anglo-Saxons, and those again, it is maintained by some writers, corrupted and debauched the Normans when they settled in England. So, again, modern writers amongst the Roman Catholic clergy declare that the Reformation deprived the Church of her due influence over the social habits of the people, and that drunkenness as a national vice increased materially after that event,1 whereas numerous authors, both Protestant and Catholic, have drawn vivid pictures of the debaucheries practised by the monks themselves, and more than one eminent writer goes so far as to say that the whole tenor of mediæval popular and historical literature shows the clergy to have been the great corruptors of domestic

1 Discipline of Drink, chap. xi.



virtue both in the burgher and agricultural classes.1 It is quite possible, therefore, that one class of society may have indulged immoderately whilst another order was comparatively sober; and all we shall attempt to do will be to glance down the pages of history, and note any phases of our subject which we deem likely to interest the reader, and which bear upon our general conclusions.

There can be little doubt that, in the matter of drink, the Anglo-Saxons resembled their congeners abroad, and that intemperance was one of their conspicuous vices. Their drinks were chiefly ale and mead, the latter being prepared from honey, which was very plentiful in England. They took their potations from horns and cups of various shapes, some of which are still preserved, and make considerable pretensions to art. That drinking was common in monasteries is shown by the fact that cups of various materials, and some of very large size, were often bestowed upon or left to religious houses by princes and nobles. Amongst many other instances of this, Lady Ethelgiva is said to have presented to the Abbey of Ramsey, among other things, "two silver cups for the use of the brethren in the refectory, in order that while drink is served in them to the brethren at their repast, my memory may be more firmly imprinted on their hearts." 2 Nor need there be any doubt of the use to which such cups were often put. A Roman Catholic writer on temperance, whom we shall often have occasion to quote,

1 Homes of Other Days, by Thomas Wright, M.A., F.S.A., p. 294, Trübner & Co.; British Monachism, by T. D. Fosbrooke, p. 47, Nichols & Son and Rivington, 1802.

Homes of Other Days, p. 42.

and who is not at all disposed to exaggerate the vices of the priesthood, gives anything but a flattering picture of the habits of the Anglo-Saxon clergy.

St. Boniface, he says, writes as follows in the eighth century to Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury:-" It is reported that in your dioceses the vice of drunkenness is too frequent, so that not only certain bishops do not hinder it, but they themselves indulge in excess of drink, and force others to drink till they are intoxicated. This is most certainly a great crime for a servant of God to do or to have done, since the ancient canons decree that a bishop or a priest given to drink should either resign or be deposed." And the same writer gives us extracts from the canons which determine the penances and punishments to be borne by priests addicted to drunkenness, and which show plainly that the vice was by no means exceptional, but was widely spread amongst the clergy. We shall revert to this portion of the subject presently, and have only to remark here, that, with such an example in their spiritual superiors, it is no wonder the laity should be addicted to excess in drinking. Their bouts were conducted pretty much in the style of those of other nations. They pledged each other freely, the distinctive feature in their case being that the ceremony was accompanied by a kiss; and from the illuminated manuscripts which have been handed down to us, we learn that their entertainments were accompanied by such amusements as singing the national poetry, recounting their own exploits, propounding riddles, dancing, and rude instrumental music. Amongst the wealthier classes

1 Discipline of Drink, p. 77.

2 Harleian, Cottonian, &c.



professional minstrels were kept, but in humbler life each guest took his turn in contributing to the joviality of the feast. As may be readily imagined, when the liquor began to take effect, the guests usually became noisy and quarrelsome, their disputes frequently terminating in strife and bloodshed. As not every reader can be expected to follow these accounts of AngloSaxon life to their source, it may be interesting if we give a brief description of a scene represented upon one of the illuminated manuscripts referred to, as it presents a vivid picture of jollity in that day.

The guests are seated at a round table, near which stands a cupbearer, who is pouring out some kind of drink from a large vase-shaped vessel, resembling the Roman amphora. In the centre of the picture a man and woman, evidently professionals, are dancing to music, which consists of a harp (played by two men), two trumpet-shaped instruments, apparently buffalo horns, and one of which appears to have stops or keys, and a species of guitar. At one side of the picture is a person (of which sex it is impossible to say) who, it is thought by the author of the work which contains the picture, is about to join the players, but who seems to us to be engaged in recitation.1 It is not our province to enter further into the amusements which were engaged in during these feasts, but it may be mentioned in passing, that amongst them were gambling with dice, witnessing sleight-of-hand performances, acrobatic exercises, &c. That the feasts very often terminated in

1 Homes of Other Days, pp. 45-47. The various instrumentalists of the Anglo-Saxon period are called by the author hearpere, the harper; bymere, the trumpeter; pipere, the piper or flute-player; fithelere, the fiddler; and horn-blawere, the horn-blower.

deadly strife is certain from the accounts that are still extant. Here is the translation of part of an AngloSaxon legend in which the Evil Spirit describes the influence which he exercises over the festive board :

"Some I by wiles have drawn
To strife prepared,

That they suddenly
Old grudges
Have renewed,

Drunken with beer;

I to them poured
Discord from the cup,
So that in the social hali,
Through gripe of sword,
The soul let forth

From the body." 1


Women joined the men in their feasts; but it is said that, as in recent times, they retired from the table before the heavy drinking began, and the blood of the company was roused. The lower classes, both men and women, frequented taverns, of which there were many all over the country, and there they were joined by the more dissolute of the clergy, who were always welcome guests at such parties. Inns were very rare, and the result was, that, as in all primitive races or sparsely peopled countries, travellers were received in private and religious houses, and the practice of hospitality was universal.

But whilst it is beyond doubt that in Anglo-Saxon times both laity and clergy drank to excess, it is only due to the latter to say that the great preachers denounced drunkenness, and visited it with more or less severe

1 Legend of St. Juliana, Homes of Other Days, p. 50.

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