Page images
PDF
EPUB

OF

[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small]

it again necessary to caution the old dowagers to take care of their fish.

Revenons à nos poissons. When last I supped with Father Prout, on the eve of my departure from Watergrasshill (and I can only compare my reminiscences of that classic banquet to Xenophon's account of the symposion of Plato), “Young man,” said he, “ you had a good aunt in the Lady Cresswell ; and if you thought as we do, that the orisons of kindred and friends can benefit the dead, you should pray for her as long as you live. But you belong to a different creed-different, I mean, as to this particular point; for, as a whole, your church of England bears a close resemblance to ours of Rome. The daughter will ever inherit the leading features of the mother; and though in your eyes the fresh and unwithered fascinations of the new faith may fling into the shade the more matronly graces of the old, somewhat on the principle of Horace, O matre pulchrá filia pulchrior ! still has our ancient worship many and potent charms. I could proudly dwell on the historic recollections that emblazon her escutcheon, the pomp and pageantry of her gorgeous liturgy

Pardon me, reverend friend, I interposed, lest he should diverge, as was his habit, into some long-winded argument, foreign to the topic on which I sought to be informed,-Í do not undervalue the matronly graces of your venerable church; but (pointing to the remnant of what had been a red herring) let us talk of her fish-diet and fast-days.

“Ay, you are right there, child,” resumed Prout; “ I perceive where my panegyric must end

[ocr errors]

Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne!

You will get a famous badgering in town when you are found out to have forsworn the flesh-pots; and Lent will be a sad season for you among the Egyptians. But you need not be unprovided with plausible reasons for your abstinence, besides the sterling considerations of the rental. Notwith standing that it has been said or sung by your Lord Byron that

«Man is a carnivorous production,
And cannot live (as woodcocks do) on suction;'

[graphic]
[graphic]

no more.

still that noble poet (I speak from the record of his life and habits furnished us by Moore) habitually eschewed animal food, detested gross feeders, and in his own case lived most frugally, I might even say ascetically; and this abstemiousness he practised from a refinement of choice, for he had registered no vow to heaven, or to a maiden aunt. The observance will no doubt prove a trial of fortitude ; but for your part at the festive board, were you so criminal as to transgress, would not the spectre of the Lady Cresswell, like the ghost of Banquo, rise to rebuke you?

"And besides, these days of fasting are of the most remote antiquity; they are referred to as being in vogue at the first general council that legislated for Christendom at Nice, in Bithynia, A.D. 325: and the subsequent assembly of bishops at Laodicea ratified the institution A.D. 364. Its discipline is fully developed in the classic pages of the accomplished Tertullian, in the second century (Tract. de jejuniis). I say

These are what Edmund Burke would call ' grave and reverend authorities,' and, in the silence of Holy Writ, may go as historic evidence of primitive Christianity; but if you press me, I can no more show cause under the proper hand and seal of an apostle for keeping the fast on these days, than I can for keeping the Sabbath on Sunday.

“I do not choose to notice that sort of criticism, in its dotage, that would trace the custom to the well-known avocation of the early disciples: though that they were fishermen is most true, and that even after they had been raised to the apostolic dignity, they relapsed occasionally into the innocent pursuit of their primeval calling, stiil haunted the shores of the accustomed lake, and loved to disturb with their nets the crystal surface of Gennesareth.

“Lent is an institution which should have been long since rescued from the cobwebs of theology, and restored to the domain of the political economist, for there is no prospect of arguing the matter in a fair spirit among conflicting divines; and, of all things, polemics are the most stale and unprofitable. Loaves and fishes have, in all ages of the church, had charms for us of the cloth; yet how few would. confine their frugal bill of fare to mere loaves and fishes ! So far Lent may be considered a stumbling-block. But

middle ages,

here I dismiss theology: nor shall I further trespass on your patience by angling for arguments in the muddy stream of church history, as it rolls its troubled waters over the

“Your black-letter acquirements, I doubt not, are considerable; but have you adverted to a clause in Queen Elizabeth's enactment for the improvement of the shipping interests in the year 1564? You will, I believe, find it to run thus:

Anno 50 Eliz. cap. v. sect. 11:— And for encrease of provision of fishe by the more usual eating thereof, bee it further enacted, that from the feast of St. Mighell th’archangell, ano. Dni. fiftene hundreth threesccre foure, every Wednesdaye in every weeke through the whole yere shal be hereafter observed and kepte as the Saturdays in every weeke be or ought to be; and that no person shal eat any fleshe no more than on the common Saturdays.

Sect. 12.-' And bee it further enacted by th’auctoritee aforesaid, for the commoditie and benifit of this realme, as well to growe the navie as in sparing and encrease of fleshe victual, that from and after the feast of Pentecost next coming, yt shall not be lawful for any p’son to eat any fleshe upon any days now usually observed as fish-days; and that any p’son offending herein shal forfeite three powndes for every tyme.'

"I do not attach so much importance to the act of her royal successor, James I., who in 1619 issued a proclamation, reminding his English subjects of the obligation of keeping Lent; because his Majesty's object is clearly ascertained to have been to encourage the traffic of his countrymen the Scotch, who had just then embarked largely in the herring trade, and for whom the thrifty Stuart was anxious to secure a monopoly in the British markets.

“ But when, in 1627, I find the chivalrous Charles I., your martyred king, sending forth from the banqueting-room of Whitehall his royal decree to the same effect, I am at a loss to trace his motives. It is known that Archbishop Laud's advice went to che effect of reinstating many customs of Catholicity; but, from a more diligent consideration of the subject, I am more inclined to think that the king wished. rather, by this display of austere practices, to soothe and

« PreviousContinue »