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There have been merry times at Michaelmas—who would believe it? Yet there have been merry times at Michaelmas. Mayors and aldermen were then elected, and made their bows to each other; and be sure there were merry doings
when mayors and aldermen were in the case. Stubble geese, like the aldermen, were now in prime condition; but being the weaker, according to the proverb, went to the wall, and thence to the kitchen and twirled upon the spit. It was a jolly day in old Mother Church; she ordered everybody that could get it to eat a goose in honour of St. Michael and all the angels. So in church and corporation, in abbey and town-hall, in farm and cottage, there was an universal eating of fat geese; and nobody that I ever heard of complained of the injunction. Queen Elizabeth was eating her goose at the time that the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada was brought to her, and no doubt she thought the Spaniards great and very green geese for having come there, and that they would be much greater if they ever came there again. Ever after Queen Bess most assiduously ate her goose at Michaelmas, and, probably, with Spanish chesnuts as people on the continent do now; or, if she did not, she would not have repented it if she had, for it is a princely addition. Queen Bess ate her goose all the more assiduously because it was an old saying that, if you ate your goose at Michaelmas, you would have plenty of money all the year round—a prescription that, if its efficacy were at all proportioned to its agreeableness, people would be geese, indeed, not to comply with. How, indeed, could any one desire a pleasanter way of replenishing a purse? Queen Bess was always dreadfully in want of money; and as this came to be seen, and not the less to be felt by those who had the taxes to pay, and as no more Armadas came to be defeated, people lost all faith in eating roast goose except the comfortable faith that Robert Southey had when he addressed one in a sonnet, and asking the goose where it could have been so bravely fed, and receiving no answer, added himself:—
But this I know, that thou art very fine,
Jolly times then, it is clear, there have been at Michaelmas. Into these, except in the City of London, there has been made a dreadful inroad by the Municipal Corporation Reform Act, which forbade all eating of Michaelmas goose in a corporate capacity. Driven out of convents and corporations, yet I imagine roast goose at Michaelmas finds a welcome reception in many a farm, gentlemen's and other private houses. Boast pigs no longer run about with oranges in their mouths, crying, "Come, eat me!" but stubble geese really do seem to meet you at every turn, and cackle out invitingly that pathetic request. At markets and poulterers they crowd upon you; in lanes and on commons they nibble at your heels, and hiss to inform you that they are fat and foolish, and beg you to introduce them to a sage. They stand in flocks at stubble-field gates and look imploringly; everywhere you are called on to note that they are no longer green but have grown grey and corpulent, and have but one earthly desire left, and that is—to be done brown! There is no resisting this. The Michaelmas goose will find a warm reception wherever it goes to the end of the world.
But I fear me much that there are many houses where this portly visitor finds the door too narrow to get in. Some way, Catholicism having so long gone out of fashion in England, we have forgotten many of its sensible customs. Michaelmas has ceased to be anything of a holiday except to landlords. A holiday! mercy on us! why, it is a rentday! All might lighten their purses, but that is a process with thousands which does not lighten the heart. It is quarter-day:—
At length the jolly time begins,
"Come, neighbours, we must wag."
Each lugging out his bag.
Out upon Michaelmas for a holiday—why it is only a landlord's holiday! Then landlords are the jolly fellows in these Protestant times, that glean the stubbles, and catch all the fat geese. We are the geese to be plucked, and perhaps get a roasting. Oh! you lucky fellows that can keep holiday at Michaelmas! Heaven send us all to be landlords as soon as possible, and fill our purses the whole year round by devouring stubble geese—alias farmers. At Michaelmas, the landlord is plucking geese all day long, and the deuce a bit does he weary of it. If you pay quarterly, you pay at Michaelmas; if you pay but once
Q0AETEE DAT. 457
a year, you pay still at Michaelmas. Then is the time for plucking and roasting. It is a solemn, sober, dreary, melancholy sort of time is Michaelmas, for everybody but landlords. There is laughter to be sure, but the laughter is the landlord's. You may tell it by the sound, without seeing whence it comes from. It is a thick, mellow, fatsided sort of laughter. It is not a tenant's laughter, nor anything like it. There are geese roasting in plenty, but they are roasting in landlords' kitchens.
And yet there have been jolly times, and Protestant times too, even at Michaelmas. Nothing in this degenerating world has degenerated so much as Michaelmas. Landlords once had bowels. They knew how unpleasant is the operation of drawing a tooth—and they did their best to make it toothsome. They gilded the pill—they sweetened the physic—they roasted stubble-geese for their tenants as well as for themselves.
Nobody now-a-days, if their fathers had not told them, could have any idea how easily Michaelmas once was made to go over. It once was a gay day, spite of its being a pay day. I remember when a boy how merry were our rent nights. The supper-table at my father's was set out in a large, old-fashioned dining-room, and in came one bright face after another, as if the thing money, had not brought it there. We six lads were allowed to sit up on these nights later than usual, and to sit down with the whole rustic group. Never did any hours flow more magically than those. There were assembled the wits, the humourists, the historians, the rural patriarchs of the neighbourhood; and the whole country round, its doings, and its character, and traditions, passed in review. At one end of the table sate the stately form of the landlord, radiant with the mirth of the present, and remembrance of the past; at the other, the mild and maternal glance of one of the best and noblest of women, who, thought, felt and lived for every creature within the reach of her untiring sympathies. What knowledge of humble life have I gleaned at these times. How entirely in memory do they seem to have belonged to some better and more patriarchal age. How cold and formal do we seem now to have grown. Landlord and tenant lo not know each other. Our acquaintance is with agents. We take premises, and never see from whom ; we quit them, and never wish to see—we draw a cheque for the rent, and do not even catch a glimpse of the landlord's hand in a receipt, for the presentation at the bank makes that unnecessary. Thousands pay to agents and receivers; tens of thousands are waited on duly with book and receipt. To the poor, even quarter-day is abolished, or rather it is always quarter-day with them, for they pay weekly. There are courts and alleys innumerable, called by the significant name of Rents—Ferrit's Rents; Spongem's Rents; Mawworm's Rents; Fingerit's Rents: the term is emphatic; it shows the only ideas of the possessors. To them they are not human habitations, they present to their minds no images of human and domestic life; they awake no sympathies nor speculations on what passes
In huts where poor men lie.
They are merely so many man-traps to catch the payinganimal in;—they are machines for manufacturing Rent!
This month has retained its Latin name without the change of a single letter. By the Romans it was so called as being the seventh month from March, and with them too it remained equally unaltered except for a short time in the reign of Domitian, when the tyrant, after two triumphs, having assumed the title of Germanicus, thought Eroper to give his new appellation to September, while he onoured October with his former name. This however did not last long. He was shortly after murdered, when the unlucky title was erased from every brass and stone, and September restored to its birth-right; the caution of succeeding princes preventing them from any interference to retain a name so ominous.
By the Anglo-Saxons this month was called Gerstmonath, Haligemonath. The first of these appellations it had, as Verstegan tells us, "for that barley, which that moneth