British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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May i.]                              may day.                                      225
called unto her the knyghtes of the Bound Table, and gave them warning that early in the morning she should ride on maying into the woods and fields beside Westminster." The rural clergy, who seem to have mingled themselves with their flock on all occasions, whether of sorrow, devotion, or amuse­ment, were reproved by Grostete, or Greathead, Bishop of Lincoln, for going a-maying.—Med. JEvi Kalend. vol. i. p. 233.
Shakespeare likewise, alluding to this custom, says (Henry VIII. Act v. sc. 3), it was impossible to make the people sleep on May-morning, and (Midsummer Night's Dream, Act i. sc, 1) that they rose up early to observe May day.
11 If thou lovest me then, Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night; And in the wood, a league without the town, Where I did meet thee once with Helena, To do observance to a morn of May, There will I stay for thee." And again:
" No doubt they rise up early to observe The rite of May."—Act. iv. sc. 1.
May-dew.—This was held of singular virtue in former times, and thus in the Morning Post of 2nd May, 1791, we are told that the day before, being the First of May, according to annual and superstitious custom, a number of persons went into the fields and bathed their faces with the dew on the grass, under the idea that it would render them beautiful. Pepys on a certain day in May makes this entry in his Diary : " My wife away, down with Jane and W. Hewer to Woolwich, in order to a little ayre and to lie there to-night, and so to gather May-dew to-morrow morning, which Mrs. Turner hath taught her is the only thing in the world to wash her face with."
May-games.—When Christianity, says Soane (Curiosities of Literature, p. 230), found its way into Britain, the same mode would seem to have been adopted in regard to the May-games by the wise liberality of the first missionaries that we see them employing in so many other cases. Conceding to the prejudices of the people, they did not attempt to root out long established characters, but invested them with another charac­ter as bees close in with wax the noxious substance they are
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