BOOK OF CHRISTMAS - online book

The Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions, Superstitions, Fun, Feeling,
And Festivities Of The Christmas Season.

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SIGNS OF THE SEASON.
119
The waits of to-day are the remote and degenerate successors of those ancient bards who rilled an important place in the estab­lishments of princes and nobles,—as, also, of those wandering members of the fraternity, who, having no fixed position, carried their gift of music from place to place, as the tournament or the festival invited. Those of our readers who have much acquaint­ance with the old chroniclers have not to be told by us that these latter were frequently drawn together, in considerable numbers, by the Christmas celebrations. The name wait, or wayte, itself, is of great antiquity amongst us; and appears to have been the title given to some member of the band of minstrels, who either replaced the ancient minstrel-chronicler, in the royal establish­ments, or was, probably, under his direction ;—the duty of which particular member it was to pass, at night, from door to door of the chambers, and pipe the watches, upon some species of instru­ment. As early as the reign of Edward III., we have mention of this individual minstrel by his title of wayte ; and, in the sub­sequent ordinances for royal households, the name frequently occurs. Dr. Burney, in his " History of Music," quotes from the " Liber niger domus regis," of Edward IVth's time, a full description of the duties, privileges, and perquisites of this ancient officer. It is, probably, from this member of the royal household and his office, that the corporations for towns borrowed their ear­liest appointment of watchmen ; and the ancestors of those ancient gentlemen, whose most sweet voices are amongst the lost sounds of the metropolis,—and whose mysterious cries will soon, we fear, be a dead language,—were, no doubt, in their original institution, minstrels or waits. The sworn waits are, we believe, still attached to many corporations (although some of their duties have been alienated, and some of their prerogatives usurped),—and amongst others to that of the City of London. The bellman,—and those " wandering voices" the watchmen, where they still exist,—have, however, a title to the same high and far descent; and have suc­ceeded to most of the offices of the ancient waits. It would seem, too, that both these latter important personages have at all times had it in view to assert their claim to a minstrel origin ; their announcements being generally chanted in a species of music quite
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