176 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
Through broken panes, the keen winds blow, And old and young are cold together.
Oh ! poverty is disconsolate !— Its pains are many, its foes are strong! The rich man, in his jovial cheer, Wishes 't was winter through the year ; The poor man, 'mid his wants profound, With all his little children round, Prays God that winter be not long !"
Immediately after the service of the day, the country gentleman stood, of old, at his own gate, and superintended the distribution of alms to the aged and the destitute. The hall, prepared for the festival of himself and his friends, was previously opened to his tenants and retainers; and the good things of the season were freely dispensed to all. " There was once," says the writer of ' Round about our Coal Fire,' " hospitality in the land. An English gentleman, at the opening of the great day, had all his tenants and neighbors entered his hall by day-break ; the strong beer was broached, and the black-jacks went plentifully about, with toast, sugar, nutmeg, and good Cheshire cheese. * * * The servants were then running here and there, with merry hearts and jolly countenances. Every one was busy in welcoming of guests, and looked as snug as new-licked puppies. The lasses were as blithe and buxom as the maids in good Queen Bess's days, when they ate sirloins of roast-beef for breakfast. Peg would scuttle about to make a toast for John, while Tom run harum-scarum to draw a jug of ale for Margery."
The solemn festivals of ancient superstition were marked either by bloody sacrifice, secret revelling, or open licentiousness. There was no celebration of rites,—real or symbolical,—which might become a religion of cheerfulness, decency, and mercy. There was no medium between a mysteriousness dark and gloomy as the grave, and a wild and savage enthusiasm or riotous frenzy, which mingled with the worship of the gods the impassioned depravity of human nature. From Moloch, upon whose dreadful altar children were offered—to Bacchus, at whose shrine reason and virtue were prostrated,—there were none of the fabled deities of antiquity whose service united the spirit of deyotion with inno-