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CHAPTER XI

THE SINGING GAMES OF CHILDREN

IN country places, or even in our towns, groups of boys I and girls, or more frequently of girls only, may be seen dancing in a ring, walking in rows, or performing certain actions, and singing all the while. These singing games are now dying out, but in some places they are being replaced by other singing games of a purely artificial character, which are taught in school. The latter have no interest for us, but it will be found that many of the former illustrate curious phases in the history of man.

In the last chapter, when speaking of the ceremonies in which the bull-roarer was employed, I pointed out that dancing is an important element in all the ceremonies of savages. The dancing varies much in character; in no case does it resemble the modern“ round” or “ fast ” dances, but there is a close similarity between the old-fashioned “square" dances and the dances of savages. One may say without hesitancy that“ Sir Roger de Coverley” and other country dances, as well as the essential figures of the quadrilles and lancers, are survivals of ancient dances, the two latter having been greatly modified by professional dancers.

In a lecture before the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, in March, 1897, Sir E. Clarke pointed out that it has been alleged in various quarters that our English country dance is derived from the French contredanse. John Wilson Croker wrote: “ Our country dances are a corruption in name and a simplification of figure of the French contredanse." De Quincey, in his Life and Manners, Dr. Busby, in his Dictionary of Music, and Archbishop Trench, in English: Past and Present, adopted the same view. On the other hand, Weaver wrote in his History of Dancing (1712): “ Country dances are a dancing the peculiar growth of this nation, tho' now transplanted into almost all the Courts of Europe." Feuillet, in a little book published in Paris in 1706, entitled Recueil de Contredanses, says: “Les Anglais en sont les premiers inventeurs." Nearly all the dances in the volume are English. For instance, the famous “ Green Sleeves " appears as Les Nlanches Vertes, and nearly all the versions correspond with those in John Playford's Dancing Master of 1686 (7th edition). Littré, in his classical Dictionnaire de la Langue Française, admits that the contredanse is a kind of old-fashioned English dance imported into France under the Regency between about 1723 and 1745.

Clarke says:

“The contredanse was, in fact, first introduced to Paris in 1745, when it was given in a ballet entitled ' Des Fêtes de Polymnie,' by Rameau. Its success was so great that it was afterwards employed in all the future divertissements. It is clear, therefore, that the French borrowed the country dance from us. Eventually they turned it into the quadrille, which was imported into England about eighty years ago, and made a great sensation when first danced at · Almacks' by the famous Lady Jersey and her entourage in 1815." |

The following extract from Heywood's A Woman Kild with Kindness (1607) will illustrate the variety of the dances that were formerly indulged in:

1 Cf. also Mrs. Lilly Grove (Mrs. J. G. Frazer), Dancing, in The Badminton Library, 1895, p. 280.

? Thomas Heywood's Dramatic Works, vol. ij., pp. 96-98. Ed. Pearson, 1874. (I have uniformly put all the names of the dances into italics.)

Enter Nicke and IENKIN, IACKE SLIME, ROGER BRICKBAT,

with Countrey Wenches, and two or three Musitians.
SLIME. Come, what shall it be? Rogero ?
Ien. Rogero, no; we will dance, The Beginning of the World.
Sisly. I loue no dance so well as Fohn, come kisse mee now.
Nic. I that haue ere now deseru'd a cushion, call for the
Cushion Dance.

Roger. For my part I like nothing so wel as Tom Tyler.
IENK. No, wee'l haue the Hunting of the Fox.
SLIME. The Hay, the Hay, there's nothing like the Hay.
Nic. I haue saide, I do say, and I will say againe.
IENK. Euery man agree to haue it as Nicke says.
All. Content.
Nic. It hath bene, it now is, and it shall be.
Sisly. What, Master Nichlas, what ?
Nic. Put on your smocke a Monday.

Ien. So the dance will come cleanly off : come, for God's sake agree to something ; if you like not that, put it to the Musitians, or let me speake for all, and wee'l haue Sellenger's Round. All. That, that, that.”

In the fine old song, Come, Lassies and Lads, we find the same love of dancing.

“ You lassies and lads take leave of your dads,

And away to the May-pole hie,
There every he has got him a she,

And the minstrel 's standing by :
For Willy has got his Gill, and Johnny has his Joan,
To jig it, jig it, jig it, jig it, jig it up and down.
“Begin,' says Hal,— Aye, aye,' says Mall,

'We'll lead up Packington's Pound" ;
No, no,' says Noll, and so says Doll,

'We'll first have Sellenger's Round.'
Then every man began to foot it round about,
And every girl did jet it, jet it, jet it in and out.

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“Then after an hour they went to a bow'r,

And played for ale and cakes,
And kisses too, until they were due-

The lassies held the stakes.
The girls did then begin to quarrel with the men,
And bade them take their kisses back,

And give them their own again.

“Now there they did stay the whole of the day,

And tired the fiddler quite
With dancing and play, without any pay,

From morning until night.
They told the fiddler then, they 'd pay him for his play,
And each a twopence, twopence, twopence,

Gave him, and went away.”

One of the most favourite games of young men and maidens in the Middle Ages was that known as “ Barley Break,” or “ The Last Couple in Hell.”

“The spring clade all in gladness

Doth laugh at winter's sadness,
And to the bagpipe's sound
The maids tread out their ground.

“ Fy, then, why are we musing,
Youth's sweet delight refusing?
Say, dainty nymph, and speak,
Shall we play Barley Break ?”

-OLD SONG.

It appears from Sir Philip Sidney's description in the Arcadia that the game was played by three couples, each of a youth and a maid, one couple standing at each end of the area and the third remaining in the centre. The oblong playing-ground was divided transversely into three plots, of which the central one was called “ hell.” The mating was determined by lot, and the last pair mated were obliged to take the central plot or “hell,” and saluted each other by a kiss. This pair were required to pursue with joined hands, while the others were at liberty to separate. Any maid caught replaced the maid, and any youth, the youth of the central couple.

“She went abroad, thereby,
At Barley-brake her sweet, swift foot to try ...
A field they goe, where manie lookers be..
Then couples three be streight allotted there,
They of both ends the middle two doe flie,
The two that in mid-place, Hell called were,
Must striue with waiting foot, and watching eye
To catch of them, and them to hell to beare,
That they, as well as they, Hell may supplye :

Like some which seek to salue their blotted name
With others blot, till all doe taste of shame.

" There may you see, soone as the middle two
Doe coupled towards either couple make,
They false and fearfull, doe their hands undoe,
Brother his brother, friend doth friend forsake,
Heeding himselfe, cares not how fellow doe,
But of a stranger mutuall helpe doth take :

As periur'd cowards in aduersitie
With sight of feare from friends to fremb'd doe flie." I

Whatever may have been the origin of this now obsolete game, it was played in the seventeenth century for purely exhilarating amusement for both sexes, in the same way as lawn tennis was until very recently.

In looking through a large collection of the singing games of children, it will be obvious, as Mr. Newell, the well

Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (“ now the sixt time pvblished"), London, 1623, lib. i., p. 87, “ Song of Lamon.”

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