Wassail In Literature 
Wassail turns up on many a fine page. Here are a few! 
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Writings Involving Wassail

Henry IV Part II
Midsummer Night's Dream
Robert Herrick
The Country Life
To Phillis...
On Orchard Wassailing
From Comus: 
Sunday Gaming
Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 
The Skeleton in Armor
The Norman Barron
Theodore Watts-Dunton. 
Wassail Chorus at the Mermaid Tavern
Chapman, George, trans. The Odysseys of Homer J. Andrews, Printer:A Merry Christmas Song The Magic Skin by Balzac
Washington Irving 
The Christmas Dinner
Christmas Dinner #2
The Squire's Stanza
Poor Robin's Almanac A Question By Francis Thompson
Charles Dickens:
A Christmas Carol
Pickwick Papers
Seven Poor Travelers
The Earl of Totnes

Sir Walter Scott:Ivanhoe

From Beowulf
Thomas Love Peacock -CROTCHET CASTLE H.H. Munro ("Saki") The Toys of Peace A Merry Christmas Song
THE FAIRY OF THE LAKE  by  JOHN THELWALL Dr. William King-1709 The Gentle Grafter O'Henry
John Barleycorn, by Jack London From the Danish History 13th Century Poems of Henry Timrod:Christmas
Geoffrey of Monmouth 1135 Wassail at the Battle of Hastings-The Anglo Norman Poet A Limerick

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Wassail at The Battle of Hastings

Bublie crient e weissel
E latcome e drencheheil
Drinc Hindrewart e Drintome
Drinc Helf, e drinc tome
Rejoice and wassail
Pass the bottle and drink healthy
Drink backwards and drink to me
Drink half and drnk empty.

-The Anglo-Norman Poet (d. 1080, Cited by Sir James Ramsay in Foundations
 of England, Vol. ii. This was a Saxon toasting cry sung at the English
Camp on the eve of the Battle of Hastings.(1066)

Geoffrey of Monmouth,
 The History of the Kings of Britain 1135

 While [Vortigern] was being entertained [by Hengist] at a royal  banquet,
the girl Renwein [Hengist's daughter] came out of an   inner room carrying a golden goblet full
 of wine.  She walked up   to the King, curtsied low, and said "Lavert King, was hail!"  
When he saw the girl's face, Vortigern was greatly struck by her   beauty and
 was filled with desire for her. He asked his  interpreter what it was that the
girl had said and what he ought to reply to her. "She called you Lord King,"
answered   the interpreter, and did you honour by drinking your health.
   What you should reply is `drinc hail'." Vortigern immediately   said the words
 "drinc hail" and ordered Renwein to drink. Then   he took the goblet from her hand, kissed
 her and drank in his   turn.  From that day to this the tradition has endured in
   Britain that the one who drinks first at a banquet says
   "was hail" to his partner, and he who drinks next says   "drinc hail."

     --- Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of
           Britain (~1135), vi.12  (translated from the Latin
           by L. Thorpe)

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Wassail interpreted through literature.....
(a work in progress....stop back frequently to see how it all unwinds!)
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 Part I Wassail- Mystic Incantation- Life Itself

In the earliest writings wassail in the hall  is symbolic of life itself. Here we find wassail at its most powerful moment. When it is absent there is created an atmosphere of cold despair. In the writings that follow you can trace this mystic aura from Beowulf to the mystic scenes evoked by the verse of Longfellow. This interpretation is very much in keeping with the traditions of apple wassail which use wassailing to guarantee life and prosperity and fertility to the orchards. Later authors would bemoan and lament the absence of wassail from the land and tradition as if life itself was in full decline. Let us begin with Beowulf.


Beowulf takes us full circle from the wassail to the wail - the long moan in the morn.
Then it is the warriors wassail and words of power.....the proud band's revel.  Finally
all is forlorn and quiet. no harp resounds, in the courts no wassail, as once was heard.
Wassail and revelry did perhaps give life and strength to those facing battle or alternatively the
cold of the long winter. From earliest days down to the present life simply is not worth living
without Wassail.

Then at the dawning, as day was breaking,
                                                   the might of Grendel to men was known;
                                                     then after wassail was wail uplifted,
                                                   loud moan in the morn. The mighty chief,
                                                      atheling excellent, unblithe sat,
                                                   labored in woe for the loss of his thanes,
                                                 when once had been traced the trail of the fiend,
                                                     spirit accurst: too cruel that sorrow,
                                                  too long, too loathsome. Not late the respite;
                                                      with night returning, anew began
                                                     ruthless murder; he recked no whit,
                                                    firm in his guilt, of the feud and crime.

Again, as erst, began in hall
                                                    warriors' wassail and words of power,
                                                     the proud-band's revel, till presently
                                                    the son of Healfdene hastened to seek
                                                    rest for the night; he knew there waited
                                                     fight for the fiend in that festal hall,
                                                  when the sheen of the sun they saw no more,
                                                    and dusk of night sank darkling nigh,
                                                    and shadowy shapes came striding on,
                                                   wan under welkin

Forlorn he looks on the lodge of his son,
                                                   wine-hall waste and wind-swept chambers
                                                      reft of revel. The rider sleepeth,
                                                   the hero, far-hidden;  no harp resounds,
                                                  in the courts no wassail, as once was heard.

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Robert Herrick as we shall see below writes often of wassail. Here is an example of an apple wassail verse which invokes the life giving force of wassail not in the hall but in the orchard so that the fruits might prosper. Wassail can be a life force not restricted to humans but connected also with the earth
mother and fertility.

Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum, and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.-Robert Herrick (1591-1674) "Ceremonies of Christmas Eve"

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Washington Iriving also invokes this magic of wassail.
The wassail from the lord soils his land And giv'st me for my bushell sowne,
       Twice ten for one. Clearly, Wassail is an important force.

"I was particularly gratified by the exaltation of heart, and sudden sally of grateful feeling,
with which the worthy Squire delivered one stanza: his eyes glistening, and his voice
 rambling out of all the bounds of time and tune:

   "'Tis thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
       With guiltlesse mirth,
     And giv'st me wassaile bowles to drink,
       Spiced to the brink:
     Lord, 'tis Thy plenty-dropping hand,
       That soiles my land;
     And giv'st me for my bushell sowne,
       Twice ten for one."- from: OLD CHRISTMAS: The Christmas Dinner by Washington Irving

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Longfellow in high drama uses wassail to drowned out the storm  and to percolate down to the
death bed of his Norman Baron. It comes to him whispering from the monk at his bedside
and conveys the eternal hope of life reborn in the form of the christ child. We shall be set
free through this wassail- free to leave the things of men and go back to things natural. It
is an incantation of wonder dependant upon the wassail itself.

From: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 1807–1882
  In his chamber, weak and dying,
Was the Norman baron lying;
Loud, without, the tempest thundered
      And the castle-turret shook....

And, amid the tempest pealing,
Sounds of bells came faintly stealing,
Bells, that from the neighboring kloster
      Rang for the Nativity.

In the hall, the serf and vassal
Held, that night their Christmas wassail;
Many a carol, old and saintly,
      Sang the minstrels and the waits;....

...And so loud these Saxon gleemen
Sang to slaves the songs of freemen,
That the storm was heard but faintly,
      Knocking at the castle-gates.

Till at length the lays they chanted
Reached the chamber terror-haunted,
Where the monk, with accents holy,
      Whispered at the baron's ear.

Tears upon his eyelids glistened,
As he paused awhile and listened,
And the dying baron slowly
      Turned his weary head to hear.

"Wassail for the kingly stranger
Born and cradled in a manger!
King, like David, priest, like Aaron,
      Christ is born to set us free!"

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The Ballad of the Earl of Totnes begins with the
invocations of both Wassail and grace both integral parts of the setting.
Wassail sets the scene and gives a value of
importance to the hall. The essence of greatness
foreshadowing great deeds.


The feast was over at Haccombe Hall
And the wassail bowl had been served to all,
When the Earl of Totnes rose from his place
And the chanters came in to say the grace.

But scarce was ended the holy rite
When there stepped from the crowd a valiant knight;
His armour bright and his visage brown,
His name was Sir Arthur Champernowne.

"Good Earl of Totness I've brought with me
My fleetest courser of Barbary;
And whether good or ill betide,
A wager with thee I mean for to ride."

"No Barbary courser do I own,
But I have," quoth the Earl, "a Devonshire roan;
And I'll ride for a wager by land or by sea,
The roan 'gainst the courser of Barbary."

"'Tis done," said Sir Arthur, "already I've won;
And I'll stake my manor of Dartington
'Gainst Haccombe Hall and its rich domain."
So the Earl of Totnes the wager has ta'en.

"To horse! To horse!" resounds through the hall,
Each warrior's horse is led from its stall;
And with gallant train over Milburn Down
Ride the bold Carew and the Champernowne.

And when they come to the Abbey of Tor,
The abbot came forth from the western door,
And much he prayed them to stay and dine;
But the earl took nought but a goblet of wine.

Sir Arthur he raised the bowl on high
And prayed to the Giver of Victory;
Then drank success to himself in the course,
And the sops of the wine he gave to his horse.

Away they rode from the Abbey of Tor
Till they reached the inlet's curving shore;
The earl plunged first in the foaming wave,
And was followed straight by Sir Arthur the brave.

The wind blew hard and the waves beat high,
And the horses strove for the mastery;
Till Sir Arthur cried, "Help, thou bold Carew!
Help, if thou art a Christian true!

"O save for the sake of that lady of mine
Good Earl of Totnes, the manor is thine!
The Barbary courser must yield to the roan,
And thou art the Lord of Dartington."

The Earl his steed began to restrain,
And he seized Sir Arthur's horse by the rein;
He cheered him by words and gave him his hand,
And brought Sir Arthur safe to land.

Then Sir Arthur, with sickness and grief opprest,
Lay down in the abbey chambers to rest;
But the earl he rode from the Abbey of Tor
Straight forward to Haccombe chapel door.

And there he fell on his knees and prayed
And many an "Ave Maria" said;
Bread and money he gave to the poor,
And he nailed the roan's shoes to the chapel door.

George Carew Totnes, earl of; born 5/29/1555 (d3/27/1629), English
soldier, administrator and antiquary noted for his service in Ireland
during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
"The Earl of Totnes", a Devonshire ballad.  In V. Day Sharman, _Folk Tales
of Devon.  Recorded by R & B Dransfield, _The Rout of the Blues_

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 Valhalla!  where it is consumed from skulls which as John Thelwall reports
 is not a pleasant thought! Who cares, perhaps, if it all spills from the eyes!
Maybe it is the thought that counts!


For I've no great objection to your tilting and you fighting;
But as to getting drunk after being kill'd,--
      Why, that I think, they're not right in.
              Altho 'tis the joy of Valhalla!

Then their modus bibendi, to me, it is mightil droll, Sirs--
And the scull of a foe, is a very strange sort of a wassail-bowl, Sirs--
  [O, lud!  I'm all in the horrors to think of it.
 Who the devil could set himself soberly to work
 to get drunk, with a death's head in his hand?  Be-
 sides how the devil do they manage it?

For the scull of a foe is such a very strange sort of a bowl, Sirs,
That I am very sure I should spill--out at either eye-hole, Sirs,
 Ere it got to my mouth in Valhalla!

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Watts-Dunton finds a magic influence in the clouds of wassail-steam— they make
London like a dream. Wassail brings forth poetry and song, Wassail makes the branches themselves
swing. It seems a part of the Christmas spirit itself. An essential spiritual ingredient for the celebration
and the city itself.

From: Theodore Watts-Dunton. 1836–1914
Wassail Chorus at the Mermaid Tavern
                                           More than all the pictures, Ben,
                                             Winter weaves by wood or stream,
                                           Christmas loves our London, when
                                             Rise thy clouds of wassail-steam—
                                             Clouds like these, that, curling, take
                                             Forms of faces gone, and wake
                                           Many a lay from lips we loved, and make
                                                 London like a dream.
                                           Christmas knows a merry, merry place, &c.
                                   Ben Jonson.
                                             Love's old songs shall never die,
                                               Yet the new shall suffer proof:
                                             Love's old drink of Yule brew I
                                               Wassail for new love's behoof.
                                             Drink the drink I brew, and sing
                                             Till the berried branches swing,
                                           Till our song make all the Mermaid ring—
                                                   Yea, from rush to roof.
                                             Christmas loves this merry, merry place;
                                               Christmas saith with fondest face,
                                                 Brightest eye, brightest hair:
                                           'Ben, the drink tastes rare of sack and mace:
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Jack London observes that the act of wassail helps mortals bridge the gaps of time and through wassail
link to  that selfsame ancient breed . The act of revelry joins men to one another and the wassail connects
them to the ages. There is something in revelry and rant that is unique. Shouting at the sky does bring out
the maggots of imagination  there is something of the mother earth and of the ages in the act. One forgets
one's self and joins with the ages.

John Barleycorn, by Jack London
From: Chapter XVI

We met old acquaintances from other schooners, fellows we had met
in the saloons of San Francisco before we sailed.  And each
meeting meant a drink; and there was much to talk about; and more
drinks; and songs to be sung; and pranks and antics to be
performed, until the maggots of imagination began to crawl, and it
all seemed great and wonderful to me, these lusty hard-bitten sea-
rovers, of whom I made one, gathered in wassail on a coral strand.
Old lines about knights at table in the great banquet halls, and
of those above the salt and below the salt, and of Vikings
feasting fresh from sea and ripe for battle, came to me; and I
knew that the old times were not dead and that we belonged to that
selfsame ancient breed.

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The spirit of wassail is indeed one of great power and an incantation providing strength and liberty
honor and power. Wassail emanates outward from the hall and circle of revelers to come to inhabit
the Christmas season. we shall see how it comes to provide the essential goodness and warmth to life.
.....to be continued...
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Love's Labour's Lost: Act 5, Scene 2d
Don Armado:

When icicles hang by the wall                      [930]
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, : Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson's saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow                      [940]
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, : Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

(Crabs hissing in the bowl refers to Wassail. Small tart apples when roasted
 in the oven split open to reveal soft white interiors. The apple pulp becomes the
"lambswool" of the Wassail. It has a way of concentrating sugar and flavour!)

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Shakespeare: Hamlet

Act 1 scene 4

                  The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
                  Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
                  And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
                  The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
                  The triumph of his pledge.

                  Is it a custom?

                  Ay, marry, is't:
                  But to my mind, though I am native here
                  And to the manner born, it is a custom
                  More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
                  This heavy-headed revel east and west
                  Makes us traduced and tax'd of other nations:
                  They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
                  Soil our addition; and indeed it takes
                  From our achievements, though perform'd at height,
                  The pith and marrow of our attribute.
                  So, oft it chances in particular men,
                  That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
                  As, in their birth--wherein they are not guilty,
                  Since nature cannot choose his origin--
                  By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
                  Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
                  Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
                  The form of plausive manners, that these men,
                  Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
                  Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,--
                  Their virtues else--be they as pure as grace,
                  As infinite as man may undergo--
                  Shall in the general censure take corruption
                  From that particular fault: the dram of eale
                  Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
                  To his own scandal.

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Shakespeare Macbeth

When Duncan is asleep-
    Whereto the rather shall his day's hard journey
    Soundly invite him- his two chamberlains
    Will I with wine and wassail so convince
    That memory, the warder of the brain,
    Shall be a fume and the receipt of reason
    A limbeck only. When in swinish sleep
    Their drenched natures lie as in a death,
    What cannot you and I perform upon
    The unguarded Duncan? What not put upon
    His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt
    Of our great quell?

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Shakespeare: Henry IV Part II

What! you are as a candle, the better part burnt out.

A wassail candle, my lord, all tallow:  if I did say of wax, my
growth would approve the truth.

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Shakespeare:A Midsummer Night's Dream

And sometimes lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab;
And, when she drinks, against her lips I bob."
-A Midsummer Night's Dream

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by Robert Herrick

GIVE way, give way, ye gates, and win
An easy blessing to your bin
And basket, by our entering in.

May both with manchet stand replete ;
Your larders, too, so hung with meat,
That though a thousand, thousand eat,

Yet, ere twelve moons shall whirl about
Their silv'ry spheres, there's none may doubt
But more's sent in than was served out.

Next, may your dairies prosper so
As that your pans no ebb may know ;
But if they do, the more to flow,

Like to a solemn sober stream
Bank'd all with lilies, and the cream
Of sweetest cowslips filling them.

Then may your plants be prest with fruit,
Nor bee, or hive you have be mute ;
But sweetly sounding like a lute.

Last, may your harrows, shears, and ploughs,
Your stacks, your stocks, your sweetest mows,
All prosper by your virgin vows.

Alas !  we bless, but see none here
That brings us either ale or beer ;
In a dry house all things are near.

Let's leave a longer time to wait,
Where rust and cobwebs bind the gate,
And all live here with needy fate.

Where chimneys do for ever weep
For want of warmth, and stomachs keep,
With noise, the servants' eyes from sleep.

It is in vain to sing, or stay
Our free feet here ; but we'll away :
Yet to the Lares this we'll say :

The time will come when you'll be sad
And reckon this for fortune bad,
T'ave lost the good ye might have had.

Manchet, fine white bread.
Prest, laden.
Near, penurious.
Leave to wait, cease waiting.

 Source: Herrick, Robert. Robert Herrick (1591-1674)  Works of Robert Herrickvol I.
Alfred Pollard, ed.London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891


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Robert Herrick: from:THE COUNTRY LIFE:


For sports, for pageantry, and plays,
Thou hast thy eves, and holydays:
On which the young men and maids meet,
To exercise their dancing feet:
Tripping the comely country Round,
With daffadils and daisies crown'd.
Thy wakes, thy quintels, here thou hast,
Thy May-poles too with garlands graced;
Thy Morris-dance; thy Whitsun-ale;
Thy shearing-feast, which never fail.
Thy harvest home; thy wassail bowl,
That's toss'd up after Fox i' th' hole:
Thy mummeries; thy Twelve-tide kings
And queens; thy Christmas revellings:
Thy nut-brown mirth, thy russet wit,
And no man pays too dear for it.--
To these, thou hast thy times to go
And trace the hare i' th' treacherous snow:
Thy witty wiles to draw, and get
The lark into the trammel net:
Thou hast thy cockrood, and thy glade
To take the precious pheasant made:
Thy lime-twigs, snares, and pit-falls then
To catch the pilfering birds, not men.

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Robert Herrick from TO PHILLIS,

Thou shalt have possets, wassails fine,
Not made of ale, but spiced wine;
To make thy maids and self free mirth,
All sitting near the glitt'ring hearth.
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From: Comus

This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,
My best guide now, me thought it was the sound
Of Riot, and ill-manag'd Merriment,
Such as the jocund Flute, or gamesom Pipe
Stirs up among the loose unleter'd Hinds,
When for their teeming Flocks, and granges full
In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan,
And thank the gods amiss.    I should be loath
To meet the rudeness, and swill'd insolence
Of such late Wassailers; yet O where els
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet
In the blind mazes of this tangl'd Wood?

-Milton, Comus, or  A  M A S K  PRESENTED  At LUDLOW-Castle,  1634. &c.,
Source:Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room, http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton,
November 23,1999..

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(Was"sail) n. [AS. wes hal (or an equivalent form in another dialect) be in health, which was the form of drinking a health. The form wes is imperative. See Was, and Whole.]

1. An ancient expression of good wishes on a festive occasion, especially in drinking to some one.
     Geoffrey of Monmouth relates, on the authority of Walter Calenius, that this lady [Rowena], the daughter of Hengist, knelt down on the approach of the king, and,
     presenting him with a cup of wine, exclaimed, Lord king wæs heil, that is, literally, Health be to you.

N. Drake.

2. An occasion on which such good wishes are expressed in drinking; a drinking bout; a carouse. "In merry wassail he . . . peals his loud song." Sir W. Scott.

     The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
     Keeps wassail.


     The victors abandoned themselves to feasting and wassail.


3. The liquor used for a wassail; esp., a beverage formerly much used in England at Christmas and other festivals, made of ale (or wine) flavored with spices, sugar, toast, roasted apples,
etc.; — called also lamb's wool.

     A jolly wassail bowl,
     A wassail of good ale.

Old Song.

4. A festive or drinking song or glee. [Obs.]

     Have you done your wassail! 'T is a handsome, drowsy ditty, I'll assure you.

Beau. & Fl.

(Was"sail), a. Of or pertaining to wassail, or to a wassail; convivial; as, a wassail bowl. "Awassail candle, my lord, all tallow." Shak.

Wassail bowl, a bowl in which wassail was mixed, and placed upon the table. "Spiced wassail bowl." J. Fletcher. "When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel
. . . Its appearance was hailed with acclamation, being the wassail bowl so renowned in Christmas festivity." W. Irving. — Wassail cup, a cup from which wassail was drunk.

(Was"sail), v. i. To hold a wassail; to carouse.

     Spending all the day, and good part of the night, in dancing, caroling, and wassailing.

Sir P. Sidney.

(Was"sail*er) n. One who drinks wassail; one who engages in festivity, especially in drinking; a reveler.

     The rudeness and swilled insolence
     Of such late wassailers.

-Source:Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913
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From: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 1807–1882
The Skeleton in Armor

                             "Many a wassail-bout
                            Wore the long Winter out;
                            Often our midnight shout
                              Set the cocks crowing,
                            As we the Berserk's tale
                            Measured in cups of ale,
                            Draining the oaken pail,
                              Filled to o'erflowing.

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From: Chapman, George, trans. 1857. The Odysseys of Homer

   Such men as sideling ride the ambling Muse,
      Whose saddle is as frequent as the stews.
      Whose raptures are in every pageant seen,
      In every wassail-rhyme and dancing green;
      When he that writes by any beam of truth
      Must dive as deep as he, past shallow youth.
      Truth dwells in gulfs, whose deeps hide shades so rich
      That Night sits muffled there in clouds of pitch,
      More dark than Nature made her, and requires,
      To clear her tough mists, heaven's great fire of fires,
      To whom the sun itself is but a beam.
      For sick souls then--but rapt in foolish dream--
      To wrestle with these heaven-strong mysteries,
      What madness is it? when their light serves eyes
      That are not worldly in their least aspect,
      But truly pure, and aim at heaven direct.
      Yet these none like but what the brazen head
      Blatters abroad, no sooner born but dead.

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A Merry Christmas Song.

Come, hither bring the holly bush to decorate the hall,
With lofty bows of mistletoe to hang around the wall,--
Spread wide the snowy table cloth upon the shiny board--
And bring the best of every thing the larder can afford.
Then place a seat for every guest, let here the glasses shine,
It was my father's custom and so it shall be mine.

Now bring the massive yule log--the fire pile well up,
For we must draw around it to drain the wassail cup.
The harmless joke shall pass around in spirits gay and light,--
Our laughter shall ring out loud, and echo with delight,--
The old their gossip shall enjoy--the youth with mirth combine,
It was my father's custom, and so it shall be mine.

Now clear away the table cloth and let the wine remain--
Bring oranges from Portugal, and grapes from sunny Spain,
Place here the cakes and there the nuts and there the rich preserves,
Good housewives bring your dainties, keep nothing in reserve.
Then bring the bowl, the jolly bowl, and fill it up with wine,
It was my father's custom, and so it shall be mine.

Now clear away the table, and take away each chair,
And let the merry music rejoicing dance prepare.
We'll play the games, the christmas games, blind man and hunt the shoe,--
And kiss the lasses round and round, under the mistletoe,--
For Christmas comes but once a year, its joys let none decline,
These were my father's customs, and so they shall be mine.

J. Andrews, Printer, 38 Chatham St., N. Y.

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"Sunday Gaming"

 But this I am sure they took the ready way to despoil us . . .that we might have one day. . . setapart whereinto... meditate, and commune of our Faith. . . at such a time that men should be plucked from their soberest and saddest thoughts, and by Bishops the pretended Fathers of the Church instigated by public Edict, and with earnest endeavor pushed forward to gaming, jiggling  wassailing, and mixed dancing is a horror to think.- Milton, Of Reformation Touching Church Discipline in
 England Summary and Condensation with Modernized Spelling and Punctuation Book 1

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Old Christmas: The Christmas Dinner
Washington Irving

                    When the cloth was removed, the butler brought in a huge silver vessel of rare and curious workmanship, which he placed before the squire. Its appearance was hailed with acclamation; being the Wassail Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity. The contents had been prepared by the squire himself; for it was beverage in the skilful mixture of which he particularly prided himself: alleging that it was too abtruse and complex for the comprehension of an ordinary servant. It was a potation, indeed, that might well make the heart of a toper leap within him; being composed of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasted apples bobbing about the surface.

               The old gentleman's whole countenance beamed with a serene look of indwelling delight, as he stirred this mighty bowl. Having raised it to his lips, with ahearty wish of a merry Christmas to all present, he sent it brimming round the board, for every one to follow his example, according to the primitive style; pronouncing it "the ancient fountain of good feeling, where all hearts met together."

There was much laughing and rallying as the honest emblem of Christmas joviality circulated, and was kissed rather coyly by the ladies. When it reached  Master Simon, he raised it in both hands, and with the air of a boon companion struck up an old Wassail chanson.

               I found the tide of wine and wassail fast gaining on the dry land of sober judgment.
 There was a quaintness, too, mingled with all this revelry, that gave it a peculiar zest: it was suited to the time and place; and as the
old manor-house almost reeled with mirth and wassail, it seemed echoing back the joviality of long departed years.


The Wassail Bowl was sometimes composed of ale instead of wine;
with nutmeg, sugar, toast, ginger, and roasted crabs; in this way
the nut-brown beverage is still prepared in some old families, and
round the hearths of substantial farmers at Christmas.  It is also
called Lambs' Wool, and is celebrated by Herrick in his "Twelfth

       "Next crowne the bowle full
        With gentle Lambs' Wool,
     Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
        With store of ale too;
        And thus ye must doe
     To make the Wassaile a swinger."

The custom of drinking out of the same cup gave place to each
having his cup.  When the steward came to the doore with the
Wassel, he was to cry three times, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel, and then
the chappel (chaplain) was to answer with a song.--Archaeologia.

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Poor Robin's Almanac
(As Cited in Washington Irving: Old Christmas)

            The brown bowle,
               The merry brown bowle,
               As it goes round about-a,
               Let the world say what it will,
               And drink your fill all out-a.

               The deep canne,
               The merry deep canne,
               As thou dost freely quaff-a,
               Be as merry as a king,
               And sound a lusty laugh-a
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Washington Irving-
OLD CHRISTMAS: The Christmas Dinner

"Society has acquired a more enlightened and elegant tone; but it has lost many of its strong local
peculiarities, its homebred feelings, its honest fireside delights.  The traditionary customs of golden-
hearted antiquity, its feudal hospitalities, and lordly wassailings, have passed away with the baronial
castles and stately manor-houses in which they were celebrated.  They comported with the shadowy
hall, the great oaken gallery, and the tapestried parlour, but are unfitted to the light showy saloons and
gay drawing-rooms of the modern villa."

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Charles Dickens- A Christmas Carol

"Heaped up on the floor, to form
a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn,
great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages,
mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts,
cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears,
immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that
made the chamber dim with their delicious steam"
-The Ghost of Christmas Present.(Wassail often was called "Punch")
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Charles Dickens-The Seven Poor Travelers
Chapter 1

As I am not easily balked in a design when I am set upon it, I urged to the good lady that this was Christmas-eve; that 
Christmas comes but once a year,--which is unhappily too true, for when it begins to stay with us the whole year round we 
shall make this earth a very different place; that I was possessed by the desire to treat the Travellers to a supper and a 
 temperate glass of hot Wassail; that the voice of Fame had been heard in that land, declaring my ability to make hot Wassail; 
 that if I were permitted to hold the feast, I should be found conformable to reason, sobriety, and good hours; in a word, that I 
could be merry and wise myself, and had been even known at a pinch to keep others so, although I was decorated with no 
 badge or medal, and was not a Brother, Orator, Apostle, Saint, or Prophet of any denomination whatever. In the end I 
  prevailed, to my great joy. It was settled that at nine o'clock that night a Turkey and a piece of Roast Beef should smoke upon 
 the board; and that I, faint and unworthy minister for once of Master Richard Watts, should preside as the Christmas-supper 
 host of the six Poor Travellers. 
After the Cathedral bell had struck eight, I could smell a delicious savour of Turkey and Roast Beef rising to the window of 
 my adjoining bedroom, which looked down into the inn-yard just where the lights of the kitchen reddened a massive fragment 
 of the Castle Wall. It was high time to make the Wassail now; therefore I had up the materials (which, together with their 
 proportions and combinations, I must decline to impart, as the only secret of my own I was ever known to keep), and made a 
glorious jorum. Not in a bowl; for a bowl anywhere but on a shelf is a low superstition, fraught with cooling and slopping; but in 
 a brown earthenware pitcher, tenderly suffocated, when full, with a coarse cloth. It being now upon the stroke of nine, I set 
 out for Watts's Charity, carrying my brown beauty in my arms. I would trust Ben, the waiter, with untold gold; but there are 
strings in the human heart which must never be sounded by another, and drinks that I make myself are those strings in mine. 
 The Travellers were all assembled, the cloth was laid, and Ben had brought a great billet of wood, and had laid it artfully on 
  the top of the fire, so that a touch or two of the poker after supper should make a roaring blaze. Having deposited my brown 
 beauty in a red nook of the hearth, inside the fender, where she soon began to sing like an ethereal cricket, diffusing at the 
 same time odours as of ripe vineyards, spice forests, and orange groves,--I say, having stationed my beauty in a place of 
 security and improvement, I introduced myself to my guests by shaking hands all round, and giving them a hearty welcome. 

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Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers

When they all tired of blind-man’s buff, there was a great game at snap-dragon, and when
 fingers enough were burned with that, and all the raisins were gone, they sat down by the
 huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mighty bowl of wassail, something
smaller than an ordinary wash- house copper, in which the hot apples were hissing and bubbling
 with a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly irresistible.

‘This,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, ‘this is, indeed, comfort.’ ‘Our invariable custom,’
replied Mr. Wardle. ‘Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now—
servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and
beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.’  Up flew the
 bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred. The deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that
penetrated into the farthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint on every face. ‘Come,’
said Wardle, ‘a song—a Christmas song! I’ll give you one, in default of a better.’‘Bravo!’ said
Mr. Pickwick.‘Fill up,’ cried Wardle. ‘It will be two hours, good, before you see the bottom of the
bowl through the deep rich colour of the wassail; fill up all round, and now for the song.’ Thus
 saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round, sturdy voice, commenced without more ado—


‘I care not for Spring; on his fickle wing
Let the blossoms and buds be borne;
He woos them amain with his treacherous rain,
And he scatters them ere the morn.
An inconstant elf, he knows not himself,
Nor his own changing mind an hour,
He’ll smile in your face, and, with wry grimace,
He’ll wither your youngest flower.


‘Let the Summer sun to his bright home run,
He shall never be sought by me;
When he’s dimmed by a cloud I can laugh aloud
And care not how sulky he be!
For his darling child is the madness wild
That sports in fierce fever’s train;
And when love is too strong, it don’t last long,
As many have found to their pain.


‘A mild harvest night, by the tranquil light
Of the modest and gentle moon,
Has a far sweeter sheen for me, I ween,
Than the broad and unblushing noon.
But every leaf awakens my grief,
As it lieth beneath the tree;
So let Autumn air be never so fair,
It by no means agrees with me.


‘But my song I troll out, for CHRISTMAS Stout,
The hearty, the true, and the bold;
A bumper I drain, and with might and main
Give three cheers for this Christmas old!
We’ll usher him in with a merry din
That shall gladden his joyous heart,
And we’ll keep him up, while there’s bite or sup,
And in fellowship good, we’ll part.


‘In his fine honest pride, he scorns to hide
One jot of his hard-weather scars;
They’re no disgrace, for there’s much the same trace
On the cheeks of our bravest tars.
Then again I sing till the roof doth ring
And it echoes from wall to wall—
To the stout old wight, fair welcome to-night,
As the King of the Seasons all!’


This song was tumultuously applauded—for friends and

dependents make a capital audience—and the poor relations,

especially, were in perfect ecstasies of rapture. Again was the fire

replenished, and again went the wassail round.


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Sir Walter Scott- Ivanhoe
Chapter XXVII

.  Long had the smouldering
fire of discord glowed between the tyrant father
and his savage son---long had I nursed, in secret,
the unnatural hatred---it blazed forth in an hour of
drunken wassail, and at his own board fell my oppressor
by the hand of his own son---such are the
secrets these vaults conceal!-

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Thomas Love Peacock -CROTCHET CASTLE


After a time, the ladies, and all the females of the party,
retired.  The males remained on duty with punch and wassail, and
dropped off one by one into sweet forgetfulness; so that when the
rising sun of December looked through the painted windows on
mouldering embers and flickering lamps, the vaulted roof was
echoing to a mellifluous concert of noses, from the clarionet of
the waiting-boy at one end of the hall, to the double bass of the
Reverend Doctor, ringing over the empty punch-bowl, at the other.

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H.H. Munro ("Saki") The Toys of Peace


The noise had the effect of bringing Bertie out into the garden, but
he utterly ignored the pale, angry faces peering out at the cow-
house window, and concentrated his attention on the revellers
outside the gate.

"Wassail, you chaps!" he shouted.

"Wassail, old sport!" they shouted back; "we'd jolly well drink y'r
health, only we've nothing to drink it in."

"Come and wassail inside," said Bertie hospitably; "I'm all alone,
and there's heap's of 'wet'."

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A Merry Christmas Song.

Come, hither bring the holly bush to decorate the hall,
With lofty bows of mistletoe to hang around the wall,--
Spread wide the snowy table cloth upon the shiny board--
And bring the best of every thing the larder can afford.
Then place a seat for every guest, let here the glasses shine,
It was my father's custom and so it shall be mine.

Now bring the massive yule log--the fire pile well up,
For we must draw around it to drain the wassail cup.
The harmless joke shall pass around in spirits gay and light,--
Our laughter shall ring out loud, and echo with delight,--
The old their gossip shall enjoy--the youth with mirth combine,
It was my father's custom, and so it shall be mine.

Now clear away the table cloth and let the wine remain--
Bring oranges from Portugal, and grapes from sunny Spain,
Place here the cakes and there the nuts and there the rich preserves,
Good housewives bring your dainties, keep nothing in reserve.
Then bring the bowl, the jolly bowl, and fill it up with wine,
It was my father's custom, and so it shall be mine.

Now clear away the table, and take away each chair,
And let the merry music rejoicing dance prepare.
We'll play the games, the christmas games, blind man and hunt the shoe,--
And kiss the lasses round and round, under the mistletoe,--
For Christmas comes but once a year, its joys let none decline,
These were my father's customs, and so they shall be mine.

J. Andrews, Printer, 38 Chatham St., N. Y.,L.O.C American Songs and Ballads, Series 2, Volume 2

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Dr. William King 1709

At Christmas time be careful of your Fame.
See the old Tenant's Table be the same:
Then if yoiu would send up the Brawnwer's Head,
Sweet Rosemary and Bays around it spread:
His foaming tusks let some large Pippin grace,
Or 'midst these turnd'ring spears and Orange place.
Sauce like himself, offensive to its Foes.
The Roguish Mustard, dang'rous to the Nose,
Sack and well-spic'd Hippocras the Wine,
Wassail the Bolw with antient Ribbands fine.
Pouridge with Plumbs, and Turkeys with the Chine

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The Gentle Grafter

by O. Henry

"'It's all right, Andy,' says I, 'to drink the health of our brother
monopolists, but don't overdo the wassail. You know our most eminent
and loathed multi-corruptionists live on weak tea and dog biscuits.'

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A Decade of Letters to the Rev. J. Thomas Murray,  Editor of the Methodist Protestant:
Letter II
In olden times Christmas was kept at Branksome Hall, or Kenilworth Castle, in a mirthful way. Chieftans and their liegemen
indulged in what is called wassail. Solders, said I, tippling would be something very inappropriate to a Manse, but we are not
without some coffee, a berry of which Napoleon was fond.

(editor's note: ah yes Americanization of the culture!)

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By James Hogg

The laird did not awake in any reasonable time; for, he being

overcome with fatigue and wassail, his sleep became sounder,

and his Morphean measures more intense. These varied a little in

their structure; but the general run of the bars sounded something

in this way: "Hic-hoc-wheew!" It was most profoundly ludicrous;

and could not have missed exciting risibility in anyone save a

pious, a disappointed, and humbled bride.

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From: A QUESTION by Francis Thompson

O bird with heart of wassail,
  That toss the Bacchic branch,
And slip your shaken music,
  An elfin avalanche;

Come tell me, O tell me,
  My poet of the blue!
What's YOUR thought of me, Sweet?--
  Here's MY thought of you.
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The champagne, impatiently expected and lavishly poured out, was a
scourge of fiery sparks to these men; released like post-horses from
some mail-coach by a relay; they let their spirits gallop away into
the wilds of argument to which no one listened, began to tell stories
which had no auditors, and repeatedly asked questions to which no
answer was made. Only the loud voice of wassail could be heard, a
voice made up of a hundred confused clamors, which rose and grew like
a crescendo of Rossini's. Insidious toasts, swagger, and challenges

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From The Ghosts in: Rhymes of a Rolling Stone
by Robert W. Service

Smith had a friend, we'll call him Brown;
  dearer than brothers were those two.
When in the wassail Smith would drown,
  Brown would rescue and pull him through.
When Brown was needful Smith would lend; so it fell as the years went by,
Each on the other would depend:

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From:The Danish History, Books I-IX
by Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Learned")fl. Late 12th - Early 13th Century A.D.

When he had done these things, and gone back to his own land, one
Skat entertained him at a banquet, desirous to mingle his
toilsome warfare with joyous licence.  Frode was lying in his
house, in royal fashion, upon cushions of cloth of gold, and a
certain Hunding challenged him to fight.  Then, though he had
bent his mind to the joys of wassail, he had more delight in the
prospect of a fray than in the presence of a feast, and wound up
the supper with a duel and the duel with a triumph.

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Poems of Henry Timrod

By Henry Timrod
From: Christmas

Is there indeed a door,
Where the old pastimes, with their lawful noise,
And all the merry round of Christmas joys,
    Could enter as of yore?

    Would not some pallid face
Look in upon the banquet, calling up
Dread shapes of battles in the wassail cup,
    And trouble all the place?

    How could we bear the mirth,
While some loved reveler of a year ago
Keeps his mute Christmas now beneath the snow,
    In cold Virginian earth?

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A Limerick
    There was a young lady from Bothel
   Whose lisp meant she couldn't say fossil.
   When out singing carols
   She rolled out the barrels
   and showed all her friends how to wassail.

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