Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1711. .
‘Ipse dies agitat festos: Fususque per herbam,
Ignis ubi in medio et Socii cratera coronant,
Te libans, Lenaee, vocat: pecorisque magistris
Velocis Jaculi certamina ponit in ulmo,
Corporaque agresti nudat praedura Palaestra.
Hanc olim veteres vitam coluere Sabini,
Hanc Remus et Frater: Sic fortis Etruria crevit,
Scilicet et rerum facta est pulcherrima Roma.’
Virg. ‘G.’ 2.
I am glad that my late going into the Country has encreased the Number of my Correspondents, one of whom sends me the following Letter.
‘Though you are pleased to retire from us so soon into the City, I hope you will not think the Affairs of the Country altogether unworthy of your Inspection for the future. I had the Honour of seeing your short Face at Sir ROGER DE COVERLEY’S, and have ever since thought your Person and Writings both extraordinary. Had you stayed there a few Days longer you would have seen a Country Wake, which you know in most Parts of England is the Eve-Feast of the Dedication of our Churches. I was last Week at one of these Assemblies which was held in a neighbouring Parish; where I found their Green covered with a promiscuous Multitude of all Ages and both Sexes, who esteem one another more or less the following Part of the Year according as they distinguish themselves at this Time. The whole Company were in their Holiday Cloaths, and divided into several Parties, all of them endeavouring to shew themselves in those Exercises wherein they excelled, and to gain the Approbation of the Lookers on.
I found a Ring of Cudgel-Players, who were breaking one another’s Heads in order to make some Impression on their Mistresses Hearts. I observed a lusty young Fellow, who had the Misfortune of a broken Pate; but what considerably added to the Anguish of the Wound, was his over-hearing an old Man, who shook his Head and said, That he questioned now if black Kate would marry him these three Years. I was diverted from a farther Observation of these Combatants, by a Foot-ball Match, which was on the other side of the Green; where Tom Short behaved himself so well, that most People seemed to agree it was impossible that he should remain a Batchelor till the next Wake. Having played many a Match my self, I could have looked longer on this Sport, had I not observed a Country Girl, who was posted on an Eminence at some Distance from me, and was making so many odd Grimaces, and writhing and distorting her whole Body in so strange a Manner, as made me very desirous to know the Meaning of it. Upon my coming up to her, I found that she was overlooking a Ring of Wrestlers, and that her Sweetheart, a Person of small Stature, was contending with an huge brawny Fellow, who twirled him about, and shook the little Man so violently, that by a secret Sympathy of Hearts it produced all those Agitations in the Person of his Mistress, who I dare say, like Caelia in Shakespear on the same Occasion, could have wished herself invisible to catch the strong Fellow by the Leg. The Squire of the Parish treats the whole Company every Year with a Hogshead of Ale; and proposes a Beaver-Hat as a Recompense to him who gives most Falls. This has raised such a Spirit of Emulation in the Youth of the Place, that some of them have rendered themselves very expert at this Exercise; and I was often surmised to see a Fellow’s Heels fly up, by a Trip which was given him so smartly that I could scarce discern it. I found that the old Wrestlers seldom entered the Ring, till some one was grown formidable by having thrown two or three of his Opponents; but kept themselves as it were in a reserved Body to defend the Hat, which is always hung up by the Person who gets it in one of the most Conspicuous Parts of the House, and looked upon by the whole Family as something redounding much more to their Honour than a Coat of Arms. There was a Fellow who was so busy in regulating all the Ceremonies, and seemed to carry such an Air of Importance in his Looks, that I could not help inquiring who he was, and was immediately answered, That he did not value himself upon nothing, for that he and his Ancestors had won so many Hats, that his Parlour looked like a Haberdashers Shop: However this Thirst of Glory in them all, was the Reason that no one Man stood Lord of the Ring for above three Falls while I was amongst them.