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Ulrfrojiolitiw gossip.




THE DUNMOW FLITCH. (Trom the Daily Telegraph.) A custom, which was originally nothing more in its intention than a passing joke, and which died of natural old age in the year 1772—whefi one John Gilder and his wife claimed the reward of a twelve- month's conjugal tameness, but were denied the thinnest rasher of compensation for so long and tedious a mutual forbearance—has not been allowed to slumber peacefully in the grave of defunct fun. The corpse was galvanised in 1855 by Mr. William Harrison Ainsworth, to whom his countrymen, and, we ought perhaps to add, countrywomen, owe better things. To speak honest truth, this revival was an error in judgment we will not say an error of taste, for taste is a question concerning which more than concerns any other question, tastes differ. What is humorous or whimsical in one age becomes merely silly in ages that follow, especially when the impulse of the thing is lost and the end has gone by. This can hardly be denied of other matters than whim and humour. The Eglinton tournay was a splendid anachronism the long endurance of Bartlemy Fair was a grotesque and antiquated reproach to the City in whose very midst the nuisance was tolerated but we try in vain to think of any freak or any recent relic of olden country manners that will afford a parallel to the proceedings of Monday, in the neighbourhood of Dunmow. In 1851,. when the "World's Fair" gave a fillip to every kind of extravagance all over the country, a woi thy pair, named Harrels, sought to make their connubial bliss notorious, and were so determined to achieve this wonderful deed that, when repulsed by the lord of the manor, they rallied round them a knot of neighbours, with whose help they succeeded in gaining a compromise. The ancient ceremony was dis- pensed with but at a rusiic fSte iu Easton Park, this fmd couple received the elegant and appropriate token of wtdded love, to which our fertile English tongue has lent the pleasing name of "gammon." It was, as we have said, in 1855 that a deservedly popular novelist, bitten perhaps by one of his least-disciplined historical fancies, determined to revive the custom, in a far more effective and effectual fashion as regards scenery, dresses, and decorations, as well aa dramatis ptrsonce, than the fashion adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Harrels. It was a time of much effusion of interna- tional sentiment; and an amiable French gentleman, who had devoted his time so successfully to the study of English literature as to have been able to render into his own language, metrically, Chaucer's Flower and the Leaf," good-naturedly fell-in with Mr. Ains- worth's medissval project. A faithful historian of the event says The lord of the manor refused to allow the ceremony to take place at Little Dunmow, and some of the clergy and gentry strenuously opposed its transference to Great Dun- mow. On the 19th of July, however, Mr and Mrs. Barlow, of Chipping Ongar, and the Chevalier de Chatelain and his English wife, appeared before a mixed jury of bachelors and spinsters in the town-hall of Dunmow. Mr. Ainsworth was judge, and Mr. Robert Bell counsel for the claimants; Mr. Dudley Costello conducting the examination in oppo- sition. After two hours and a half questioning and deli- beration, both couples were declared to have fulfUled the necessary conditiol's, anet the Court, counsel, and claim- ants adjourned to the Windmill Field, where the oath was administered in the presence of fully seven thousand people, and the tlitchell presented to the deserving quartett. That a French gentleman and his English wife, both being persons of more than ordinary refinement and culture, should have not merely brooked, but actually should have courted, a two hours and a half ques- tioning and deliberation," the matter in hand being their compatibility of temper, as regarded its moral and material bearings on a side of cured hog's flesh, is certainly wonderful; but so it was and one of the possible complications of the abnormal proceeding might have been the diffusion, all over France, an ineradicable belief that we insularies are just as much given to this odd baconian system ot matrimonial rewards as we are to the opposite extreme of selling our wives in Smithfield. It is comfortable to know that somewhere in Brittany the same custom as that of Dunmow obtained for about a hundred years, by which time the Bretons of the part affected appear to have grawn sick of it. Into the archaeology of the Essex tradition we need not enter. The jest was at all events a well-estabLshed one in Chaucer's day for his frolicksome Wife of Bath savs of her dear dead and gone husbands, who were more than one or two The ba.con was not fet for him, I trow, That some men have in Essex, at Dunmow." j On Monday the train which left Bishopegate-street Station at half-past eight o'clock took down a goodly freight of Londoners and from many adjacent towns and villages troops of holiday-makers were poured upon Dunmow. Mr. E. T. Smith, who had aided Mr. Ainsworth in getting up the pageant of 1855, had taken the whole of the day's proceedings on his own hands, and had placarded the town with large bills setting forth the attraction of his Monstre" Festival of the Flitch of Bacon. There were several bands of music in the town, generally within hearing of one another and the anything but harmonious uuion I was continually being celebrated of "Magige May j and "Chamgagne Charlie." Arches of evergreens were j erected here and there and one triple arch, in the op^n J npice before the Saracen's Head, was especially m- posing. The announcement had gone forth that lr. Harrison Ainsworth, who is represented as taking a deep interest in the" revival," would assist at the ceremony; but his presence was missed, as was that of a'member of Parliament whose name had been honoured with a conspicuous line in fr. Smith's "monstre" poster. A field near the railway station, and opposite the Dunmow Union, which, by the bye, is one of the prettiest of modem Gothic build- ings put to the use of a workhouse, had been hii ed for the occasion and a sort of fair was carried on at one end, where also was a long booth fitted up with a stage and proscenium. Before the trial, a cricket match between eleven theatrical clowns and the Dunmow Club was commenced. The clowns, under Mr. Harry Croueste, lost the toss for first inning, and thereby gained an opportunity of drolling altogether in the field. One of them got endless fun out of an old umbrella and a strange effect was pro- duced whenever a wicket fell or a batsman was caught out, by the clowns turning over and over in a series of ecstatic somersaults, supposed to express delight and trinmph. When the company had been assembled within the booth, and the orchestra had played a long overture, the curtain was raised upon a scene not unlike that of the trial scene in the burlesque of the "Merchant of Venice when the late Mr. Robson was wont to asto- nish and please the audiences of the Olympic by his mock-heroic performance of Shylock. Mr. E. T. Smith, in scarlet and ermine, presided as judge and the op- posing counsel was Mr. Brooks, of "judge and jury" notoriety. Mr. Smith, addressing Brother Brooks, proposed to read a letter of apology from the gentleman whose name had been printed in the bills as having consented to act as judge. The substance of the letter, a very short one, was a kindly excuse for not accepting the invitation. Mr. Smith then proceeded to address the "Court" on the subject of the ancient custom of Dunmow, "looking at it," as he said, "from a relisrious point of view," and taking strong exception to the Vicar in again refusing to sanction the ceremony. The trial then pro- ceeded two couples—a Mr. and Mrs. Casson, of Hack- ney, and a Mr. and Mrs. Leader, of Clerkenwell- coming forward as claimants. The learned Mr. Brooks, being on his very best behaviour, was rather less enter- taining than he was apparently expected to be, and in fact may fairly be said to have been decorously dull. Another counsel's pleasantry was at first relished by part of the audience but nearly all present joined in hissing the advocate when he passed into plain and positive grossness. When the flitches had been formally adjudged the prizes of the two couples, a procession was formed, with banners and horsemen, to parade the town. Knights in armour, squires, pages, and—with what precise relevancy we were not able to dillcoTer-a. per- sonage representing King Henry the Eighth, were mar- shalled in a long array, with clowns and beefeaters in- terspersed, and with the happy couples, chaired on men's shoulders, in the midst of the motley train. On some of the banners were inscribed the names of claimants in former times. There were not many such names for, as we have already remarked, the old joke of the monks of Dunmow hardly ever became a regular custom, and for centuries no wedded pair came forward to assert their right to the gammon. It was a gammon, an.1 not a flitch, that was bestowed in the early history of D unmow. On a very conspicuous banner was inscribed Harrison Ainsworth and E. T. Smith, 1855." When the procession had gone through the town and returned, the two flitches were delivered over to iheir several pro- prietors and there was an end of the day's amuse- ments, so far as the "custom of Dunmow" was con- cerned. The rest of the programme was simply Cremorne, fifty miles away from Chelsea. There was a display of fireworks to finish wIth, and then the return trains were dispatched in as quick succession as was compatible with safety.

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