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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 311 pages of information about Vanishing England.

CHAPTER XVIII

OLD CUSTOMS THAT ARE VANISHING

Many writers have mourned over the decay of our ancient customs which the restlessness of modern life has effectually killed.  New manners are ever pushing out the old, and the lover of antiquity may perhaps be pardoned if he prefers the more ancient modes.  The death of the old social customs which added such diversity to the lives of our forefathers tends to render the countryman’s life one continuous round of labour unrelieved by pleasant pastime, and if innocent pleasures are not indulged in, the tendency is to seek for gratification in amusements that are not innocent or wholesome.

The causes of the decline and fall of many old customs are not far to seek.  Agricultural depression has killed many.  The deserted farmsteads no longer echo with the sounds of rural revelry; the cheerful log-fires no longer glow in the farmer’s kitchen; the harvest-home song has died away; and “largess” no longer rewards the mummers and the morris-dancers.  Moreover, the labourer himself has changed; he has lost his simplicity.  His lot is far better than it was half a century ago, and he no longer takes pleasure in the simple joys that delighted his ancestors in days of yore.  Railways and cheap excursions have made him despise the old games and pastimes which once pleased his unenlightened soul.  The old labourer is dead, and his successor is a very “up-to-date” person, who reads the newspapers and has his ideas upon politics and social questions that would have startled his less cultivated sire.  The modern system of elementary education also has much to do with the decay of old customs.

Still we have some left.  We can only here record a few that survive.  Some years ago I wrote a volume on the subject, and searched diligently to find existing customs in the remote corners of old England.[61] My book proved useful to Sir Benjamin Stone, M.P., the expert photographer of the House of Commons, who went about with his camera to many of the places indicated, and by his art produced permanent presentments of the scenes which I had tried to describe.  He was only just in time, as doubtless many of these customs will soon pass away.  It is, however, surprising to find how much has been left; how tenaciously the English race clings to that which habit and usage have established; how deeply rooted they are in the affections of the people.  It is really remarkable that at the present day, in spite of ages of education and social enlightenment, in spite of centuries of Christian teaching and practice, we have now amongst us many customs which owe their origin to pagan beliefs and the superstitions of our heathen forefathers, and have no other raison d’etre for their existence than the wild legends of Scandinavian mythology.

  [61] Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time (Methuen and
  Co.).

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