29 February 2012

29 February - Leap Day

Weather Ember Day.  The weather today foretells the weather in April. 

“During leap year, the girl who counts all the gray horses she sees, until she has got up to a hundred, will be married within a year to the first gentleman with whom she shakes hands after counting the one-hundredth horse… If someone would bring a drove of gray horses to town today, what a shaking of hands would take place tomorrow.” [Warren Gazette, January 28, 1876]

“Bachelors may breathe easier.  The privilege of Ladies to pop the question expires with the 29th of February.” [Warren Gazette, March 8, 1872]

So, whence comes this “Ladies’ Privilege”?  It is simply amazing the stories you can find!

In 1865, The Illustrated Almanack printed the following, and it still makes the rounds on the Internet: “The ladies' leap year privilege took its origin in the following manner :—By an ancient act of the Scottish Parliament, passed about the year 1228, it was ‘ordonit that during ye reign of her maist blessit maiestie, Margeret, ilk for the yeare knowne as lepe yeare, ilka maiden ladee of baith high and lowe estait, shall hae libertie to speak ye man she likes. Gif he refuses to tak hir to bee his wyf, he schale be mulct in the sum of ane hundridty pundis, or less, as his estait may bee, except and alwais, gif he can make it appeare that he is betrothit to anither woman, then he schal be free.’"

[first hint that something is not quite right here: There was no ‘blessit majestie Margaret’ in 1228]

This story was republished throughout the 19th century with a few changes here and there – sometimes it was during the reign of “hys maist blissit mageste” and sometimes the year changed to 1288 and sometimes the fine went from £100 to £1, and sometimes the spelling (always atrocious) changed.

It makes a fine mental picture to imagine those brae burly Scots nobles taking time out of their usual pursuits (like warring on the English) to make a law giving ladies the privilege in Leap Year.

"So, waddya guys think about this leap year business?"

Besides which, as Walsh says in his Handy-book of Literary Curiosities, “At all events, the imitation of old English is too modern for the year 1228.” [Or ’88, for that matter.]


The original "Kiss me, I'm Irish"
A nicer grandmother’s tale, more often utilized than the Improbable History of the Scots, is the one in which Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid are the actors.  This version comes from Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898): 

“As St. Patrick was perambulating the shores of Lough Neagh, after having driven the frogs out of the bogs and the snakes out of the grass, he was accosted by St. Bridget, who with many tears and lamentations informed him that dissension had arisen among the ladies in her nunnery over the fact that they were debarred the privilege of "popping the question."

It will be remembered that in Bridget's day celibacy, although approved by the Church as the proper life of a religious, and consequently made binding upon the individual by a private vow, was not enforced as a general and absolute rule for the clergy.

St. Patrick—a sternly single man himself—was yet so far moved that he offered to concede to the ladies the privilege of proposing one year in every seven. But at this St. Bridget demurred, and, throwing her arms about his neck, exclaimed, "Arrah! Pathrick, jewel, I daurn't go back to the gurls wid such a proposal. Mek it wan year in four."

To which St. Patrick replied, "Biddy, acushla, squeeze me that way again, and I'll give you leap-year, the longest one of the lot."

St. Bridget, thus encouraged, bethought herself of her own husbandless condition, and accordingly popped the question to St. Patrick herself.  But he had taken the vow of celibacy: so he had to patch up the difficulty as best he could with a kiss and a silk gown.

"And ever since then," concludes the legend, which, it is needless to say, is not found in Butler's "Lives of the Saints" or in any other work of hagiological authority, "if a man refuses a leap-year proposal he must pay the penalty of a silk gown and a kiss."

Well, it is all a light-hearted thing of the past.  The Modern Woman is not constrained by waiting for Leap Year before asking the man of her dreams if he will honor her with his heart and hand (while keeping the bridal magazines out of sight but instantly available).  She pounces when she can.

24 February 2012

24 February - Bissextile

This is Bissextile day.  It has nothing to do with cross-dressing, or any other aberration.

Now, we all know that the earth’s orbit around the sun – the solar year – takes a little more time than 365 days, and if that time is not accounted for, eventually all those extra minutes add up.  With enough additional time, the civil calendars no longer correspond to the solar year nor correctly pinpoint the seasonal markers, so that (for instance) the Vernal Equinox, the beginning of spring, might be off by three or four months.

[Small digression: remember that the Roman dates were calculated according to the Kalends, Ides, and Nones of the month, and were named as such, so that the sixth day prior to the first of the following month (inclusively) would be written ante diem sextum Kalendas _____________, and would correspond to our 26th or 27th of a month (those with 30 or 31 days) or as with February, the 24th.]

To continue: The Roman calendar was originally based on the phases of the moon, and in order to correct the difference between lunar and solar year, they inserted an intercalary month of 22 days between the 5th and 6th days before the Kalends of March (aka the 23rd and 24th of February) every once in a while.  When this was done was determined by the pontifices – men with both religious and political authority to regulate Roman life – and would have worked, with a few refinements, had it been carried out systematically, but alas!  It was in the hands of the politicians, and you know how they are.  Sometimes, in the press of business, they forgot.  Because the intercalation was considered unlucky, they might forego it during times of stress (like wars).  Sometimes, in order to give themselves more time in a political office or shorten the term of a rival, they added more than one intercalary month in the year or deliberately left it out altogether.

[I shudder to think what a standing president would do with such power.  Oh wait…]

By the time Julius Caesar arrived on the scene, the solar year and the calendar year were poles apart, which wouldn’t matter, I guess, until you realized that your Sextilis harvest festival is being held before your crops are even knee-high.  So, among all his other accomplishments, Julius reformed the Roman calendar by first removing the intercalary month, then by permanently adding 10 days to the year, scattered among seven of the months, and one further day to February every four years.  This day was entered where the old intercalary month had been – just before a. d. VI Kal. Mar., aka 24 February.  It was known as ante diem bis sextum Kalendas Martias (the double-sixth day before 1 March), and the year in which it occurred as annus bissextus, eventually becoming, in English, bissextile.

[BTW, Julius was said to have learned of the idea of basing a civil calendar on a solar calendar from the Egyptians, with whose queen he was dallying.]

The two days, a. d. bis VI Kal. Mar. and a. d. VI Kal. Mar. were considered, for legal purposes, to be one day, but which was the day and which was the bis is open to debate.  Thankfully, we don’t do this anymore, otherwise you would be working (by our civil calendar) one extra day this week for the usual amount on your paycheck.  Boo!  Hiss!  Once the days were numbered consecutively in a month, the old Roman method of counting fell out of favor, and Leap Day is now the 29th of February.

Meanwhile, dear old Saint Matthias’s feast day was celebrated on a. d. VI Kal. Mar., but since this is a double day, the actual celebration was moved to tomorrow, the 25th, in Leap or Bissextile Years.

In the new General Calendar, his feast has been moved to May 14, making everything much simpler.

You can read more about the Roman calendar here at the Encyclopaedia Romana.

14 February 2012

Leap Year Valentine, 1891

A Young Lady to a Young Gentleman

Dear Bashful, it's leap-year you know,
And a girl has a right to propose
To the man whom she likes as a Beau,
And could love as a mate. - So here goes.

Will you love me till death do us part?
Will you take me for better or worse?
Will you give me your hand and your heart?
 - Not to speak of your house and your purse.

I should make you an excellent wife,
I have very few failings or faults;
In Charades I can act to the life,
And am great at a Galop or Waltz.

I have solid accomplishments too,
(I could tell you them better in prose)
But I'm good at a pudding or stew,
And could care for the children and clothes.

I shall be at (that) party tonight;
If you tip me a nod or a wink
Or whisper me softly "all's right!"
I shall know what to do and to think.

Don't be modest and silly or coy,
Don't be blushing and that sort of thing;
But say "yes" like a jolly good boy,
And go for the license and ring.

Then I'm yours my dear B. till I die;
I may not trust my name to my pen,
But its first letter sounds like a sigh,
And its finishing letter's an N.
(Or as the case may be)

Gustavus William Wicksteed, "Waifs in Verse" (1891), p. 139.

13 February 2012

13 February - St. Valentine's Eve

Tomorrow being Saint Valentine's Day, tonight is St. Valentine's Eve, and time for another love charm or two.

From Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open:
"Fifthly, my daughters, know ye the 14th of February is Valentine's day, at which time the fowls of the air begin to couple; and the young men and maids are for choosing their mates. Now, that you may speed, take this approved direction: Take five bay-leaves, lay one under every corner of your pillow, and the fifth in the middle; then lying down to rest, repeat these lines seven times: 
"Sweet guardian angels, let me have,
What I most earnestly do crave,
A valentine endowed with love,
That will both kind and constant prove."
Then to your content you'll have either the valentine you desire, or one more excellent."
[Who can fault that?]

This charm uses fewer bay leaves:
“Take two bay-leaves, sprinkle them with rose water, and lay them across your pillow in the evening.  When you go to bed, put on a clean night-gown, turned wrong side outwards, and, lying down, say these words softly to yourself:
"Good Valentine, be kind to me;
In dreams let me my true love see."

The charm can be used on St. Valentine's day, also.

[Be ready to explain to your mother why her stock of bay leaves is suddenly diminished: "But it's for a good cause, Mom!  You want grandchildren someday, don't you?"]

Another form of divination was to take hempseed in hand and go to the porch of a church tonight; at half-past midnight the seeker after knowledge would "proceed homewards, scattering the seed on either side, repeating these lines:

Hempseed I sow, hempseed I mow,
She (or he) that will my true love be,
Come rake this hempseed after me; 

The person's true love would be seen behind in a winding-sheet [i.e. grave-clothes or a shroud], "raking up the seed just sown." [That seems to me to be a mixing of the superstition of seeing the people who will die in the coming year on St. Mark's Eve with the love-charm of the hempseed on St. John's Eve.  In any case, it is not one that I will try, and not just because it is far too cold to be walking home from church in the wee hours of the morning!]

From the Chromolithograph (1868):
"A curious custom is still kept up in Norwich, on the eve of St. Valentine, of giving presents; and the mode adopted among all classes, that of placing the presents on the doorsill of the house of the favoured person, and intimating what is done by a run-away knock or ring, as the giver pleases.  In Madder's "Rambles in an Old City" (Norwich), it is thus described: "The streets swarm with carriers, and baskets laden with treasures; bang, bang, bang go the knockers, and away rushes the banger, depositing first upon the doorstep some packages from the basket of stores ; —again and again at intervals, at every door to which a missive is addressed, is the same repeated till the baskets are empty. Anonymously, St. Valentine presents his gifts, - labeled only with 'St. Valentine's love' and 'Good-morrow, Valentine.' 

Then within the houses of destination, the screams, the shouts, the rushings to catch the bang-bangs—the flushed faces, sparkling eyes, rushing feet to pick up the fairy gifts—inscriptions to be interpreted, mysteries to be unravelled, hoaxes to be found out—great hampers, heavy and ticketed 'With care, this side upwards' to be unpacked, out of which jump live little boys, with St Valentine's love to the little ladies fair—the sham bang-bangs, that bring nothing but noise and fun—the mock parcels that vanish from the doorstep by invisible strings when the door opens— monster parcels that dwindle to thread papers denuded of their multiplied envelopes, with fitting mottoes, all tending to the final consummation of good counsel, 'Happy is he who expects nothing, and he will not be disappointed.' It is a glorious night: marvel not that we should perpetuate so joyous a festivity." 

[Much more fun than the generic box of chocolates and the half-hearted "Where do you want to go for dinner?"] 

A Solemn Warning to Single Men (1864)

A Solemn Warning to Single Men

Bachelors all, of St. Valentine’s Day beware!
This year is Leap Year: the ladies may choose!
How then you get in the fair sex’s way beware,
Or both your hearts and your freedom you’ll lose.
Princesses – waitresses,
Curly, or straight tresses,
Fond hearts, or traitresses,
Short ones or tall;
Elderly – youthful,
Deceitful or truthful,
Unfeeling or ruthful,
Beware of them all!

Theirs is the question this year; and for popping it,
No opportunity with they omit.
They may propose; and you’ve no chance of stopping it;
‘Please ask mamma’ does not answer a bit.
They’ll grant no truces,
Delays, or excuses;
Resistance no use is
To Leap Year’s mad freak,
That one chance of Hymen
For nervous and shy men,
(The girls can’t think why men
Are frightened to speak).

As for myself; I am terrified awfully –
‘No' to a woman ne’er yet have I said,
So run a great risk of behaving unlawfully –
Marrying all who may ask me to wed.
In fear, dash my wig, am I
Standing of bigamy;
Not to say trigamy
Twenty times o’er.
There is no hope escape of;
I’m in for the scrape of
My fate, in the shape of
The year sixty-four.

Then bachelors all, be advised and take warning,
There’s a great deal more danger than many suppose
Who are treating my sad admonition with scorning,
And make bosom friends of their poor bosoms’ foes.
Of their dreams they will wake out
And find the mistake out,
When the fair ones they break out
On Valentine’s Day.
And kneeling before us
Declare they adore us
And sing in a chorus –
‘Be mine, love, I pray!’

This petticoat government’s acts will be terrible,
Over our hearts most tyrannic in sway;
Rings for all fingers and rings for each merry bell,
Their laws insist on for Valentine’s Day.
For there’s no need for angling –
To set the bells jangling –
For white favours dangling,
For bridesmaids a score;
For white orange flowers,
And weddings and dowers,
Since they hold full powers,
Leap Year, sixty-four.

Anonymous, London Society, Volume 5 (1864), p. 176.

12 February 2012

12 February - Georgia Day

Weather:  If it storms on the 12th, 13th, and 14th of February, it is a good omen.

(On the other hand)

If the sun shines on St. Eulalia’s day,
It is good for apples and cider, they say

[Either way, we win]

"Not for ourselves, but others." 
(motto of the Trustees of Georgia)

Today is Georgia Day, commemorating the arrival of the first colonists at Savannah in 1633.

Georgia was the last colony to be settled, and its establishment was primarily a philanthropic endeavor by a set of men who desired to provide more material aid to a group denominated “the worthy poor”, those hard-working, enterprising souls who through unlucky investments, ruinous litigation, or business failures based on unforeseen events were now reduced to penury and debtors’ prison from which they could not escape.

[A slight digression here.  Were we under the laws of the time, much – if not most – of the population of this country would be in debtors’ prison, for remember, there was no Social Security, no Aid to Families with Dependent Children, no Disability Insurance, no Welfare, no Unemployment Insurance, no Public Assistance, no Government Bailouts.  There were charities, there was “on the Parish”, and there was debtors’ prison.  The first two did what they could with what resources they had, and had their own rules as to who could be benefited, but debtors’ prison was more democratic.  It was open to anyone who, for any reason, their own fault or not, could not pay their bills.

  • Your company has gone bankrupt? No government bailout here. Debtors’ prison.
  • You have lost your job and can’t pay your bills? Debtors’ prison.
  • You are chronically ill or disabled and cannot hold a job? Debtors’ prison.
  • Your bank has absconded with your funds? Yes, we understand that it’s not your fault, but – Debtors’ prison.
  • You’ve lived well beyond your means and over-extended your credit? (nod your heads, most of you) Debtors’ prison.
  • The Bubble has burst and your investments have gone south? Debtors’ prison.

Once in debtors’ prison, you could not leave until you paid your creditors – but where are you going to get the money to pay your creditors if you are in prison?  Bribe the jailers and you might be able to carry on a small business.  Oh, and while you are enjoying your stay with us, you are required to pay for your room and board, the amount and quality of which is commensurate with what you pay.  Hope you have friends who can cough up something for your keep.]

Back to Georgia:
The philanthropists, one of whom was James Oglethorpe, formed themselves into a group as trustees, as they considered that the monies collected and the land acquired was to be held by them in trust for the poor.  They received none of it, nor was there any thought of making a profit for themselves from the venture.  Even Oglethorpe, authorized by the trustees to act as Colonial Governor, was not given any salary or recompense.

On 9 June 1732, they received from George II the charter granting them the land from the west side of the Savannah River (the southern border of South Carolina) south and west to the Altamaha River, and all land west of that to the South Seas (the Pacific).  The proposed colony was promptly named Georgia in his honor.  That it would provide a buffer between the prosperous Carolina colony and the Spanish of Florida (who claimed South Carolina as Spanish territory) might have aided the acquisition of the charter.  That reason alone was uppermost in the mind of South Carolina’s governor, who gave it his whole-hearted support.

Seal of the Trustees
With charter in hand, the work began of soliciting funds and finding colonists.  Oglethorpe wrote tracts explaining how the worthy poor could, instead of being a drain on the resources of the country, contribute to its wealth.  In this new land – previously described as “in the same parallel as Palestine and pointed out by God’s own choice” and “the most amiable country in the universe” – men and women could be given a chance to start over and make good. 

Oglethorpe’s own pet project was the establishment of a silk industry which would make Great Britain less dependent on the silk producers of Italy and the Orient.  Having learned that the mulberry was indigenous to the proposed colony and the climate therein suitable for the silkworm, he and his fellow trustees determined that here would be fitting employment for those who could not do the harder work of laborers, such as women and children, the old and the infirm.

A committee was appointed to investigate the character and circumstances of those who applied to emigrate and to obtain the discharge of such poor prisoners as were deemed worthy.  Only those who had fallen due to the misfortunes of trade and not through laziness or immorality were considered, and they could not leave wives or families without support.

At the same time, the trustees solicited donations of money and stores to feed, clothe, and transport those selected, and to purchase implements for the various trades.  As it was to be a buffer between the British and Spanish colonies, the men chosen were also supplied with arms and drilled daily before they embarked.

Within five months of the receipt of the charter, the first group of settlers had been chosen and their stores purchased.  One hundred and fourteen individuals, most of them in one of 40 families, sailed from Gravesend in November in the ship ‘Ann’.  With them were Oglethorpe as Governor, a doctor, and a pastor.  On this two-month voyage, one stop was made at the island of Madeira to take on five tons of wine and the rest of the time spent crossing the Atlantic, during which time two babies died.  One hundred and twelve settlers arrived in Charleston in January of 1733, where they were warmly greeted by the governor of South Carolina.  From there they sailed to the sheltered town of Port Royal and subsequently to nearby Beaufort, where they could wait in relative comfort while Oglethorpe and an exploration party looked for a settlement site.

South Carolina’s governor wanted them to settle on the Altamaha River, but such a position so close to the Spanish was unfavorable this early in the game, at least until the colony could put up forts and find the men to fill them, and Oglethorpe wisely decided that the first settlement would be on the Savannah River.  Consequently, he and his party scouted along the Savannah for a suitable site, and found it about 18 miles from the mouth of the river, on a high bluff on the western side known as Yamacraw Bluff.

Leaving some of the men to construct a wooden staircase from the river landing to the top of the bluff, Oglethorpe returned for the colonists waiting at Beaufort, and finally, on 1 February (Old Style) / 12 February 1733 (New Style) they landed at the site of present-day Savannah, and began the work of clearing the land.

Savannah in 1734
Oglethorpe described the new settlement in his report to the trustees, 10 February 1733: “The river here forms a half-moon, around the south side of which the banks are about forty feet high, and on the top a flat, which they call a bluff.  The plain, high ground extends into the country about five or six miles, and along the river for about a mile.  Ships that draw near twelve feet of water can ride within ten yards of the bank.  Upon the riverside, in the center of the plain, I have laid out the town, opposite to which is an island of very rich pasturage, which, I think, should be kept for the trustees’ cattle.  The river is pretty wide, the water fresh, and from the quay of the town you see its whole course to the sea, with the island of Tybee, which forms the mouth of the river.  For about six miles up into the country the landscape is very agreeable, the stream being wide and bordered with high woods on both sides.”

In his next letter, after detailing his amicable dealings with the local nations, whom he calls the “Upper Creek”, “Lower Creek”, and “Uchees”, he describes the growing colony: “This province is much larger than we thought, being one hundred and twenty miles from this river to the Altamaha.  The Savannah has a very long course, and a great trade is carried on by the Indians, there having above twelve trading boats passed since I have been here…Our people still lie in tents, there being only two clapboard houses built, and three sawed houses framed.  Our crane, our battery cannon, and magazine are finished.  This is all we have been able to do by reason of the smallness of our number, of which many have been sick, and others unused to labor, though I thank God they are now pretty well, and we have not lost one since we have arrived here.”

Thank God, indeed.  But that was not to last.  The land was fruitful and the climate warm, and both bred disease-carrying mosquitoes.  Within twelve months of their landing, nearly a quarter of the original colonists died, most of them during the summer, and within two years, another 15 were buried. 

But that was in the future.  In May, the ship 'James' arrived with more English colonists and supplies, and the bluff hummed with activity as streets were laid out and more dwellings built.

Oglethorpe’s dealings with the new colony were delineated in an admiring article from the South Carolina Gazette: “Mr. Oglethorpe is indefatigable, and takes a vast deal of pains.  His fare is but indifferent, having little else at present but salt provisions.  He is extremely well beloved by the people.  The title they give him is Father.  If any of them are sick, he immediately visits them and takes great care of them.  If any difference arises, he is the person who decides it.  Two happened while I was here and in my presence, and all the parties went away to all outward appearance satisfied, and contented with the determination.  He keeps a strict discipline; I neither saw one of his people drunk, nor heard one swear all the time I have been here.  He does not allow them rum, but in lieu gives them English beer.  It is surprising to see how cheerfully the men go to work, considering they have not been bred to it.  There are no idlers, even the boys and girls do their part.  There are four houses already up, but none finished; he hopes that he has got more sawyers to finish two houses a week.  He has plowed up some land, part of which is sowed with wheat, which is come up and looks promising.  He has two or three gardens which he has sowed with divers sorts of seeds and planted thyme with other pot-herbs, and several sorts of fruit-trees.  He was palisading the town around, including part of the common.  In short, he has done a vast deal of work for the time, and I think his name deserves to be immortalized… The Indians who are thereabouts are very fond of Mr. Oglethorpe and assist him what they can; and he, on the other side, is very civil to them…”

More colonists arrived by the end of the year, including a group of Jews who came at their own expense.  Oglethorpe welcomed these latter in the teeth of opposition from some of the charitable- minded people of England who threatened to withhold any further donations.  Other persecuted groups soon followed including Protestant Salzburgers from the Catholic principality of Salzburg and Moravians.  The only religious group not allowed within the colony were Catholics.

Despite the death toll, Georgia was growing and Oglethorpe felt he could take the time now to look for suitable sites to establish forts and other defenses.  Consequently, in January of 1734, he and a party of 17 set out to explore the coastline, finding St. Simons Island, where he determined to build Fort St. Simons and Fort Frederica, and the lands on the Altamaha, where New Inverness (Darien) was established by Scots Highlanders on the site of the abandoned Fort King George..

More information can be found at Our Georgia History, including time-lines like this one on James Oglethorpe and articles on the trip over on the 'Ann' and the establishment and early years of Savannah.  I particularly enjoyed the admirably restrained line in the latter: "Members of the colony were concerned about the occasional alligators that would pass through the streets of the new city."

Artwork: Engraving of the Seal of the Trustees of the Colony of Georgia found in Historical Collections of Georgia by George White (1855), p. 319.

Engraving of Savannah in 1734, found in James Oglethorpe: the Founder of Georgia by Harriet Cornelia Cooper (1904), p. 58.

09 February 2012

Leap Year Advice - 1884


Miss Belinda Valentine asks us how ladies should proceed in their leap year love-making.  She remarks plaintively that the opportunity comes only once in four years, and she therefore wishes to make the best of her advantages, and any light that can be thrown on the theory and practice she will be very grateful for.

The subject is one which we take up with the greatest diffidence, feeling our utter inability to furnish her with a sustained and accurate detail of what she should or should not do.  We have also a fellow feeling for our own sex.  Women are sufficiently dangerous already.  If informed of our little vanities, weaknesses, points of attack and the hidden approaches to our hearts, no man could call himself safe.  But an editor owes a duty to the public which he cannot justly neglect.  We will therefore make the attempt, giving all the information that we can, and deprecating censure if we fail.

In the first place, it is as well to say right here that there is a certain class of young men who will meet you half way, or more, in any advances you make.  About these it is useless to give any advice, for your efforts in any case will be crowned with success.  The other class comprise the modest, bashful young men, and with these it is necessary to proceed cautiously.  Usually they have been brought up in a quiet little country town like San Rafael, and have spent most of their time in company with their mothers or maiden aunts. To these you must make love by the method which rhetoricians call "progressive approach"—in other words, step by step.

You have become acquainted with the young man, and he has asked you to call on him. Your first visit is, of course, informal.  Talk to him about flowers, the country, horseback riding, and the books he likes best.  First impressions are always valuable, and hence, above all things, avoid shocking him in any way.  Don't chew cloves to make him believe you haven't been drinking, and avoid all conversation about cock-fighting, horse-racing and the like.  Also, don't stay too late.  Young men of this class like to go to bed early, and if he wonders why the milkman has not come or goes out to look for the morning paper, you should take it as a hint and leave.

Repeat your visit in a few days, and let your calls increase in frequency, by degrees insinuating yourself into his confidence.  Flatter him judiciously, and show a certain deference to his opinions.  At the same time, do not run this into the ground.  If the youth is inclined to be vain, take his conceit down a peg or two in a quiet, womanly way.  It may be even necessary occasionally to hit him a moral slap on the face, as, for instance, ignoring him in the presence of other young men, and by talking of other people you are sweet on.  In this way he is made to understand that he is not the only fellow in the world.

As your acquaintance grows ask him to go walking with you.  Call him Willy or George (as the case may be), and then immediately beg his pardon for taking the liberty of addressing him by his Christian name.  He will probably say that you can do so always, if you like.  This is a great step gained.  Now you may begin to make love to him in a sly way; but be careful, or you will scare him off.  Everything in this should be done in the most circumspect manner, so that his natural coyness may be overcome gradually and without any direct shock to his feelings or principles.

When you are once satisfied that you have established yourself impregnably in his affections, the hardest part of the campaign is still before you.  Having made up your mind to declare yourself, call on him early in the evening, about the full of the moon, and propose to sit on the little vine-clad portico away from the street.  When there, be at first a trifle abstracted; heave a sigh now and then, and seem generally miserable.  Then say, with a sudden burst of feeling, that you have determined never to marry.  He will start at this and appear uneasy.  After your remark has had complete effect on him, add in a confidential whisper: "Unless the man I intend to propose to will have me."  Mark the result.  If he loves you, he will hang his head and blush.  

Now, if ever, is your opportunity.  Fire his imagination with descriptions of a cottage covered with the trailing honey-suckle, and how happy both of you might be in it.  Draw a picture of the scene.  Himself driving the team a-field, and you staying at home darning his stockings, chopping kindling wood and keeping the pot boiling.  All this time work your chair nearer and nearer to where he is seated.  When you have reached the proper distance lay your hand carelessly on his.  If he makes no resistance, but simply looks on the ground and says nothing, gently entwine your arms around his waist.  He will probably draw back and say "don't," but you are now in for it, and decisive measures are necessary.  Draw him to your bosom with kind and imperceptible force and smother his remonstrance with a kiss.  If he flutters like a bird, in a sort of happy fear, release him partially, stroke his mustache and tell him not to be frightened, for you love him dearly.

Unless he expresses himself in the most positive manner, and says he is an unprotected male, but will defend himself, etc., the battle is over and you have won him.  What transpires after this you must be personally responsible for.  The writer has never been married, and consequently can give no advice as to your deportment when you reach this state.  If, however, you wish to rehearse these rules, come to our office and we will indulge you, or, if we are not in, some one of our many good looking employes will.  The Teacher, unlike some doctors, is always ready to take its own medicine.

The California Teacher and Home Journal, Vol 2-3 (1884), p. 107

9 February - Saint Apollonia; Pasta Fazula

“At Alexandria, in the reign of Decius, the birthday of St. Apollonia, virgin, who had all her teeth plucked out by the persecutors; then having constructed and lighted a pyre, they threatened to burn her alive, unless she repeated certain impious words after them.  Deliberating awhile with herself, she suddenly slipped from their grasp, and feeling and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, rushed voluntarily into the fire which they had prepared.  The very authors of her death were struck with terror at the sight of a woman who was more willing to die than they to condemn her.”

Today is the feast of Saint Apollonia, virgin and martyr, who died around 250 A.D.

Her story is recounted in the Fourth Century Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, in a letter from Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria to Bishop Fabius of Antioch.  First, a little background: “The persecution among us did not begin with the royal decree, but preceded it an entire year. The prophet and author of evils to this city, whoever he was, previously moved and aroused against us the masses of the heathen, rekindling among them the superstition of their country. And being thus excited by him and finding full opportunity for any wickedness, they considered this the only pious service of their demons, that they should slay us. … Then all with one impulse rushed to the homes of the pious, and they dragged forth whomsoever any one knew as a neighbor, and despoiled and plundered them. They took for themselves the more valuable property; but the poorer articles and those made of wood they scattered about and burned in the streets, so that the city appeared as if taken by an enemy....”

[Does this sound familiar, children?  It should, if you have been paying attention to the news.  Same country – Egypt.  Same mob, stirred up to show their piety by slaying the Christians.  And the year? 2011.  Yep.  Last year.]

Eusebius continues “…Then they seized also that most admirable virgin, Apollonia, an old woman, and, smiting her on the jaws, broke out all her teeth. And they made a fire outside the city and threatened to burn her alive if she would not join with them in their impious cries. And she, supplicating a little, was released, when she leaped eagerly into the fire and was consumed.”

She is invoked against toothache and all diseases of the teeth.

O Glorious Apollonia, patron saint of dentistry and refuge for all those suffering from diseases of the teeth, assist me by your intercession with God in my daily work, and intercede with Him to obtain for me a happy death.  Pray that my heart, like yours, may be inflamed with the love of Jesus and Mary, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

O my God, bring me safe through temptation and strengthen me as you did our own patron Apollonia, through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Artwork: Saint Apollonia, Hours of Catherine of Cleves.  She is here shown as a young woman with her usual attribute, a tooth held in pincers.

A good first course for dinner tonight would be a cockle-warming soup called PASTA FAZULA (or Fazul).  It utilizes ‘ditalini’, a small macaroni whose name means “little thimbles”, but which looks more like little teeth – perfect for St. Apollonia’s day.  Like all good peasant dishes, there are as many variations as there are peasants, so feel free to add your own touch – vegetables, herbs, tomato sauce…  Substitute olive oil for the pork and it will be suitable for those meatless days in Lent.

Pick over and wash 1 pound of dried beans (cannellini, pinto or navy will do) and soak overnight in 2 quarts of water (if you are in a hurry, bring the pot to a boil; boil for 2 minutes; cover and remove from heat; let it sit for an hour). 

Sauté ½ cup of diced salt pork, bacon, or ham with 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons of minced onion, and a dash of chili pepper.  Add this to the pot of beans.  Cook beans until tender [plan on a couple of hours].

Cook 1 pound of ditalini and drain.  Just before serving, add the ditalini to the bean pot, and simmer together for 5 minutes.  Stir well.  Top each serving with grated Romano or Parmesan.

05 February 2012

5 February - Saint Agatha

Weather:  St. Agatha is rich in snow.

Rainy clouds on St. Agatha’s day foretell hailstorms in the summer.

If water courses in the streams on St. Agatha’s day
There will be much milk in the chowder pot. [and I love chowder! Come on, water!]


Gardening: Sow onions on St. Agatha’s day.


“At Catania, in Sicily, in the time of the emperor Decius and the judge Quinctian, the birthday of St. Agatha, virgin and martyr.  After being buffeted, imprisoned, tortured, racked, dragged over pieces of earthenware and burning colas, and having her breasts cut off, she consummated her sacrifice in prison while engaged in prayer.”

Today is the feast of Saint Agatha of Sicily, Virgin and Martyr, who died circa 251.

That she was a young woman martyred for her Faith is all that is really known about her, but her hagiography has been richly embellished.  As related in the medieval Golden Legend and by Reverend Alban Butler in his Lives of the Saints, Agatha was a young, lovely, and nobly-born maiden of Catania in Sicily.  "Quintianus the provost of Sicily, being of a low lineage, was lecherous, avaricious, and a miscreant... to accomplish his evil desires fleshly, and to have riches, did do take S. Agatha to be presented and brought tofore him, and began to behold her with a lecherous sight."  She naturally repulsed him, whereupon, in an effort to break her spirit, he sent her to a brothel run by the prostitute  Aphrodisia and her nine daughters.  Cajolings, promises of rich presents, and fair words alternated with threats and abuse, but Agatha stood firm against them, and after a month, Aphrodisia finally had to admit defeat.

Quintianus then thought to get her into his power by means of the emperor's edict against Christians.  He had her bound and brought before him, with orders either to sacrifice to the Roman gods or be tortured.  She chose the latter, but not before arguing with him: "If they [his gods] be good I would that thy life were like unto theirs; and if thou refusest their life, then art thou of one accord with me. Say then that they be evil and so foul, and forsake their living, and be not of such life as thy gods were."

He had her beaten and thrown into prison, and when that did not change her mind, he resorted to the cruelest tortures he could think of.  The one that provides the attributes most often seen in depictions of the saint - the mangling and cutting off of her breasts - was followed a few days later by the executioners rolling her torn and bleeding body over a bed of pottery shards and live coals.  At that, she rendered up her soul to God, and devout Christians buried her.

She is the patroness of Catania, and of Malta and San Marino, of nurses, nursing mothers, and of those who suffer from diseases of the breast.  She is invoked against fire and natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. (You can find more of her patronages here.)

O Saint Agatha,
who withstood the unwelcome advances from unwanted suitors,
and suffered pain and torture for your devotion to Our Lord,
we celebrated your faith, dignity, and martyrdom.
Protect us against rape and other violations,
guard us against breast cancer and other afflictions of women, 
and inspire us to overcome adversity.
O Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr,
mercifully grant that we who venerate your sacrifice
may receive your intercession.


Last year, I made Lava Cakes for Saint Agatha’s Day.  This year, I am trying a homemade version of a Sicilian treat called Minni di Sant’Agata or Breasts of Saint Agatha.  From what I can tell, it is a cream-filled pastry – possibly with the same cream that is used in zeppoles.  You can find several recipes online – enter ‘minni di Sant’ Agata’ or ‘minni di Virgini’ in your search engine.  The one I am trying comes from Medical Advocates and looks easy enough (the recipe is at the bottom of the page).

To make things even easier, Hi Cookery adapted the recipe and provides photos of the process.

Of course, you can always find Snowballs or some other round cake covered with white frosting or coconut, place half a maraschino cherry on top, and serve them for Saint Agatha’s day.

[The bad side of the Widow is wondering if she can get away with bringing these to the next All Saints Party.]

Artwork: Bergognone (1481-1522), Saint Agatha, 1510.  Santo Stefano, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Italy.

03 February 2012

3 February - Saint Blaise

“At Sebaste, in Armenia, in the time of the governor Agricolaus, the passion of St. Blasius, bishop and martyr, who after working many miracles, was scourged a long time, and suspended on a tree where he was lacerated with iron combs.  He was then imprisoned in a dark dungeon, thrown into a lake from which he came out safe, and finally, by order of the same judge, he and two boys were beheaded.  Before him, seven women who were gathering the drops of his blood during his torture, were recognized as Christians, and after undergoing severe torments, were put to death by the sword.”

Today is the feast of Saint Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, who died around 316.
Call upon God and remember St. Blaise!
Blaise was the bishop of Sebaste in Cappadocia (Armenia), which he governed well, but an upsurge of persecutions against the Christians caused him to flee to the hills, where he is said to have lived in a cave. The wild animals which abounded in the area would not hurt him, but gathered around his cave to listen to his prayers and receive his blessing.

This pastoral existence could not last.  More wild beasts were needed for the local amphitheaters, and in the search for replacements, Blaise was discovered and hauled off to prison.

On the way there, he healed a boy who had swallowed a fish bone and was choking to death.  His kindness to the wild animals paid off as well, when he required a wolf to return the pig stolen from a poor woman (the wolf complied).

To make him apostasize, the governor ordered that Blaise should be starved, but the woman whose pig he had recovered managed to sneak food into his prison.  Then his flesh was torn and shredded with iron combs.   Finally, the holy man was beheaded.

His story is here in the Golden Legend.

He was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages in Europe.  As one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, Saint Blaise is invoked against choking and illnesses of the throat - including sore throats, coughs, and whooping cough, all of which are prevalent at this time of year.

On his feast day, the Church has a Blessing of the Throats, in which two consecrated candles are held in the shape of a cross over the heads of the faithful or touched to individual throats, with a blessing which asks for protection from throat troubles and any evil.

Our old friend Naogeorgus, having mocked the ceremonies of Candlemas, continued by venting his ire on those of St. Blaise:

Then follows good Sir Blaze, who does a waxen candle give,
And holy water to his men, whereby they safely live.
I diverse barrels oft have seen, drawn out of the water clear,
Through one small blessed bone of this same Martyr here,
And carried thence to other towns and cities far away.
Each superstition does require such earnest kind of play.

The candles blessed today were thought to be efficacious against toothache and against disease in cattle.  “Call upon God and remember St. Blaise” was an old charm for removing a bone from the throat, or a thorn from any part of the body.  Another charm for removing a stoppage in the throat was to take hold of the afflicted member [gently!] and pronounce: “Blaise, the martyr and servant of Jesus Christ, commands thee to pass up and down!”

The resemblance of the instruments of his torture to wool combs made him the patron of wool-combers and by extension, the patron of all things related to wool and the wool trade.  As wool was the basis of England's wealth and its primary 'cash crop', this made him a very popular saint in that country, so much so that in the 13th century, work was forbidden on his feast day.  Every seven years, the wool-combers guilds would hold high festival, in which Jason and his Golden Fleece marched alongside Bishop Blaise, and all money collected that day from appreciative bystanders found its way to the nearest public house for an evening of revelry.

As Saint Blaise is also the patron of wild animals, who waited patiently around his cave as he said his prayers, today would be a good day to contribute to a wildlife fund, the Audubon Society, or your local wildlife refuge in his honor.

Dinner tonight should be something with SHREDDED BEEF:

Start with a boneless roast like a tip or rump roast.

Cook roast in a little oil over moderate heat until brown on all sides.  Cover with about 3 cups of water (for a 4-pound roast) or other liquid (stock, broth, whatever) and cook until tender at about 40 minutes per pound.  Remove beef from pot, place on a dish, cut off a thick slice, and shred the slice by raking it with two forks in opposite directions.  Do this until you have enough shredded beef for your purpose.

[You can shred the whole roast, because the meat freezes well for future use.  I use only about a quarter of the roast to shred; the rest is wrapped in foil, and the broth it was cooked in is put in a container.  Later in the week, I will put the broth back into a kettle with onions, carrots, potatoes, and turnips, and let them simmer for half an hour; then put the roast in the kettle and let it simmer for another half hour to finish the vegetables and heat the roast through.]

The shredded beef can be mixed with a little barbecue sauce and piled on a bun with a topping of coleslaw; or seasoned and used in tacos or enchiladas.


O GOD, deliver us through the intercession of Thy holy bishop and martyr Blase, from all evil of soul and body, especially from all ills of the throat; and grant us the grace to make a good confession in the confident hope of obtaining Thy pardon, and ever to praise with worthy lips Thy most holy name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

02 February 2012

2 February - Candlemas; Groundhog Day


If Candlemas is fair and clear
There'll be two winters in the year.

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the second of May.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day
So far will the snow blow in before the month of May.

When on Purification the sun hath shined
The greater part of winter comes behind.

If Candlemas Day be fine and clear,
Corn and fruits will then be dear.
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half of winter was gone at Yule.


On Candlemas Day if the thorns hang a-drop (with icicles)
Then you are sure of a good pea crop.

At Candlemas Day,
It is time to sow beans in the clay.

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, also known as Candlemas, because candles are blessed today.

This is the 40th day of Christmas, and traditionally the day in which Our Lady fulfilled the Mosaic Law of being purified after the birth of her Son and of presenting Jesus to the service of God.  The old calendars considered the first to be the cause for celebration today, while the new Catholic calendar emphasizes the latter.  Henry VIII would approve.

"On Candelmas Daye it shall be declared that the bearynge of Candels is done in the memorie of Christe, the spirituall lyghte whom Simeon dyd prophecye, as it is redde in the Churche that daye."
30 Henry VIII

It is from this episode in Our Lord's life that we have the beautiful prayer of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, which we say at the completion of the day:

Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord,
In peace, according to Thy word;
For mine own eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared in the sight of all people,
A light to reveal Thee to the nations,
And the glory of Thy people, Israel.

The candles were carried in processions to church, blessed, and then taken home, where – as sacramentals – they were lit when protection was needed from the devil and his minions - during thunderstorms and tempestuous weather, during childbirth, grave sickness, or imminent death, and when hail or frost threatened the crops or earthquakes threatened the village.

Sour ol’ Naogeorgus naturally sneered at the custom:

Then numbers great of Tapers large, both men and women bear,
To church, being hallowed there with pomp, and dreadful words to hear.
This done, each man his Candle lights, where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen, and fortunate to be,
Whose Candle burneth clear and bright; a wondrous force and might
Doth  in these Candles lie, which if at any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm or tempest dare abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard, nor any devils spied,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night, nor hurts of frost or hail… 

AHEM!  And for everyone who hasn't already ended their Yule-tide festivities on either the 12th or the 20th Day of Christmas - this is the LAST DAY of CHRISTMAS!

This is it!

It is over!

The decorations should have been put away yesterday. [Although those people whose outside lights are still covered by major amounts of snow have a pass for now.]

The goose-pie made on St. Stephen's Day (December 26), and carefully saved throughout the Christmas season, is supposed to be eaten today. [Just thinking about a 4-1/2 week-old meat pie is wreaking havoc with my digestion]

The very last ritual of Christmas is burning a small part of what is left of the Yule Log, aka "The Christmas Brand":

"Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
Til sunset let it burn;
When quenched, then lay it up again,
Til Christmas next return.

Part must be kept wherewith to teend
The Christmas Log next year;
And where 'tis safely kept, the Fiend
Can do no mischief there."
                                                         Robert Herrick

In place of the Christmas greenery, decorate the table with snowdrops, which are said to bloom at this time in honor of Our Lady.

The snowdrop in purest white array,
First rears her head on Candlemas Day.

Another legend of the snowdrop says that it was sent to console Eve as she remembered Eden and mourned over the barren earth in the throes of winter.  While the snow fell around her, an angel breathed on a snowflake and bade it take form and blossom, whereupon it turned into a beautiful flower.  Eve prized it even above all the plants she had known in Paradise, for the angel promised her:

“This is an earnest, Eve, to thee
That sun and summer soon shall be.”

The angel left her, but where he had stood, a ring of snowdrops reminded her of his promise.


And of course, today is Groundhog Day.

If the ground hog sees his shadow on February second, there will be six more weeks of cold weather.
It is between eleven and one o'clock on February second that the ground hog's shadow is significant.

Well, up here the groundhog has always managed to see his shadow, whether the sun is out or not, because winter lasts through mid-April and sometimes to mid-May (forget three months to a season.  Winter lasts six months almost to the day!)

And since I am less-than-fond of Puxatawny Phil and his numerous easily-startled-by-shadows brethren, here is a recipe contributed by Mrs. Ennis Ownby, which I found in a wonderful cookbook called Mountain Makin's in the Smokies (you can buy a copy here), published by the Great Smoky Mountains Association:

"Dress and cut it up.  Put in pot, then bring to boil.  Break up spicewood branches, and put in pot with meat.  Boil until the meat is tender.  Remove; then salt and pepper; then roll in flour; put in 1/2 cup shortening, preferably bacon grease.  Then put in oven and bake until it is brown."

Read the recipe outside of a groundhog hole.  It might induce the occupant to a proper frame of mind.

"Shadow?  What shadow?"

Artwork: Fra Angelico, Presentation in the Temple, 1425-30, Convent of San Marco, Florence