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As the whole that appertains to this ancient, and, as connected with convivial manners, interesting word, lies scattered in various places, and has been detailed by writers whose opinions are extremely discordant, an attempt seemed necessary to digest within a reasonable compass the most valuable of the materials on the subject. There cannot be the smallest doubt that the term itself is to be sought for in the well-known story of Vortigern and Rowena, or Ronix, the daughter of Hengist; the earliest authority for which is that of Walter Calenius, who supplied the materials for Geoffrey of Monmouth's history. He relates that on Vortigern's first interview with the lady, she kneeled before him, and presenting a cup of wine, said to him, "Lord king, wacht heil," or in purer Saxon was hæl; literally, be health, or health be to you! As the king was unacquainted with the Saxon language, he inquired the meaning of these words; and being told that they wished him health, and that he should answer them by saying drinc heil, he did so, and commanded Rowena to drink. Then, taking the cup from her hand, he kissed the damsel and pledged her. The historian adds, that
from that time to his own the custom remained in Britain that whoever drank to another at a feast said wacht heil, and he that immediately after received the cup answered drinc heil. Robert of Brunne, in translating this part of Geoffrey of Monmouth, has preserved a curious addition to it. He states that Vortigern, not comprehending the words of Rowena, demanded their meaning from one of his Britons, who immediately explained to him the Saxon custom as follows:
"This es ther custom and ther gest,
Ilk man that lovis qware him think,
And gave the king, sine him kist.
Of that wassaille men told grete tale,
An old metrical fragment preserved by Hearne in his glossary to Robert of Gloucester's chronicle, carries the practice of wassailing much higher, even to the time of Saint Alban in the third century:
"In that tyme weteth welle,
Cam ferst wassayle and drynkehayl
The chronicler proceeds to relate a story of this Ynge, who quitted Saxony with several others of her countrymen on account of hunger, and, arriving in Britain, obtained of the king as much land as she should be able to cover with a bull's hide. She afterwards invited the king and his nobles to a feast, and giving him wassel, treacherously slew him, her companions following the example by murdering the nobles. By these means she obtained possession of the whole kingdom, which was from her afterwards called Yngland. This statement is unworthy of notice in an historical point of view, being manifestly a corrupt account of the arrival of Hengist as related by Geoffrey of Monmouth. But the story of Vortigern is not improbable, and has at least furnished the origin of the words was hal and drinc hæl, as
used at convivial meetings in this country; for whatever may have been said or imagined concerning any previous custom of health-drinking among the Saxons or other German nations, it is certain that no equivalent term with our wassel is to be found in any of the Teutonic dialects.
Among other valuable remarks that have already been made in some notes on this word by Messrs. Steevens and Malone, it has been observed that the wassel bowl was particularly used at the season of Christmas, and that in process of time wassel came to signify not only meetings of rustic mirth, but also general riot, intemperance, and festivity. In the eleventh volume of Archæologia, the learned Dr. Milner has exhibited and described an ancient oaken cup, formerly belonging to the abbey of Glastonbury, which with great probability he supposes to be of Saxon times, and to have been used for wasselling. In The antiquarian repertory, vol. i. p. 217, there is an account, accompanied with an engraving, of an oaken chimney-piece in a very old house at Berlen near Snodland in Kent, on which is carved a wassel bowl resting on the branches of an appletree, alluding, probably, to part of the materials of which the liquor was composed. On one side is the word wassheil, and on the other drincheile.
This is certainly a very great curiosity of its kind, and at least as old as the fourteenth century. Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, in his will gave to Sir John Briddlewood a silver cup called wassail; and it appears that John Duke of Bedford, the regent, by his first will bequeathed to John Barton, his maitre d'hotel, a silver cup and cover, on which was inscribed wASHAYL. During the Christmas holidays these wassel-bowls were often carried from house to house by the common people with a view to collect money. There are, besides, other significations of the word wassel that deserve to be noticed. These are, 1. Adrinking song sung on the eve of Twelfth-day. 2. A custom of throwing toast to apple-trees for the purpose of procuring a fruitful year; which, says Mr. Grose, who has mentioned this practice in his provincial glossary, seems to be a relic of the heathen sacrifice to Pomona. 3. The contents of the wasselcup, which were of different materials, as spiced wine or ale, with roasted apples and sugar, mead, or metheglin, &c. There was also what was called wassel or more properly wastel- bread, which may be deserving of particular notice, as , there is much diversity of opinion among those who have mentioned it. Bishop Lowth, in his Life of William of Wykeham, had supposed that