Every-Day Book
vol II date    /    index  


January 20.

St. Fabian, Pope. St. Sebastian. St. Euthymius. St. Fechin.

St. Fabian

This saint was in the church of England calendar; he was bishop of Rome, A.D. 250: the Romish calendar calls him pope.

St. Sebastian's Day

Is noted in Doblada's Letters from Spain, as within the period that ushers in the carnival with rompings in the streets, and vulgar mirth.

"The custom alluded to by Horace of sticking a tail, is still practised by the boys in the streets, to the great annoyance of old ladies, who are generally the objects of this sport. One of the ragged striplings that wander in crowds about Seville, having tagged a piece of paper with a hooked pin, and stolen unperceived behind some slow-paced female, as wrapt up in her veil, she tells the beads she carries in her left hand, fastens the paper-tail on the back of the black or walking petticoat called Saya. The whole gang of ragamuffins, who, at a convenient distance, have watched the dexterity of their companion, set up a loud cry of 'L'argalo, l'argalo'—'Drop it, drop it'—this makes every female in the street look to the rear, which, they well know, is the fixed point of attack with the merry light-troops. The alarm continues till some friendly hand relieves the victim of sport, who, spinning and nodding like a spent top, tries in vain to catch a glance at the fast-pinned paper, unmindful of the physical law which forbids her head revolving faster than the great orbit on which the ominous comet flies."


Formerly this was a night of great import to maidens who desired to know who they should marry. Of such it was required, that they should not eat on this day, and those who conformed to the rule, called it fasting St. Agnes' fast.

And on sweet St. Agnes' night
Please you with the promis'd sight,
Some of husbands, some of lovers,
Which an empty dream discovers.


Old Aubrey has a recipe, whereby a lad or lass was to attain a sight of the fortunate lover. "Upon St. Agnes' night you take a row of pins, and pull out every one, one after another, saying Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you shall marry."

Little is remembered of these homely methods for knowing "all about sweethearts," and the custom would scarcely have reached the greater number of readers, if one of the sweetest of our modern poets had not preserved its recollection in a delightful poem. Some stanzas are culled from it, with the hope that they may be read by a few to whom the poetry of Keates [sic] is unknown, and awaken a desire for further acquaintance with his beauties:—

The Eve of St. Agnes.

       St. Agnes Eve? Ah, bitter chill it was!
       The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
       The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
       And silent was the flock in woolly fold;

       *        *         *         *         *         *         *

       They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve,
       Young Virgins might have visions of delight,
       And soft adorings from their loves receive
       Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
       If ceremonies due they did aright;
       As, supperless to bed they must retire,
       And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
       Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

       *         *         *         *         *         *         *

       Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline

       *         *         *         *         *         *         *

       Out went the taper as she hurried in;
       Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
       She clos'd the door, she panted, all akin
       To spirits of the air, and visions wide
       No uttered syllable, or, woe betide!
       But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
       Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
       As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.

       A casement high and triple arch'd there was,
       All garlanded with carven imag'ries
       Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot grass,
       And diamonded with panes of quaint device
       Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
       As are the tiger-moth's deep damask'd wings;
       And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
       And twilight saints, with dim emblazonings,
A shielded 'scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.

       Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
       And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
       As down she knelt for Heaven's grace and boon;
       Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
       And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
       And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
       She seem'd a splendid angel, newly drest,
       Save wings, for Heaven:—

       *         *         *         *         *         *         *

       ————Her vespers done
       Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
       Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
       Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
       Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees
       Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
       Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
       In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

       Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
       In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex'd she lay,
       Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress'd
       Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
       Flown, like a thought, until the morrow day,
       Blissfully haven'd both from joy and pain;
       Clasp'd like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
       Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.

       Stol'n to this paradise, and so extranced [sic],
       Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,
       And listened to her breathing. ——
       ————Shaded was her dream
       By the dusk curtains:—'twas a midnight charm
       Impossible to melt as iced stream:—
       *         *         *         *         *         *         *

       He took her hollow lute,—
       Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
       He play'd an ancient ditty, long since mute,
       In Provence call'd, "La belle dame sans mercy:"
       Close to her ear touching the melody;—
       Wherewith disturb'd, she utter'd a soft moan:
       He ceas'd—she panted quick—and suddenly
       Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.

       Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
       Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
       There was a painful change, that nigh expell'd
       The blisses of her dream so pure and deep,
       At which fair Madeline began to weep,
       And moan forth witless words with many a sigh,
       While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
       Sho knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
Fearing to move or speak, she look'd so dreamingly.

       "Ah, Porphyro!" said she, "but even now
       "Thy voice was at sweet temble in mine ear,
       "Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
       "And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
       "How chang'd thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
       "Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
       "Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
       "Oh, leave me not in this eternal woe,
"For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go."

       Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far
       At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
       Ethereal, flush'd, and like a throbbing star,
       Seen 'mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose,
       Into her dream he melted, as the rose
       Blendeth its odour with the violet,—
       Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
       Like Love's alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes."
       *        *        *        *        *         *         *

       "Hark! 'tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
       "Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed
       "Arise—arise! the morning is at hand;—
       "Let us away, my love, with happy speed.—
       *        *         *         *         *         *         *
       And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
       These lovers fled away into the storm.


St. Fabian

Large Dead Nettle. Larnium garganicum.



The sun enters Aquarius on this day, though he does not enter it in the visible zodiac until the 18th of February.

Ganymede, who succeeded Hebe as cup-bearer to Jove, is fabled to have been changed into Aquarius. Canobus of the Egyptian zodiac, who was the Neptune of the Egyptians, with a water-vase and measure, evidently prefigured this constellation. They worshipped him as the God of many breasts, from whence he replenished the Nile with fertilizing streams. Aquarius contains one hundred and eight stars, the two chief of which are about fifteen degrees in height:

His head, his shoulders, and his lucid breast,
Glisten with stars; and when his urn inclines,
Rivers of light brighten the watery track.