Holiday at the Public Offices; except the Excise, Stamps, and Customs.
CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL. Sts. Juventinus and Maximinus, A.D. 363. St. Poppo, A.D. 1048. St. Apollo, A.D. 393. St. Publius, A.D. 369.
The Conversion of St. Paul.
This is a festival in the calendar of the church of England, as well as in that of the Romish church.
St. Paul's Day.
On this day prognostications of the months were drawn for the whole year. If fair and clear, there was to be plenty; if cloudy or misty, much cattle would die; if rain or snow fell then it presaged a dearth; and if windy, there would be wars:
If Saint Paul's Day be fair and clear. [sic]
It does betide a happy year;
But if it chance to snow or rain,
Then will be dear all kinds of grain:
If clouds or mists do dark the skie,
Great store of birds and beasts shall die;
And if the winds do fly aloft,
Then wars shall vex the kingdome oft.
Willsford's Nature's Secrets.
These prognostications are Englished from an ancient calendar: they have likewise been translated by Gay, who enjoins,
Let no such vulgar tales debase thy mind,
Nor Paul nor Swithin rule the clouds and wind.
The latter lines are allusive to the popular superstitions, regarding these days, which were before remarked by bishop Hall, who observes of a person under such influences, that "St. Paule's day, and St. Swithine's, with the twelve, are his oracles, which he dares believe against the almanacke." It will be recollected that "the twelve" are twelve days of Christmastide, mentioned on a preceding day as believed by the ignorant to denote the weather throughout the year.
Concerning this day, Bourne, says. "How it came to have this particular knack of foretelling the good or ill fortune of the following year is no easy matter to find out. The monks, who were undoubtedly the first who made this wonderful observation, have taken care it should be handed down to posterity; but why, or for what reason, they have taken care to conceal. St. Paul did indeed labour more abundantly than all the apostles; but never that I heard in the science of astrology: and why this day should therefore be a standing almanac to the world, rather than the day of any other saint, will be pretty hard to find out." In an ancient Romish calendar, much used by Brand, the vigil of St. Paul is called "Dies Ægypticus;" and he confesses his ignorance of any reason for calling it "an Egyptian-day." Mr. Fosbroke explains, from a passage in Ducange, that it was so called because there were two unlucky days in every month, and St. Paul's vigil was one of the two in January.
Dr. Forster notes, that the festival of the conversion of St. Paul has always been reckoned ominous of the future weather of the year, in various countries remote from each other.
According to Schenkus, cited by Brand, it was a custom in many parts of Germany, to drag the images of St. Paul and St. Urban to the river, if there was foul weather on their festival.
St. Paul's day being the first festival of an apostle in the year, it is an opportunity for alluding to the old, ancient, English custom, with sponsors, or visitors at christenings, of presenting spoons, called apostle-spoons, because the figures of the twelve apostles were chased, or carved on the tops of the handles. Brand cites several authors to testify of the practice. Persons who could afford it gave the set of twelve; others a smaller number, and a poor person offered the gift of one, with the figure of the saint after whom the child was named, or to whom the child was dedicated, or who was the patron saint of the good-natured donor.
Ben Jonson, in his Bartholomew Fair, has a character, saying, "And all this for the hope of a couple of apostle-spoons, and a cup to eat caudle in." In the Chaste Maid of Cheapside, by Middleton, "Gossip" inquires, "What has he given her? What is it, Gossip?" Whereto the answer of another "Gossip" is, "A fair high-standing cup, and two great 'postle-spoons—one of them gilt." Beaumont and Fletcher, likewise, in the Noble Gentleman, say:
"I'll be a Gossip. Bewford,
I have an odd apostle-spoon."
The rarity and antiquity of apostle-spoons render them of considerable value as curiosities. A complete set of twelve is represented in the sketch on the opposite page, from a set of the spoons themselves on the writer's table.
A Set of Apostle-Spoons.
The apostles on this set of spoons are somewhat worn, and the stems and bowls have been altered by the silversmith in conformity with the prevailing fashion of the present day; to the eye of the antiquary, therefore, they are not so interesting as they were before they underwent this partial modernization: yet in this state they are objects of regard. Their size in the print is exactly that of the spoons themselves, except that the stems are necessarily fore-shortened in the engraving to get them within the page. The stem of each spoon measures exactly three inches and a half in length from the foot of the apostle to the commencement of the bowl; the length of each bowl is two inches and nine-sixteenths of an inch; and the height of each apostle is one inch and one-sixteenth: the entire length of each spoon is seven inches and one-eighth of an inch. They are of silver; the lightest, which is St. Peter, weighs 1 oz. 5 dwts. 9 gr.; the heaviest is St. Bartholomew, and weighs 1 oz. 9 dwts. 16 gr. The hat, or flat covering, on the head of each figure, is usual to apostles-spoons, [sic] and was probably affixed to save the features from effacement. In a really fine state they are very rare.
It seems from "the Gossips," a poem by Shipman, in 1666, that the usage of giving apostle-spoons' [sic] at christenings, was at that time on the decline:
"Formerly, when they us'd to troul,
Gilt bowls of sack, they gave the bowl;
Two spoons at least; an use ill kept;
'Tis well if now our own be left."
An anecdote is related of Shakspeare and Ben Jonson, which bears upon the usage: Shakspeare was godfather to one of Jonson's children, and, after the christening, being in deep study, Jonson cheeringly asked him, why he was so melancholy? "Ben," said he, "I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest gift for me to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolved it at last." "I prithee, what?" said Ben, "I' faith, Ben," answered Shakspeare, "I'll give him a dozen good latten spoons, and thou shalt translate them." The word latten, intended as a play upon latin, is the name for thin iron tinned, of which spoons, and similar small articles of household use, are sometimes made. Without being aware of the origin, it is still a custom with many persons, to present spoons at christ enings, or on visiting the "lady in the straw;" though they are not now adorned with imagery.
Winter hellebore. Helleborus hymenalis.