The special CiB meme ‘Xmas in books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
Every December on the blog I feature Xmas scenes and Xmas books – I never seem to run out, but am still open to ideas and suggestions.
If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.
… And a Perle in the Myddes by Eleanor Farjeon
from collection of stories, Faithful Jenny Dove, published 1963
**[see comments below for more info: JF Norris has tracked first US publication to 1913]
The Boy-Bishop has slipped from the memory – which means from the heart – of a world that needs him no more. Bluff King Hal struck him a buffet; Mary resuscitated him; and Queen Bess killed him for good. But for years, numbering their hundreds, there was no choir attached to the Church or the private chapels of the nobility that did not each December elect its mimic Bishop, whose term of office lasted from Saint Nicholas to Childermas.
He had his trappings, his dignities, his parades; such authority as the Bishop exercised in the world of clerics was his above his youthful comrades; he even preached to them in the Cathedral. It was a three-weeks’ festival this of the Boy-Bishop, with enough of pageantry and quaint licence to make it attractive to the boyish troop it concerned: a child’s mummery smiled on and sanctioned by Mother Church, who doubtless derived her own benefit therefrom.
It was said that if the little chosen chorister died while still bearing his honours, he was buried with the full dignities of his estate. Some antiquaries have disputed this point; but in the Cathedrals of Welchester and Salisbury tiny child-effigies bear out the truth of it. No visible inscription supported the claims… but here he was, a child in the midst of four great monuments bearing the name of the princes of the church – historic names.
commentary: This isn’t a well-known story, I think, but it is one of the most charming ghost stories I have ever read, an absolute delight, and seasonal as well. You can see the seeds of the story in the history above – if a boy died, but his spirit did not leave his home cathedral, what would happen? Suppose he didn’t WANT to be with the bishops, he wanted to be with other boys? The story also gives us a glimpse, unexpectedly, of the real-life figure of Earl Rivers (who is the hero of one of my favourite historical novels, Wonders Will Never Cease by Robert Irwin) and of the Earl’s most famous charge…
I had been looking for this story for many many years, after reading about it in the work one of my favourite authors, Antonia Forest. She wrote a series of what would now be called YA books about the Marlow family in the second half of the 20th Century. They are revered by fans, and almost unknown elsewhere. Several of them have appeared on the blog: the one in question here is End of Term, the first of hers that I read. In it, Patrick Merrick and Nicola Marlow visit a cathedral, and Patrick, having sneaked into the pulpit, says:
“You know- it must feel very grand to be a Bishop and have your own cathedral…What a pity they don’t have Boy Bishops any more. Did you ever read a rather good ghost story about one, called
‘---And a Pearl in the Myddes’?”
“No, I never did,” Nicola said, edging off in the hope that he would follow. “Patrick, do stop talking about ghosts and come down.”Ever since I hoped I could find the story, but pre-Google it was impossible even to find out who wrote it… [‘Perle’ is the actual spelling in Farjeon’s book: it is likely that Forest got it right and an officious Faber subeditor changed it in End of Term.]
The whole idea of boy Bishops is of course fascinating: who could not wish to know more about them? Historical information is thin on the ground – there is a helpful webpage here - but there are a number of books featuring them. One of Phil Rickman’s wonderful Merrily Watkins series, the enjoyably terrifying Midwinter of the Spirit, features an attempt to revive the custom at Hereford Cathedral, and contains more information about the practice, and Michael Jecks’ Mediaeval Mystery crime series has a book called The Boy Bishop’s Glovemaker. It’s the only one I have read by him – I couldn’t resist that title. It was very enjoyable.
Of the information given above – King Hal’s buffet is a blow and not a delicious spread of food, as I at first thought. The feast of St Nicholas is December 6th, Childermas is usually called Holy Innocents and is on December 28th.
And the story – is lovely. It did not disappoint once I finally found it. And now I read it every year about this time. It features some idea of either time travel or reincarnation, the hero/narrator seems to drift about with no need to explain or worry about what is happening, and this is totally convincing. It is very well done, and tremendously affecting. (The book, Faithful Jenny Dove, contains more ghost stories – they are fine, but this one really is the pearl in the midst of them…)
Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) was a prolific children’s author, probably best-remembered now for writing the words for the song Morning Has Broken. She was the sister of J Jefferson Farjeon, who wrote Mystery in White – the 1937 crime book notable for being the first huge bestseller in the British Library’s republishing programme for Golden Age murder mysteries. It is on the blog here.
This is really interesting, Moira! I had no idea about who wrote this story, so I appreciate your doing the research to find out. And it is interesting about the legend/story of the boy bishop himself.ReplyDelete
It is a charmer Margot - not scarey or horrible, just lovely. And very seasonal!Delete
Oh, I must read this, Moira! The wonderful London Library has a copy and I have requested it. Really, between you and my book group, I hardly need choose my own reading matter any more.ReplyDelete
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I'm curious to know what others think, as no-one else I know has read it. Maybe everyone else will be less impressed!Delete
Fabulous news for those interested in reading this story! I found it online by doing a Googles Book search. It appears in two issues of The Living Age (Feb 8 and Feb 15, 1913), split into two parts. Excited to read the whole story in its first (maybe only) US appearance. The entire contents of every issue of The Living Age from Jan, Feb, March 1913 appear in one single volume and all pages are available for reading. Anyone can read this tale in the 1913 magazine using Google Books. I found it using the search terms Perle, Myddes, and Eleanor Farjeon. Thanks so much for enlightening me about this story. Christmas ghost stories have become a special interest of mine for several years now. And now Valancourt Books publishes an annual Christmas ghost story collection. This year will be the third.ReplyDelete
Wow - so impressed by your research John, and glad to find more details of original publication. I didn't know it was so old. And I hope you enjoy it - it is gentle and lovely rather than horrible and scarey!Delete
… and I have added a note above with your extra date info.Delete
“—And a Perle in the Myddes” first appeared in “Blackwood's Magazine” No. 1166, Dec 1912 as far as I know and it later got included in “Faithful Jenny Dove and Other Tales” (Collins, 1925).Delete
I really love “—And a Perle...” as well as the other stories in the book including “Faithful Jenny Dove” and “The Lamb of Chinon”. But I completely agree with you when you said, "this one really is the pearl in the midst of them"!
Thanks so much for the extra information - I could find out very little about either story or book. It's always so nice to find other fans of something you have loved alone for many years. And yes, this story is the one!Delete
Faithful Jenny Dove can be borrowed online from archive.org You'll have to wait 'til I've returned it though!ReplyDelete
I am impressed by everyone being able to find this. Well done, and hope it charms you as much as it does me.Delete
Moira, that is such an interesting title. Of course, I'd never come across the story or its author before. The passage reads almost like verse in prose form. I liked it though, frankly, I didn't quite grasp it till I read your commentary.ReplyDelete
This is a case where you have to read the whole story Prashant - I hope you get the chance some time.Delete
Very interesting story, I will have to check it out. And a wonderful story of how you heard of it and your search.ReplyDelete
There's a lot to be said for the internet Tracy. I hope you find it one day.Delete