La Longue Veille: from the Monthly Selection of December 1824

Written by 'The Trifler.'

La Longue Veille

J’irons baire du vin brulaï
Sans etre caû ni enverraï—à la Longue Veille (Old Song).

I may appreciate too highly the faint vestiges of ancient customs which I now and then meet with, and the interest I express in them may provoke a smile from those who are negligently suffering them to pass away.—Geoffrey Crayon.

What 'rite merrie' folks were our forefathers! Every trifling event served them as a pretext for conviviality …. Not the least, although pretty nearly the last of their yearly list, was the longue veille, with its 'quips and its cranks,' its gibes, its jokes, and its savoury wine.

As it falls, or at least ought to fall, on the longest night of the year, our ancestors thought it could not be better spent than in innocent revelry. Oh! The mulled wine of old Sarnia! Every genuine native palate loves the smack of it. It is the national beverage, and as grateful to the taste of a Guernsey man, as whiskey to the Irishman, or usquebaugh to the Scot. It is the potus ordinaries at their merrymakings; nowhere else that I know of is it held in such high esteem. The Oxonians, and they know what is good, may talk to you of their Port mulled with a lemon stuck full of spices, denominated, par excellence, Bishop: but ‘tis not to be compared to our vin-brûlé, neither does it possess the accompaniment which ought to establish the epicurean character of our Sarnians. Had our present Sovereign vouchsafed us a visit, I should have said that a royal taste for 'port after cheese' was acquired in this our Island; every old woman, in it, is aware that there is nothing like cheese for giving a true relish to their fragrant potation. Then again it possesses not the true zest, unless drank out of coffee cups …

I remember some forty years ago, an English lady who was introduced into Guernsey society for the first time, at one of our primitive wedding parties, remarked on what she considered the strangeness of our customs. 'What!' said she, 'eat bread and cheese with coffee;' she thought, naturally enough, that no other fluid could be consistently served up in the legitimate coffee cup. I did not undeceive her, and she had imbued a tolerable draught 'ere she discovered her mistake; ‘twas an agreeable one I’ll be sworn, but I am too discreet to mention how many cupfuls she was subsequently helped to.

But ah! La longue veille is not now what it was forty years ago; the customs connected with it have been declining year after year as luxury and artificial pleasures have been gaining ground. It is still celebrated in those families who preserve something like pristine simplicity but even among them it is the mere shadow of its former self. The vin-brûlé is handed round as usual; but where are the guileless lips that used to sip it? Where is the social dance—A mon beau laurier? Remembered only by a few old fellows like myself, who mourn to see its place supplied by the newfangled conceit called quadrille. Where are the pretty girls I was wont to flirt with? Many of them are wrinkled Grandames who now only flirt with little Grandson Jacky—I should say Master Henry or Master Charles, 'for there’s na living for new names in this new world neither and that’s another vex to auld folks such as I am.'

I was agreeably surprised at beholding a revival of some of the old customs at the last longue veille. This resuscitation, as I may call it, was owing to the liberality of a gentleman whose name I will not mention, although it deserves to be treasured in the memory of those who feasted by his bounty. The wine was excellent and prepared secundem artem; a cupful or two exhilarated my spirits; the scene itself recalled to my mind many pleasing associations. I exclaimed with enthusiasm to an old friend and schoolfellow; 'this puts me in mind of old times!'