No. 623. Monday, November 22, 1714. Addison [1].

Sed mihi vel tellus optem prius ima dehiscat, Vel pater omnipotens adigat me fulmine ad umbras, Pallentes umbras Erebi noctemque profundam, Ante, pudor, quam te violem aut tua jura resolvam. Ille meos, primos qui me sibi junxit, amores Abstulit: ille habeat secum, servetque sepulchro.'

I am obliged to my Friend, the Love-Casuist[2], for the following Curious Piece of Antiquity, which I shall communicate to the Publick in his own Words.


'You may remember, that I lately transmitted to you an Account of an ancient Custom, in the Manors of East and West-Enborne, in the County of Berks, and elsewhere. If a Customary Tenant die, the Widow shall have what the Law calls her Free-Bench in all his Copyhold Lands, dum sola et casta fuerit, that is, while she lives single and chaste; but if she commits Incontinency, she forfeits her Estate; Yet if she will come into the Court riding backward upon a Black Ram, with his Tail in her Hand, and say the Words following, the Steward is bound by the Custom to re-admit her to her Free-Bench.

'Here I am,
Riding upon a Black Ram,
Like a Whore as I am;
And, for my_ Crincum Crancum,
_Have lost my_ Bincum Bancum;
_And, for my Tail's Game,
Have done this worldly Shame;
Therefore, I pray you Mr. Steward, let me have my Land again.'

'After having informed you that my Lord Coke observes, that this is the most frail and slippery Tenure of any in England, I shall tell you, since the Writing of that Letter, I have, according to my Promise, been at great Pains in searching out the Records of the Black Ram; and have at last met with the Proceedings of the Court-Baron, held in that Behalf, for the Space of a whole Day. The Record saith, that a strict Inquisition having been made into the Right of the Tenants to their several Estates, by a crafty old Steward, he found that many of the Lands of the Manor were, by default of the several Widows, forfeited to the Lord, and accordingly would have enter'd on the Premises: Upon which the good Women demanded the Benefit of the Ram. The Steward, after having perused their several Pleas, adjourn'd the Court to Barnaby-bright [3], that they might have Day enough before them.

'The Court being set, and filled with a great Concourse of People, who came from all Parts to see the Solemnity, the first who entered was the Widow Frontly, who had made her Appearance in the last Year's Cavalcade. The Register observes, that finding it an easy Pad-Ram, and foreseeing she might have further Occasion for it, she purchased it of the Steward.

'Mrs. Sarah Dainty, Relict of Mr. John Dainty, (who was the greatest Prude in the Parish) came next in the Procession. She at first made some Difficulty of taking the Tail in her Hand; and was observed in pronouncing the Form of Penance, to soften the two most emphatical Words into Clincum Clancum: But the Steward took care to make her speak plain English before he would let her have her Land again.

'The third Widow that was brought to this worldly Shame, being mounted upon a vicious Ram, had the Misfortune to be thrown by him; upon which she hoped to be excused from going thro' the rest of the Ceremony: But the Steward being well versed in the Law, observed very wisely upon this Occasion, that the breaking of the Rope does not hinder the Execution of the Criminal.

'The fourth Lady upon Record was the Widow Ogle, a famous Coquette, who had kept half a Score young Fellows off and on for the Space of two Years; but having been more kind to her Carter John, she was introduced with the Huzza's of all her Lovers about her.

'Mrs. Sable appearing in her Weeds, which were very new and fresh, and of the same Colour with her whimsical Palfrey, made a very decent Figure in the Solemnity.

'Another, who had been summoned to make her Appearance, was excused by the Steward, as well knowing in his Heart, that the good Squire himself had qualified her for the Ram.

'Mrs. Quick having nothing to object against the Indictment, pleaded her Belly. But it was remembred that she made the same Excuse the Year before. Upon which the Steward observ'd, that she might so contrive it, as never to do the Service of the Manor.

'The Widow Fidget being cited into Court, insisted that she had done no more since the Death of her Husband, than what she used to do in his Life-time; and withal desir'd Mr. Steward to consider his own Wife's Case, if he should chance to die before her.

'The next in order was a Dowager of a very corpulent Make, who would have been excused as not finding any Ram that was able to carry her; upon which the Steward commuted her Punishment, and ordered her to make her Entry upon a black Ox.

'The Widow Maskwell, a Woman who had long lived with a most unblemished Character, having turned off her old Chamber-maid in a Pet, was by that revengeful Creature brought in upon the black Ram Nine times the same Day.

'Several Widows of the Neighbourhood, being brought upon their Tryal, they shewed that they did not hold of the Manor, and were discharged accordingly.

'A pretty young Creature who closed the Procession, came ambling in, with so bewitching an Air, that the Steward was observ'd to cast a Sheep's Eye upon her, and married her within a Month after the Death of his Wife.

'N. B. Mrs. Touchwood appeared, according to Summons, but had nothing laid to her Charge; having liv'd irreproachably since the Decease of her Husband, who left her a Widow in the Sixty-ninth Year of her Age.'

I am, SIR, &c.

[Footnote 1: See note to No. 608.]

[Footnote 2: See Nos. 591, 602, 605, 614, and 625.]

[Footnote 3: Then the 11th, now the 22nd of June, longest day of the year.]

Translation of motto:
VIRG. AEn. iv. 24.
'But first let yawning earth a passage rend,
And let me thro' the dark abyss descend:
First let avenging Jove, with flames from high.
Drive down this body to the nether sky,
Condemn'd with ghosts in endless night to lie;
Before I break the plighted faith I gave;
No: he who had my vows shall ever have;
For whom I loved on earth, I worship in the grave.'