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Barbers' Forfeits

from Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales - CUSTOM RHYMES





---- laws for all faults,
But faults so countenanc'd, that the strong statutes
Stand like the forfeits in a barber's shop,
As much in mock as mark.

Steevens and Henley, in their notes on Shakespeare, bear testimony to
the fact that barbers were accustomed to expose in their shops a list of
forfeits for misbehaviour, which were "as much in mock as mark,"
because the barber had no authority of himself to enforce them, and they
were in some respects of a ludicrous nature. "Barbers' forfeits," says
Forby, in his Vocabulary of East Anglia, p. 119, "exist to this day in
some, perhaps in many, village shops. They are penalties for handling
the razors, &c., offences very likely to be committed by lounging
clowns, waiting for their turn to be scraped on a Saturday night or
Sunday morning. They are still, as of old, 'more in mock than mark.'
Certainly more mischief might be done two hundred years ago, when the
barber was also a surgeon."

Dr. Kenrick[55] was the first to publish a copy of barbers' forfeits,
and, as I do not observe it in any recent edition of Shakespeare, I here
present the reader with the following homely verses obtained by the
Doctor in Yorkshire:

[Footnote 55: Review of Johnson's Shakespeare,
1765, p. 42.]

Rules for seemly Behaviour.

First come, first serve--then come not late;
And when arrived, keep your state;
For he who from these rules shall swerve,
Must pay the forfeits--so observe.

Who enters here with boots and spurs,
Must keep his nook, for if he stirs,
And give with armed heel a kick,
A pint he pays for ev'ry prick.

Who rudely takes another's turn,
A forfeit mug may manners learn.

Who reverentless shall swear or curse,
Must lug seven farthings from his purse.

Who checks the barber in his tale,
Must pay for each a pot of ale.

Who will or cannot miss his hat
While trimming, pays a pint for that.

And he who can or will not pay,
Shall hence be sent half-trimm'd away,
For will he nill he, if in fault
He forfeit must in meal or malt.
But mark, who is alreads in drink,
The cannikin must never clink!

It is not improbable that these lines had been partly modernized from an
older original before they reached Dr. Kenrick, but Steevens was
certainly too precipitate in pronouncing them to be forgeries. Their
authenticity is placed beyond a doubt by the testimony of my late
friend, Major Moor, who, in his Suffolk Words, p. 133, informs us that
he had seen a version of these rules at the tonsor's, of Alderton, near
the sea.





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