Barbers' Forfeits

: Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales

---- 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 ha
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.