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Buying Christmas presents.—In the dance.—The merriest of them all.—As a conjurer.—Christmas at “Gad’s Hill.”—Our Christmas dinners.—A New Year’s Eve frolic.—New Year on the Green.—Twelfth Night festivities.
Christmas was always a time which in our home was looked forward to with eagerness and delight, and to my father it was a time dearer than any other part of the year, I think.  He loved Christmas for its deep significance as well as for its joys, and this he demonstrates in every allusion2 in his writings to the great festival, a day which he considered should be fragrant3 with the love that we should bear one to another, and with the love and reverence4 of his Saviour5 and Master.  Even in his most merry conceits6 of Christmas, there are always subtle and tender touches which will bring tears to the eyes, and make even the thoughtless have some special p. 26veneration for this most blessed anniversary.
In our childish days my father used to take us, every twenty-fourth day of December, to a toy shop in Holborn, where we were allowed to select our Christmas presents, and also any that we wished to give to our little companions.  Although I believe we were often an hour or more in the shop before our several tastes were satisfied, he never showed the least impatience7, was always interested, and as desirous as we, that we should choose exactly what we liked best.  As we grew older, present giving was confined to our several birthdays, and this annual visit to the Holborn toy shop ceased.
When we were only babies my father determined8 that we should be taught to dance, so as early as the Genoa days we were given our first lessons.  “Our oldest boy and his sisters are to be waited upon next week by a professor of the noble art of dancing,” he wrote to a friend at this p. 27time.  And again, in writing to my mother, he says: “I hope the dancing lessons will be a success.  Don’t fail to let me know.”
Our progress in the graceful9 art delighted him, and his admiration10 of our success was evident when we exhibited to him, as we were perfected in them, all the steps, exercises and dances which formed our lessons.  He always encouraged us in our dancing, and praised our grace and aptness, although criticized quite severely11 in some places for allowing his children to expend12 so much time and energy upon the training of their feet.
When “the boys” came home for the holidays there were constant rehearsals13 for the Christmas and New Year’s parties; and more especially for the dance on Twelfth Night, the anniversary of my brother Charlie’s birthday.  Just before one of these celebrations my father insisted that my sister Katie and I should teach the polka step to Mr. Leech14 and himself.  My p. 28father was as much in earnest about learning to take that wonderful step correctly, as though there were nothing of greater importance in the world.  Often he would practice gravely in a corner, without either partner or music, and I remember one cold winter’s night his awakening15 with the fear that he had forgotten the step so strong upon him that, jumping out of bed, by the scant16 illumination of the old-fashioned rushlight, and to his own whistling, he diligently17 rehearsed its “one, two, three, one, two, three” until he was once more secure in his knowledge.
No one can imagine our excitement and nervousness when the evening came on which we were to dance with our pupils.  Katie, who was a very little girl was to have Mr. Leech, who was over six feet tall, for her partner, while my father was to be mine.  My heart beat so fast that I could scarcely breathe, I was so fearful for the success of our exhibition.  p. 29But my fears were groundless, and we were greeted at the finish of our dance with hearty18 applause, which was more than compensation for the work which had been expended19 upon its learning.
My father was certainly not what in the ordinary acceptation of the term would be called “a good dancer.”  I doubt whether he had ever received any instruction in “the noble art” other than that which my sister and I gave him.  In later years I remember trying to teach him the Schottische, a dance which he particularly admired and desired to learn.  But although he was so fond of dancing, except at family gatherings20 in his own or his most intimate friends’ homes, I never remember seeing him join in it himself, and I doubt if, even as a young man, he ever went to balls.  Graceful in motion, his dancing, such as it was, was natural to him.  Dance music was delightful21 to his cheery, genial22 spirit; the time and steps of a dance suited his tidy p. 30nature, if I may so speak.  The action and the exercise seemed to be a part of his abundant vitality23.
While I am writing of my father’s fondness for dancing, a characteristic anecdote24 of him occurs to me.  While he was courting my mother, he went one summer evening to call upon her.  The Hogarths were living a little way out of London, in a residence which had a drawing-room opening with French windows on to a lawn.  In this room my mother and her family were seated quietly after dinner on this particular evening, when suddenly a young sailor jumped through one of the open windows into the apartment, whistled and danced a hornpipe, and before they could recover from their amazement25 jumped out again.  A few minutes later my father walked in at the door as sedately26 as though quite innocent of the prank27, and shook hands with everyone; but the sight of their amazed faces proving too much for p. 31his attempted sobriety, his hearty laugh was the signal for the rest of the party to join in his merriment.  But judging from his slight ability in later years, I fancy that he must have taken many lessons to secure his perfection in that hornpipe.
His dancing was at its best, I think, in the “Sir Roger de Coverly”—and in what are known as country dances.  In the former, while the end couples are dancing, and the side couples are supposed to be still, my father would insist upon the sides keeping up a kind of jig28 step, and clapping his hands to add to the fun, and dancing at the backs of those whose enthusiasm he thought needed rousing, was himself never still for a moment until the dance was over.  He was very fond of a country dance which he learned at the house of some dear friends at Rockingham Castle, which began with quite a stately minuet to the tune29 of “God save the Queen,” and then dashed suddenly p. 32into “Down the Middle and up Again.”  His enthusiasm in this dance, I remember, was so great that, one evening after some of our Tavistock House theatricals30, when I was thoroughly31 worn out with fatigue32, being selected by him as his partner, I caught the infection of his merriment, and my weariness vanished.  As he himself says, in describing dear old “Fezziwig’s” Christmas party, we were “people who would dance and had no notion of walking.”  His enjoyment33 of all our frolics was equally keen, and he writes to an American friend, à propos of one of our Christmas merry-makings: “Forster is out again; and if he don’t go in again after the manner in which we have been keeping Christmas, he must be very strong indeed.  Such dinings, such conjurings, such blindman’s buffings, such theatre goings, such kissings out of old years and kissings in of new ones never took place in these parts before.  To keep the Chuzzlewit going, and to do this little p. 33book the Carol, in the odd times between two parts of it, was, as you may suppose, pretty tight work.  But when it was done I broke out like a madman, and if you could have seen me at a children’s party at Macready’s the other night going down a country dance with Mrs. M. you would have thought I was a country gentleman of independent property residing on a tip-top farm, with the wind blowing straight in my face every day.”
At our holiday frolics he used sometimes to conjure1 for us, the equally “noble art” of the prestidigitateur being among his accomplishments35.  He writes of this, which he included in the list of our Twelfth Night amusements, to another American friend: “The actuary of the national debt couldn’t calculate the number of children who are coming here on Twelfth Night, in honor of Charlie’s birthday, for which occasion I have provided a magic lantern and divers36 other tremendous engines of that nature.  p. 34But the best of it is that Forster and I have purchased between us the entire stock-in-trade of a conjuror37, the practice and display whereof is entrusted38 to me.  And if you could see me conjuring34 the company’s watches into impossible tea-caddies and causing pieces of money to fly, and burning pocket handkerchiefs without burning ’em, and practising in my own room without anybody to admire, you would never forget it as long as you live.”
One of these conjuring tricks comprised the disappearance39 and reappearance of a tiny doll, which would announce most unexpected pieces of news and messages to the different children in the audience; this doll was a particular favorite, and its arrival eagerly awaited and welcomed.
That he loved to emphasize Christmas in every possible way, the following extract from a note which he sent me in December, 1868, will evidence.  After speaking of a reading which he was to give on Christmas p. 35Eve, he says: “It occurs to me that my table at St. James’ Hall might be appropriately ornamented40 with a little holly41 next Tuesday.  If the two front legs were entwined with it, for instance, and a border of it ran round the top of the fring............
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