GEESE DANCING--GUISE DANCING-- GUIZARDS
"THE doings of the guizards--that is, masquers--form a conspicuous feature in the New Year's proceedings throughout Scotland. The evenings on which these personages are understood to be privileged to appear are those of Christmas, Hogmanay, New Year's day, and Handsel Monday. Such boys as can pretend to anything like a voice have, for weeks before, been thumbing the collection of excellent new songs which lies hike a bunch of rags in the window-sole; and being now able to screech up 'Barbara Allan,' or the 'Wee cot-house and the wee kail-yardie,' they determine upon enacting the part of guizards. For this purpose they don old shirts belonging to their fathers, and mount casques of brown paper, shaped so like a mitre, that I am tempted to believe them to be borrowed from the Abbot of Unreason; attached to this is a sheet of the same paper, which, falling down in front, covers and conceals the whole face, except where holes are made to let through the point of the nose, and afford sight to the eyes and breath to the mouth. Each vocal guizard is, like a knight of old, attended by a kind of humble squire, who assumes the habiliments of a girl, with an old woman's cap and a broomstick, and is styled 'Bessie.' Bessie is equal in no respects, except that she shares fairly in the proceeds of the enterprise. She goes before her principal, opens all the doors at which he pleases to exert his singing powers, and busies herself during the time of the song in sweeping the floor with her broomstick, or in playing any other antics that she thinks may amuse the indwellers. The common reward of this entertainment is a halfpenny; but many churlish persons fall upon the unfortunate guizards and beat them out of the house. Let such persons, however, keep a good watch over their cabbage-gardens next Hallowe'en.
"The more important of the guizards are of a theatrical character. There is one rude and grotesque drama which they are accustomed to perform on each of the four above-mentioned nights, and which, in various fragments or versions, exists in every part of Lowland Scotland. The per. formers, who are never less than three, but sometimes as many as six, having dressed themselves, proceed in a band from house to house, generally contenting themselves with the kitchen for an arena, whither, in mansions presided over by the spirit of good-humour, the whole family will resort to witness the spectacle. Sir Walter Scott, who delighted to keep up old customs, and could condescend to simple things without losing genuine dignity, invariably had a set of guizards to perform this play before his family both at Ashiestiel and Abbotsford. The editor has with some difficulty obtained what appears a tolerably complete copy." [a]
"OF late years, at this season, in the Islands of Scilly, the young people exercise a sort of gallantry called 'goose-dancing.' The maidens are dressed up for young men, and the young men for maidens; and thus disguised, they visit their neighbours in companies, where they dance and make jokes upon what has happened in the island, and every one is humorously 'told their own,' without offence being taken. By this sort of sport, according to yearly custom and toleration, there is a spirit of wit and drollery kept up among the people. The music and dancing done, they are treated with liquor, and then they go to the next house of entertainment." [b]
This custom was by no means confined to the Islands of Scilly. In nearly every town and large village in Cornwall, geese-dancing,--not goose-dancing,--formed one of the Christmas entertainments. The term was applied to the old Christmas plays, and indeed to any kind of sport in which characters were assumed by the performers, or disguises worn.
It should be noted that these sports are never- termed goose, but always geese or guise dancing.