Barbers’ Forfeits

★ Barbers’ Forfeits Story :

—- 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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