This is the title of a rather incredible book by Henry Reed Stiles, ‘An authoritative account of this charming Colonial custom, told with wisdom and wit’.
But what is it?
It’s about people sleeping together with their clothes on, and is meant to be a custom of very cold places where visitors were offered lodgings for the night, often with young women, which seems odd to me, but moving on, Stiles traces the custom to the Old World, in particular Wales, from where he cites a tourist in 1797: “The lower order of people do actually carry on their love affairs in bed, and what would extremely astonish more polished lovers, they are carried on honourably, it being, at least, as usual for the Pastoras of the mountains to go from the bed of courtship to the bed of marriage as unpolluted and maidenly as the Chloes of fashion; and yet you are not to conclude that this proceeds from their being less susceptible of the belle-passion than their betters;or that the cold air which they breathe has frozen the genial current of their souls. By no means; if they cannot boast the voluptuous languor of an Italian sky, they glow with the bracing spirit of a more invigorating atmosphere. I really took some pains to investigate this curious custom, and after being assured, by many, of its veracity, had an opportunity of attesting its existence with my own eyes. the servant mad of the family I visited in Caernarvonshire, happened to be the object of a young peasant, who walked 11 long miles every Sunday morning to favour his suit, and regularly returned the same night through all weathers, to be ready for Monday’s employment in the fields, being simply a day labourer. He usually arrived in time for morning service, which he constantly attended, after which he escorted his Dulcinea home to the house of her master, by whose permission they as constantly passed the succeeding hour in bed, according to the custom of the country. These tender sabbatical preliminaries continued without interruption ned 2 years, when the treaty of alliance was solemnised; and, so far from any breach of articles happening in the meantime, it is most likely that it was considered by both parties as a matter of course, without exciting any other idea. Unspeaking to my friend on the subject, he observed that, though it certainly appeared a dangerous mode of making love, he had seen so few living abuses of it, during 36 years’ residence in that country, where it nevertheless had always, more or less, prevailed, he must conclude it was as innocent as any other. One proof of its being thought so by the parties, is the perfect ease and freedom with which it is done; no awkwardness or confusion appearing on either side; the most well-behaved and decent young woman going into it without a blush, and they are by no means deficient in modesty. What is pure in idea is always so in conduct, since bad actions are the common consequence of bad thoughts; and though the better sort of people treat this ceremony as a barbarism, it is very much to be doubted whether more faux pas have been committed by the Cambrian boors win this free access to the bed chambers of three mistresses than by more fashionable Strephons and they nymphs in gives and shady bowers.”
The antiquarian Rev. W Bingley in 1804 mentions such practices in Caernarvonshire, Anglesea and Merionethshire which is almost unknown inEngland, but common in parts of America, and is called bundling,where a lover is admitted to the bed of his fair one, especially on Saturday or Sunday nights after travelling up to 10 miles. The author blames it on a lack of fuel, but I don’t think early America was short of firewood.
The practice is also known on the Dutch islands of Vlie, Texel and Wieringen, and called questing where the young man is admitted to the woman’s chamber, and lies on top of the bedding whilst she is in bed proper, and they have a chat. Here it is blamed on the meanness of parents refusing too provide fire and candles in the winter. Examples are cited from Switzerland and Asia, but I love this, from Diedrich Knickerbocker, historian of New York :
“he speaks of the redoubtable Anthony Van Corlaer – purest of Dutchmen – as “passing through Hartford and Pyquag, and Middletown, and all the other border towns, twanging his trumpet like a very devil, so that the sweet valleys and banks of the Connecticut resounded with the warlike melody, and stopping occasionally to eat pumpkin pies, dance at country frolics, and bundle with the beauteous lasses of those parts, whom he rejoiced exceedingly with his soul-stirring instrument.”