August 31

When this day happened to occur on a Saturday during the last three centuries, it is probable that English printers took the opportunity to celebrate with a party which has been given the name of wayzgoose. The first factual account of this festivity appeared in the Mechanick Exercises of Joseph Moxon, published in 1683. In the section of this manual devoted to “Customs of the Chappel,” Moxon describes this typographic soiree:

“It is also customary for all the Journey-men to make every Year new Paper Windows, whether the old will serve again or no; Because that day they make them, the Master Printer gives them a Waygoose; that is, he makes them a good Feast, and not only entertains them at his own House, but besides, gives them Money to spend at the Ale-house or Tavern at Night; And to this Feast, they invite the Corrector, Founder, Smith, Joyner, and Inck-Maker, who all of them severally (except the Corrector in his own Civility) open their Purse-strings and add their Benevolence (which Workmen account their duty, because they generally chuse these Workmen) to the Master Printers: But from the Corrector they expect nothing, the Master Printer chusing him, the Workman can do him no kindness.

“These Way-gooses, are always kept about Bartholomew-tide. And till the Master-Printer have given this Way-goose, the Journey-men do not use to Work by Candle Light.”

The origin of the word is unknown, but since Moxon a number of authorities have attempted to define it, and a few puritanical souls have tried to do away with it. Nathan Bailey, in his Dictionary of 1731, stated that Wayz represented a bundle of straw, and that Wayzgoose was therefore a stubble goose, which was the principal dish at the party. The distinguished compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary give short shrift to this orthographical fairy tale, asserting that it is a ‘figment invented in the interest of an etymological conjecture.” However, Mr. Bailey’s wayzgoose has been honored by becoming the standard name of the celebration rather than the earlier waygoose of Moxon. But no matter what the affair is called, it has been to printers an excuse to howl and to forget their immediate circumstances, no matter what they happened to be.

Possibly the best account of the revelry of the wayzgoose appears in Charles M. Smith’s autobiography, The Working Man’s Way in the World, written in 1857. He described the celebration as taking place in a tavern, large enough to allow “two or three hundred men and boys to disport themselves with pleasure within doors or without.” The participants, all dressed in their best clothes, congregated about noon and began the festivities with outdoor games which continued until four o’clock, when dinner was served. It was during the post-prandial proceedings that the conviviality of the occasion began to be obvious, starting with numberless toasts to the health of the Master Printer. After a speech by that personality, a lesser official would receive the same treatment.

When the audience finally ran out of representatives of the Master to toast, new chairmen were immediately nominated, elected, and toasted, each one with more boisterous enthusiasm until all the sober brothers had departed and the wayzgoose declined into a brawl which inevitably scattered inebriated printers all over the landscape, some of whom just as inevitably, were unable to appear for work for several days.

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