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different classes of society—the sehwanke, in which patient Hodge and his clumsy attempts at merrymaking are served up a la Neidhart for the amusement of the spruce townsman—would provide ample ground for expatiating, were expatiation possible. Some little room, however, must be reserved for a tribe of performers who went by the name of rcimspreeher, and whose forte was improvisation. Not that their rhymes—any more than modern obituary notices, parliamentary oratory, or colloquial witticisms —were always and purely extemporaneous; but the "occasional" character, which we have learnt to distinguish as the note of this late folk-song, is hero accentuated and pronounced.
The chief exponents of the school were the King of the Odenwald, Teichner, and Peter Suchenwirt in the fourteenth, and Hans Schnepperer (nicknamed Rosenpliit), and another Hans (surnamed Folz) in the fifteenth century. The three first represent in a curious way the ideas of the three orders into which it is usual to divide society. Suchenwirt made a special study of heraldry, and composed ehrenreden on dead princes and nobles. Teichner gives expression to ruiddle-class sentiment. He is moral and religious, and cannot away with robber-chivalry, tourneys, serving of ladies, or any such trash. Lastly, the King of the Odenwald The King of the (so named apparently as head of the minodenwau. strels in that part of the world) glorifies the kailyard, and revels in such inspiring themes as the cock, the sheep, the cow, &c. In one of his poems he undertakes to show how far superior is the goose, or gander—he is not particular which—to all other feathered fowl. He recapitulates its uses after being converted into dead stock, and in his way is fairly amusing. The King of the Odenwald can also, as the conclusion testifies, be exceedingly vulgar, though not more so than many of his betters had been in bygone days.1
The topic of vulgarity takes us straight to the Low Countries. There, as elsewhere, eminent moralists, of The Low whom Jan Boendale, author of Der Lckencwnxriu. spegel, may serve as a type, had varied and enforced their teaching by the introduction of short tales. This custom suggested a "happy thought" to the sprekers or zeggers who held forth now in the halls of the gentry, now before town-audiences, and they took to relating such tales for their own sakes. The tales, always in verse, are of two kinds, comic and tragic, and consist, for the most part, of translations of French dits and fabliaux. The boerden, characterised by coarse wit, do not reach any high level of excellence. One of the best is the Wise Counsel of Women, by Peter van Jersele; it is identical in subject with a novel of Boccaccio (Decameron, iii. 3). The sproken, or serious poems, include a version of the Pyramus and Thisbe story under the quaint title, Van twern Kinderen die droeghen enc stareke Minne. The names of several sprekers have been handed down, the most famous being those of Augustijnken van Dordt and Willem van Hildergaersberch. The former, who was in the service of the Count of Blois, composed, among other poems, an allegorical description of a young woman's head (Dv Porch van Vroudenrijc). The latter was a sort of poet-laureate to Albert and William IV. of Holland, and has bequeathed a hundred and twenty poems—historical, political, satirical —besides fables and boerden.
1 Many of these "reimereien" may be found in Lassburg's Liedersnal.
There is reason to surmise that the term " minstrel" (Anglo-French, minestrel) was first used in this sense
Engiis\ at the court of the Norman conquerors in
mirutrds. England; and those to whom it was applied were not destitute of personal and social distinction. The stories of Taillefer and Blondel de Nesle, though not necessarily true in the letter, are conclusive as to the estimation of the order. It was not in the nature of things that the sayers and singers of the vanquished should enjoy similar advantages. If they existed as a class, they can only have practised their art under severe restrictions, not wholly unlike those enforced in more recent times against strolling players.
On the revival of English in the reign of Henry I., there emerge from the dimness native performers who, like their Norman predecessors, are called "minstrels." As was the case with the more general term "jongleur," the description covered many degrees of professional skill, as well as, perhaps, some inequality of rank. It is improbable, however, that the "harpours," " disours," and "gestours" attained to anything approaching fame or fortune. In the "prologus" of Piers the Plowman, Langland discriminates between the more reputable minstrels and a baser sort which he calls "japers and jangelers," who, like the hermits, were influenced in the choice of a vocation hy idleness and love of dissipation. The making of a minstrel, in the less honourable sense, is described in another prologue —that of the Cokes Tale. Here we have an account of the progress of a certain victualler's apprentice, Perkyn Itevellour. A handsome youth, and glad of any excuse to throw off the burden of business—
"At every bridale wold he synge and hoppe,
For these pleasant ways Perkyn's master had sometimes to pay in the shape of an empty tilL
"For such a joly prentys revellour
This was manifestly unfair. Moreover, his "maister" was not without concern as to the influence of this scapegrace on his other apprentices. So—on the principle, "well bette is roten appul out of hord "—he gave Perkyn his discharge. Thereupon the reveller sent his bed and other appurtenances to a companion, who, fortunately, had a wife "that held for countenance a shoppe," and lived—God rest you merry!
It is interesting to compare the ambiguous lot of the English minstrel class with the elaborate organisation of the Welsh bards. The latter were
Welsh bardt. ......
divided into three orders: the tmliiwr, the family bard; the elerwr, the vagabond bard, who subsisted on charity; and the prydydd, the honourable bard, who sometimes claimed the monopoly of the name. Over and above them all were the priv-vcirdd, or chief bards, who reckoned themselves Druids. The massacre of the bards by Edward I. is, of course, a popular error. All that he did was to order that the "Westours, Bards, Rhymers, and other idlers and vagabonds, who lived upon the gifts called Cymmortha, be not supported, nor sanctioned in the country, lest by their invectives and lies they lead the people to mischief and burden the common people with their impositions." The mandate was directed against disorderly bards, and similar proclamations were issued by Henry IV., Henry VIIL, and Elizabeth.1 With regard to the English minstrels, so far as it is possible to draw any distinction, it is natural to suppose a dilierence between those who popularised romances of chivalry, and the more patriotic, but perhaps also more ignorant, "jangelers" who kept alive the memory of Robin Hood, the traditional representative of English manhood.
The earliest mention of these ballads is found in a passage of Piers the Plowman, where the outlaw figures, in conjunction with Randolph, Earl of Chester, as a hero of profane and popular rhymes. That such rhymes were composed for "the vulgar," and merely for "the vulgar," may be inferred from the absence of contemporary MSS. It is only after the lapse of a century that a glimpse can be obtained of the character of the poetry circulating among the common
1 Stephens's Literature of the Cymry, p. 102.