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imaginations of the conquered the powers of reflection. Had the keen sensibility of their degradation mingled with their thoughts to any great degree it might have revived opposition; therefore the Romans deemed it necessary to amuse them in such a manner, as might occasion a suspension of sorrow, and, in the lapse of time, a forgetfulness of their former state. To this purpose nothing could so essentially contribute, as a succession of shows, pageants, and dramatic exhibitions; at which, taught in the Athenian school, the Romans were adepts, and of which the inhabitants of London, like their neighbours of Paris, were ardent admirers. The histrionic art fell with the Roman theatres.
Before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to christianity, their religion, like the paganism of the ancient Britons, was distinguished by numerous circumstances of rude pomp and barbaric, if not theatric, grandeur. The orations of their priests, with their musical accompaniments, bespeak a people whose sensibility was alive to the stimulations of sounds, both vocal and instrumental. To their feasts, therefore, Scalds [i. e. bards) and Harpers were absolutely necessary. These performers recited to their harps and other instruments, the warlike deeds of their ancestors. They had among them, when they performed, one of their order, who was absolutely a low comedian, and who, under the appellation of the Gleeman, amused the audience with stories, tricks, and mimickry.
In the miracle plays, mysteries, and moralities of the ecclesiastics, in after ages, the Gleeman kept his situation, but was denominated the Vice. In stage plays he was called the Clown; and when to this species of the drama the puppet-show succeeded, he was denominated the Merry Andrew. The domestic Gleeman, afterwards the Fool, became absolutely necessary in
every nobleman's establishment
The Minstrel, who appeared after the Norman Conquest, seems to have been still more theatrical, than the Scald or the Harper. He possessed all the qualities of the Gleeman, such as magical deceptions and legerdemain. He was a vocal and instrumental performer, a dancer, a posture-maker, and a jester. These kinds of people formed parties; which may be thought to be the most ancient strolling companies of the kingdom; for, indeed, they travelled from town to town, and from village to village. How agreeable they must have been to the English, whose peculiar cast of humour induced them, on every occasion, to seize opportunities
for the enjoyment of these kinds of exhibitions, is, what almost every one has felt it, easy to conceive.
John of Salisbury, a writer of the twelfth century, who was himself a monk of Canterbury, is, like the rest of his brethren, ardent and energetic in his declamations against minstrels. Because it was the business of the monks to make their way to the heart through the medium of the senses; of this their miracles are proofs; and because the minstrels in their tales and fables, when entertaining gay company, introduced many truths, undeniable truths, at which the monks were offended, as they smarted under the lash of the satirist; because, too, these performers were either under the protection of some powerful chief (as the Fools afterwards were), or by travelling from place to place, dispersed their ludicrous attacks on their antagonists far and wide; in spite of all attempts, on the part of the monks and their adherents, to prevent, or to counteract their effects.
However that might be, John of Salisbury expressly denomi. nates the objects of his reprehension spectacula et infinita tyrocina vanitatis, quibus' qui omnino otiari non possunt, perniciosius orcupantur. Spectacles and innumerable rudiments of vanity, by which persons who could not indure to be idle might be occupied in worse than idleness.
While the minstrels were the only dramatists, it is most probable that their memories were stored with many pieces which were traditional, and consequently short: these were merely interludes, which betwixt their performances of singing and dancing they introduced: they were frequently exhibited in the inn-yards of the metropolis: places which, from their surrounding galleries, of which we have some few specimens still left, could be, with little trouble, converted into tolerable theatres.
The minstrels, among the abundance of their qualifications, professed pharmacy, and prescribed as apothecaries: they vended their medicines at markets and fairs, and were consequently the first mountebanks. In order to induce the people to swallow their nostrums, they, after a verbose recommendation, had them presented by one of their tribe, who performed the Merry Andrew! a character that is still retained as an appendage to the itinerant doctor. The medical lottery, in which medicines are the blanks, and the prizes a silver cup, spoons, &c., is a more modern contrivance.
Against monkish prejudice and power, the drama had a hard struggle for existence; the actors, obliged to depend on the casual bounty of the nobility, or on their collections at fairs and festivals, were, with respect to their revenues, in a very precarious state. Nevertheless, it must have become of considerable importance, not only in England, but all over christendom, as the people of all nations are by a council of the Lateran forbidden to be present at stage plays, or to encourage tumblers and jesters.-Can. 15, 16. Scrip. tom. iii. p. 734.
Bradwardin, archbishop of Canterbury, wrote against the stage in 1345. He was followed by Wickliff, who has been termed the morning star of reformation, who levelled his eloquence against plays in 1380.
Miracle plays and mysteries, representing the history of some legendary saint, were common in the metropolis in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: they are mentioned by Fitzstephen, in a passage thus translated by Strype: “ London, instead of plays belonging to the theatre, hath plays of more holy subjects, representations in which the holy confessors wrought, and sufferings in which the glorious constancy of martyrs did appear.”
From the early part of the fourteenth century, every adventitious circumstance seems to have taken a dramatic turn; their pageants, shows, feastings, jests, and tournaments, had all a kind of histrionic arrangement, and were calculated to produce a theatrical effect.
The monks and friars discerning at a great distance, the fall of their establishment, endeavoured, in their miracle plays and mysteries, to oppose pleasure to pleasure, and sport to sport;
from their then influence their example was followed by the public schools; and their system was afterwards received and adopted by the parish clerks, who seem at one time, to have shared the applause of the town with the professional actors. To these succeeded our better known dramatists, and dramatic establishments.
In the course of the fourteenth century, the manners of the English were rendered conspicuous in the display of most ostentatious and extravagant magnificence: as well of the court as of the people.
The cours plenières, which were held twice a year, viz. at Easter and All Saints Days in France, were held at Whitsuntide and Christmas in England, where they were introduced by Edward the
third. Cours plenières were also held by the monarchs of both countries at their coronations, marriages, or the baptism of their children, and when they confered on them the order of knighthood. “ These festivals did not fail to attract a great number of quacks, jugglers, ropedancers, merry Andrews, and mimes. The merry Andrews told stories; those that were called jugglers played on their cymbals; monkies, dogs, and bears, danced. It is said that the mimes excelled in their art, and that by their gestures, attitudes and postures, they expressed a passage in history as clearly and as pathetically as if they had recited it.” Sr. Foix, Essays upon Paris, vol. ii. p. 64.
These exhibitions took place in the courtyards and immense halls of the palaces.
When Philip the fair knighted his three sons with all the pomp of ancient chivalry, on Whitsunday, 1313, he invited the king and queen of England, who, with a great number of their barons crossed the channel, on purpose to be present. This festival lasted eight days, and was rendered no less remarkable by the magnificence of the dresses exhibited, than by the sumptuousness of the tables, and the infinite variety of diversions and amusements, that were upon this occasion drawn together. France and England equally combined to furnish characters and actors; so that this is stated to have been one of the most superb, and at the same time entertaining spectacles ever exhibited. “The princes and lords changed their. dresses three times every day. The Parisians presented several shows. In one was displayed the glory of the blessed; another exhibited a view of the infernal regions, and represented the torments of the damned.” To these, succeeded a procession, “ in which appeared a great variety of the animal 'creation; this was termed “the Feast of the Fox.'” Hist. de Paris, tom. i. p. 42.
If this concise statement of what appears to be the descent of the histrionic art, be correct, we may consider the proper drama as derived to us from the earliest ages; while, nevertheless, the clerical imitations of sacred histories practised in England, might be imported with many other fopperies and follies from the East. This double descent has not I believe, struck any of our writers on the subject; and I therefore must repeat, that I think your correspondent is intitled to the acknowledgments of the public, for the ingenuity of his speculations.
SINGULAR INSTANCE OF BENEVOLENCE. A FRENCH refugee, at Brussels, was surprised in that city by the French troops in their victorious entry after the battle of Fleuris. Dreading to be made a prisoner, he fled. A young girl, an entire stranger to him who was sitting before a door, observing the terror and distraction of his air and countenance, seized him by the arm—“Stay!" she cried, “ you are lost if you go forward.” * And I am lost if I return,” he answered. “ Then enter here,” said the generous girl, « and be saved.”
The Frenchman accepted her offer. His hostess informed him she was niece to the sexton of the neighbouring church; that it was her uncle's house in which she had received him, who would have been far from suffering her to exercise so dangerous a rite of hospitality had he been at home; and she hastened to conceal him in an outhouse, where she expected to leave him in security.
Scarcely was it dark when some French soldiers entered the same place to take up their abode for the night. Terrified at the situation of the French stranger, the girl softly followed them without being perceived, and waiting till she was sure they were asleep, she informed the refugee of his extreme danger, and desired him to follow her. Their movement awakened one of the soldiers, who, stretching out his arm, seized that of the refugee, crying out, “ Who goes there?” The girl dexterously placed herself between them, and said, “ It is only me, who am come to seek for — ”Fortunately she had no occasion to say a word more: the soldier, deceived by the voice of a woman, let go his captive. She conducted the refugee into the house, and taking down the keys of the church, with a lamp in her hand, she led him to that place as the securest asylum she could find. They entered a chapel which the ravages of war had despoiled of its ornaments. Behind the altar was a passage to a vault, the entrance to which was not easy to be discerned. She raised the door, and said, “ This narrow staircase leads to a vault, the repository of the ashes of an illustrious family. It is scarcely possible they will suspect any person of being concealed there. Descend, and remain there till an opportunity offers for your escape.” She gave him the lamp; he descended into this melancholy abode, and she closed the door upon him. His feelings may well be imagined, when examining this dismal place by the light of his lamp, he saw the arms of his own family,