Of the Mimi and the Pantomimi of the Romans the following notices enter into our present researches:
The Mimi were an impudent race of buffoons, who exulted in mimicry, and, like our domestic fools, were admitted into convivial parties to entertain the guests; from them we derive the term mimetic art. Their powers enabled them to perform a more extraordinary office, for they appear to have been introduced into funerals, to mimic the person, and even the language of the deceased. Suetonius describes an Archimimus accompanying the funeral of Vespasian. This Arch-mime performed his part admirably, not only representing the person, but imitating, according to custom, ut est mos, the manners and language of the living emperor. He contrived a happy stroke at the prevailing foible of Vespasian, when he inquired the cost of all this funeral pomp—"Ten millions of sesterces!" On this he observed, that if they would give him but a hundred thousand they might throw his body into the Tiber.
The Pantomimi were quite of a different class. They were tragic actors, usually mute; they combined with the arts of gesture music and dances of the most impressive character. Their silent language often drew tears by the pathetic emotions which they excited: "Their very nod speaks, their hands talk, and their fingers have a voice," says one of their admirers. Seneca, the father, grave as was his profession, confessed his taste for pantomimes had become a passion; and by the decree of the Senate, that "the Roman knights should not attend the pantomimic players in the streets," it is evident that the performers were greatly honoured. Lucian has composed a curious treatise on pantomimes. We may have some notion of their deep conception of character, and their invention, by an anecdote recorded by Macrobius of two rival pantomimes. When Hylas, dancing a hymn, which closed with the words "The great Agamemnon," to express that idea he took it in its literal meaning, and stood erect, as if measuring his size—Pylades, his rival, exclaimed, "You make him tall, but not great!" The audience obliged Pylades to dance the same hymn; when he came to the words he collected himself in a posture of deep meditation. This silent pantomimic language we ourselves have witnessed carried to singular perfection; when the actor Palmer, after building a theatre, was prohibited the use of his voice by the magistrates. It was then he powerfully affected the audience by the eloquence of his action in the tragic pantomime of Don Juan!
These pantomimi seem to have been held in great honour; many were children of the Graces and the Virtues! The tragic and the comic masks were among the ornaments of the sepulchral monuments of an archmime and a pantomime. Montfaucon conjectures that they formed a select fraternity. They had such an influence over the Roman people, that when two of them quarrelled, Augustus interfered to renew their friendship. Pylades was one of them; and he observed to the emperor, that nothing could be more useful to him than that the people should be perpetually occupied with the squabbles between him and Bathyllus! The advice was accepted, and the emperor was silenced.
The parti-coloured hero, with every part of his dress, has been drawn out of the great wardrobe of antiquity: he was a Roman Mime. HARLEQUIN is described with his shaven head, rasis capitibus; his sooty face, fuligine faciem obducti; his flat, unshod feet, planipedes; and his patched coat of many colours, Mimi centunculo. Even Pullicinella, whom we familiarly call PUNCH, may receive, like other personages of not greater importance, all his dignity from antiquity; one of his Roman ancestors having appeared to an antiquary's visionary eye in a bronze statue; more than one erudite dissertation authenticates the family likeness; the nose long, prominent, and hooked; the staring goggle eyes; the hump at his back and at his breast; in a word, all the character which so strongly marks the Punch-race, as distinctly as whole dynasties have been featured by the Austrian lip and the Bourbon nose.
The genealogy of the whole family is confirmed by the general term, which includes them all; for our Zany, in Italian Zanni, comes direct from Sannio, a buffoon: and a passage in Cicero, De Oratore, paints Harlequin and his brother gesticulators after the life; the perpetual trembling motion of their limbs, their ludicrous and flexible gestures, and all the mimicry of their faces:—Quid enim potest tam ridiculum, quam SANNIO esse? Qui ore, vultu, imitandis motibus, voce, denique corpore ridetur ipso. Lib. ii. sect. 51. "For what has more of the ludicrous than SANNIO? who, with his mouth, his face, imitating every motion, with his voice, and, indeed, with all his body, provokes laughter."
These are the two ancient heroes of pantomime. The other characters are the laughing children of mere modern humour. Each of these chimerical personages, like so many county members, come from different provinces in the gesticulating land of pantomime; in little principalities the rival inhabitants present a contrast in manners and characters which opens a wider field for ridicule and satire than in a kingdom where an uniformity of government will produce an uniformity of manners. An inventor appeared in Ruzzante, an author and actor who flourished about 1530. Till his time they had servilely copied the duped fathers, the wild sons, and the tricking valets, of Plautus and Terence; and, perhaps, not being writers of sufficient skill, but of some invention, were satisfied to sketch the plots of dramas, but boldly trusted to extempore acting and dialogue. Ruzzante peopled the Italian stage with a fresh enlivening crowd of pantomimic characters; the insipid dotards of the ancient comedy were transformed into the Venetian Pantaloon and the Bolognese Doctor; while the hare-brained fellow, the arch knave, and the booby, were furnished from Milan, Bergamo, and Calabria. He gave his newly-created beings new language and a new dress. From Plautus he appears to have taken the hint of introducing all the Italian dialects into one comedy, by making each character use his own; and even the modern Greek, which, it seems, afforded many an unexpected play on words, for the Italian. This new kind of pleasure, like the language of Babel, charmed the national ear; every province would have its dialect introduced on the scene, which often served the purpose both of recreation and a little innocent malice. Their masks and dresses were furnished by the grotesque masqueraders of the carnival, which, doubtless, often contributed many scenes and humours to the quick and fanciful genius of Ruzzante. I possess a little book of Scaramouches, &c. by Callot. Their masks and their costume must have been copied from these carnival scenes. We see their strongly-featured masks; their attitudes, pliant as those of a posture-master; the drollery of their figures; while the grotesque creatures seem to leap, and dance, and gesticulate, and move about so fantastically under his sharp graver, that they form as individualised a race as our fairies and witches; mortals, yet like nothing mortal!
The first Italian actors wore masks—objections have been raised against their use. Signorelli shows the inferiority of the moderns in deviating from the moveable or rather double masks of antiquity, by which the actor could vary the artificial face at pleasure. The mask has had its advocates, for some advantages it possesses over the naked face; a mask aggravates the features, and gives a more determined expression to the comic character; an important effect among this fantastical group.
The HARLEQUIN in the Italian theatre has passed through all the vicissitudes of fortune. At first he was a true representative of the ancient Mime, but afterwards degenerated into a booby and a gourmand, the perpetual butt for a sharp-witted fellow, his companion, called Brighella; the knife and the whetstone. Harlequin, under the reforming hand of Goldoni, became a child of nature, the delight of his country; and he has commemorated the historical character of the great Harlequin Sacchi. It may serve the reader to correct his notions of one, from the absurd pretender with us who has usurped the title. "Sacchi possessed a lively and brilliant imagination. While other Harlequins merely repeated themselves, Sacchi, who always adhered to the essence of the play, contrived to give an air of freshness to the piece by his new sallies and unexpected repartees. His comic traits and his jests were neither taken from the language of the lower orders, nor that of the comedians. He levied contributions on comic authors, on poets, orators, and philosophers; and in his impromptus they often discovered the thoughts of Seneca, Cicero, or Montaigne. He possessed the art of appropriating the remains of these great men to himself, and allying them to the simplicity of the blockhead; so that the same proposition which was admired in a serious author, became highly ridiculous in the mouth of this excellent actor." In France Harlequin was improved into a wit, and even converted into a moralist; he is the graceful hero of Florian's charming compositions, which please even in the closet. "This imaginary being, invented by the Italians, and adopted by the French," says the ingenious Goldoni, "has the exclusive right of uniting naivete with finesse, and no one ever surpassed Florian in the delineation of this amphibious character. He has even contrived to impart sentiment, passion, and morality to his pieces." Harlequin must be modelled as a national character, the creature of manners; and thus the history of such a Harlequin might be that of the age and of the people, whose genius he ought to represent.
The history of a people is often detected in their popular amusements; one of these Italian pantomimic characters shows this. They had a Capitan, who probably originated in the Miles gloriosus of Plautus; a brother, at least, of our Ancient Pistol and Bobadil. The ludicrous names of this military poltroon were Spavento (Horrid fright), Spezza-fer (Shiver-spear), and a tremendous recreant was Captain Spavento de Val inferno. When Charles V. entered Italy, a Spanish Captain was introduced; a dreadful man he was too, if we are to be frightened by names: Sanqre e Fuego! and Matamoro! His business was to deal in Spanish rhodomontades, to kick out the native Italian Capitan, in compliment to the Spaniards, and then to take a quiet caning from Harlequin, in compliment to themselves. When the Spaniards lost their influence in Italy, the Spanish Captain was turned into Scaramouch, who still wore the Spanish dress, and was perpetually in a panic. The Italians could only avenge themselves on the Spaniards in pantomime! On the same principle the gown of Pantaloon over his red waistcoat and breeches, commemorates a circumstance in Venetian history expressive of the popular feeling; the dress is that of a Venetian citizen, and his speech the dialect; but when the Venetians lost Negropont, they changed their upper dress to black, which before had been red, as a national demonstration of their grief.
The characters of the Italian pantomime became so numerous, that every dramatic subject was easily furnished with the necessary personages of comedy. That loquacious pedant the Dottore was taken from the lawyers and the physicians, babbling false Latin in the dialect of learned Bologna. Scapin was a livery servant who spoke the dialect of Bergamo, a province proverbially abounding with rank intriguing knaves, who, like the slaves in Plautus and Terence, were always on the watch to further any wickedness; while Calabria furnished the booby Giangurgello with his grotesque nose. Moliere, it has been ascertained, discovered in the Italian theatre at Paris his "Medecin malgre lui," his "Etourdi," his "L'Avare," and his "Scapin." Milan offered a pimp in the Brighella; Florence an ape of fashion in Gelsomino. These and other pantomimic characters, and some ludicrous ones, as the Tartaglia, a spectacled dotard, a stammerer, and usually in a passion, had been gradually introduced by the inventive powers of an actor of genius, to call forth his own peculiar talents.
The Pantomimes, or, as they have been described, the continual Masquerades, of Ruzzante, with all these diversified personages, talking and acting, formed, in truth, a burlesque comedy. Some of the finest geniuses of Italy became the votaries of Harlequin; and the Italian pantomime may be said to form a school of its own. The invention of Ruzzante was one capable of perpetual novelty. Many of these actors have been chronicled either for the invention of some comic character, or for their true imitation of nature in performing some favourite one. One, already immortalised by having lost his real name in that of Captain Matamoros, by whose inimitable humours he became the most popular man in Italy, invented the Neapolitan Pullicinello; while another, by deeper study, added new graces to another burlesque rival. One Constantini invented the character of Mezetin, as the Narcissus of pantomime. He acted without a mask, to charm by the beautiful play of his countenance, and display the graces of his figure; the floating drapery of his fanciful dress could be arranged by the changeable humour of the wearer. Crowds followed him in the streets, and a King of Poland ennobled him. The Wit and Harlequin Dominic sometimes dined at the table of Louis XIV.—Tiberio Fiorillo, who invented the character of Scaramouch, had been the amusing companion of the boyhood of Louis XIV.; and from him Moliere learnt much, as appears by the verses under his portrait:—
Cet illustre comedien De son art traca la carriere: Il fut le maitre de Moliere, Et la Nature fut le sien.
The last lines of an epitaph on one of these pantomimic actors may be applied to many of them during their flourishing period:—
Toute sa vie il a fait rire; Il a fait pleurer a sa mort.
Several of these admirable actors were literary men, who have written on their art, and shown that it was one. The Harlequin Cecchini composed the most ancient treatise on this subject, and was ennobled by the Emperor Matthias; and Nicholas Barbieri, for his excellent acting called the Beltrame, a Milanese simpleton, in his treatise on comedy, tell us that he was honoured by the conversation of Louis XIII. and rewarded with fortune.
What was the nature of that perfection to which the Italian pantomime reached; and that prodigality of genius which excited such enthusiasm, not only among the populace, but the studious, and the noble, and the men of genius?
The Italian Pantomime had two peculiar features; a species of buffoonery technically termed Lazzi, and one of a more extraordinary nature, the extempore dialogue of its comedy.
These Lazzi were certain pleasantries of gesticulation, quite national, yet so closely allied to our notions of buffoonery, that a northern critic would not readily detect the separating shade; yet Riccoboni asserts that they formed a critical, and not a trivial art. That these arts of gesticulation had something in them peculiar to Italian humour, we infer from Gherardi, who could not explain the term but by describing it as "Un Tour; JEU ITALIEN!" It was so peculiar to them, that he could only call it by their own name. It is difficult to describe that of which the whole magic consists in being seen; and what is more evanescent than the humour which consists in gestures?
"Lazzi," says Riccoboni, "is a term corrupted from the old Tuscan Lacci, which signifies a knot, or something which connects. These pleasantries called Lazzi are certain actions by which the performer breaks into the scene, to paint to the eye his emotions of panic or jocularity; but as such gestures are foreign to the business going on, the nicety of the art consists in not interrupting the scene, and connecting the Lazzi with it; thus to tie the whole together." Lazzi, then, seems a kind of mimicry and gesture, corresponding with the passing scene; and we may translate the term by one in our green-room dialect, side-play. Riccoboni has ventured to describe some Lazzi. When Harlequin and Scapin represent two famished servants of a poor young mistress, among the arts by which they express the state of starvation, Harlequin having murmured, Scapin exhorts him to groan, a music which brings out their young mistress, Scapin explains Harlequin's impatience, and begins a proposal to her which might extricate them all from their misery. While Scapin is talking, Harlequin performs his Lazzi—imagining he holds a hatful of cherries, he seems eating them, and gaily flinging the stones at Scapin; or with a rueful countenance he is trying to catch a fly, and with his hand, in comical despair, would chop off the wings before he swallows the chameleon game. These, with similar Lazzi, harmonise with the remonstrance of Scapin, and re-animate it; and thus these "Lazzi, although they seem to interrupt the progress of the action, yet in cutting it they slide back into it, and connect or tie the whole." These Lazzi are in great danger of degenerating into puerile mimicry or gross buffoonery, unless fancifully conceived and vividly gesticulated. But the Italians seem to possess the arts of gesture before that of speech; and this national characteristic is also Roman. Such, indeed, was the powerful expression of their mimetic art, that when the select troop under Riccoboni, on their first introduction into France only spoke in Italian, the audience, who did not understand the words, were made completely masters of the action by their pure and energetic imitations of nature. The Italian theatre has, indeed, recorded some miracles of this sort. A celebrated Scaramouch, without uttering a syllable, kept the audience for a considerable time in a state of suspense by a scene of successive terrors; and exhibited a living picture of a panic-stricken man. Gherardi in his "Theatre Italien," conveys some idea of the scene. Scaramouch, a character usually represented in a fright, is waiting for his master Harlequin in his apartment; having put everything in order, according to his confused notions, he takes the guitar, seats himself in an arm-chair, and plays. Pasquariel comes gently behind him, and taps time on his shoulders—this throws Scaramouch into a panic. "It was then that incomparable model of our most eminent actors," says Gherardi, "displayed the miracles of his art; that art which paints the passions in the face, throws them into every gesture, and through a whole scene of frights upon frights, conveys the most powerful expression of ludicrous terror. This man moved all hearts by the simplicity of nature, more than skilful orators can with all the charms of persuasive rhetoric." On this memorable scene a great prince observed that "Scaramuccia non parla, e dica gran cosa:" "He speaks not, but he says many great things."
In gesticulation and humour our Rich appears to have been a complete Mime: his genius was entirely confined to Pantomime; and he had the glory of introducing Harlequin on the English stage, which he played under the feigned name of Lun. He could describe to the audience by his signs and gestures as intelligibly as others could express by words. There is a large caricature print of the triumph which Rich had obtained over the severe Muses of Tragedy and Comedy, which lasted too long not to excite jealousy and opposition from the corps dramatique.
Garrick, who once introduced a speaking Harlequin, has celebrated the silent but powerful language of Rich:—
When LUN appear'd, with matchless art and whim, He gave the power of speech to every limb; Tho' mask'd and mute, conveyed his quick intent, And told in frolic gestures what he meant: But now the motley coat and sword of wood Require a tongue to make them understood!
The Italian EXTEMPORAL COMEDY is a literary curiosity which claims our attention.
It is a curiosity in the history of national genius to discover a people with such a native fund of comic humour, combined with such passionate gesticulation, that they could deeply interest in acting a Comedy, carried on by dialogue, intrigue, and character, all' improvista, or impromptu; the actors undergoing no rehearsal, and, in fact, composing while they were acting. The plot, called Scenario, consisting merely of the scenes enumerated, with the characters indicated, was first written out; it was then suspended at the back of the stage, and from the mere inspection, the actors came forward to perform the dialogue entirely depending on their own genius.
"These pieces must have been detestable, and the actors mere buffoons," exclaim the northern critics, whose imaginations have a coldness in them, like a frost in spring. But when the art of Extemporal Comedy flourished among these children of fancy, the universal pleasure these representations afforded to a whole vivacious people, and the recorded celebrity of their great actors, open a new field for the speculation of genius. It may seem more extraordinary that some of its votaries have maintained that it possessed some peculiar advantages over written compositions. When Goldoni reformed the Italian theatre by regular comedies, he found an invincible opposition from the enthusiasts of their old Comedy: for two centuries it had been the amusement of Italy, and was a species of comic entertainment which it had created. Inventive minds were fond of sketching out these outlines of pieces, and other men of genius delighted in their representation.
The inspiration of national genius alone could produce this phenomenon; and these Extemporal Comedies were, indeed, indigenous to the soil. Italy, a land of Improvisatori, kept up from the time of their old masters, the Romans, the same fervid fancy. The ancient Atellanae Fabulae, or Atellane Farces, originated at Atella, a town in the neighbourhood of ancient Naples; and these, too, were extemporal Interludes, or, as Livy terms them, Exodia. We find in that historian a little interesting narrative of the theatrical history of the Romans; when the dramatic performances at Rome were becoming too sentimental and declamatory, banishing the playfulness and the mirth of Comedy, the Roman youth left these graver performances to the professed actors, and revived, perhaps in imitation of the licentious Satyra of the Greeks, the ancient custom of versifying pleasantries, and throwing out jests and raillery among themselves for their own diversion. These Atellan Farces were probably not so low in humour as they have been represented; or at least the Roman youth, on their revival, exercised a chaster taste, for they are noticed by Cicero in a letter to his literary friend Papyrius Paetus. "But to turn from the serious to the jocose part of your letter—the strain of pleasantry you break into, immediately after having quoted the tragedy of Oenomaus, puts me in mind of the modern method of introducing at the end of these graver dramatic pieces the buffoon humour of our low Mimes instead of the more delicate burlesque of the old Atellan Farces." This very curious passage distinctly marks out the two classes, which so many centuries after Cicero were revived in the Pantomime of Italy, and in its Extemporal Comedy.
The critics on our side of the Alps reproached the Italians for the extemporal comedies; and Marmontel rashly declared that the nation did not possess a single comedy which could endure perusal. But he drew his notions from the low farces of the Italian theatre at Paris, and he censured what he had never read. The comedies of Bibiena, Del Lasca, Del Secchi, and others, are models of classical comedy, but not the popular favourites of Italy. Signorelli distinguishes two species of Italian comedy: those which he calls commedie antiche ed eruditi, ancient and learned comedies; and those of commedie dell' arte, or a soggetto, comedies suggested.—The first were moulded on classical models, recited in their academies to a select audience, and performed by amateurs; but the commedie a soggetto, the extemporal comedies, were invented by professional actors of genius. More delightful to the fancy of the Italians, and more congenial to their talents, in spite of the graver critics, who even in their amusements cannot cast off the manacles of precedence, the Italians resolved to be pleased for themselves, with their own natural vein; and preferred a freedom of original humour and invention incompatible with regular productions, but which inspired admirable actors, and secured full audiences.
Men of great genius had a passion for performing in these extemporal comedies. Salvator Rosa was famous for his character of a Calabrian clown; whose original he had probably often studied amidst that mountainous scenery in which his pencil delighted. Of their manner of acting I find an interesting anecdote in Passeri's life of this great painter; he shall tell his own story.
"One summer Salvator Rosa joined a company of young persons who were curiously addicted to the making of commedie all' improviso. In the midst of a vineyard they raised a rustic stage, under the direction of one Mussi, who enjoyed some literary reputation, particularly for his sermons preached in Lent.
"Their second comedy was numerously attended, and I went among the rest; I sat on the same bench, by good fortune, with the Cavalier Bernini, Romanelli, and Guido, all well-known persons. Salvator Rosa, who had already made himself a favourite with the Roman people, under the character of Formica opened with a prologue, in company with other actors. He proposed, for relieving themselves of the extreme heats and ennui, that they should make a comedy, and all agreed. Formica then spoke these exact words:
"Non boglio gia, che facimmo commedie come cierti, che tagliano li panni aduosso a chisto, o a chillo; perche co lo tiempo se fa vedere chiu veloce lo taglio de no rasuolo, che la penna de no poeta; e ne manco boglio, che facimmo venire nella scena porta, citazioni, acquavitari, e crapari, e ste schifenze che tengo spropositi da aseno."
One part of this humour lies in the dialect, which is Venetian; but there was a concealed stroke of satire, a snake in the grass. The sense of the passage is, "I will not, however, that we should make a comedy like certain persons who cut clothes, and put them on this man's back, and on that man's back; for at last the time comes which shows how much faster went the cut of the shears than the pen of the poet; nor will we have entering on the scene, couriers, brandy-sellers, and goatherds, and there stare shy and blockish, which I think worthy the senseless invention of an ass."
Passeri now proceeds: "At this time Bernini had made a comedy in the Carnival, very pungent and biting; and that summer he had one of Castelli's performed in the suburbs, where, to represent the dawn of day, appeared on the stage water-carriers, couriers, and goat-herds, going about—all which is contrary to rule, which allows of no character who is not concerned in the dialogue to mix with the groups. At these words of the Formica, I, who well knew his meaning, instantly glanced my eye at Bernini, to observe his movements; but he, with an artificial carelessness, showed that this 'cut of the shears' did not touch him; and he made no apparent show of being hurt. But Castelli, who was also near, tossing his head and smiling in bitterness, showed clearly that he was hit."
This Italian story, told with all the poignant relish of these vivacious natives, to whom such a stinging incident was an important event, also shows the personal freedoms taken on these occasions by a man of genius, entirely in the spirit of the ancient Roman Atellana, or the Grecian Satyra.
Riccoboni has discussed the curious subject of Extemporal Comedy with equal modesty and feeling; and Gherardi, with more exultation and egotism. "This kind of spectacle," says Riccoboni, "is peculiar to Italy; one cannot deny that it has graces perfectly its own, and which written Comedy can never exhibit. This impromptu mode of acting furnishes opportunities for a perpetual change in the performance, so that the same scenario repeated still appears a new one: thus one Comedy may become twenty Comedies. An actor of this description, always supposing an actor of genius, is more vividly affected than one who has coldly got his part by rote." But Riccoboni could not deny that there were inconveniences in this singular art. One difficulty not easily surmounted was the preventing of all the actors speaking together; each one eager to reply before the other had finished. It was a nice point to know when to yield up the scene entirely to a predominant character, when agitated by violent passion; nor did it require a less exercised tact to feel when to stop; the vanity of an actor often spoiled a fine scene.
It evidently required that some of the actors at least should be blessed with genius, and what is scarcely less difficult to find, with a certain equality of talents; for the performance of the happiest actor of this school greatly depends on the excitement he receives from his companion; an actor beneath mediocrity would ruin a piece. "But figure, memory, voice, and even sensibility, are not sufficient for the actor all' improvista; he must be in the habit of cultivating the imagination, pouring forth the flow of expression, and prompt in those flashes which instantaneously vibrate in the plaudits of an audience." And this accomplished extemporal actor feelingly laments that those destined to his profession, who require the most careful education, are likely to have received the most neglected one. Lucian, in his curious treatise on Tragic Pantomime, asserts that the great actor should also be a man of letters, and such were Garrick and Kemble.
The lively Gherardi throws out some curious information respecting this singular art: "Any one may learn a part by rote, and do something bad, or indifferent, on another theatre. With us the affair is quite otherwise; and when an Italian actor dies, it is with infinite difficulty we can supply his place. An Italian actor learns nothing by head; he looks on the subject for a moment before he comes forward on the stage, and entirely depends on his imagination for the rest. The actor who is accustomed merely to recite what he has been taught is so completely occupied by his memory, that he appears to stand, as it were, unconnected either with the audience or his companion; he is so impatient to deliver himself of the burthen he is carrying, that he trembles like a school-boy, or is as senseless as an Echo, and could never speak if others had not spoken before. Such a tutored actor among us would be like a paralytic arm to a body; an unserviceable member, only fatiguing the healthy action of the sound parts. Our performers, who became illustrious by their art, charmed the spectators by the beauty of their voice, their spontaneous gestures, the flexibility of their passions, while a certain natural air never failed them in their motions and their dialogue."
Here, then, is a species of the histrionic art unknown to us, and running counter to that critical canon which our great poet, but not powerful actor, has delivered to the actors themselves, "to speak no more than is set down for them." The present art consisted in happily performing the reverse.
Much of the merit of these actors unquestionably must be attributed to the felicity of the national genius. But there were probably some secret aids in this singular art of Extemporal Comedy which the pride of the artist has concealed. Some traits in the character, and some wit in the dialogue, might descend traditionally; and the most experienced actor on that stage would make use of his memory more than he was willing to confess. Goldoni records an unlucky adventure of his "Harlequin Lost and Found," which outline he had sketched for the Italian company; it was well received at Paris, but utterly failed at Fontainebleau, for some of the actors had thought proper to incorporate too many jokes of the "Cocu Imaginaire," which displeased the court, and ruined the piece. When a new piece was to be performed, the chief actor summoned the troop in the morning, read the plot, and explained the story, to contrive scenes. It was like playing the whole performance before the actors. These hints of scenes were all the rehearsal. When the actor entered on the scene he did not know what was to come, nor had he any prompter to help him on; much, too, depended on the talents of his companions; yet sometimes a scene might be preconcerted. Invention, humour, bold conception of character, and rapid strokes of genius, they habitually exercised—and the pantomimic arts of gesture, the passionate or humorous expression of their feelings, would assist an actor when his genius for a moment had deserted him. Such excellence was not long hereditary, and in the decline of this singular art its defects became more apparent. The race had degenerated; the inexperienced actor became loquacious; long monologues were contrived by a barren genius to hide his incapacity for spirited dialogue; and a wearisome repetition of trivial jests, coarse humour, and vulgar buffoonery, damned the Commedia a soggetto, and sunk it to a Bartholomew-fair play. But the miracle which genius produced it may repeat, whenever the same happy combination of circumstances and persons shall occur together.
I shall give one anecdote to record the possible excellence of the art. Louis Riccoboni, known in the annals of this theatre by the adopted name of Lelio, his favourite amoroso character, was not only an accomplished actor, but a literary man; and with his wife Flaminia, afterwards the celebrated novelist, displayed a rare union of talents and of minds. It was suspected that they did not act all' improvista, from the facility and the elegance of their dialogue; and a clamour was now raised in the literary circles, who had long been jealous of the fascination which attracted the public to the Italian theatre. It was said that the Riccobonis were imposing on the public credulity; and that their pretended Extemporal Comedies were preconcerted scenes. To terminate this civil war between the rival theatres, La Motte offered to sketch a plot in five acts, and the Italians were challenged to perform it. This defiance was instantly accepted. On the morning of the representation Lelio detailed the story to his troop, hung up the Scenario in its usual place, and the whole company was ready at the drawing of the curtain. The plot given in by La Motte was performed to admiration; and all Paris witnessed the triumph. La Motte afterwards composed this very comedy for the French theatre, L'Amante difficile, yet still the extemporal one at the Italian theatre remained a more permanent favourite; and the public were delighted by seeing the same piece perpetually offering novelties and changing its character at the fancy of the actors. This fact conveys an idea of dramatic execution which does not enter into our experience. Riccoboni carried the Commedie dell' Arte to a new perfection, by the introduction of an elegant fable and serious characters; and he raised the dignity of the Italian stage, when he inscribed on its curtain,
"CASTIGAT RIDENDO MORES."
MASSINGER, MILTON, AND THE ITALIAN THEATRE.
The pantomimic characters and the extemporal comedy of Italy may have had some influence even on our own dramatic poets: this source has indeed escaped all notice; yet I incline to think it explains a difficult point in Massinger, which has baffled even the keen spirit of Mr. Gifford.
A passage in Massinger bears a striking resemblance with one in Moliere's "Malade Imaginaire." It is in "The Emperor of the East," vol. iii. 317. The Quack or "Empiric's" humorous notion is so closely that of Moliere's, that Mr. Gifford, agreeing with Mr. Gilchrist, "finds it difficult to believe the coincidence accidental;" but the greater difficulty is, to conceive that "Massinger ever fell into Moliere's hands." At that period, in the infancy of our literature, our native authors and our own language were as insulated as their country. It is more than probable that Massinger and Moliere had drawn from the same source—the Italian Comedy. Massinger's "Empiric," as well as the acknowledged copy of Moliere's "Medecin," came from the "Dottore" of the Italian Comedy. The humour of these old Italian pantomimes was often as traditionally preserved as proverbs. Massinger was a student of Italian authors; and some of the lucky hits of their theatre, which then consisted of nothing else but these burlesque comedies, might have circuitously reached the English bard; and six-and-thirty years afterwards, the same traditional jests might have been gleaned by the Gallic one from the "Dottore," who was still repeating what he knew was sure of pleasing. Our theatres of the Elizabethan period seem to have had here the extemporal comedy after the manner of the Italians; we surely possess one of these Scenarios, in the remarkable "Platts," which were accidentally discovered at Dulwich College, bearing every feature of an Italian Scenario. Steevens calls them "a mysterious fragment of ancient stage direction," and adds, that "the paper describes a species of dramatic entertainment of which no memorial is preserved in any annals of the English stage." The commentators on Shakspeare appear not to have known the nature of these Scenarios. The "Platt," as it is called, is fairly written in a large hand, containing directions appointed to be stuck up near the prompter's station; and it has even an oblong hole in its centre to admit of being suspended on a wooden peg. Particular scenes are barely ordered, and the names, or rather nicknames, of several of the players, appear in the most familiar manner, as they were known to their companions in the rude green-room of that day: such as "Pigg, White and Black Dick and Sam, Little Will Barne, Jack Gregory, and the Red-faced fellow." Some of these "Platts" are on solemn subjects, like the tragic pantomime; and in some appear "Pantaloon, and his man Peascod, with spectacles." Steevens observes, that he met with no earlier example of the appearance of Pantaloon, as a specific character on our stage; and that this direction concerning "the spectacles" cannot fail to remind the reader of a celebrated passage in As You Like It:
——The lean and slipper'd Pantaloon, With spectacles on nose——.
Perhaps, he adds, Shakspeare alludes to this personage, as habited in his own time. The old age of Pantaloon is marked by his leanness, and his spectacles and his slippers. He always runs after Harlequin, but cannot catch him; as he runs in slippers and without spectacles, is liable to pass him by without seeing him. Can we doubt that this Pantaloon had come from the Italian theatre, after what we have already said? Does not this confirm the conjecture, that there existed an intercourse between the Italian theatre and our own? Farther, Tarleton the comedian, and others, celebrated for their "extemporal wit," was the writer or inventor of one of these "Platts." Stowe records of one of our actors that "he had a quick, delicate, refined, extemporal wit." And of another, that "he had a wondrous, plentiful, pleasant, extemporal wit." These actors, then, who were in the habit of exercising their impromptus, resembled those who performed in the unwritten comedies of the Italians. Gabriel Harvey, the Aristarchus of the day, compliments Tarleton for having brought forward a new species of dramatic exhibition. If this compliment paid to Tarleton merely alludes to his dexterity at extemporaneous wit in the character of the clown, as my friend Mr. Douce thinks, this would be sufficient to show that he was attempting to introduce on our stage the extemporal comedy of the Italians, which Gabriel Harvey distinguishes as "a new species." As for these "Platts," which I shall now venture to call "Scenarios," they surprise by their bareness, conveying no notion of the piece itself, though quite sufficient for the actors. They consist of mere exits and entrances of the actors, and often the real names of the actors are familiarly mixed with those of the dramatis personae. Steevens has justly observed, however, on these skeletons, that although "the drift of these dramatic pieces cannot be collected from the mere outlines before us, yet we must not charge them with absurdity. Even the scenes of Shakspeare would have worn as unpromising an aspect, had their skeletons only been discovered." The printed scenarios of the Italian theatre were not more intelligible; exhibiting only the hints for scenes.
Thus, I think, we have sufficient evidence of an intercourse subsisting between the English and Italian theatres, not hitherto suspected; and I find an allusion to these Italian pantomimes, by the great town-wit Tom Nash, in his "Pierce Pennilesse," which shows that he was well acquainted with their nature. He indeed exults over them, observing that our plays are "honourable and full of gallant resolution, not consisting, like theirs, of pantaloon, a zany, and a w—— e, (alluding to the women actors of the Italian stage;) but of emperors, kings, and princes." My conviction is still confirmed, when I find that Stephen Gosson wrote the comedy of "Captain Mario;" it has not been printed, but "Captain Mario" is one of the Italian characters.
Even at a later period, the influence of these performances reached the greatest name in the English Parnassus. One of the great actors and authors of these pieces, who published eighteen of these irregular productions, was Andreini, whose name must have the honour of being associated with Milton's, for it was his comedy or opera which threw the first spark of the Paradise Lost into the soul of the epic poet—a circumstance which will hardly be questioned by those who have examined the different schemes and allegorical personages of the first projected drama of Paradise Lost: nor was Andreini, as well as many others of this race of Italian dramatists, inferior poets. The Adamo of Andreini was a personage sufficiently original and poetical to serve as the model of the Adam of Milton. The youthful English poet, at its representation, carried it away in his mind. Wit indeed is a great traveller; and thus also the "Empiric" of Massinger might have reached us from the Bolognese "Dottore."
The late Mr. Hole, the ingenious writer on the Arabian Nights, observed to me that Moliere, it must be presumed, never read Fletcher's plays, yet his "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" and the other's "Noble Gentleman" bear in some instances a great resemblance. Both may have drawn from the same Italian source of comedy which I have here indicated.
Many years after this article was written, has appeared "The History of English Dramatic Poetry," by Mr. Collier. That very laborious investigator has an article on "Extemporal Plays and Plots," iii. 393. The nature of these "plats" or "plots" he observes, "our theatrical antiquaries have not explained." The truth is that they never suspected their origin in the Italian "scenarios." My conjectures are amply confirmed by Mr. Collier's notices of the intercourse of our players with the Italian actors. Whetstone's Heptameron, in 1582, mentions "the comedians of Ravenna, who are not tied to any written device." In Kyd's Spanish Tragedy the extemporal art is described:—-
The Italian tragedians were so sharp of wit, That in one hour of meditation They would perform anything in action.
These extemporal players were witnessed much nearer than in Italy—at the Theatre des Italiens at Paris—for one of the characters replies—
I have seen the like, In Paris, among the French tragedians.
Ben Jonson has mentioned the Italian "extemporal plays" in his "Case is Altered;" and an Italian commediante his company were in London in 1578, who probably let our players into many a secret.
SONGS OF TRADES, OR SONGS FOR THE PEOPLE.
Men of genius have devoted some of their hours, and even governments have occasionally assisted, to render the people happier by song and dance. The Grecians had songs appropriated to the various trades. Songs of this nature would shorten the manufacturer's tedious task-work, and solace the artisan at his solitary occupation. A beam of gay fancy kindling his mind, a playful change of measures delighting his ear, even a moralising verse to cherish his better feelings—these ingeniously adapted to each profession, and some to the display of patriotic characters, and national events, would contribute something to public happiness. Such themes are worthy of a patriotic bard, of the Southeys for their hearts, and the Moores for their verse.
Fletcher of Saltoun said, "If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make all the laws of a nation." The character of a people is preserved in their national songs. "God save the King" and "Rule Britannia" were long our English national airs.
"The story of Amphion building Thebes with his lyre was not a fable," says Dr. Clarke, "At Thebes, in the harmonious adjustment of those masses which remain belonging to the ancient walls, we saw enough to convince us that this story was no fable; for it was a very ancient custom to carry on immense labour by an accompaniment of music and singing. The custom still exists both in Egypt and Greece. It might, therefore, be said that the Walls of Thebes were built at the sound of the only musical instrument then in use; because, according to the custom of the country, the lyre was necessary for the accomplishment of the work." The same custom appears to exist in Africa. Lander notices at Yaoorie that the "labourers in their plantations were attended by a drummer, that they might be excited by the sound of his instrument to work well and briskly."
Athenaeus has preserved the Greek names of different songs as sung by various trades, but unfortunately none of the songs themselves. There was a song for the corn-grinders; another for the workers in wool; another for the weavers. The reapers had their carol; the herdsmen had a song which an ox-driver of Sicily had composed; the kneaders, and the bathers, and the galley-rowers, were not without their chant. We have ourselves a song of the weavers, which Ritson has preserved in his "Ancient Songs;" and it may be found in the popular chap-book of "The Life of Jack of Newbury;" and the songs of anglers, of old Izaak Walton, and Charles Cotton, still retain their freshness.
Among the Greeks, observed Bishop Heber, the hymn which placed Harmodius in the green and flowery island of the Blessed, was chanted by the potter to his wheel, and enlivened the labours of the Piraean mariner.
Dr. Johnson is the only writer I recollect who has noticed something of this nature which he observed in the Highlands. "The strokes of the sickle were timed by the modulation of the harvest song, in which all their voices were united. They accompany every action which can be done in equal time with an appropriate strain, which has, they say, not much meaning, but its effects are regularity and cheerfulness. There is an oar song used by the Hebrideans."
But if these chants "have not much meaning," they will not produce the desired effect of touching the heart, as well as giving vigour to the arm of the labourer. The gondoliers of Venice while away their long midnight hours on the water with the stanzas of Tasso. Fragments of Homer are sung by the Greek sailors of the Archipelago; the severe labour of the trackers, in China, is accompanied with a song which encourages their exertions, and renders these simultaneous. Mr. Ellis mentions that the sight of the lofty pagoda of Tong-chow served as a great topic of incitement in the song of the trackers, toiling against the stream, to their place of rest. The canoemen, on the Gold Coast, in a very dangerous passage, "on the back of a high curling wave, paddling with all their might, singing or rather shouting their wild song, follow it up," says M'Leod, who was a lively witness of this happy combination of song, of labour, and of peril, which he acknowledged was "a very terrific process." Our sailors at Newcastle, in heaving their anchors, have their "Heave and ho! rum-below!" but the Sicilian mariners must be more deeply affected by their beautiful hymn to the Virgin. A society, instituted in Holland for general good, do not consider among their least useful projects that of having printed at a low price a collection of songs for sailors.
It is extremely pleasing, as it is true, to notice the honest exultation of an excellent ballad-writer, C. Dibdin, in his Professional Life. "I have learnt my songs have been considered as an object of national consequence; that they have been the solace of sailors and long voyagers, in storms, in battle; and that they have been quoted in mutinies, to the restoration of order and discipline." The Portuguese soldiery in Ceylon, at the siege of Colombo, when pressed with misery and the pangs of hunger, during their marches, derived not only consolation, but also encouragement, by rehearsing the stanzas of the Lusiad.
We ourselves have been a great ballad nation, and once abounded with songs of the people; not, however, of this particular species, but rather of narrative poems. They are described by Puttenham, a critic in the reign of Elizabeth, as "small and popular songs sung by those Cantabanqui, upon benches and barrels' heads, where they have no other audience than boys, or country fellows that pass by them in the streets; or else by blind harpers, or such like tavern minstrels, that give a fit of mirth for a groat." Such were these "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," which Selden collected, Pepys preserved, and Percy published. Ritson, our great poetical antiquary in these sort of things, says that few are older than the reign of James I. The more ancient songs of the people perished by having been printed in single sheets, and by their humble purchasers having no other library to preserve them than the walls on which they pasted them. Those we have consist of a succeeding race of ballads, chiefly revived or written by Richard Johnson, the author of the well-known romance of the Seven Champions, and Delony, the writer of Jack of Newbury's Life, and the "Gentle Craft," who lived in the time of James and Charles. One Martin Parker was a most notorious ballad scribbler in the reign of Charles I. and the Protector.
These writers, in their old age, collected their songs into little penny books, called "Garlands," some of which have been republished by Ritson; and a recent editor has well described them as "humble and amusing village strains, founded upon the squabbles of a wake, tales of untrue love, superstitious rumours, or miraculous traditions of the hamlet." They enter into the picture of our manners, as much as folio chronicles.
These songs abounded in the good old times of Elizabeth and James; for Hall in his Satires notices them as
Sung to the wheel, and sung unto the payle;
that is, sung by maidens spinning, or milking; and indeed Shakspeare had described them as "old and plain," chanted by
The spinsters, and the knitters in the sun, And the free maids that weave their threads with bones. Twelfth Night.
They were the favourites of the Poet of Nature, who takes every opportunity to introduce them into the mouths of his clown, his fool, and his itinerant Autolycus. When the musical Dr. Burney, who had probably not the slightest conception of their nature, and perhaps as little taste for their rude and wild simplicity, ventured to call the songs of Autolycus, "two nonsensical songs," the musician called down on himself one of the bitterest notes from Steevens that ever commentator penned against a profane scoffer.
Whatever these songs were, it is evident they formed a source of recreation to the solitary task-worker. But as the more masculine trades had their own songs, whose titles only appear to have reached us, such as "The Carman's Whistle," "Watkin's Ale," "Chopping Knives," they were probably appropriated to the respective trades they indicate. The tune of the "Carman's Whistle" was composed by Bird, and the favourite tune of "Queen Elizabeth" may be found in the collection called "Queen Elizabeth's Virginal Book." One who has lately heard it played says, "that it has more air than the other execrable compositions in her Majesty's book, something resembling a French quadrille."
The feeling our present researches would excite would naturally be most strongly felt in small communities, where the interest of the governors is to contribute to the individual happiness of the laborious classes. The Helvetic society requested Lavater to compose the Schweitzerlieder, or Swiss Songs, which are now sung by the youth of many of the cantons; and various Swiss poets have successfully composed on national subjects, associated with their best feelings. In such paternal governments as was that of Florence under the Medici, we find that songs and dances for the people engaged the muse of Lorenzo, who condescended to delight them with pleasant songs composed in popular language; the example of such a character was followed by the men of genius of the age. These ancient songs, often adapted to the different trades, opened a vein of invention in the new characters, and allusions, the humorous equivoques, and, sometimes, by the licentiousness of popular fancy. They were collected in 1559, under the title of "Canti Carnascialeschi," and there is a modern edition, in 1750, in two volumes quarto. It is said they sing to this day a popular one by Lorenzo, beginning
Ben venga Maggio E 'l gonfalon selvaggio,
which has all the florid brilliancy of an Italian spring.
The most delightful songs of this nature would naturally be found among a people whose climate and whose labours alike inspire a general hilarity; and the vineyards of France have produced a class of songs, of excessive gaiety and freedom, called Chansons de Vendange. Le Grand-d'Assoucy describes them in his Histoire de la Vie privee des Francais. "The men and women, each with a basket on their arm, assemble at the foot of the hill; there stopping, they arrange themselves in a circle. The chief of this band tunes up a joyous song, whose burthen is chorused: then they ascend, and, dispersed in the vineyard, they work without interrupting their tasks, while new couplets often resound from some of the vine-dressers; sometimes intermixed with a sudden jest at a traveller. In the evening, their supper scarcely over, their joy recommences, they dance in a circle, and sing some of those songs of free gaiety, which the moment excuses, known by the name of vineyard songs. The gaiety becomes general; masters, guests, friends, servants, all dance together; and in this manner a day of labour terminates, which one might mistake for a day of diversion. It is what I have witnessed in Champagne, in a land of vines, far different from the country where the labours of the harvest form so painful a contrast."
The extinction of those songs which formerly kept alive the gaiety of the domestic circle, whose burthens were always chorused, is lamented by the French antiquary. "Our fathers had a custom to amuse themselves at the dessert of a feast by a joyous song of this nature. Each in his turn sung—all chorused." This ancient gaiety was sometimes gross and noisy; but he prefers it to the tame decency of our times—these smiling, not laughing days of Lord Chesterfield.
On ne rit plus, on sourit aujourd'hui; Et nos plaisirs sont voisins de l'ennui.
These are the old French Vaudevilles, formerly sung at meals by the company. Count de Grammont is mentioned by Hamilton as being
Agreable et vif en propos; Celebre diseur de bon mots, Recueil vivant d'antiques Vaudevilles.
These Vaudevilles were originally invented by a fuller of Vau de Vire, or the valley by the river Vire, and were sung by his men as they spread their cloths on the banks of the river. They were songs composed on some incident or adventure of the day. At first these gay playful effusions were called the songs of Vau de Vire, till they became known as Vaudevilles. Boileau has well described them:—
La liberte franchise en ses vers se deploie; Cet enfant de plaisir veut naitre dans la joie.
It is well known how the attempt ended, of James I. and his unfortunate son, by the publication of their "Book of Sports," to preserve the national character from the gloom of fanatical puritanism; among its unhappy effects there was however one not a little ludicrous. The Puritans, offended by the gentlest forms of mirth, and every day becoming more sullen, were so shocked at the simple merriment of the people, that they contrived to parody these songs into spiritual ones; and Shakspeare speaks of the Puritan of his day "singing psalms to hornpipes." As Puritans are the same in all times, the Methodists in our own repeated the foolery, and set their hymns to popular tunes and jigs, which one of them said "were too good for the devil." They have sung hymns to the air of "The beds of sweet roses," &c. Wesley once, in the pulpit, described himself, in his old age, in the well known ode of Anacreon, by merely substituting his own name! There have been Puritans among other people as well as our own: the same occurrence took place both in Italy and France. In Italy, the Carnival songs were turned into pious hymns; the hymn Jesu fammi morire is sung to the music of Vaga bella e gentile—Crucifisso a capo chino to that of Una donna d'amor fino, one of the most indecent pieces in the Canzoni a ballo; and the hymn beginning
Ecco 'l Messia E la Madre Maria,
was sung to the gay tune of Lorenzo de' Medici,
Ben venga Maggio, E 'l gonfalon selvaggio.
Athenaeus notices what we call slang or flash songs. He tells us that there were poets who composed songs in the dialect of the mob; and who succeeded in this kind of poetry, adapted to their various characters. The French call such songs Chansons a la Vade; the style of the Poissardes is ludicrously applied to the gravest matters of state, and convey the popular feelings in the language of the populace. This sort of satirical song is happily defined,
Il est l'esprit de ceux qui n'en ont pas.
Athenaeus has also preserved songs, sung by petitioners who went about on holidays to collect alms. A friend of mine, with taste and learning, has discovered in his researches "The Crow Song" and "The Swallow Song," and has transfused their spirit in a happy version. I preserve a few striking ideas.
The collectors for "The Crow" sung:
My good worthy masters, a pittance bestow, Some oatmeal, or barley, or wheat for the Crow. A loaf, or a penny, or e'en what you will;— From the poor man, a grain of his salt may suffice, For your Crow swallows all, and is not over-nice. And the man who can now give his grain, and no more, May another day give from a plentiful store.— Come, my lad, to the door, Plutus nods to our wish, And our sweet little mistress comes out with a dish; She gives us her figs, and she gives us a smile— Heaven send her a husband!— And a boy to be danced on his grandfather's knee, And a girl like herself all the joy of her mother, Who may one day present her with just such another. Thus we carry our Crow-song to door after door, Alternately chanting we ramble along, And we treat all who give, or give not, with a song.
Swallow-singing, or Chelidonising, as the Greek term is, was another method of collecting eleemosynary gifts, which took place in the month Boedromion, or August.
The Swallow, the Swallow is here, With his back so black, and his belly so white, He brings on the pride of the year, With the gay months of love, and the days of delight. Come bring out your good humming stuff, Of the nice tit-bits let the Swallow partake; And a slice of the right Boedromion cake. So give, and give quickly,— Or we'll pull down the door from its hinges: Or we'll steal young madam away! But see! we're a merry boy's party, And the Swallow, the Swallow is here!
These songs resemble those of our own ancient mummers, who to this day, in honour of Bishop Blaize, the Saint of Woolcombers, go about chanting on the eves of their holidays. A custom long existed in this country to elect a Boy-Bishop in almost every parish; the Montem at Eton still prevails for the Boy-Captain; and there is a closer connexion, perhaps, between the custom which produced the "Songs of the Crow and the Swallow," and our Northern mummeries, than may be at first suspected. The Pagan Saturnalia, which the Swallow song by its pleasant menaces resembles, were afterwards disguised in the forms adopted by the early Christians; and such are the remains of the Roman Catholic religion, in which the people were long indulged in their old taste for mockery and mummery. I must add in connexion with our main inquiry, that our own ancient beggars had their songs, in their old cant language, some of which are as old as the Elizabethan period, and many are fancifully characteristic of their habits and their feelings.
INTRODUCERS OF EXOTIC FLOWERS, FRUITS, ETC.
There has been a class of men whose patriotic affection, or whose general benevolence, have been usually defrauded of the gratitude their country owes them: these have been the introducers of new flowers, new plants, and new roots into Europe; the greater part which we now enjoy was drawn from the luxuriant climates of Asia, and the profusion which now covers our land originated in the most anxious nursing, and were the gifts of individuals. Monuments are reared, and medals struck, to commemorate events and names, which are less deserving our regard than those who have transplanted into the colder gardens of the North the rich fruits, the beautiful flowers, and the succulent pulse and roots of more favoured spots; and carrying into their own country, as it were, another Nature, they have, as old Gerard well expresses it, "laboured with the soil to make it fit for the plants, and with the plants to make them delight in the soil."
There is no part of the characters of PEIRESC and EVELYN, accomplished as they are in so many, which seems more delightful to me, than their enthusiasm for the garden, the orchard, and the forest.
PEIRESC, whose literary occupations admitted of no interruption, and whose universal correspondence throughout the habitable globe was more than sufficient to absorb his studious life, yet was the first man, as Gassendus relates in his interesting manner, whose incessant inquiries procured a great variety of jessamines; those from China, whose leaves, always green, bear a clay-coloured flower, and a delicate perfume; the American, with a crimson-coloured, and the Persian, with a violet-coloured flower; and the Arabian, whose tendrils he delighted to train over "the banqueting-house in his garden;" and of fruits, the orange-trees with a red and parti-coloured flower; the medlar; the rough cherry without stone; the rare and luxurious vines of Smyrna and Damascus; and the fig-tree called Adam's, whose fruit by its size was conjectured to be that with which the spies returned from the land of Canaan. Gassendus describes the transports of Peiresc, when, the sage beheld the Indian ginger growing green in his garden, and his delight in grafting the myrtle on the musk vine, that the experiment might show us the myrtle wine of the ancients. But transplanters, like other inventors, are sometimes baffled in their delightful enterprises; and we are told of Peiresc's deep regret when he found that the Indian cocoa-nut would only bud, and then perish in the cold air of France, while the leaves of the Egyptian papyrus refused to yield him their vegetable paper. But it was his garden which propagated the exotic fruits and flowers, which he transplanted into the French king's, and into Cardinal Barberini's, and the curious in Europe; and these occasioned a work on the manuring of flowers by Ferrarius, a botanical Jesuit, who there described these novelties to Europe.
Had Evelyn only composed the great work of his "Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees," his name would have excited the gratitude of posterity. The voice of the patriot exults in the dedication to Charles II. prefixed to one of the later editions. "I need not acquaint your majesty, how many millions of timber-trees, besides infinite others, have been propagated and planted throughout your vast dominions, at the instigation and by the sole direction of this work, because your majesty has been pleased to own it publicly for my encouragement." And surely while Britain retains her awful situation among the nations of Europe, the "Sylva" of Evelyn will endure with her triumphant oaks. It was a retired philosopher who aroused the genius of the nation, and who, casting a prophetic eye towards the age in which we live, contributed to secure our sovereignty of the seas. The present navy of Great Britain has been constructed with the oaks which the genius of Evelyn planted!
Animated by a zeal truly patriotic, De Serres in France, 1599, composed a work on the art of raising silk-worms, and dedicated it to the municipal body of Paris, to excite the inhabitants to cultivate mulberry-trees. The work at first produced a strong sensation, and many planted mulberry-trees in the vicinity of Paris; but as they were not yet used to raise and manage the silk-worm, they reaped nothing but their trouble for their pains. They tore up the mulberry-trees they had planted, and, in spite of De Serres, asserted that the northern climate was not adapted for the rearing of that tender insect. The great Sully, from his hatred of all objects of luxury, countenanced the popular clamour, and crushed the rising enterprise of De Serres. The monarch was wiser than the minister. The book had made sufficient noise to reach the ear of Henry IV.; who desired the author to draw up a memoir on the subject, from which the king was induced to plant mulberry-trees in all the royal gardens; and having imported the eggs of silk-worms from Spain, this patriotic monarch gave up his orangeries, which he considered but as his private gratification, for that leaf which, converted into silk, became a part of the national wealth. It is to De Serres, who introduced the plantations of mulberry-trees, that the commerce of France owes one of her staple commodities; and although the patriot encountered the hostility of the prime minister, and the hasty prejudices of the populace in his own day, yet his name at this moment is fresh in the hearts of his fellow-citizens; for I have just received a medal, the gift of a literary friend from Paris, which bears his portrait, with the reverse, "Societe de Agriculture du Departement de la Seine." It was struck in 1807. The same honour is the right of Evelyn from the British nation.
There was a period when the spirit of plantation was prevalent in this kingdom; it probably originated from the ravages of the soldiery during the civil wars. A man, whose retired modesty has perhaps obscured his claims on our regard, the intimate friend of the great spirits of that age, by birth a Pole, but whose mother had probably been an Englishwoman, Samuel Hartlib, to whom Milton addressed his tract on education, published every manuscript he collected on the subjects of horticulture and agriculture. The public good he effected attracted the notice of Cromwell, who rewarded him with a pension, which after the restoration of Charles II. was suffered to lapse, and Hartlib died in utter neglect and poverty. One of his tracts is "A design for plenty by an universal planting of fruit-trees." The project consisted in inclosing the waste lands and commons, and appointing officers, whom he calls fruiterers, or wood-wards, to see the plantations were duly attended to. The writer of this project observes on fruits, that it is a sort of provisions so natural to the taste, that the poor man and even the child will prefer it before better food, "as the story goeth," which he has preserved in these ancient and simple lines:—
The poor man's child invited was to dine, With flesh of oxen, sheep, and fatted swine, (Far better cheer than he at home could find,) And yet this child to stay had little minde. "You have," quoth he, "no apple, froise, nor pie, Stewed pears, with bread and milk, and walnuts by."
The enthusiasm of these transplanters inspired their labours. They have watched the tender infant of their planting, till the leaf and the flowers and the fruit expanded under their hand; often indeed they have ameliorated the quality, increased the size, and even created a new species. The apricot, drawn from America, was first known in Europe in the sixteenth century: an old French writer has remarked, that it was originally not larger than a damson; our gardeners, he says, have improved it to the perfection of its present size and richness. One of these enthusiasts is noticed by Evelyn, who for forty years had in vain tried by a graft to bequeath his name to a new fruit; but persisting on wrong principles this votary of Pomona has died without a name. We sympathise with Sir William Temple when he exultingly acquaints us with the size of his orange-trees, and with the flavour of his peaches and grapes, confessed by Frenchmen to have equalled those of Fontainebleau and Gascony, while the Italians agreed that his white figs were as good as any of that sort in Italy; and of his "having had the honour" to naturalise in this country four kinds of grapes, with his liberal distributions of cuttings from them, because "he ever thought all things of this kind the commoner they are the better."
The greater number of our exotic flowers and fruits were carefully transported into this country by many of our travelled nobility and gentry; some names have been casually preserved. The learned Linacre first brought, on his return from Italy, the damask rose; and Thomas Lord Cornwall, in the reign of Henry VIII., enriched our fruit gardens with three different plums. In the reign of Elizabeth, Edward Grindal, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, returning from exile, transported here the medicinal plant of the tamarisk: the first oranges appear to have been brought into England by one of the Carew family; for a century after, they still flourished at the family seat at Beddington, in Surrey. The cherry orchards of Kent were first planted about Sittingbourne, by a gardener of Henry VIII.; and the currant-bush was transplanted when our commerce with the island of Zante was first opened in the same reign. The elder Tradescant, in 1620, entered himself on board of a privateer, armed against Morocco, solely with a view of finding an opportunity of stealing apricots into Britain: and it appears that he succeeded in his design. To Sir Walter Raleigh we have not been indebted solely for the luxury of the tobacco-plant, but for that infinitely useful root, which forms a part of our daily meal, and often the entire meal of the poor man—the potato, which deserved to have been called a Rawleigh. Sir Anthony Ashley, of Winburne St. Giles, Dorsetshire, first planted cabbages in this country, and a cabbage at his feet appears on his monument: before his time we had them from Holland. Sir Richard Weston first brought clover grass into England from Flanders, in 1645; and the figs planted by Cardinal Pole at Lambeth, so far back as the reign of Henry VIII., are said to be still remaining there: nor is this surprising, for Spilman, who set up the first paper-mill in England, at Dartford, in 1590, is said to have brought over in his portmanteau the two first lime-trees, which he planted here, and which are still growing. The Lombardy poplar was introduced into England by the Earl of Rochford, in 1758. The first mulberry-trees in this country are now standing at Sion-house. By an Harleian MS. 6884, we find that the first general planting of mulberries and making of silk in England was by William Stallenge, comptroller of the custom-house, and Monsieur Verton, in 1608. It is probable that Monsieur Verton transplanted this novelty from his own country, where we have seen De Serres' great attempt. Here the mulberries have succeeded better than the silk-worms.
The very names of many of our vegetable kingdom indicate their locality, from the majestic cedar of Lebanon, to the small Cos-lettuce, which came from the isle of Cos; the cherries from Cerasuntis, a city of Pontus; the peach, or persicum, or mala Persica, Persian apples, from Persia; the pistachio, or psittacia, is the Syrian word for that nut. The chestnut, or chataigne in French, and castagna in Italian, from Castagna, a town of Magnesia. Our plums coming chiefly from Syria and Damascus, the damson, or damascene plum, reminds us of its distant origin.
It is somewhat curious to observe on this subject, that there exists an unsuspected intercourse between nations, in the propagation of exotic plants. Lucullus, after the war with Mithridates, introduced cherries from Pontus into Italy; and the newly-imported fruit was found so pleasing, that it was rapidly propagated, and six-and twenty years afterwards Pliny testifies the cherry-tree passed over into Britain. Thus a victory obtained by a Roman consul over a king of Pontus, with which it would seem that Britain could not have the remotest interest, was the real occasion of our countrymen possessing cherry-orchards. Yet to our shame must it be told, that these cherries from the king of Pontus's city of Cerasuntis are not the cherries we are now eating; for the whole race of cherry-trees was lost in the Saxon period, and was only restored by the gardener of Henry VIII., who brought them from Flanders—without a word to enhance his own merits, concerning the bellum Mithridaticum!
A calculating political economist will little sympathise with the peaceful triumphs of those active and generous spirits, who have thus propagated the truest wealth, and the most innocent luxuries of the people. The project of a new tax, or an additional consumption of ardent spirits, or an act of parliament to put a convenient stop to population by forbidding the banns of some happy couple, would be more congenial to their researches; and they would leave without regret the names of those whom we have held out to the grateful recollections of their country. The Romans, who, with all their errors, were at least patriots, entertained very different notions of these introducers into their country of exotic fruits and flowers. Sir William Temple has elegantly noticed the fact. "The great captains, and even consular men, who first brought them over, took pride in giving them their own names, by which they ran a great while in Rome, as in memory of some great service or pleasure they had done their country; so that not only laws and battles, but several sorts of apples and pears, were called Manlian and Claudian, Pompeyan and Tiberian, and by several other such noble names." Pliny has paid his tribute of applause to Lucullus, for bringing cherry and nut-trees from Pontus into Italy. And we have several modern instances, where the name of the transplanter, or rearer, has been preserved in this sort of creation. Peter Collinson, the botanist, to "whom the English gardens are indebted for many new and curious species which he acquired by means of an extensive correspondence in America," was highly gratified when Linnaeus baptized a plant with his name; and with great spirit asserts his honourable claim: "Something, I think, was due to me for the great number of plants and seeds I have annually procured from abroad, and you have been so good as to pay it, by giving me a species of eternity, botanically speaking; that is, a name as long as men and books endure." Such is the true animating language of these patriotic enthusiasts!
Some lines at the close of Peacham's Emblems give an idea of an English fruit-garden in 1612. He mentions that cherries were not long known, and gives an origin to the name of filbert.
The Persian Peach, and fruitful Quince; And there the forward Almond grew, With Cherries knowne no longer time since; The Winter Warden, orchard's pride; The Philibert that loves the vale, And red queen apple, so envide Of school-boies, passing by the pale.
USURERS OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
A person whose history will serve as a canvass to exhibit some scenes of the arts of the money-trader was one AUDLEY, a lawyer, and a great practical philosopher, who concentrated his vigorous faculties in the science of the relative value of money. He flourished through the reigns of James I., Charles I., and held a lucrative office in the "court of wards," till that singular court was abolished at the time of the Restoration. In his own times he was called "The great Audley," an epithet so often abused, and here applied to the creation of enormous wealth. But there are minds of great capacity, concealed by the nature of their pursuits; and the wealth of Audley may be considered as the cloudy medium through which a bright genius shone, and which, had it been thrown into a nobler sphere of action, the "greatness" would have been less ambiguous.
Audley lived at a time when divines were proclaiming "the detestable sin of Usury," prohibited by God and man; but the Mosaic prohibition was the municipal law of an agricultural commonwealth, which being without trade, the general poverty of its members could afford no interest for loans; but it was not forbidden the Israelite to take usury from "the stranger." Or they were quoting from the Fathers, who understood this point, much as they had that of "original sin," and "the immaculate conception;" while the scholastics amused themselves with a quaint and collegiate fancy which they had picked up in Aristotle, that interest for money had been forbidden by nature, because coin in itself was barren and unpropagating, unlike corn, of which every grain will produce many. But Audley considered no doubt that money was not incapable of multiplying itself, provided it was in hands which knew to make it grow and "breed," as Shylock affirmed. The lawyers then, however, did not agree with the divines, nor the college philosophers; they were straining at a more liberal interpretation of this odious term "Usury." Lord Bacon declared, that the suppression of Usury is only fit for an Utopian government; and Audley must have agreed with the learned Cowell, who in his "Interpreter" derives the term ab usu et aere, quasi usu aera, which in our vernacular style was corrupted into Usury. Whatever the sin might be in the eye of some, it had become at least a controversial sin, as Sir Symonds D'Ewes calls it, in his manuscript Diary, who, however, was afraid to commit it. Audley, no doubt, considered that interest was nothing more than rent for money; as rent was no better than Usury for land. The legal interest was then "ten in the hundred;" but the thirty, the fifty, and the hundred for the hundred, the gripe of Usury, and the shameless contrivances of the money-traders, these he would attribute to the follies of others, or to his own genius.
This sage on the wealth of nations, with his pithy wisdom and quaint sagacity, began with two hundred pounds, and lived to view his mortgages, his statutes, and his judgments so numerous, that it was observed his papers would have made a good map of England. A contemporary dramatist, who copied from life, has opened the chamber of such an Usurer,—perhaps of our Audley.
—— Here lay A manor bound fast in a skin of parchment, The wax continuing hard, the acres melting; Here a sure deed of gift for a market-town, If not redeem'd this day, which is not in The unthrift's power; there being scarce one shire In Wales or England, where my monies are not Lent out at usury, the certain hook To draw in more. MASSINGER'S City Madam.
This genius of thirty per cent. first had proved the decided vigour of his mind, by his enthusiastic devotion to his law-studies: deprived of the leisure for study through his busy day, he stole the hours from his late nights and his early mornings; and without the means to procure a law-library, he invented a method to possess one without the cost; as far as he learned, he taught, and by publishing some useful tracts on temporary occasions, he was enabled to purchase a library. He appears never to have read a book without its furnishing him with some new practical design, and he probably studied too much for his own particular advantage. Such devoted studies was the way to become a lord-chancellor; but the science of the law was here subordinate to that of a money-trader.
When yet but a clerk to the Clerk in the Counter, frequent opportunities occurred which Audley knew how to improve. He became a money-trader as he had become a law-writer, and the fears and follies of mankind were to furnish him with a trading capital. The fertility of his genius appeared in expedients and in quick contrivances. He was sure to be the friend of all men falling out. He took a deep concern in the affairs of his master's clients, and often much more than they were aware of. No man so ready at procuring bail or compounding debts. This was a considerable traffic then, as now. They hired themselves out for bail, swore what was required, and contrived to give false addresses, which is now called leg-bail. They dressed themselves out for the occasion; a great seal-ring flamed on the finger, which, however, was pure copper gilt, and they often assumed the name of some person of good credit. Savings, and small presents for gratuitous opinions, often afterwards discovered to be very fallacious ones, enabled him to purchase annuities of easy landowners, with their treble amount secured on their estates. The improvident owners, or the careless heirs, were soon entangled in the usurer's nets; and, after the receipt of a few years, the annuity, by some latent quibble, or some irregularity in the payments, usually ended in Audley's obtaining the treble forfeiture. He could at all times out-knave a knave. One of these incidents has been preserved. A draper, of no honest reputation, being arrested by a merchant for a debt of L200, Audley bought the debt at L40, for which the draper immediately offered him L50. But Audley would not consent, unless the draper indulged a sudden whim of his own: this was a formal contract, that the draper should pay within twenty years, upon twenty certain days, a penny doubled. A knave, in haste to sign, is no calculator; and, as the contemporary dramatist describes one of the arts of those citizens, one part of whose business was
To swear and break: they all grow rich by breaking!
the draper eagerly compounded. He afterwards "grew rich." Audley, silently watching his victim, within two years, claims his doubled pennies, every month during twenty months. The pennies had now grown up to pounds. The knave perceived the trick, and preferred paying the forfeiture of his bond for L500, rather than to receive the visitation of all the little generation of compound interest in the last descendant of L2000, which would have closed with the draper's shop. The inventive genius of Audley might have illustrated that popular tract of his own times, Peacham's "Worth of a Penny;" a gentleman who, having scarcely one left, consoled himself by detailing the numerous comforts of life it might procure in the days of Charles II.
Such petty enterprises at length assumed a deeper cast of interest. He formed temporally partnerships with the stewards of country gentlemen. They underlet estates which they had to manage; and anticipating the owner's necessities, the estates in due time became cheap purchases for Audley and the stewards. He usually contrived to make the wood pay for the land, which he called "making the feathers pay for the goose." He had, however, such a tenderness of conscience for his victim, that, having plucked the live feathers before he sent the unfledged goose on the common, he would bestow a gratuitous lecture in his own science—teaching the art of making them grow again, by showing how to raise the remaining rents. Audley thus made the tenant furnish at once the means to satisfy his own rapacity, and his employer's necessities. His avarice was not working by a blind, but on an enlightened principle; for he was only enabling the landlord to obtain what the tenant, with due industry, could afford to give. Adam Smith might have delivered himself in the language of old Audley, so just was his standard of the value of rents. "Under an easy landlord," said Audley, "a tenant seldom thrives; contenting himself to make the just measure of his rents, and not labouring for any surplusage of estate. Under a hard one, the tenant revenges himself upon the land, and runs away with the rent. I would raise my rents to the present price of all commodities: for if we should let our lands, as other men have done before us, now other wares daily go on in price, we should fall backward in our estates." These axioms of political economy were discoveries in his day.
Audley knew mankind practically, and struck into their humours with the versatility of genius: oracularly deep with the grave, he only stung the lighter mind. When a lord borrowing money complained to Audley of his exactions, his lordship exclaimed, "What, do you not intend to use a conscience?" "Yes, I intend hereafter to use it. We moneyed people must balance accounts: if you do not pay me, you cheat me; but, if you do, then I cheat your lordship." Audley's moneyed conscience balanced the risk of his lordship's honour against the probability of his own rapacious profits. When he resided in the Temple among those "pullets without feathers," as an old writer describes the brood, the good man would pule out paternal homilies on improvident youth, grieving that they, under pretence of "learning the law, only learnt to be lawless;" and "never knew by their own studies the process of an execution, till it was served on themselves." Nor could he fail in his prophecy; for at the moment that the stoic was enduring their ridicule, his agents were supplying them with the certain means of verifying it. It is quaintly said, he had his decoying as well as his decaying gentlemen.
The arts practised by the money-traders of that time have been detailed by one of the town-satirists of the age. Decker, in his "English Villanies," has told the story: we may observe how an old story contains many incidents which may be discovered in a modern one. The artifice of covering the usury by a pretended purchase and sale of certain wares, even now practised, was then at its height.
In Measure for Measure we find,
"Here's young Master Rash, he's in for a commodity of brown paper and old ginger, nine score and seventeen pounds; of which he made five marks ready money."
The eager "gull," for his immediate wants, takes at an immense price any goods on credit, which he immediately resells for less than half the cost; and when despatch presses, the vender and the purchaser have been the same person, and the "brown paper and old ginger" merely nominal.
The whole displays a complete system of dupery, and the agents were graduated. "The Manner of undoing Gentlemen by taking up of Commodities," is the title of a chapter in "English Villanies." The "warren" is the cant term which describes the whole party; but this requires a word of explanation.
It is probable that rabbit-warrens were numerous about the metropolis, a circumstance which must have multiplied the poachers. Moffet, who wrote on diet in the reign of Elizabeth, notices their plentiful supply "for the poor's maintenance."—I cannot otherwise account for the appellatives given to sharpers, and the terms of cheatery being so familiarly drawn from a rabbit-warren; not that even in that day these cant terms travelled far out of their own circle; for Robert Greene mentions a trial in which the judges, good simple men! imagined that the coney-catcher at the bar was a warrener, or one who had the care of a warren.
The cant term of "warren" included the young coneys, or half-ruined prodigals of that day, with the younger brothers, who had accomplished their ruin; these naturally herded together, as the pigeon and the black-leg of the present day. The coney-catchers were those who raised a trade on their necessities. To be "conie-catched" was to be cheated. The warren forms a combination altogether, to attract some novice, who in esse or in posse has his present means good, and those to come great; he is very glad to learn how money can be raised. The warren seek after a tumbler, a sort of hunting dog; and the nature of a London tumbler was to "hunt dry-foot," in this manner:—"The tumbler is let loose, and runs snuffing up and down in the shops of mercers, goldsmiths, drapers, haberdashers, to meet with a ferret, that is, a citizen who is ready to sell a commodity." The tumbler in his first course usually returned in despair, pretending to have out-wearied himself by hunting, and swears that the city ferrets are so coaped (that is, have their lips stitched up close) that he can't get them to open to so great a sum as L500, which the warren wants. "This herb being chewed down by the rabbit-suckers, almost kills their hearts. It irritates their appetite, and they keenly bid the tumbler, if he can't fasten on plate, or cloth, or silks, to lay hold of brown paper, Bartholomew babies, lute-strings, or hob-nails. It hath been verily reported," says Decker, "that one gentleman of great hopes took up L100 in hobby-horses, and sold them for L30; and L16 in joints of mutton and quarters of lamb, ready roasted, and sold them for three pounds." Such commodities were called purse-nets.—The tumbler, on his second hunt, trots up and down again; and at last lights on a ferret that will deal: the names are given in to a scrivener, who inquires whether they are good men, and finds four out of the five are wind-shaken, but the fifth is an oak that can bear the hewing. "Bonds are sealed, commodities delivered, and the tumbler fetches his second career; and their credit having obtained the purse-nets, the wares must now obtain money." The tumbler now hunts for the rabbit suckers, those who buy these purse-nets; but the rabbit-suckers seem greater devils than the ferrets, for they always bid under; and after many exclamations the warren is glad that the seller should repurchase his own commodities for ready money, at thirty or fifty per cent. under the cost. The story does not finish till we come to the manner "How the warren is spoiled." I shall transcribe this part of the narrative in the lively style of this town writer. "While there is any grass to nibble upon, the rabbits are there; but on the cold day of repayment they retire into their caves; so that when the ferret makes account of five in chase, four disappear. Then he grows fierce, and tears open his own jaws to suck blood from him that is left. Serjeants, marshalmen, and bailiffs are sent forth, who lie scenting at every corner, and with terrible paws haunt every walk. The bird is seized upon by these hawks, his estate looked into, his wings broken, his lands made over to a stranger. He pays L500, who never had but L60, or to prison; or he seals any bond, mortgages any lordship, does anything, yields anything. A little way in, he cares not how far he wades; the greater his possessions are, the apter he is to take up and to be trusted—thus gentlemen are ferretted and undone!" It is evident that the whole system turns on the single novice; those who join him in his bonds are stalking horses; the whole was to begin and to end with the single individual, the great coney of the warren. Such was the nature of those "commodities" to which Massinger and Shakspeare allude, and which the modern dramatist may exhibit in his comedy, and be still sketching after life.
Another scene, closely connected with the present, will complete the picture. "The Ordinaries" of those days were the lounging places of the men of the town, and the "fantastic gallants," who herded together. Ordinaries were the "exchange for news," the echoing places for all sorts of town-talk: there they might hear of the last new play and poem, and the last fresh widow, who was sighing for some knight to make her a lady; these resorts were attended also "to save charges of housekeeping." The reign of James I. is characterised by all the wantonness of prodigality among one class, and all the penuriousness and rapacity in another, which met in the dissolute indolence of a peace of twenty years. But a more striking feature in these "Ordinaries" showed itself as soon as "the voyder had cleared the table." Then began "the shuffling and cutting on one side, and the bones rattling on the other." The "Ordinarie," in fact, was a gambling-house, like those now expressively termed "Hells," and I doubt if the present "Infernos" exceed the whole diablerie of our ancestors.
In the former scene of sharping they derived their cant terms from a rabbit-warren, but in the present their allusions partly relate to an aviary, and truly the proverb suited them, "of birds of a feather." Those who first propose to sit down to play are called the leaders; the ruined gamesters are the forlorn-hope; the great winner is the eagle; a stander-by, who encourages, by little ventures himself, the freshly-imported gallant, who is called the gull, is the wood-pecker; and a monstrous bird of prey, who is always hovering round the table, is the gull-groper, who, at a pinch, is the benevolent Audley of the Ordinary.
There was, besides, one other character of an original cast, apparently the friend of none of the party, and yet in fact, "the Atlas which supported the Ordinarie on his shoulders:" he was sometimes significantly called the impostor.
The gull is a young man whose father, a citizen or a squire, just dead, leaves him "ten or twelve thousand pounds in ready money, besides some hundreds a-year." Scouts are sent out, and lie in ambush for him; they discover what "apothecarie's shop he resorts to every morning, or in what tobacco-shop in Fleet-street he takes a pipe of smoke in the afternoon;" the usual resorts of the loungers of that day. Some sharp wit of the Ordinarie, a pleasant fellow, whom Robert Greene calls the "taker-up," one of universal conversation, lures the heir of seven hundred a-year to "The Ordinarie." A gull sets the whole aviary in spirits; and Decker well describes the flutter of joy and expectation: "The leaders maintained themselves brave; the forlorn-hope, that drooped before, doth now gallantly come on; the eagle feathers his nest; the wood-pecker picks up the crumbs; the gull-groper grows fat with good feeding; and the gull himself, at whom every one has a pull, hath in the end scarce feathers to keep his back warm."