Curiosities of Literature, Vol. II (of 3) - Edited, With Memoir And Notes, By His Son, The Earl Of Beaconsfield
by Isaac D'Israeli
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This great genius seems to have travelled over land and seas that he might critically examine the things themselves, and improve, with new discoveries, the table-luxuries. He indicates the places for peculiar edibles and exquisite potables; and promulgates his precepts with the zeal of a sublime legislator, who is dictating a code designed to ameliorate the imperfect state of society.

A philosopher worthy to bear the title of cook, or a cook worthy to be a philosopher, according to the numerous curious passages scattered in Athenaeus, was an extraordinary genius, endowed not merely with a natural aptitude, but with all acquired accomplishments. The philosophy, or the metaphysics, of cookery appears in the following passage:—

"Know then, the COOK, a dinner that's bespoke, Aspiring to prepare, with prescient zeal Should know the tastes and humours of the guests; For if he drudges through the common work, Thoughtless of manner, careless what the place And seasons claim, and what the favouring hour Auspicious to his genius may present, Why, standing 'midst the multitude of men, Call we this plodding fricasseer a Cook? Oh differing far! and one is not the other! We call indeed the general of an army Him who is charged to lead it to the war; But the true general is the man whose mind, Mastering events, anticipates, combines; Else is he but a leader to his men! With our profession thus: the first who comes May with a humble toil, or slice, or chop, Prepare the ingredients, and around the fire Obsequious, him I call a fricasseer! But ah! the cook a brighter glory crowns! Well skill'd is he to know the place, the hour, Him who invites, and him who is invited, What fish in season makes the market rich, A choice delicious rarity! I know That all, we always find; but always all, Charms not the palate, critically fine. Archestratus, in culinary lore Deep for his time, in this more learned age Is wanting; and full oft he surely talks Of what he never ate. Suspect his page, Nor load thy genius with a barren precept. Look not in books for what some idle sage So idly raved; for cookery is an art Comporting ill with rhetoric; 'tis an art Still changing, and of momentary triumph! Know on thyself thy genius must depend. All books of cookery, all helps of art, All critic learning, all commenting notes, Are vain, if, void of genius, thou wouldst cook!" The culinary sage thus spoke: his friend Demands, "Where is the ideal cook thou paint'st?" "Lo, I the man?" the savouring sage replied. "Now be thine eyes the witness of my art! This tunny drest, so odorous shall steam, The spicy sweetness so shall steal thy sense, That thou in a delicious reverie Shalt slumber heavenly o'er the Attic dish!"

In another passage a Master-Cook conceives himself to be a pupil of Epicurus, whose favourite but ambiguous axiom, that "Voluptuousness is the sovereign good," was interpreted by the bon-vivans of antiquity in the plain sense.

MASTER COOK. Behold in me a pupil of the school Of the sage Epicurus.

FRIEND. Thou a sage!

MASTER COOK. Ay! Epicurus too was sure a cook, And knew the sovereign good. Nature his study, While practice perfected his theory. Divine philosophy alone can teach The difference which the fish Glociscus[124] shows In winter and in summer: how to learn Which fish to choose, when set the Pleiades, And at the solstice. 'Tis change of seasons Which threats mankind, and shakes their changeful frame. This dost thou comprehend? Know, what we use In season, is most seasonably good!

FRIEND. Most learned cook, who can observe these canons

MASTER COOK. And therefore phlegm and colics make a man A most indecent guest. The aliment Dress'd in my kitchen is true aliment; Light of digestion easily it passes; The chyle soft-blending from the juicy food Repairs the solids.

FRIEND. Ah! the chyle! the solids! Thou new Democritus! thou sage of medicine! Versed in the mysteries of the Iatric art!

MASTER COOK. Now mark the blunders of our vulgar cooks! See them prepare a dish of various fish, Showering profuse the pounded Indian grain, An overpowering vapour, gallimaufry A multitude confused of pothering odours! But, know, the genius of the art consists To make the nostrils feel each scent distinct; And not in washing plates to free from smoke. I never enter in my kitchen, I! But sit apart, and in the cool direct, Observant of what passes, scullions' toil.

FRIEND. What dost thou there?

MASTER COOK. I guide the mighty whole; Explore the causes, prophesy the dish. 'Tis thus I speak: "Leave, leave that ponderous ham; Keep up the fire, and lively play the flame Beneath those lobster patties; patient here, Fix'd as a statue, skim, incessant skim. Steep well this small Glociscus in its sauce, And boil that sea-dog in a cullender; This eel requires more salt and marjoram; Roast well that piece of kid on either side Equal; that sweetbread boil not over much." 'Tis thus, my friend, I make the concert play.


O man of science! 'tis thy babble kills!


And then no useless dish my table crowds; Harmonious ranged, and consonantly just.


Ha! what means this?


Divinest music all! As in a concert instruments resound, My ordered dishes in their courses chime. So Epicurus dictated the art Of sweet voluptuousness, and ate in order, Musing delighted o'er the sovereign good! Let raving Stoics in a labyrinth Run after virtue; they shall find no end. Thou, what is foreign to mankind, abjure.


Right honest Cook! thou wak'st me from their dreams!

Another cook informs us that he adapts his repasts to his personages.

I like to see the faces of my guests, To feed them as their age and station claim. My kitchen changes, as my guests inspire The various spectacle; for lovers now, Philosophers, and now for financiers. If my young royster be a mettled spark, Who melts an acre in a savoury dish To charm his mistress, scuttle-fish and crabs, And all the shelly race, with mixture due Of cordials filtered, exquisitely rich. For such a host, my friend! expends much more In oil than cotton; solely studying love! To a philosopher, that animal, Voracious, solid ham and bulky feet; But to the financier, with costly niceness, Glociscus rare, or rarity more rare. Insensible the palate of old age, More difficult than the soft lips of youth, To move, I put much mustard in their dish; With quickening sauces make their stupor keen, And lash the lazy blood that creeps within.

Another genius, in tracing the art of cookery, derives from it nothing less than the origin of society; and I think that some philosopher has defined man to be "a cooking animal."


"The art of cookery drew us gently forth From that ferocious life, when void of faith The Anthropophaginian ate his brother! To cookery we owe well-ordered states, Assembling men in dear society. Wild was the earth, man feasting upon man, When one of nobler sense and milder heart First sacrificed an animal; the flesh Was sweet; and man then ceased to feed on man! And something of the rudeness of those times The priest commemorates; for to this day He roasts the victim's entrails without salt. In those dark times, beneath the earth lay hid The precious salt, that gold of cookery! But when its particles the palate thrill'd, The source of seasonings, charm of cookery! came. They served a paunch with rich ingredients stored; And tender kid, within two covering plates, Warm melted in the mouth. So art improved! At length a miracle not yet perform'd, They minced the meat, which roll'd in herbage soft, Nor meat nor herbage seem'd, but to the eye, And to the taste, the counterfeited dish Mimick'd some curious fish; invention rare! Then every dish was season'd more and more, Salted, or sour, or sweet, and mingled oft Oatmeal and honey. To enjoy the meal Men congregated in the populous towns, And cities flourish'd which we cooks adorn'd With all the pleasures of domestic life.

An arch-cook insinuates that there remain only two "pillars of the state," besides himself, of the school of Sinon, one of the great masters of the condimenting art. Sinon, we are told, applied the elements of all the arts and sciences to this favourite one. Natural philosophy could produce a secret seasoning for a dish; and architecture the art of conducting the smoke out of a chimney: which, says he, if ungovernable, makes a great difference in the dressing. From the military science he derived a sublime idea of order; drilling the under cooks, marshalling the kitchen, hastening one, and making another a sentinel. We find, however, that a portion of this divine art, one of the professors acknowledges to be vapouring and bragging!—a seasoning in this art, as well as in others. A cook ought never to come unaccompanied by all the pomp and parade of the kitchen: with a scurvy appearance, he will be turned away at sight; for all have eyes, but few only understanding.[125]

Another occult part of this profound mystery, besides vapouring, consisted, it seems, in filching. Such is the counsel of a patriarch to an apprentice! a precept which contains a truth for all ages of cookery.

Carian! time well thy ambidextrous part, Nor always filch. It was but yesterday, Blundering, they nearly caught thee in the fact; None of thy balls had livers, and the guests, In horror, pierced their airy emptiness. Not even the brains were there, thou brainless hound! If thou art hired among the middling class, Who pay thee freely, be thou honourable! But for this day, where now we go to cook, E'en cut the master's throat for all I care; "A word to th' wise," and show thyself my scholar! There thou mayst filch and revel; all may yield Some secret profit to thy sharking hand. 'Tis an old miser gives a sordid dinner, And weeps o'er every sparing dish at table; Then if I do not find thou dost devour All thou canst touch, e'en to the very coals, I will disown thee! Lo! old Skin-flint comes; In his dry eyes what parsimony stares!

These cooks of the ancients, who appear to have been hired for a grand dinner, carried their art to the most whimsical perfection. They were so dexterous as to be able to serve up a whole pig boiled on one side, and roasted on the other. The cook who performed this feat defies his guests to detect the place where the knife had separated the animal, or how it was contrived to stuff the belly with an olio composed of thrushes and other birds, slices of the matrices of a sow, the yolks of eggs, the bellies of hens with their soft eggs flavoured with a rich juice, and minced meats highly spiced. When this cook is entreated to explain his secret art, he solemnly swears by the manes of those who braved all the dangers of the plain of Marathon, and combated at sea at Salamis, that he will not reveal the secret that year. But of an incident so triumphant in the annals of the gastric art, our philosopher would not deprive posterity of the knowledge. The animal had been bled to death by a wound under the shoulder, whence, after a copious effusion, the master-cook extracted the entrails, washed them with wine, and hanging the animal by the feet, he crammed down the throat the stuffings already prepared. Then covering the half of the pig with a paste of barley, thickened with wine and oil, he put it in a small oven, or on a heated table of brass, where it was gently roasted with all due care: when the skin was browned, he boiled the other side; and then, taking away the barley paste, the pig was served up, at once boiled and roasted. These cooks, with a vegetable, could counterfeit the shape and the taste of fish and flesh. The king of Bithynia, in some expedition against the Scythians, in the winter, and at a great distance from the sea, had a violent longing for a small fish called aphy—a pilchard, a herring, or an anchovy. His cook cut a turnip to the perfect imitation of its shape; then fried in oil, salted, and well powdered with the grains of a dozen black poppies, his majesty's taste was so exquisitely deceived, that he praised the root to his guests as an excellent fish. This transmutation of vegetables into meat or fish is a province of the culinary art which we appear to have lost; yet these are cibi innocentes, compared with the things themselves. No people are such gorgers of mere animal food as our own; the art of preparing vegetables, pulse, and roots, is scarcely known in this country. This cheaper and healthful food should be introduced among the common people, who neglect them from not knowing how to dress them. The peasant, for want of this skill, treads under foot the best meat in the world; and sometimes the best way of dressing it is least costly.

The gastric art must have reached to its last perfection, when we find that it had its history; and that they knew how to ascertain the aera of a dish with a sort of chronological exactness. The philosophers of Athenaeus at table dissert on every dish, and tell us of one called maati, that there was a treatise composed on it; that it was first introduced at Athens, at the epocha of the Macedonian empire, but that it was undoubtedly a Thessalian invention; the most sumptuous people of all the Greeks. The maati was a term at length applied to any dainty of excessive delicacy, always served the last.

But as no art has ever attained perfection without numerous admirers, and as it is the public which only can make such exquisite cooks, our curiosity may be excited to inquire whether the patrons of the gastric art were as great enthusiasts as its professors.

We see they had writers who exhausted their genius on these professional topics; and books of cookery were much read: for a comic poet, quoted by Athenaeus, exhibits a character exulting in having procured "The New Kitchen of Philoxenus, which," says he, "I keep for myself to read in my solitude." That these devotees to the culinary art undertook journeys to remote parts of the world, in quest of these discoveries, sufficient facts authenticate. England had the honour to furnish them with oysters, which they fetched from about Sandwich. Juvenal[126] records that Montanus was so well skilled in the science of good eating, that he could tell by the first bite whether they were English or not. The well-known Apicius poured into his stomach an immense fortune. He usually resided at Minturna, a town in Campania, where he ate shrimps at a high price: they were so large, that those of Smyrna, and the prawns of Alexandria, could not be compared with the shrimps of Minturna. However, this luckless epicure was informed that the shrimps in Africa were more monstrous; and he embarks without losing a day. He encounters a great storm, and through imminent danger arrives at the shores of Africa. The fishermen bring him the largest for size their nets could furnish. Apicius shakes his head: "Have you never any larger?" he inquires. The answer was not favourable to his hopes. Apicius rejects them, and fondly remembers the shrimps of his own Minturna. He orders his pilot to return to Italy, and leaves Africa with a look of contempt.

A fraternal genius was Philoxenus: he whose higher wish was to possess a crane's neck, that he might be the longer in savouring his dainties; and who appears to have invented some expedients which might answer, in some degree, the purpose. This impudent epicure was so little attentive to the feelings of his brother guests, that in the hot bath he avowedly habituated himself to keep his hands in the scalding water; and even used to gargle his throat with it, that he might feel less impediment in swallowing the hottest dishes. He bribed the cooks to serve up the repast smoking hot, that he might gloriously devour what he chose before any one else could venture to touch the dish. It seemed as if he had used his fingers to handle fire. "He is an oven, not a man!" exclaimed a grumbling fellow-guest. Once having embarked for Ephesus, for the purpose of eating fish, his favourite food, he arrived at the market, and found all the stalls empty. There was a wedding in the town, and all the fish had been bespoken. He hastens to embrace the new-married couple, and singing an epithalamium, the dithyrambic epicure enchanted the company. The bridegroom was delighted by the honour of the presence of such a poet, and earnestly requested he would come on the morrow. "I will come, young friend, if there is no fish at the market!"—It was this Philoxenus, who, at the table of Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily, having near him a small barbel, and observing a large one near the prince, took the little one, and held it to his ear. Dionysius inquired the reason. "At present," replied the ingenious epicure, "I am so occupied by my Galatea," (a poem in honour of the mistress of the tyrant,) "that I wished to inquire of this little fish, whether he could give me some information about Nereus; but he is silent, and I imagine they have taken him up too young: I have no doubt that old one, opposite to you, would perfectly satisfy me." Dionysius rewarded the pleasant conceit with the large barbel.


The Stagyrite discovered that our nature delights in imitation, and perhaps in nothing more than in representing personages different from ourselves in mockery of them; in fact, there is a passion for masquerade in human nature. Children discover this propensity; and the populace, who are the children of society, through all ages have been humoured by their governors with festivals and recreations, which are made up of this malicious transformation of persons and things; and the humble orders of society have been privileged by the higher, to please themselves by burlesquing and ridiculing the great, at short seasons, as some consolation for the rest of the year.

The Saturnalia of the Romans is a remarkable instance of this characteristic of mankind. Macrobius could not trace the origin of this institution, and seems to derive it from the Grecians; so that it might have arisen in some rude period of antiquity, and among another people. This conjecture seems supported by a passage in Gibbon's Miscellanies,[127] who discovers traces of this institution among the more ancient nations; and Huet imagined that he saw in the jubilee of the Hebrews some similar usages. It is to be regretted, that Gibbon does not afford us any new light on the cause in which originated the institution itself. The jubilee of the Hebrews was the solemn festival of an agricultural people, but bears none of the ludicrous characteristics of the Roman Saturnalia.

It would have been satisfactory to have discovered the occasion of the inconceivable licentiousness which was thus sanctioned by the legislator,—this overturning of the principles of society, and this public ridicule of its laws, its customs, and its feelings. We are told, these festivals, dedicated to Saturn, were designed to represent the natural equality which prevailed in his golden age; and for this purpose the slaves were allowed to change places with the masters. This was, however, giving the people a false notion of the equality of men; for, while the slave was converted into the master, the pretended equality was as much violated as in the usual situation of the parties. The political misconception of this term of natural equality seems, however, to have been carried on through all ages; and the political Saturnalia had lately nearly thrown Europe into a state of that worse than slavery, where slaves are masters.

The Roman Saturnalia were latterly prolonged to a week's debauchery and folly; and a diary of that week's words and deeds would have furnished a copious chronicle of Facetiae. Some notions we acquire from the laws of the Saturnalia of Lucian, an Epistle of Seneca's,[128] and from Horace, who from his love of quiet, retired from the city during this noisy season.

It was towards the close of December, that all the town was in an unusual motion, and the children everywhere invoking Saturn; nothing now to be seen but tables spread out for feasting, and nothing heard but shouts of merriment: all business was dismissed, and none at work but cooks and confectioners; no account of expenses was to be kept, and it appears that one-tenth part of a man's income was to be appropriated to this jollity. All exertion of mind and body was forbidden, except for the purposes of recreation; nothing to be read or recited which did not provoke mirth, adapted to the season and the place. The slaves were allowed the utmost freedom of raillery and truth, with their masters;[129] sitting with them at the table, dressed in their clothes, playing all sorts of tricks, telling them of their faults to their faces, while they smutted them. The slaves were imaginary kings, as indeed a lottery determined their rank; and as their masters attended them, whenever it happened that these performed their offices clumsily, doubtless with some recollections of their own similar misdemeanors, the slave made the master leap into the water head-foremost. No one was allowed to be angry, and he who was played on, if he loved his own comfort, would be the first to laugh. Glasses of all sizes were to be ready, and all were to drink when and what they chose; none but the most skilful musicians and tumblers were allowed to perform, for those people are worth nothing unless exquisite, as the Saturnalian laws decreed. Dancing, singing, and shouting, and carrying a female musician thrice round on their shoulders, accompanied by every grotesque humour they imagined, were indulged in that short week, which was to repay the many in which the masters had their revenge for the reign of this pretended equality. Another custom prevailed at this season: the priests performed their sacrifices to Saturn bare-headed, which Pitiscus explains in the spirit of this extraordinary institution, as designed to show that time discovers, or, as in the present case of the bare-headed priests, uncovers, all things.

Such was the Roman Saturnalia, the favourite popular recreations of Paganism; and as the sports and games of the people outlast the date of their empires, and are carried with them, however they may change their name and their place on the globe, the grosser pleasures of the Saturnalia were too well adapted to their tastes to be forgotten. The Saturnalia, therefore, long generated the most extraordinary institutions among the nations of modern Europe; and what seems more extraordinary than the unknown origin of the parent absurdity itself, the Saturnalia crept into the services and offices of the Christian church. Strange it is to observe at the altar the rites of religion burlesqued, and all its offices performed with the utmost buffoonery. It is only by tracing them to the Roman Saturnalia that we can at all account for these grotesque sports—that extraordinary mixture of libertinism and profaneness, so long continued under Christianity.

Such were the feasts of the ass, the feast of fools or madmen, fete des fous—the feast of the bull—of the Innocents—and that of the soudiacres, which, perhaps, in its original term, meant only sub-deacons, but their conduct was expressed by the conversion of a pun into saoudiacres or diacres saouls, drunken deacons. Institutions of this nature, even more numerous than the historian has usually recorded, and varied in their mode, seem to surpass each other in their utter extravagance.[130]

These profane festivals were universally practised in the middle ages, and, as I shall show, comparatively even in modern times. The ignorant and the careless clergy then imagined it was the securest means to retain the populace, who were always inclined to these pagan revelries.

These grotesque festivals have sometimes amused the pens of foreign and domestic antiquaries: for our own country has participated as keenly in these irreligious fooleries. In the feast of asses, an ass covered with sacerdotal robes was gravely conducted to the choir, where service was performed before the ass, and a hymn chanted in as discordant a manner as they could contrive; the office was a medley of all that had been sung in the course of the year; pails of water were flung at the head of the chanters; the ass was supplied with drink and provender at every division of the service; and the asinines were drinking, dancing, and braying for two days. The hymn to the ass has been preserved; each stanza ends with the burthen "Hez! Sire Ane, hez!" "Huzza! Seignior Ass, Huzza!" On other occasions, they put burnt old shoes to fume in the censers; ran about the church, leaping, singing, and dancing obscenely; scattering ordure among the audience; playing at dice upon the altar! while a boy-bishop, or a pope of fools, burlesqued the divine service. Sometimes they disguised themselves in the skins of animals, and pretending to be transformed into the animal they represented, it became dangerous, or worse, to meet these abandoned fools. There was a precentor of fools, who was shaved in public, during which he entertained the populace with all the balderdash his genius could invent. We had in Leicester, in 1415, what was called a glutton-mass, during the five days of the festival of the Virgin Mary. The people rose early to mass, during which they practised eating and drinking with the most zealous velocity, and, as in France, drew from the corners of the altar the rich puddings placed there.

So late as in 1645, a pupil of Gassendi, writing to his master, what he himself witnessed at Aix on the feast of the Innocents, says, "I have seen, in some monasteries in this province, extravagances solemnised, which the pagans would not have practised. Neither the clergy, nor the guardians, indeed, go to the choir on this day, but all is given up to the lay brethren, the cabbage-cutters, the errand-boys, the cooks and scullions, the gardeners; in a word, all the menials fill their places in the church, and insist that they perform the offices proper for the day. They dress themselves with all the sacerdotal ornaments, but torn to rags, or wear them inside out; they hold in their hands the books reversed or sideways, which they pretend to read with large spectacles without glasses, and to which they fix the shells of scooped oranges, which renders them so hideous, that one must have seen these madmen to form a notion of their appearance; particularly while dangling the censers, they keep shaking them in derision, and letting the ashes fly about their heads and faces one against the other. In this equipage they neither sing hymns, nor psalms, nor masses; but mumble a certain gibberish, as shrill and squeaking as a herd of pigs whipped on to market. The nonsense verses they chant are singularly barbarous:—

Haec est clara dies, clararum clara dierum, Haec est festa dies, festarum festa dierum.[131]

These are scenes which equal any which the humour of the Italian burlesque poets have invented, and which might have entered with effect into the "Malmantile racquistato" of Lippi; but that they should have been endured amidst the solemn offices of religion, and have been performed in cathedrals, while it excites our astonishment, can only be accounted for by perceiving that they were, in truth, the Saturnalia of the Romans. Mr. Turner observes, without perhaps having a precise notion that they were copied from the Saturnalia, that "It could be only by rivalling the pagan revelries, that the Christian ceremonies could gain the ascendancy." Our historian further observes, that these "licentious festivities were called the December liberties, and seem to have begun at one of the most solemn seasons of the Christian year, and to have lasted through the chief part of January." This very term, as well as the time, agrees with that of the ancient Saturnalia:—

Age, libertate Decembri, Quando ita majores voluerunt, utere: narra. HOR. lib. ii. sat. 7.

The Roman Saturnalia, thus transplanted into Christian churches, had for its singular principle, that of inferiors, whimsically and in mockery, personifying their superiors, with a licensed licentiousness. This forms a distinct characteristic from those other popular customs and pastimes which the learned have also traced to the Roman, and even more ancient nations. Our present inquiry is, to illustrate that proneness in man, of delighting to reverse the order of society, and ridiculing its decencies.

Here we had our boy-bishop, a legitimate descendant of this family of foolery. On St. Nicholas's day, a saint who was the patron of children, the boy-bishop with his mitra parva and a long crosier, attended by his school-mates as his diminutive prebendaries, assumed the title and state of a bishop. The child-bishop preached a sermon, and afterwards, accompanied by his attendants, went about singing and collecting his pence: to such theatrical processions in collegiate bodies, Warton attributes the custom, still existing at Eton, of going ad montem.[132] But this was a tame mummery, compared with the grossness elsewhere allowed in burlesquing religious ceremonies. The English, more particularly after the Reformation, seem not to have polluted the churches with such abuses. The relish for the Saturnalia was not, however, less lively here than on the Continent; but it took a more innocent direction, and was allowed to turn itself into civil life: and since the people would be gratified by mock dignities, and claimed the privilege of ridiculing their masters, it was allowed them by our kings and nobles; and a troop of grotesque characters, frolicsome great men, delighting in merry mischief, are recorded in our domestic annals.

The most learned Selden, with parsimonious phrase and copious sense, has thus compressed the result of an historical dissertation: he derives our ancient Christmas sports at once from the true, though remote, source. "Christmas succeeds the Saturnalia; the same time, the same number of holy-days; then the master waited upon the servant, like the lord of misrule."[133] Such is the title of a facetious potentate, who, in this notice of Selden's, is not further indicated, for this personage was familiar in his day, but of whom the accounts are so scattered, that his offices and his glory are now equally obscure. The race of this nobility of drollery, and this legitimate king of all hoaxing and quizzing, like mightier dynasties, has ceased to exist.

In England our festivities at Christmas appear to have been more entertaining than in other countries. We were once famed for merry Christmases and their pies; witness the Italian proverb, "Ha piu di fare che i forni di Natale in Inghilterra:" "He has more business than English ovens at Christmas." Wherever the king resided, there was created for that merry season a Christmas prince, usually called "the Lord of Misrule;" and whom the Scotch once knew under the significant title of "the Abbot of Unreason." His office, according to Stowe, was "to make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholder." Every nobleman, and every great family, surrendered their houses, during this season, to the Christmas prince, who found rivals or usurpers in almost every parish; and more particularly, as we shall see, among the grave students in our inns of court.

The Italian Polydore Vergil, who, residing here, had clearer notions of this facetious personage, considered the Christmas Prince as peculiar to our country. Without venturing to ascend in his genealogy, we must admit his relationship to that ancient family of foolery we have noticed, whether he be legitimate or not. If this whimsical personage, at his creation, was designed to regulate "misrule," his lordship, invested with plenary power, came himself, at length, to delight too much in his "merry disports." Stubbes, a morose puritan in the days of Elizabeth, denominates him "a grand captaine of mischiefe," and has preserved a minute description of all his wild doings in the country; but as Strutt has anticipated me in this amusing extract, I must refer to his "Sports and Pastimes of the People of England," p. 254.[134] I prepare another scene of unparalleled Saturnalia, among the grave judges and serjeants of the law, where the Lord of Misrule is viewed amidst his frolicsome courtiers, with the humour of hunting the fox and the cat with ten couple of hounds round their great hall, among the other merry disports of those joyous days when sages could play like boys.

For those who can throw themselves back amidst the grotesque humours and clumsy pastimes of our ancestors, who, without what we think to be taste, had whim and merriment—there has been fortunately preserved a curious history of the manner in which "A grand Christmas" was kept at our Inns of Court, by the grave and learned Dugdale, in his "Origines Juridicales:" it is a complete festival of foolery, acted by the students and law-officers. They held for that season everything in mockery: they had a mock parliament, a Prince of Sophie, or Wisdom, an honourable order of Pegasus, a high constable, a marshal, a master of the game, a ranger of the forest, lieutenant of the Tower, which was a temporary prison for Christmas delinquents, all the paraphernalia of a court, burlesqued by these youthful sages before the boyish judges.

The characters personified were in the costume of their assumed offices. On Christmas-day, the constable-marshal, accoutred with a complete gilded "harness," showed that everything was to be chivalrously ordered; while the lieutenant of the Tower, in "a fair white armour," attended with his troop of halberdiers; and the Tower was then placed beneath the fire. After this opening followed the costly feasting; and then, nothing less than a hunt with a pack of hounds in their hall!

The master of the game dressed in green velvet, and the ranger of the forest in green satin, bearing a green bow and arrows, each with a hunting horn about their necks, blowing together three blasts of venery (or hunting), they pace round about the fire three times. The master of the game kneels to be admitted into the service of the high-constable. A huntsman comes into the hall, with nine or ten couple of hounds, bearing on the end of his staff a pursenet, which holds a fox and a cat: these were let loose and hunted by the hounds, and killed beneath the fire.

These extraordinary amusements took place after their repast; for these grotesque Saturnalia appeared after that graver part of their grand Christmas. Supper ended, the constable-marshal presented himself with drums playing, mounted on a stage borne by four men, and carried round; at length he cries out, "a lord! a lord!" &c., and then calls his mock court every one by name.

Sir Francis Flatterer, of Fowlshurt.

Sir Randall Rackabite, of Rascal-hall, in the county of Rakehell.

Sir Morgan Mumchance, of Much Monkery, in the county of Mad Mopery.

Sir Bartholomew Bald-breech, of Buttock-bury, in the county of Break-neck.[135]

They had also their mock arraignments. The king's-serjeant, after dinner or supper, "oratour-like," complained that the constable-marshal had suffered great disorders to prevail; the complaint was answered by the common-serjeant, who was to show his talent at defending the cause. The king's-serjeant replies; they rejoin, &c.: till one at length is committed to the Tower, for being found most deficient. If any offender contrived to escape from the lieutenant of the Tower into the buttery and brought into the hall a manchet (or small loaf) upon the point of a knife, he was pardoned; for the buttery in this jovial season was considered as a sanctuary. Then began the revels. Blount derives this term from the French reveiller, to awake from sleep. These were sports of dancing, masking comedies, &c. (for some were called solemn revels,) used in great houses, and were so denominated because they were performed by night; and these various pastimes were regulated by a master of the revels.

Amidst "the grand Christmass," a personage of no small importance was "the Lord of Misrule." His lordship was abroad early in the morning, and if he lacked any of his officers, he entered their chambers to drag forth the loiterers; but after breakfast his lordship's power ended, and it was in suspense till night, when his personal presence was paramount, or, as Dugdale expresses it, "and then his power is most potent."

Such were then the pastimes of the whole learned bench; and when once it happened that the under-barristers did not dance on Candlemas day, according to the ancient order of the society, when the judges were present, the whole bar was offended, and at Lincoln's-Inn were by decimation put out of commons, for example sake; and should the same omission be repeated, they were to be fined or disbarred; for these dancings were thought necessary, "as much conducing to the making of gentlemen more fit for their books at other times," I cannot furnish a detailed notice of these pastimes; for Dugdale, whenever he indicates them, spares his gravity from recording the evanescent frolics, by a provoking &c. &c. &c.

The dance "round about the coal-fire" is taken off in the Rehearsal. These revels have also been ridiculed by Donne in his Satires, Prior in his Alma, and Pope in his Dunciad. "The judge to dance, his brother serjeants calls."[136]

"The Lord of Misrule," in the inns of court, latterly did not conduct himself with any recollection of "Medio tutissimus ibis," being unreasonable; but the "sparks of the Temple," as a contemporary calls them, had gradually, in the early part of Charles the First's reign, yielded themselves up to excessive disorders. Sir Symonds D'Ewes, in his MS. diary in 1620, has noticed their choice of a lieutenant, or lord of misrule, who seems to have practised all the mischief he invented; and the festival days, when "a standing table was kept," were accompanied by dicing, and much gaming, oaths, execrations, and quarrels: being of a serious turn of mind, he regrets this, for he adds, "the sport, of itself, I conceive to be lawful."

I suspect that the last memorable act of a Lord of Misrule of the inns of court occurred in 1627, when the Christmas game became serious. The Lord of Misrule then issued an edict to his officers to go out at Twelfth-night to collect his rents in the neighbourhood of the Temple, at the rate of five shillings a house; and on those who were in their beds, or would not pay, he levied a distress. An unexpected resistance at length occurred in a memorable battle with the Lord Mayor in person:—and I shall tell how the Lord of Misrule for some time stood victor, with his gunner, and his trumpeter, and his martial array: and how heavily and fearfully stood my Lord Mayor amidst his "watch and ward:" and how their lordships agreed to meet half way, each to preserve his independent dignity, till one knocked down the other: and how the long halberds clashed with the short swords: how my Lord Mayor valorously took the Lord of Misrule prisoner with his own civic hand: and how the Christmas prince was immured in the Counter; and how the learned Templars insisted on their privilege, and the unlearned of Ram's-alley and Fleet-street asserted their right of saving their crown-pieces: and finally how this combat of mockery and earnestness was settled, not without the introduction of "a god," as Horace allows on great occasions, in the interposition of the king and the attorney-general—altogether the tale had been well told in some comic epic; but the wits of that day let it pass out of their hands.

I find this event, which seems to record the last desperate effort of a "Lord of Misrule," in a manuscript letter of the learned Mede to Sir Martin Stuteville; and some particulars are collected from Hammond L'Estrange's Life of Charles the First.

"Jan. 12, 1627-8.

"On Saturday the Templars chose one Mr. Palmer their Lord of Misrule, who, on Twelfth-eve, late in the night, sent out to gather up his rents at five shillings a house in Ram-alley and Fleet-street. At every door they came they winded the Temple-horn, and if at the second blast or summons they within opened not the door, then the Lord of Misrule cried out, 'Give fire, gunner!' His gunner was a robustious Vulcan, and the gun or petard itself was a huge overgrown smith's hammer. This being complained of to my Lord Mayor, he said he would be with them about eleven o'clock on Sunday night last; willing that all that ward should attend him with their halberds, and that himself, besides those that came out of his house, should bring the Watches along with him. His lordship, thus attended, advanced as high as Ram-alley in martial equipage; when forth came the Lord of Misrule, attended by his gallants, out of the Temple-gate, with their swords, all armed in cuerpo. A halberdier bade the Lord of Misrule come to my Lord Mayor. He answered, No! let the Lord Mayor come to me! At length they agreed to meet half way; and, as the interview of rival princes is never without danger of some ill accident, so it happened in this: for first, Mr. Palmer being quarrelled with for not pulling off his hat to my Lord Mayor, and giving cross answers, the halberds began to fly about his ears, and he and his company to brandish their swords. At last being beaten to the ground, and the Lord of Misrule sore wounded, they were fain to yield to the longer and more numerous weapon. My Lord Mayor taking Mr. Palmer by the shoulder, led him to the Compter, and thrust him in at the prison-gate with a kind of indignation; and so, notwithstanding his hurts, he was forced to lie among the common prisoners for two nights. On Tuesday the king's attorney became a suitor to my Lord Mayor for their liberty; which his lordship granted, upon condition that they should repay the gathered rents, and do reparations upon broken doors. Thus the game ended. Mr. Attorney-General, being of the same house, fetched them in his own coach, and carried them to the court, where the King himself reconciled my Lord Mayor and them together with joining all hands; the gentlemen of the Temple being this Shrovetide to present a Mask to their majesties, over and besides the king's own great Mask, to be performed at the Banqueting-house by an hundred actors."

Thus it appears, that although the grave citizens did well and rightly protect themselves, yet, by the attorney-general taking the Lord of Misrule in his coach, and the king giving his royal interference between the parties, that they considered that this Lord of Foolery had certain ancient privileges; and it was, perhaps, a doubt with them, whether this interference of the Lord Mayor might not be considered as severe and unseasonable. It is probable, however, that the arm of the civil power brought all future Lords of Misrule to their senses. Perhaps this dynasty in the empire of foolery closed with this Christmas prince, who fell a victim to the arbitrary taxation he levied. I find after this orders made for the Inner Temple, for "preventing of that general scandal and obloquie, which the House hath heretofore incurred in time of Christmas:" and that "there be not any going abroad out of the gates of this House, by any lord or others, to break open any house, or take anything in the name of rent or a distress."

These "Lords of Misrule," and their mock court and royalty, appear to have been only extinguished with the English sovereignty itself, at the time of our republican government. Edmund Gayton tells a story, to show the strange impressions of strong fancies: as his work is of great rarity, I shall transcribe the story in his own words, both to give a conclusion to this inquiry, and a specimen of his style of narrating this sort of little things. "A gentleman was importuned, at a fire-night in the public-hall, to accept the high and mighty place of a mock-emperor, which was duly conferred upon him by seven mock-electors. At the same time, with much wit and ceremony, the emperor accepted his chair of state, which was placed in the highest table in the hall; and at his instalment all pomp, reverence, and signs of homage were used by the whole company; insomuch that our emperor, having a spice of self-conceit before, was soundly peppered now, for he was instantly metamorphosed into the stateliest, gravest, and commanding soul that ever eye beheld. Taylor acting Arbaces, or Swanston D'Amboise, were shadows to him: his pace, his look, his voice, and all his garb, was altered. Alexander upon his elephant, nay, upon the castle upon that elephant, was not so high; and so close did this imaginary honour stick to his fancy, that for many years he could not shake off this one night's assumed deportments, until the times came that drove all monarchical imaginations not only out of his head, but every one's."[137] This mock "emperor" was unquestionably one of these "Lords of Misrule," or "a Christmas Prince." The "public hall" was that of the Temple, or Lincoln's Inn, or Gray's Inn.[138] And it was natural enough, when the levelling equality of our theatrical and practical commonwealths-men were come into vogue, that even the shadowy regality of mockery startled them by reviving the recollections of ceremonies and titles, which some might incline, as they afterwards did, seriously to restore. The "Prince of Christmas" did not, however, attend the Restoration of Charles the Second.

The Saturnalian spirit has not been extinct even in our days. The Mayor of Garrat, with the mock addresses and burlesque election, was an image of such satirical exhibitions of their superiors, so delightful to the people.[139] France, at the close of Louis the Fourteenth's reign, first saw her imaginary "Regiment de la Calotte," which was the terror of the sinners of the day, and the blockheads of all times. This "regiment of the skull-caps" originated in an officer and a wit, who, suffering from violent headaches, was recommended the use of a skull-cap of lead; and his companions, as great wits, formed themselves into a regiment, to be composed only of persons distinguished by their extravagances in words or in deeds. They elected a general, they had their arms blazoned, and struck medals, and issued "brevets," and "lettres patentes," and granted pensions to certain individuals, stating their claims to be enrolled in the regiment for some egregious extravagance. The wits versified these army commissions; and the idlers, like pioneers, were busied in clearing their way, by picking up the omissions and commissions of the most noted characters. Those who were favoured with its "brevets" intrigued against the regiment; but at length they found it easier to wear their "calotte," and say nothing. This society began in raillery and playfulness, seasoned by a spice of malice. It produced a great number of ingenious and satirical little things. That the privileges of the "calotte" were afterwards abused, and calumny too often took the place of poignant satire, is the history of human nature as well as of "the calotins."[140]

Another society in the same spirit has been discovered in one of the lordships of Poland. It was called "The Republic of Baboonery." The society was a burlesque model of their own government: a king, chancellor, councillors, archbishops, judges, &c. If a member would engross the conversation, he was immediately appointed orator of the republic. If he spoke with impropriety, the absurdity of his conversation usually led to some suitable office created to perpetuate his folly. A man talking too much of dogs, would be made a master of the buck-hounds; or vaunting his courage, perhaps a field-marshal; and if bigoted on disputable matters and speculative opinions in religion, he was considered to be nothing less than an inquisitor. This was a pleasant and useful project to reform the manners of the Polish youth; and one of the Polish kings good-humourdly observed, that he considered himself "as much King of Baboonery as King of Poland." We have had in our own country some attempts at similar Saturnalia; but their success has been so equivocal that they hardly afford materials for our domestic history.


In the south aisle of Westminster Abbey stands a monument erected to the memory of Lady Grace Gethin.[141] A statue of her ladyship represents her kneeling, holding a book in her hand. This accomplished lady was considered as a prodigy in her day, and appears to have created a feeling of enthusiasm for her character. She died early, having scarcely attained to womanhood, although a wife; for "all this goodness and all this excellence was bounded within the compass of twenty years."

But it is her book commemorated in marble, and not her character, which may have merited the marble that chronicles it, which has excited my curiosity and my suspicion. After her death a number of loose papers were found in her handwriting, which could not fail to attract, and, perhaps, astonish their readers, with the maturity of thought and the vast capacity which had composed them. These reliques of genius were collected together, methodised under heads, and appeared with the title of "Reliquiae Gethinianae; or some remains of Grace Lady Gethin, lately deceased: being a collection of choice discourses, pleasant apothegms, and witty sentences; written by her for the most part by way of essay, and at spare hours; published by her nearest relations, to preserve her memory. Second edition, 1700."

Of this book, considering that comparatively it is modern, and the copy before me is called a second edition, it is somewhat extraordinary that it seems always to have been a very scarce one. Even Ballard, in his Memoirs of Learned Ladies (1750), mentions that these remains "are very difficult to be procured;" and Sir William Musgrave in a manuscript note observed, that "this book was very scarce." It bears now a high price. A hint is given in the preface that the work was chiefly printed for the use of her friends; yet, by a second edition, we must infer that the public at large were so. There is a poem prefixed with the signature W.C. which no one will hesitate to pronounce is by Congreve; he wrote indeed another poem to celebrate this astonishing book, for, considered as the production of a young lady, it is a miraculous, rather than a human, production. The last lines in this poem we might expect from Congreve in his happier vein, who contrives to preserve his panegyric amidst that caustic wit, with which he keenly touched the age.


I that hate books, such as come daily out By public license to the reading rout, A due religion yet observe to this; And here assert, if any thing's amiss, It can be only the compiler's fault, Who has ill-drest the charming author's thought,— That was all right: her beauteous looks were join'd To a no less admired excelling mind.

But, oh! this glory of frail Nature's dead, As I shall be that write, and you that read.[142] Once, to be out of fashion, I'll conclude With something that may tend to public good; I wish that piety, for which in heaven The fair is placed—to the lawn sleeves were given: Her justice—to the knot of men, whose care From the raised millions is to take their share. W.C.

The book claimed all the praise the finest genius could bestow on it. But let us hear the editor.—He tells us, that "It is a vast disadvantage to authors to publish their private undigested thoughts, and first notions hastily set down, and designed only as materials for a future structure." And he adds, "That the work may not come short of that great and just expectation which the world had of her whilst she was alive, and still has of everything that is the genuine product of her pen, they must be told that this was written for the most part in haste, were her first conceptions and overflowings of her luxuriant fancy, noted with her pencil at spare hours, or as she was dressing, as her [Greek: Parergon] only; and set down just as they came into her mind."

All this will serve as a memorable example of the cant and mendacity of an editor! and that total absence of critical judgment that could assert such matured reflection, in so exquisite a style, could ever have been "first conceptions, just as they came into the mind of Lady Gethin, as she was dressing."

The truth is, that Lady Gethin may have had little concern in all these "Reliquiae Gethinianae." They indeed might well have delighted their readers; but those who had read Lord Bacon's Essays, and other writers, such as Owen Feltham and Osborne, from whom these relics are chiefly extracted, might have wondered that Bacon should have been so little known to the families of the Nortons and the Gethins, to whom her ladyship was allied; to Congreve and to the editor; and still more particularly to subsequent compilers, as Ballard in his Memoirs, and lately the Rev. Mark Noble in his Continuation of Granger; who both, with all the innocence of Criticism, give specimens of these "Relics," without a suspicion that they were transcribing literally from Lord Bacon's Essays! Unquestionably Lady Gethin herself intended no imposture; her mind had all the delicacy of her sex; she noted much from the books she seems most to have delighted in; and nothing less than the most undiscerning friends could have imagined that everything written by the hand of this young lady was her "first conceptions;" and apologise for some of the finest thoughts, in the most vigorous style which the English language can produce. It seems, however, to prove that Lord Bacon's Essays were not much read at the time this volume appeared.

The marble book in Westminster Abbey must, therefore, lose most of its leaves; but it was necessary to discover the origin of this miraculous production of a young lady. What is Lady Gethin's, or what is not hers, in this miscellany of plagiarisms, it is not material to examine. Those passages in which her ladyship speaks in her own person probably are of original growth; of this kind many evince great vivacity of thought, drawn from actual observation on what was passing around her; but even among these are intermixed the splendid passages of Bacon and other writers.

I shall not crowd my pages with specimens of a very suspicious author. One of her subjects has attracted my attention; for it shows the corrupt manners of persons of fashion who lived between 1680 and 1700. To find a mind so pure and elevated as Lady Gethin's unquestionably was, discussing whether it were most advisable to have for a husband a general lover, or one attached to a mistress, and deciding by the force of reasoning in favour of the dissipated man (for a woman, it seems, had only the alternative), evinces a public depravation of morals. These manners were the wretched remains of the court of Charles the Second, when Wycherley, Dryden, and Congreve seem to have written with much less invention, in their indecent plots and language, than is imagined.

I know not which is worse, to be wife to a man that is continually changing his loves, or to an husband that hath but one mistress whom he loves with a constant passion. And if you keep some measure of civility to her, he will at least esteem you; but he of the roving humour plays an hundred frolics that divert the town and perplex his wife. She often meets with her husband's mistress, and is at a loss how to carry herself towards her. 'Tis true the constant man is ready to sacrifice, every moment, his whole family to his love; he hates any place where she is not, is prodigal in what concerns his love, covetous in other respects; expects you should be blind to all he doth, and though you can't but see, yet must not dare to complain. And though both, he who lends his heart to whosoever pleases it, and he that gives it entirely to one, do both of them require the exactest devoir from their wives, yet I know not if it be not better to be wife to an inconstant husband (provided he be something discreet), than to a constant fellow who is always perplexing her with his inconstant humour. For the unconstant lovers are commonly the best humoured; but let them be what they will, women ought not to be unfaithful for Virtue's sake and their own, nor to offend by example. It is one of the best bonds of charity and obedience in the wife if she think her husband wise, which she will never do if she find him jealous.

"Wives are young men's mistresses, companions for middle age, and old men's nurses."

The last degrading sentence is found alas! in the Moral Essays of Bacon. Lady Gethin, with an intellect superior to that of the women of that day, had no conception of the dignity of the female character, the claims of virtue, and the duties of honour. A wife was only to know obedience and silence: however, she hints that such a husband should not be jealous! There was a sweetness in revenge reserved for some of these married women.


Robinson Crusoe, the favourite of the learned and the unlearned, of the youth and the adult; the book that was to constitute the library of Rousseau's Emilius, owes its secret charm to its being a new representation of human nature, yet drawn from an existing state; this picture of self-education, self-inquiry, self-happiness, is scarcely a fiction, although it includes all the magic of romance; and is not a mere narrative of truth, since it displays all the forcible genius of one of the most original minds our literature can boast. The history of the work is therefore interesting. It was treated in the author's time as a mere idle romance, for the philosophy was not discovered in the story; after his death it was considered to have been pillaged from the papers of Alexander Selkirk, confided to the author, and the honour, as well as the genius, of De Foe were alike questioned.

The entire history of this work of genius may now be traced, from the first hints to the mature state, to which only the genius of De Foe could have wrought it.

The adventures of Selkirk are well known: he was found on the desert island of Juan Fernandez, where he had formerly been left, by Woodes Rogers and Edward Cooke, who in 1712 published their voyages, and told the extraordinary history of Crusoe's prototype, with all those curious and minute particulars which Selkirk had freely communicated to them. This narrative of itself is extremely interesting, and has been given entire by Captain Burney; it may also be found in the Biographia Britannica.

In this artless narrative we may discover more than the embryo of Robinson Crusoe.—The first appearance of Selkirk, "a man clothed in goats' skins, who looked more wild than the first owners of them." The two huts he had built, the one to dress his victuals, the other to sleep in: his contrivance to get fire, by rubbing two pieces of pimento wood together; his distress for the want of bread and salt, till he came to relish his meat without either; his wearing out his shoes, till he grew so accustomed to be without them, that he could not for a long time afterwards, on his return home, use them without inconvenience; his bedstead of his own contriving, and his bed of goat-skins; when his gunpowder failed, his teaching himself by continual exercise to run as swiftly as the goats; his falling from a precipice in catching hold of a goat, stunned and bruised, till coming to his senses he found the goat dead under him; his taming kids to divert himself by dancing with them and his cats; his converting a nail into a needle; his sewing his goatskins with little thongs of the same; and when his knife was worn to the back, contriving to make blades out of some iron hoops. His solacing himself in this solitude by singing psalms, and preserving a social feeling in his fervent prayers. And the habitation which Selkirk had raised, to reach which they followed him "with difficulty, climbing up and creeping down many rocks, till they came at last to a pleasant spot of ground full of grass and of trees, where stood his two huts, and his numerous tame goats showed his solitary retreat;" and, finally, his indifference to return to a world from which his feelings had been so perfectly weaned.—Such were the first rude materials of a new situation in human nature; an European in a primeval state, with the habits or mind of a savage.

The year after this account was published, Selkirk and his adventures attracted the notice of Steele, who was not likely to pass unobserved a man and a story so strange and so new. In his paper of "The Englishman," Dec. 1713, he communicates farther particulars of Selkirk. Steele became acquainted with him; he says, that "he could discern that he had been much separated from company from his aspect and gesture. There was a strong but cheerful seriousness in his looks, and a certain disregard to the ordinary things about him, as if he had been sunk in thought. The man frequently bewailed his return to the world, which could not, he said, with all its enjoyments, restore him to the tranquillity of his solitude." Steele adds another very curious change in this wild man, which occurred some time after he had seen him. "Though I had frequently conversed with him, after a few months' absence, he met me in the street, and though he spoke to me, I could not recollect that I had seen him. Familiar converse in this town had taken off the loneliness of his aspect, and quite altered the air of his face." De Foe could not fail of being struck by these interesting particulars of the character of Selkirk; but probably it was another observation of Steele which threw the germ of Robinson Crusoe into the mind of De Foe. "It was matter of great curiosity to hear him, as he was a man of sense, give an account of the different revolutions in his own mind in that long solitude."

The work of De Foe, however, was no sudden ebullition: long engaged in political warfare, condemned to suffer imprisonment, and at length struck by a fit of apoplexy, this unhappy and unprosperous man of genius on his recovery was reduced to a comparative state of solitude. To his injured feelings and lonely contemplations, Selkirk in his Desert Isle, and Steele's vivifying hint, often occurred; and to all these we perhaps owe the instructive and delightful tale, which shows man what he can do for himself, and what the fortitude of piety does for man. Even the personage of Friday is not a mere coinage of his brain: a Mosquito Indian, described by Dampier, was the prototype. Robinson Crusoe was not given to the world till 1719, seven years after the publication of Selkirk's adventures.[143] Selkirk could have no claims on De Foe; for he had only supplied the man of genius with that which lies open to all; and which no one had, or perhaps could have, converted into the wonderful story we possess but De Foe himself. Had De Foe not written Robinson Crusoe, the name and story of Selkirk had been passed over like others of the same sort; yet Selkirk has the merit of having detailed his own history, in a manner so interesting, as to have attracted the notice of Steele, and to have inspired the genius of De Foe.

After this, the originality of Robinson Crusoe will no longer be suspected; and the idle tale which Dr. Beattie has repeated of Selkirk having supplied the materials of his story to De Foe, from which our author borrowed his work, and published for his own profit, will be finally put to rest. This is due to the injured honour and genius of De Foe.


Literature, and the arts connected with it, in this free country, have been involved with its political state, and have sometimes flourished or declined with the fortunes, or been made instrumental to the purposes, of the parties which had espoused them. Thus in our dramatic history, in the early period of the Reformation, the Catholics were secretly working on the stage; and long afterwards the royalist party, under Charles the First, possessed it till they provoked their own ruin. The Catholics, in their expiring cause, took refuge in the theatre, and disguised the invectives they would have invented in sermons, under the more popular forms of the drama, where they freely ridiculed the chiefs of the new religion, as they termed the Reformation, and "the new Gospellers," or those who quoted their Testament, as an authority for their proceedings. Fuller notices this circumstance. "The popish priests, though unseen, stood behind the hangings, or lurked in the tyring-house."[144] These found supporters among the elder part of their auditors, who were tenacious of their old habits and doctrines; and opposers in the younger, who eagerly adopted the term Reformation in its full sense.

This conduct of the Catholics called down a proclamation from Edward the Sixth, (1549,) when we find that the government was most anxious that these pieces should not be performed in "the English tongue;" so that we may infer that the government was not alarmed at treason in Latin.[145] This proclamation states, "that a great number of those that be common players of interludes or plays, as well within the city of London as elsewhere, who for the most part play such interludes as contain matter tending to sedition, &c., &c., whereupon are grown, and daily are like to grow, much division, tumult, and uproars in this realm. The king charges his subjects that they should not openly or secretly play in the English tongue any kind of Interlude, Play, Dialogue, or other matter set forth in form of Play, on pain of imprisonment," &c.[146]

This was, however, but a temporary prohibition; it cleared the stage for a time of these Catholic dramatists; but reformed Enterludes, as they were termed, were afterwards permitted.

These Catholic dramas would afford some speculations to historical inquirers: we know they made very free strictures on the first heads of the Reformation, on Cromwell, Cranmer, and their party; but they were probably overcome in their struggles with their prevailing rivals. Some may yet possibly lurk in their manuscript state. We have, printed, one of those Moralities, or moral plays, or allegorical dramatic pieces, which succeeded the Mysteries in the reign of Henry the Eighth, entitled "Every Man:" in the character of that hero, the writer not unaptly designates Human Nature herself.[147] This comes from the Catholic school, to recall the auditors back to the forsaken ceremonies of that church; but it levels no strokes of personal satire on the Reformers. Percy observed that, from the solemnity of the subjects, the summoning of man out of the world by death, and by the gravity of its conduct, not without some attempts, however rude, to excite terror and pity, this Morality may not improperly be referred to the class of Tragedy. Such ancient simplicity is not worthless to the poetical antiquary; although the mere modern reader would soon feel weary at such inartificial productions, yet the invention which may be discovered in these rude pieces would be sublime, warm with the colourings of a Gray or a Collins.

On the side of the Reformed we have no deficiency of attacks on the superstitions and idolatries of the Romish church; and Satan, and his old son Hypocrisy, are very busy at their intrigues with another hero called "Lusty Juventus," and the seductive mistress they introduce him to, "Abominable Living:" this was printed in the reign of Edward the Sixth. It is odd enough to see quoted in a dramatic performance chapter and verse, as formally as if a sermon were to be performed. There we find such rude learning as this:—

Read the V. to the Galatians, and there you shall see That the flesh rebelleth against the spirit—

or in homely rhymes like these—

I will show you what St. Paul doth declare In his epistle to the Hebrews, and the X. chapter.

In point of historical information respecting the pending struggle between the Catholics and the "new Gospellers," we do not glean much secret history from these pieces; yet they curiously exemplify that regular progress in the history of man, which has shown itself in the more recent revolutions of Europe; the old people still clinging, from habit and affection, to what is obsolete, and the young ardent in establishing what is new; while the balance of human happiness trembles between both.

Thus "Lusty Juventus" conveys to us in his rude simplicity the feeling of that day. Satan, in lamenting the downfall of superstition, declares that—

The old people would believe still in my laws, But the younger sort lead them a contrary way— They will live as the Scripture teacheth them.

Hypocrisy, when informed by his old master, the Devil, of the change that "Lusty Juventus" has undergone, expresses his surprise; attaching that usual odium of meanness on the early reformers, in the spirit that the Hollanders were nicknamed at their first revolution by their lords the Spaniards, "Les Gueux," or the Beggars.

What, is Juventus become so tame, To be a new Gospeller?

But in his address to the young reformer, who asserts that he is not bound to obey his parents but "in all things honest and lawful," Hypocrisy thus vents his feelings:—

Lawful, quoth ha! Ah! fool! fool! Wilt thou set men to school When they be old? I may say to you secretly, The world was never merry Since children were so bold; Now every boy will be a teacher, The father a fool, the child a preacher; This is pretty gear! The foul presumption of youth Will shortly turn to great ruth, I fear, I fear, I fear!

In these rude and simple lines there is something like the artifice of composition: the repetition of words in the first and the last lines was doubtless intended as a grace in the poetry. That the ear of the poet was not unmusical, amidst the inartificial construction of his verse, will appear in this curious catalogue of holy things, which Hypocrisy has drawn up, not without humour, in asserting the services he had performed for the Devil.

And I brought up such superstition Under the name of holiness and religion, That deceived almost all.

As—holy cardinals, holy popes, Holy vestments, holy copes, Holy hermits, and friars, Holy priests, holy bishops, Holy monks, holy abbots, Yea, and all obstinate liars.

Holy pardons, holy beads, Holy saints, holy images, With holy holy blood. Holy stocks, holy stones, Holy clouts, holy bones, Yea, and holy holy wood.

Holy skins, holy bulls, Holy rochets, and cowls, Holy crutches and staves, Holy hoods, holy caps, Holy mitres, holy hats, And good holy holy knaves.

Holy days, holy fastings, Holy twitchings, holy tastings Holy visions and sights, Holy wax, holy lead, Holy water, holy bread, To drive away sprites.

Holy fire, holy palme, Holy oil, holy cream, And holy ashes also; Holy broaches, holy rings, Holy kneeling, holy censings, And a hundred trim-trams mo.

Holy crosses, holy bells, Holy reliques, holy jouels, Of mine own invention; Holy candles, holy tapers, Holy parchments, holy papers;— Had not you a holy son?

Some of these Catholic dramas were long afterwards secretly performed among Catholic families. In an unpublished letter of the times, I find a cause in the Star-chamber respecting a play being acted at Christmas, 1614, at the house of Sir John Yorke; the consequences of which were heavy fines and imprisonment. The letter-writer describes it as containing "many foul passages to the vilifying of our religion and exacting of popery, for which he and his lady, as principal procurers, were fined one thousand pounds apiece, and imprisoned in the Tower for a year; two or three of his brothers at five hundred pounds apiece, and others in other sums."


A period in our dramatic annals has been passed over during the progress of the civil wars, which indeed was one of silence, but not of repose in the theatre. It lasted beyond the death of Charles the First, when the fine arts seemed also to have suffered with the monarch. The theatre, for the first time in any nation, was abolished by a public ordinance, and the actors, and consequently all that family of genius who by their labours or their tastes are connected with the drama, were reduced to silence. The actors were forcibly dispersed, and became even some of the most persecuted objects of the new government.

It may excite our curiosity to trace the hidden footsteps of this numerous fraternity of genius. Hypocrisy and Fanaticism had, at length, triumphed over Wit and Satire. A single blow could not, however, annihilate those never-dying powers; nor is suppression always extinction. Reduced to a state which did not allow of uniting in a body, still their habits and their affections could not desert them: actors would attempt to resume their functions, and the genius of the authors and the tastes of the people would occasionally break out, though scattered and concealed.

Mr. Gifford has noticed, in his introduction to Massinger, the noble contrast between our actors at that time, with those of revolutionary France, when, to use his own emphatic expression—"One wretched actor only deserted his sovereign; while of the vast multitude fostered by the nobility and the royal family of France, not one individual adhered to their cause: all rushed madly forward to plunder and assassinate their benefactors."

The contrast is striking, but the result must be traced to a different principle; for the cases are not parallel as they appear. The French actors did not occupy the same ground as ours. Here, the fanatics shut up the theatre, and extirpated the art and the artists: there, the fanatics enthusiastically converted the theatre into an instrument of their own revolution, and the French actors therefore found an increased national patronage. It was natural enough that actors would not desert a flourishing profession. "The plunder and assassinations," indeed, were quite peculiar to themselves as Frenchmen, not as actors.

The destruction of the theatre here was the result of an ancient quarrel between the puritanic party and the whole corps dramatique. In this little history of plays and players, like more important history, we perceive how all human events form but a series of consequences, linked together; and we must go back to the reign of Elizabeth to comprehend an event which occurred in that of Charles the First. It has been perhaps peculiar to this land of contending opinions, and of happy and unhappy liberty, that a gloomy sect was early formed, who drawing, as they fancied, the principles of their conduct from the literal precepts of the Gospel, formed those views of human nature which were more practicable in a desert than a city, and which were rather suited to a monastic order than to a polished people. These were our puritans, who at first, perhaps from utter simplicity, among other extravagant reforms, imagined that of the extinction of the theatre. Numerous works from that time fatigued their own pens and their readers' heads, founded on literal interpretations of the Scriptures, which were applied to our drama, though written ere our drama existed: voluminous quotations from the Fathers, who had only witnessed farcical interludes and licentious pantomimes: they even quoted classical authority to prove that a "stage-player" was considered infamous by the Romans; among whom, however, Roscius, the admiration of Rome, received the princely remuneration of a thousand denarii per diem; the tragedian, AEsopus, bequeathed about L150,000 to his son;[148] remunerations which show the high regard in which the great actors were held among the Roman people.

A series of writers might be collected of these anti-dramatists.[149] The licentiousness of our comedies had too often indeed presented a fair occasion for their attacks; and they at length succeeded in purifying the stage: we owe them this good, but we owe little gratitude to that blind zeal which was desirous of extinguishing the theatre, which wanted the taste also to feel that the theatre was a popular school of morality; that the stage is a supplement to the pulpit; where virtue, according to Plato's sublime idea, moves our love and affections when made visible to the eye. Of this class, among the earliest writers was Stephen Gosson, who in 1579 published "The School of Abuse, or a Pleasant Invective against Poets, Players, Jesters, and such like Caterpillars." Yet this Gosson dedicated his work to Sir Philip Sidney, a great lover of plays, and one who has vindicated their morality in his "Defence of Poesy." The same puritanic spirit soon reached our universities; for when a Dr. Gager had a play performed at Christchurch, Dr. Reynolds, of Queen's College, terrified at the Satanic novelty, published "The Ouerthrow of Stage-plays," 1593; a tedious invective, foaming at the mouth of its text with quotations and authorities; for that was the age when authority was stronger than opinion, and the slightest could awe the readers. Reynolds takes great pains to prove that a stage-play is infamous, by the opinions of antiquity; that a theatre corrupts morals, by those of the Fathers; but the most reasonable point of attack is "the sin of boys wearing the dress and affecting the airs of women."[150] This was too long a flagrant evil in the theatrical economy. To us there appears something so repulsive in the exhibition of boys, or men, personating female characters, that one cannot conceive how they could ever have been tolerated as a substitute for the spontaneous grace, the melting voice, and the soothing looks of a female. It was quite impossible to give the tenderness of a woman to any perfection of feeling, in a personating male; and to this cause may we not attribute that the female characters have never been made chief personages among our elder poets, as they would assuredly have been, had they not been conscious that the male actor could not have sufficiently affected the audience? A poet who lived in Charles the Second's day, and who has written a prologue to Othello, to introduce the first actress on our stage, has humorously touched on this gross absurdity.

Our women are defective, and so sized, You'd think they were some of the Guard disguised; For to speak truth, men act, that are between Forty and fifty, wenches of fifteen; With brows so large, and nerve so uncompliant, When you call Desdemona—enter Giant.

Yet at the time the absurd custom prevailed, Tom Nash, in his Pierce Pennilesse, commends our stage for not having, as they had abroad, women-actors, or "courtezans," as he calls them: and even so late as in 1650, when women were first introduced on our stage, endless are the apologies for the indecorum of this novel usage! Such are the difficulties which occur even in forcing bad customs to return to nature; and so long does it take to infuse into the multitude a little common sense! It is even probable that this happy revolution originated from mere necessity, rather than from choice; for the boys who had been trained to act female characters before the Rebellion, during the present suspension of the theatre, had grown too masculine to resume their tender office at the Restoration; and, as the same poet observes,

Doubting we should never play agen, We have played all our women into men;

so that the introduction of women was the mere result of necessity:—hence all these apologies for the most natural ornament of the stage.[151]

This volume of Reynolds seems to have been the shadow and precursor of one of the most substantial of literary monsters, in the tremendous "Histriomastix, or Player's Scourge," of Prynne, in 1633. In that volume, of more than a thousand closely-printed quarto pages, all that was ever written against plays and players, perhaps, may be found: what followed could only have been transcripts from a genius who could raise at once the Mountain and the Mouse. Yet Collier, so late as in 1698, renewed the attack still more vigorously, and with final success; although he left room for Arthur Bedford a few years afterwards, in his "Evil and Danger of Stage-plays:" in which extraordinary work he produced "seven thousand instances, taken out of plays of the present century;" and a catalogue of "fourteen hundred texts of scripture, ridiculed by the Stage." This religious anti-dramatist must have been more deeply read in the drama than even its most fervent lovers. His piety pursued too deeply the study of such impious productions; and such labours were probably not without more amusement than he ought to have found in them.

This stage persecution, which began in the reign of Elizabeth, had been necessarily resented by the theatrical people, and the fanatics were really objects too tempting for the traders in wit and satire to pass by. They had made themselves very marketable; and the puritans, changing their character with the times, from Elizabeth to Charles the First, were often the Tartuffes of the stage.[152] But when they became the government itself, in 1642, all the theatres were suppressed, because "stage-plaies do not suit with seasons of humiliation; but fasting and praying have been found very effectual." This was but a mild cant, and the suppression, at first, was only to be temporary. But as they gained strength, the hypocrite, who had at first only struck a gentle blow at the theatre, with redoubled vengeance buried it in its own ruins. Alexander Brome, in his verses on Richard Brome's Comedies, discloses the secret motive:—

—— 'Tis worth our note, Bishops and players, both suffer'd in one vote: And reason good, for they had cause to fear them; One did suppress their schisms, and t'other JEER THEM. Bishops were guiltiest, for they swell'd with riches; T'other had nought but verses, songs and speeches, And by their ruin, the state did no more But rob the spittle, and unrag the poor.

They poured forth the long-suppressed bitterness of their souls six years afterwards, in their ordinance of 1648, for "the suppression of all stage-plaies, and for the taking down all their boxes, stages, and seats whatsoever, that so there might be no more plaies acted." "Those proud parroting players" are described as "a sort of superbious ruffians; and, because sometimes the asses are clothed in lions' skins, the dolts imagine themselves somebody, and walke in as great state as Caesar." This ordinance against "boxes, stages, and seats," was, without a metaphor, a war of extermination. They passed their ploughshare over the land of the drama, and sowed it with their salt; and the spirit which raged in the governing powers appeared in the deed of one of their followers. When an actor had honourably surrendered himself in battle to this spurious "saint," he exclaimed, "Cursed be he who doth the work of the Lord negligently," and shot his prisoner because he was an actor!

We find some account of the dispersed actors in that curious morsel of "Historica Histrionica," preserved in the twelfth volume of Dodsley's Old Plays; full of the traditional history of the theatre, which the writer appears to have gleaned from the reminiscences of the old cavalier, his father.

The actors were "Malignants" to a man, if we except that "wretched actor," as Mr. Gifford distinguishes him, who was, however, only such for his politics: and he pleaded hard for his treason, that he really was a presbyterian, although an actor. Of these men, who had lived in the sunshine of a court, and amidst taste and criticism, many perished in the field, from their affection for their royal master. Some sought humble occupations; and not a few, who, by habits long indulged, and their own turn of mind, had hands too delicate to put to work, attempted often to entertain secret audiences, and were often dragged to prison.

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