Page images

Merrie England in the olden Time:





'Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?'-SHAKSPEARE.



My friends,'-continued Mr. Bosky, after an approving smack of the lips, Heaven bless his honour and Thanks, my kind mistress! many happy returns of Saint Bartlemy! had testified the ballad-singer's hearty relish and gratitude for the refreshing draught over which he had just suspended his well-seasoned nose,

-'never may the mouths be stopped (except with a cup of good liquor) of these musical itinerants, from whose harmonious doggrel a curious history of men and manners might be gleaned, to humour the anti-social disciples of those devout publicans who substituted their discordant nasal twang for the solemn harmony of cathedral music; who altered St. Peter's phrase, "the Bishop of your souls," into "the Elder (!!) of your souls" for "thy kingdom come," brayed "thy Commonwealth come!" and smuggled the water into their rumpuncheons, which they called wrestling with the spirit, and making the enemy weaker! "Show me the popular ballads of the time, and I will show you the temper and tastes of the people." I delight in a

[ocr errors]

*Thom: Brewer, my Mus: Servant, through his proneness to good fellowshippe having attained to a very rich and rubicund nose, being reproved by a friend for his too frequent use of strong drinkes and sacke, as very pernicious to that distemper and inflammation in his nose. 66 Nay, faith," says he, "if it will not endure sacke, it is no nose for me."-L'Estrange, No. 578. Mr. Jenkins.



Robin Conscience,' an ancient ballad (suggested by Lydgate's London Lackpenny,') first printed at Edinburgh in 1683, gives a curious picture of London Tradesmen, &c. Robin goes to Court, but receives cold welcome; thence to Westminster Hall. It were no great matter,' quoth the lawyers, if Conscience quite were knock'd on th' head.' He visits Smithfield, and discovers how the horse-coursers' artfully coerce their 'lame jades' to 'run and kick.' Then Long Lane, where the brokers hold conscience to be but nonsense.' The butter-women of Newgate Market, claw him, and the bakers brawl at him. At Pye Corner, a cook, glancing at him as the Devil did look o'er Lincoln,' threatens to spit him. The salesmen of Snow Hill would have stoned him; the fish-wives of Turn-again Lane rail at him; the London Prentices of Fleet Street, with their What lack you, countryman?' scamper away from him. The 'haberdashers, that sell hats; the mercers and silk-men, that live in Paternoster Row,' all set upon him. He receives no better treatment in CheapsideA cheesemonger in Bread Street; the lads that wish Lent were all the year' in Fish Street; a Merchant on the Exchange; the gallant girls,' whose brave shops of ware' were 'up stairs; and the drapers and poulterers of Gracechurch Street, to whom conscience was 'Dutch or Spanish,' flout and jeer him. A trip to Southwark, the King's Bench, and to the Blackman Street demireps, proves that conscience is nothing.' In St. George's Fields, rooking rascals,' playing at nine pins,' tell him to 'prate on till he is hoarse.' Espying a windmill hard by, he hies to the miller, whose excuse for not dealing with him was, that he must steal out of every bushel a peck, if not three gallons.' Conscience then trudges on to try what would befall i' the country,' whither we will not follow him.


[ocr errors]

Fiddler's Fling, and revel in the exhilarating perfume of those odoriferous garlands gathered on sunshiny holidays and star-twinkling nights, bewailing how disappointed lovers go to sea, and how romantic young lasses follow them in blue jackets and trowsers! Nay, rather than the tuneful race should be extinct, expect to see me some ight, with my paper lantern and cracked spectacles, singing you woeful tragedies to love-lorn maids and cobblers' apprentices.'t

And, carried away by his enthusiasm to the jesting, ballad-singing days of jolly Queen Bess, the Laureat of Little Britain, with a countenance bubbling with hilarity, warbled con spirito, as a probationary ballad for the Itinerantship (!)


Elizabeth Tudor her breakfast would make
On a pot of strong beer and a pound of beefsteak,
Ere six in the morning was toll'd by the chimes-
O the days of Queen Bess, they were merry old times!

From bawking and hunting she rode back to town,
In time just to knock an ambassador down;
Toy'd, trifled, coquetted, then lopp'd off a head;
And at three score and ten danced a hornpipe to bed.

With Nicholas Bacon,† her councillor chief,
One day she was dining on English roast beef;
That very same day when her Majesty's Grace
Had given Lord Essex a slap on the face.

My Lord Keeper stared, as the wine-cup she kiss'd,
At his sovereign lady's superlative twist,

And thought, thinking truly his larder would squeak,
He'd much rather keep her a day than a week.

'When I travelled,' says the Spectator, I took a particular delight in hearing the songs and fables that are come from father to son, and are most in vogue among the common people of the countries through which I passed; for it is impossible that any thing should be universally tasted and approved by a multitude (though they are only the rabble of a nation), which hath not in it some peculiar aptness to please and gratify

the mind of man.'

Old tales, old songs, and an old jest,
Our stomachs easiliest digest.

'Listen to me, my lovly shepherd's joye,

And thou shalt heare, with mirth and muckle glee,
Some pretie tales, which, when I was a boye,

My toothlesse grandame oft hath told to mee.'

Love in a Tub, a comedy, by Sir George Etheridge.

When Queen Elizabeth came to visit Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper, at his new house at Redgrave, she observed, alluding to his corpulency, that he had built his house too little for him. 'Not so, madam,' answered he; but your Highness has made me too big for my house!'


The term 'your Grace' was addressed to the English Sovereign during the earlier Tudor reigns. In her latter years Elizabeth assumed the appellation of Majesty." The following anecdote comprehends both titles. As Queen Elizabeth passed the streets in state, one in the crowde cried first, "God blesse your Royall Majestie !" and then, "God blesse your Noble Grace!" "Why, how now," says the Queene, "am I tenne groates worse than I was e'en now?" The value of the old Ryal' or 'Royall,' was 10s., that of the Noble' 6s. 8d. The Emperor Charles the Fifth was the first crowned head that assumed the title of Majesty.'




'What call you this dainty, my very good lord ?'-
'The Loin,'-bowing low till his nose touch'd the board,-
'And-breath of our nostrils, and light of our eyes!*
Saving your presence, the ox was a prize.'

'Unsheath me, mine host, thy Toledo so bright.
Delicious Sir Loin! I do dub thee a knight.
Be thine at our banquets of honour the post;
While the Queen rules the realm, let Sir Loin rule the roast!

And 'tis, my Lord Keeper, our royal belief,

The Spaniard had beat, had it not been for beef!
Let him come if he dare! he shall sink! he shall quake!
With a duck-ing, Sir Francis shall give him a Drake.

Thus, Don Whiskerandos, I throw thee my glove!
And now, merry minstrel, strike up" Lighty Love."
Come, pursy Sir Nicholas, caper thy best-
Dick Tarlton shall finish our sports with a jest.'

The virginals sounded, Sir Nicholas puff'd,

And led forth her Highness, high-heel'd and be-ruff'd—
Automaton dancers to musical chimes!

O the days of Queen Bess, they were merry old times!

And now, leaving Nestor Nightingale to propitiate Uncle Timothy for this ballad-singing interpolation to his Merrie Mysteries, let us return and pay our respects, not to the dignified Count Haynes, the learned Doctor Haynes, but to plain Joe Haynes, the facetious, practical-joking DrollPlayer of Bartholomew Fair.'

In the first year of King James the Second,† our hero set up a booth in Smithfield rounds, where he acted a new droll, called the Whore of Babylon, or the Devil and the Pope. Joe being sent for by Judge Pollixfen, and soundly rated for presuming to put the pontiff into such bad company, replied, that he did it out of respect to his Holiness; for whereas many ignorant people believed the Pope to be a blatant beast, with seven heads, ten horns and a long tail, like the Dragon of Wantley's according to the description of the Scotch Parsons! he proved him to be a smart, comely

Queen Elizabeth issued an edict commanding every artist who should paint the royal portrait to place her in a garden, with a full light upon her, and the painter to put any shadow in her face at his peril!' Oliver Cromwell's injunctions to Sir Peter Lely were somewhat different. The knight was desired to transfer to his canvas all the blotches and carbuncles that blossomed in the Protector's rocky physiognomy. Sir Joshua Reynolds,

-with fingers so lissom,

Girls start from his canvas, and ask us to kiss 'em!)

having taken the liberty of mitigating the utter stupidity of one of his Pot-boilers,' i. estupid faces, and receiving from the sitter's family the reverse of approbation, exclaimed, I have thrown a glimpse of meaning into this fool's phiz, and now none of his friends know him!' At another time, having painted too true a likeness, it was threatened to be thrown upon his hands, when a polite note from the artist, stating that, with the additional appendage of a tail, it would do admirably for a monkey, for which he had a commission, and requesting to know if the portrait was to be sent home or not, produced the desired effect. The picture was paid for, and put into the fire!

Antony, vulgo Tony Aston, a famous player, and one of Joe's contemporaries. The only portrait (a sorry one) of Tony extant, is a small oval in the frontispiece to the Fool's Opera, to which his comical harum-scarum autobiography is prefixed.

old gentleman, in snow-white canonicals, and a cork-screw wig. The next morning two bailiffs arrested him for twenty pounds, just as the Bishop of Ely was riding by in his coach. Quoth Joe to the bailiffs, Gentlemen, here is my cousin, the Bishop of Ely; let me but speak a word to him, and he will pay the debt and charges.' The Bishop ordered his carriage to stop, whilst Joe (close to his ear,) whispered, 'My Lord, here are a couple of poor waverers who have such terrible scruples of conscience, that I fear they'll hang themselves.'- Very well,' said the Bishop. So, calling to the bailiffs, he said, You two men, come to me to-morrow, and I'll satisfy you.' The bailiffs bowed, and went their way; Joe (tickled in the midriff, and hugging himself with his device) went his way too. In the morning the bailiffs repaired to the Bishop's house. Well, my good men,' said his reverence, what are your scruples of conscience? Scruples!' replied the bailiffs, we have no scruples! We are bailiffs, my Lord, who yesterday arrested your cousin, Joe Haynes, for twenty pounds. Your Lordship promised to satisfy us to-day, and we hope you will be as good as your word.' The Bishop, to prevent any further scandal to his name, immediately paid the debt and charges.

The following theatrical adventure occurred during his pilgrimage to the well-known shrine,

'Which at Loretto dwelt in wax, stone, wood,
And in a fair white whig look'd wondrous fine.'

It was St. John's day, and the devout people of the parish had built a stage in the body of the church, for the representation of a tragedy called the Decollation of the Baptist. Joe had the good luck to enter just as

Catholicism, though it enjoined penance and mortification, was no enemy, at appointed seasons, to mirth. Hers were merry saints, for they always brought with them a holiday. A right jovial prelate was the Pope who first invented the Carnival! On that joyful festival racks and thumbscrews, fire and faggots, were put by; whips and hair-shirts exchanged for lutes and dominos; and music inspired equally their diversions and devotions.

The Chester Mysteries, written by Randle or Ralph Higden, a Benedictine of St. Werburg's Abbey in that city, were first performed during the Mayoralty of John Arneway, who filled that office from 1268 to 1276, at the cost and charges of the different trading companies therein. They were acted in English (' made into partes and pagiantes') instead of in Latin, and played on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in Whitsun week. The companies began at the abbey gates, and when the first pageant was concluded, the moveable stage (a high scaffolde with two rowmes: a higher and a lower, upon four wheels') was wheeled to the High Cross before the Mayor, and then onward to every street, so that each street had its pageant "The Harrowing of Hell' is one of the most ancient Miracle Plays in our language. It is as old as the reign of Edward the Third, if not older. The Prologue and Epilogue were delivered in his own person by the actor who had the part of the Saviour. In 1378, the Scholars of St. Paul's presented a petition to Richard the Second, praying him to prohibit some inexpert people from presenting the History of the Old Testament, to the serious prejudice of their clergy, who had been at great expense in order to represent it at Christmas. On the 18th July, 1390, the Parish Clerks of London played Religious Interludes at the Skinners' Well, in Clerkenwell, which lasted three days. In 1409, they performed The Creation of the World, which continued eight days. On one side of the lowest platform of these primitive stages was a dark pitchy cavern, whence issued fire and flames and the howlings of souls tormented by demons. The latter occasionally showed their grinning faces through the mouth of the cavern, to the terrible delight of the spectators! The Passion of our Saviour was the first dramatic spec

the actors were leaving off their damnable faces,' and going to begin. They had pitched upon an ill-looking surly butcher for King Herod, upon whose chuckle head a gilt pasteboard crown glittered gloriously by the candle light; and, as soon as he had seated himself in a ricketty old wicker chair, radiant with faded finery, that served him for a throne, the orchestra (three fifes and a fiddle) struck up a merry tune, and a young damsel began so to shake her heels, that, with the help of a little imagination, our noble comedian might have fancied himself in his old quarters at St. Bartholomew or Sturbridge Fair.*

The dance over, King Herod, with a vast profusion of barn-door majesty, marched towards the damsel, and in very choice Italian' (which the parson of the parish composed for the occasion, and we have translated) thus complimented her:

'Bewitching maiden! dancing sprite!
I like thy graceful motion:
Ask any boon, and, honour bright!
It is at thy devotion.'

The danseuse, after whispering to a saffron-complexioned crone, who played Herodias, fell down upon both knees, and pointing to the Baptist, a grave old farmer! exclaimed,

'If, sir, intending what you say,
Your Majesty don't flatter,
I would the Baptist's head to-day
Were brought me in a platter.'

The bluff butcher looked about him as sternly as one of Elkanah'st blustering heroes, and, after taking a fierce stride or two across the stage to vent his royal choler, vouchsafed this reply,

tacle acted in Sweden, in the reign of King John the Second. The actor's name was Lengis who was to pierce the side of the person on the cross. Heated by the enthusiasm of the scene, he plunged his lance into that person's body, and killed him. The King, shocked at the brutality of Lengis, slew him with his scimetar; when the audience, enraged at the death of their favourite actor, wound up this true tragedy by cutting off his Majesty's head!

* Stourbridge, or Sturbridge Fair, originated in a grant from King John to the hospital of lepers at that place. By a charter in the thirtieth year of Henry the Eighth, the fair was granted to the magistrates and corporation of Cambridge. In 1613 it became so popular, that hackney coaches attended it from London; and in after times, not less than sixty coaches plied there. In 1766 and 1767, the Lord of the Tap,' dressed in a red livery, with a string over his shoulders, from whence depended spigots and fossetts, entered all the booths where ale was sold, to determine whether it was fit beverage for the visitors. In 1788, Flockton exhibited at Sturbridge fair. The following lines were printed on his bills:

To raise the soul by means of wood and wire,
To screw the fancy up a few pegs higher;
In miniature to show the world at large,

As folks conceive a ship who 've seen a barge.
This is the scope of all our actors' play,

Who hope their wooden aims will not be thrown away!'

+ Elkanah Settle, the City Laureat, after the Revolution, kept a booth at Bartholomew Fair, where, in a droll called St. George for England, he acted in a dragon of green leather of his own invention. In reference to the sweet singer of annual tro phies' and monthly wars' hissing in his own dragon, Pope utters this charitable wish regarding Colley,

'Ávert it, heaven, that thou, my Cibber, e'er
Shouldst wag a serpent-tail in Smithfield Fair!'

« PreviousContinue »