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would have to be set her promotion of a wisdom whose lessons are for all time;—against the tears which she caused to flow, the human anguish which she inflicted, and the weary pining hours of the captives whom she made, would stand the tears of thousands dried away, many and many an aching heart beguiled of its sorrow, and many a captive taught to feel that
“ Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;" —
all the chords of human feeling touched with a hand that soothes as did the harp of David-all the pages of human suffering stored with consolations !
To any one who will amuse himself by looking over the mira. cle-plays and masques which were replaced by the more regular forms of dramatic entertainment, and will then regale himself by the perusal of “ Gammer Gurton's Needle,” or “Ferrex and Porrex,” which came forward with higher pretensions in the beginning of this reign,—there will appear reason to be sufficiently astonished at the rapid strides by which dramatic excellence was attained before its close, and during the next,without taking Shakspeare into the account at all. But when we turn to the marvels of this great magician, and find that, in his hands, not only were the forms of the drama perfected, but that—without impeding the action or impairing the interest invested in those forms, and besides his excursions into the regions of imagination and his creations out of the natural world,—he has touched every branch of human knowledge, and struck into every train of human thought,—that, without learning, in the popular sense, he has arrived at all the results, and embodied all the wisdom, which learning is only useful if it teaches--that we can be placed in no imaginable circumstances, and under the influence of no possible feelings, of which we do not find exponents (and such exponents !—"in sweetest music,”) on his page,—and above all, when we find that all the final morals to be drawn from all his writings are hopeful ones,—that all the lessons which all his agents—joy or sorrow, pain or pleasure,-are made alike to teach, are lessons of goodness,-it is impossible to attribute all this to aught but a revelation, or ascribe to him any character but that
of a prophet. Shakspeare knew more than any other mere man ever knew ; and none can tell how that knowledge came to him. “ All men's business and bosoms” lay open to him. We should not like to have him quoted against us, on any subject. Nothing escaped him, and he never made a mistake (we are not speaking of technical ones). He was the universal interpreter into language of the human mind; and he knew all the myriad voices by which nature speaks. He reminds us of the vizier in the eastern story, who is said to have understood the languages of all animals. The utterings of the elements, the voices of beasts and of birds, Shakspeare could translate into the language of men ; and the thoughts and sentiments of men he rendered into words as sweet as the singing of birds. If the reign of Elizabeth had been illustrated only by the advent of this great spirit, it might itself have accounted for some portion of that prejudice which (illustrated as, in fact, it was, by much that was great and noble), blinds men, still,-or induces them to shut their eyes,—to the true personal claims and character of that queen.
But we are digressing, again ;-as who does not, when the image of Shakspeare comes across him? To return :
The court celebrations of Christmas were observed throughout the reign of the first James ; and the Prince Charles, himself, was an occasional performer in the pageantries prepared for the occasion, at great cost. But at no period do they appear to have been more zealously sought after, or performed with more splendor, than during that which immediately preceded the persecution, from whose effects they have never since recovered, into anything like their former lustihood. In the early years of Charles the First's reign, the court-pageants of this season were got up with extraordinary brilliancy—the king with the lords of his court, and the queen with her ladies, frequently taking parts therein. This was the case in 1630-1 ; and at the Christmas of 1632-3, the queen, says Sandys, " got up a pastoral in Somerset House, in which it would seem she herself took a part. There were masques at the same time, independently of this performance, the cost of which considerably exceeded £2,000 ; besides that portion of the charge which was borne by the office of the revels, and charged to the accounts of that department."
In the same year,
we learn that a grant of £450 was made to George Kirke, Esq., gentleman of the robes, for the masking attire of the king and his party. In 1637, there is a warrant under the privy seal to the same George Kirke, for £150, to provide the masking dress of the king; and, in the same year, another to Edmund Taverner, for £1,400, towards the expenses of a masque to be presented at Whitehall, on the ensuing Twelfth Night. We have selected these from similar examples furnished by Sandys, in order to give our readers some idea of the sums expended in these entertainments ;—which sums will appear very considerable, when estimated by the difference between the value of money in our days and that of two hundred years ago. Several of the masques presented at court during this and the preceding reigns were written by Ben Jonson.
During the whole of this time, the forms of court ceremonial appear to have been aped, and the royal establishments imitated as far as possible, by the more powerful nobles; and the masques and pageantries exhibited for the royal amusement were accordingly reproduced or rivalled by them, at their princely mansions in the country. Corporate and other public bodies caught the infection all over the land ; and each landed proprietor and country squire endeavored to enact such state in the eyes of his own retainers, as his means would allow. The sports and festivities of the season were everywhere taken under the protection of the lord of the soil; and all classes of his dependents had a customary
; claim upon the hospitalities which he prepared for the occasion. The masques of the court and of the nobles were imitated in the mummings of the people,—which we shall have occasion particularly to describe hereafter,--they having survived the costly pageants of which they were the humble representatives. The festival was thus rendered an universal one, and its amusements brought within the reach of the indigent and the remote. The peasant, and even the pauper, were made, as it were, once a year, sharers in the mirth of their immediate lord, and even of the monarch himself. The laboring classes had enlarged privileges, during this season, not only by custom, but by positive enactment; and restrictive acts of parliament, by which they were prohibited from certain games at other periods, contained exceptions in favor of the Christmas-tide. Nay, folly was, as it were, crowned, and disorder had a licence ! Sandys quotes from Leland the form of a proclamation given in his “ Itinerary,” as having been made by the sheriff of York; wherein it is declared that all “thieves, dice-play ers carders” (with some other characters by name, that are usually repudiated by the guardians of order), " and all other unthrifty folke, be welcome to the towne, whether they come late or early, att the reverence of the high feast of Youle, till the twelve dayes be passed.” The terms of this proclamation were, no doubt, not intended to be construed in a grave and literal sense ; but were probably meant to convey something like a satire upon the unbounded licence of the season which they thus announce.
There are very pleasant evidences of the care which was formerly taken, in high quarters, that the poor should not be robbed of their share in this festival. The yearly increasing splendor of the royal celebrations appears, at one time, to have threatened that result, by attracting the country gentlemen from their own seats, and thereby withdrawing them from the presidency of those sports which were likely to languish in their absence. Ac. cordingly we find an order, in 1589, issued to the gentlemen of Norfolk and Suffolk, commanding them “to depart from London, before Christmas, and to repair to their countries, there to keep hospitality amongst their neighbors.” And similar orders appear to have been, from time to time, necessary, and, from time to time, repeated.
Amongst those bodies who were distinguished for the zoal of their Christmas observances, honorable mention may be made of the two English universities; and we shall have occasion hereafter to show that traces of the old ceremonials linger still in those, their ancient haunts. But the reader who is unacquainted with this subject, would scarcely be prepared to look for the most conspicuous celebration of these revels, with all their antics and mummeries, in the grave and dusty retreats of the law. Such, however, was the case. The lawyers beat the doctors hollow. Their ancient halls have rung with the sounds of a somewhat barbarous revelry; and the walls thereof, had they voices, could tell many an old tale, which the present occupants might not consider as throwing any desirable light upon the historical dignities of the body to which they belong. Our readers, no doubt, remember a certain scene in Guy Mannering, wherein the farmer Dinmont and Colonel Mannering are, somewhat inconsiderately, intruded upon the carousals of Mr. Counsellor Pleydell, at his tavern in the city of Edinburgh ; and find that worthy lawyer in what are called his “altitudes,”—being deeply engaged in the ancient, and not very solemn, pastime of “ High Jinks.” Their
, memory may probably present the counsellor, “enthroned as a monarch, in an elbow-chair, placed on the dining-table, his scratch-wig on one side, his head crowned with a bottle-slider, his eye leering with an expression betwixt fun and the effects of wine,”—and recall, assisted by the jingle, some of the high discourse of his surrounding court ;
“ Where is Gerunto, now ? and what's become of him?"
Now, if our readers shall be of opinion,—as Colonel Mannering and the farmer were,—that the attitude and the occupation were scarcely consistent with the dignity of a gentleman whom they had come to consult on very grave matters, we may be as much to blame as was the tavern-waiter on that occasion, in introducing them to the revels of the Inns of Court. We will do what we can to soften such censure, by stating that there certainly appears, at times, to have arisen a suspicion, in the minds of a portion of the profession, that the wig and gown were not figuring to the best possible advantage, on these occasions. For, in the reign of the first James, we find an order issued by the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, whereby the “under barristers were, by decimation, put out of commons, because the whole bar offended, by not dancing on Candlemas-day preceding, according to the ancient order of the society, when the judges were present ;” and this order is accompanied by a threat, “that if the fault were repeated, they should be fined or disbarred.”
There seems to have been a contest between the four Inns of Court as to which should get up these pageantries with the greatest splendor; and occasionally, a struggle between the desire of victory, and the disinclination, or perhaps inability, to furnish the