Sidor som bilder

scope of the present essay. It is hoped that what has been just stated may contribute to assist the readers of old plays in forming some judgment of their own whenever the necessity shall arise.

A general investigation of that most singular and eccentric character the real domestic fool would occupy more space than could here have been spared. It would indeed extend to a length that few will conceive; but should the same laudable spirit of curiosity respecting the manners. of former times which at present constitutes much of the amusement of an enlightened public continue to maintain its influence, encouragement would not be wanting to resume the subject more at large. In the mean time it may be sufficient to remark that the practice of retaining fools can be traced in very remote times throughout almost all civilized and even among some barbarous nations. It prevailed from the palace to the brothel. The pope had his fool, and the bawd her's; and ladies entertained them of both sexes. With respect to the antiquity of this custom in our own country, there is reason to suppose that it existed even during the period of our Saxon history; but we are quite certain of the fact in the reign of William the conqueror. An almost contemporary historian, Maitre Wace, has left us a curious ac


count of the preservation of William's life when he was only duke of Normandy by his fool Golesk. Mention is made in Domesday of Berdic joculator regis; and although this term was unques tionably applied in numerous instances to denote a minstrel, much evidence might be adduced to show that on this occasion it signified a buffoon. Latin terms were used by the middle-age writers so licentiously and with such extreme carelessness, that in many cases it is difficult to obtain a precise idea of their meaning. Thus the jesters and minstrels were indefinitely expressed by the words joculator, scurra, mimus, ministrallus, &c., a practice that may admit of justification when we consider that in early times the minstrel and buffoon characters were sometimes united in one person. It must be allowed, however, that in an etymological point of view the term joculator is much better adapted to the jester than the minstrel.

The accounts of the household expenses of our sovereigns contain many payments and rewards to fools both foreign and domestic, the motives for which do not appear, but might perhaps have 'been some witty speech or comic action that had

*Roman des ducs de Normandie, MS. Reg. 4, C. xi.

pleased the donors. Some of these payments are annual gifts at Christmas. Dr. Fuller, speaking of the court jester, whom he says some count, a necessary evil, remarks, in his usual quaint manner, that it is an office which none but he that hath wit can perform, and none but he that wants it will perform'. A great many names of these buffoons have been preserved; and sufficient materials remain to furnish a separate biography of them, which might afford even more amusement than can be found in the lives of many of their betters. They continued an appurtenance to the English court to a late period. Muckle John, the fool of Charles the First, and the successor of Archee Armstrong, is perhaps the last regular personage of the kind. The national troubles that produced the downfall of regal power, and

Holy state, p. 182.

This person was probably the subject of the following lines in Bancroft's Epigrams, 1639, 4to:

"How plumpe's the libertine! how rich and trimme!

He jests with others, fortune jests with him."

Mr. Garrard, in a letter to lord Strafford, says "There is a new fool in his [Archee's] place, Muckle John, but he will ne'er be so rich, for he cannot abide money." Strafford papers, ii. 154.

the puritanical manners that ensued, at once determined the existence of an office that had so long maintained its ground at court; and when Charles the Second resumed the throne, it was probably deemed a matter of no moment to restore it. The common stories that relate to Killigrew as jester to Charles, rest on no sufficient authority; and although he might have contributed. to amuse the witty monarch with his jokes, it is certain that he had no regular appointment to such an office. Mr. Granger has justly observed, that the wit of the buffoons became the highest recommendation of a courtier in the time of Charles the Second".

The discontinuance of the court fool had a considerable influence on the manners of private life; and we learn from one of Shadwell's plays, that it was then "out of fashion for great men to keep fools." But the practice was by no means abolished; it maintained its ground in this ecuntry so late as the beginning of the last century; and we have an epitaph, written by Dean Swift, on Dicky Pearce the Earl of Suffolk's fool, who was buried in Berkley church-yard, June 18,

"Biogr. hist. of England, i. 116.

The woman captain, 1680, Sc. 1.


1728. This person was an idiot. Lord Chancellor Talbot kept a Welsh jester named Rees Pengelding. He was a very shrewd fellow, and rented a farm of his master. Being distrained on for his rent by an oppressive steward, who had been a tailor and bore him a grudge, the surly fellow said to him on this occasion: "I'll fit you, sirrah." "Then," replied Rees, "it will be the first time in your life that you ever fitted any one." Another Welshman called Will the taborer was retained in a similar capacity, about the beginning of the last century, by Sir Edward Stradling, of St. Donat's castle, in Glamorganshire. He is said to have been a very witty fellow, and man of strong intellects. Lord Bussy Mansel, of Margam, had likewise in his service one Robin Rush an idiot by nature, but who often said very witty things. There are people now alive in Wales, or lately were, who well remembered him.

The sort of entertainment that fools were expected to afford, may be collected in great variety from our old plays, and particularly from those of Shakspeare; but perhaps no better idea can be formed of their general mode of conduct than from the following passage in a singular tract by

P Bigland's Collect. for Gloucest.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »