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vout spectacles. Those who returned from the Holy Land or other consecrated places composed canticles of their travels, and amused their religious fancies by interweaving scenes of which Christ, the Apostles, and other objects of devotion, served as the themes. Menestrier informs us that these pilgrims travelled in troops, and stood in the public streets, where they recited their poems, with their staff in hand; while their chaplets and cloaks, covered with shells and images of various colours, formed a picturesque exhibition which at length excited the piety of the citizens to erect occasionally a stage on an extensive spot of ground. These spectacles served as the amusement and instruction of the people. So attractive were these gross exhibitions in the dark ages, that they formed one of the principal ornaments of the reception which was given to princes when they entered towns.

When the Mysteries were performed at a more improved period, the actors were distinguished characters, and frequently consisted of the ecclesiastics of the neighbouring villages, who incorporated themselves under the title of Confreres de la Passion. Their productions were divided, not into acts, but into different days of performance, and they were performed in the open plain. This was at least conformable to the critical precept of that mad knight whose opinion is noticed by Pope. It appears by a ms. in the

Harleian library quoted by Warton, that they were thought to contribute so much to the information and instruction of the people, that one of the Popes granted a pardon of one thousand days to every person who resorted peaceably to the plays performed in the Whitsun-week at Chester, beginning with the “ Creation,” and ending with the “General Judgment." These were performed at the expense of the different corporations of that city, and the reader may smile at the ludicrous combinations.

66 The Creation" was performed by the Drapers; the

Deluge” by the Dyers; “ Abraham, Melchisedech, and Lot,” by the Barbers ; “ The Purification” by the Blacksmiths; “ The Last Supper” by the Bakers; the “Resurrection” by the Skinners; and the “ Ascension” by the Tailors. "In these pieces the actors represented the person of the Almighty without being sensible of the gross impiety. So unskilful were they in this infancy of the theatrical art, that very serious consequences were produced by their ridiculous blunders and ill-managed machinery. In the

History of the French Theatre,” vol. ii. p. 285, the following singular anecdotes are preserved, concerning a Mystery which took up several days in the performance.

“In the year 1437, when Conrad Bayer, bishop of Metz, caused the Mystery of The Passion to be represented on the plain of Veximel near that city, God was an old gentleman, named Mr. Nicholas Neufchatel of Touraine, curate of Saint Victory of Metz, and who was very near expiring on the cross had he not been timely assisted. He was so enfeebled, that it was agreed another priest should be placed on the cross the next day, to finish the representation of the person crucified, and which was done; at the same time the said Mr. Nicholas undertook to perform · The Resurrection, which being a less difficult task, he did it admirably well.”-Another priest, whose name was Mr.John de Nicey, curate of Metrange, personated Judas, and he had like to have been stifled while he hung on the tree, for his neck slipped; this being at length luckily perceived, he was quickly cut down and recovered.

John Bouchet, in his “ Annales d'Aquitaine," a work which contains many curious circumstances of the times, written with that agreeable simplicity which characterises the old writers, informs us, that in 1486 he saw played and exhibited in Mysteries by persons of Poitiers, “ The Nativity, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ," in great triumph and splendour; there were assembled on this occasion most of the ladies and gentlemen of the neighbouring counties.

We will now examine the Mysteries themselves. I prefer for this purpose to give a specimen from the French, which are livelier than

It is necessary to premise to the reader, that

our own.

versions being in prose


probably lose much of that quaint expression and vulgar naïveté which prevail through the originals, written in octosyllabic verses.

One of these Mysteries has for its subject the election of an Apostle to supply the place of the traitor Judas. A dignity so awful is conferred in the meanest manner it is possible to conceive; it is done by drawing two straws, of which he who gets the longest becomes the Apostle. Louis Chocquet was a favourite composer of these religious performances : when he attempts the pathetic, he has constantly recourse to devils ; but, as these characters are sustained with little propriety, his pathos succeeds in raising a laugh. In the following dialogue Anne 'and Caiaphas are introduced conversing about Saint Peter and Saint John :


“ I remember them once very honest people. They have often brought their fish to my house to sell.


“ Is this true ?


“By God, it is true; my servants remember them very well. To live more at their ease they have left off business ; or perhaps they were in want of customers. Since that time they have followed Jesus, that wicked heretic, who has taught

them magic; the fellow understands necromancy, and is the greatest magician alive, as far as Rome itself.”

Saint John attacked by the satellites of Domitian, amongst whom the author has placed Longinus and Patroclus, gives regular answers to their insulting interrogatories. Some of these I shall transcribe, but leave to the reader's conjectures the replies of the Saint, which are not difficult to anticipate.


“ You tell us strange things, to say there is but one God in three persons.


“ Is it any where said that we must believe your


prophets (with whom your memory seems overburdened) to be more perfect than our gods?


“ You must be very cunning to maintain impossibilities. Now listen to me: Is it possible that a virgin can bring forth a child without ceasing to be a virgin ?


“Will you not change these foolish sentiments ? Would you pervert us? Will you not convert yourself? Lords ! you perceive now very clearly what an obstinate fellow this is ! Therefore let him be stript and put into a great caldron of boiling oil. Let him die at the Latin Gate.

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