The woodcut, greatly reduced from one of the fine tournament scenes in the MS. history of the Roi Meliadus, shows the temporary gallery erected for the convenience of the ladies and other spectators to witness the sports. The tent of one of the knights is seen in the background, and an indication of the hurly-burly of the combat below
In the accompanying woodcut from a Late Saxon MS. in the British Museum we have a curious evidence of the way in which custom blinded men to any incongruity there may be in the association of the harper and the juggler, for here we have David singing his Psalms and accompanying himself on the harp, the dove reminding us that he sang and harped under the influence of inspiration. He is accompanied by performers who must be Levites; and yet the Saxon illuminator was so used to see a mime form one of a minstrel band, that he has introduced one playing the common feat of tossing three knives and three balls.
It is curious to find that even at so late a period as the time of Queen Mary, the shepherds still officiated at weddings and other merrymakings in their villages, so as to excite the jealousy of the professors of the joyous science.
The accompanying wood-cut, from a MS. in the French National library, may represent such a rustic merry-making.
The picture is of a royal dinner of about the time of our Edward IV., “taken from an illumination of the romance of the Compte d’Artois, in the possession of M. Barrois, a distinguished and well-known collector in Paris
Every castle offered hope, not only of hospitality, but also of a trial of arms; for in every castle there would be likely to be knights and squires glad of the opportunity of running a course with bated spears with a new and skilful antagonist. Here is a picture from an old MS. which represents the preliminaries of such a combat on the green between the castle walls and the moat.
We may say here that it was not unusual for people in fine weather to pitch a tent in the courtyard or garden of the castle, and live there instead of indoors, or to go a-field and pitch a little camp in some pleasant place, and spend the time in justing and feasting, and mirth and minstrelsy.
The picture is an exceedingly interesting representation of a grand imperial banquet, from one of the plates of Hans Burgmair, in the volume dedicated to the exploits of the Emperor Maximilian, contemporary with our Henry VIII. It represents the entrance of a masque, one of those strange entertainments, of which our ancestors, in the time of Henry and Elizabeth, were so fond. The band of minstrels who have been performing during the banquet, are seen in the left corner of the picture.
The woodcut represents “howe a mighty Duke chalenged Erle Richard for his lady sake, and in justyng slewe the Duke and then the Empresse toke the Erle’s staff and bear from a knight shouldre, and for great love and fauvr she sette it on her shouldre. Then Erle Richard made one of perle and p’cious stones, and offered her that, and she gladly and lovynglee reseaved it.” The picture shows the Duke and Earl in the crisis of the battle.
The custom of having instrumental music as an accompaniment of dinner is still retained by her Majesty and by some of the greater nobility, by military messes, and at great public dinners. But the musical accompaniment of a mediæval dinner was not confined to instrumental performances. We frequently find a harper introduced, who is doubtless reciting some romance or history, or singing chansons of a lighter character. He is often represented as sitting upon the floor.
In a MS. volume of romances of the early part of the fourteenth century in the British Museum, the title-page of the romance of the “Quête du St. Graal” is adorned with an illumination of a royal banquet; a squire on his knee (as in the illustration given on opposite page) is carving, and a minstrel stands beside the table playing the violin
In the illustration, reproduced from Mr. Wright’s “Domestic Manners of the English,” we have a curious picture of a dance, possibly in the gallery, which occupied the whole length of the roof of most fifteenth-century houses; it is from a MS. of fifteenth-century date.
In all these instances the minstrels are on the floor with the dancers, but in the latter part of the Middle Ages they were probably—especially on festal occasions—placed in the music gallery over the screens, or entrance-passage, of the hall.
The Chinese are most inveterate gamblers and I have noticed small boys gambling at stalls where nuts, oranges, or other fruits are sold. In the streets and squares one often sees groups of four or five Chinese squatting, who are engaged in playing cards and dominoes, whilst other stand and look on at the game.
After the horse has learned to take hold readily of anything offered to him, which knowledge he will have acquired if he has already learned to perform the tricks heretofore mentioned, the only additional instruction necessary will be to initiate him into the mysteries of turning the handle. When he has taken hold of the handle, gently move his head so as to produce the desired motion. If, when you let go of his head, he ceases the motion, speak sharply to him and put his head again in motion. With almost any horse a few lessons, and judicious rewards when he does what is required, will accomplish the object, and he will soon both be able and willing to grind out Old Dog Tray, or Norma, if not in exact time at least with as much correctness as many performers on this instrument.
Preforming tricks with Jars
This engraving exhibits a posture-master balancing two large China vases, and throwing himself into most extraordinary attitudes.
It is, perhaps, more proper to call the annexed figure, the representation of a person in the character of a female comedian, than “a female comedian,” as women have been prohibited from appearing publicly on the stage since the late Emperor, Kien Lung, took an actress for one of his inferior wives. Female characters are now therefore performed either by boys or eunuchs. The whole dress is supposed to be that of the ancient Chinese, and indeed is not very different from that of the present day. The young ladies of China display considerable taste and fancy in their head-dresses which are much decorated with feathers, flowers, and beads as well as metallic ornaments in great variety of form. Their outer garments are richly embroidered, and are generally the work of their own hands, a great part of their time being employed in this way. If it was not a rigid custom of the country, to confine to their apartments the better class of females, the unnatural cramping of their feet, while infants, is quite sufficient to prevent them from stirring much abroad, as it is with some difficulty they are able to hobble along; yet such is the force of fashion, that a lady with her feet of the natural size would be despised, and at once classed among the vulgar.
The Chinese have full as great a variety of musical instruments as most other nations, but they are all of them indifferent, and the music, if it may be so called, produced out of them, execrable.
By the military emblem on the breast-plate, the annexed figure of a stage player must be intended to represent a great general or some military hero famous in the annals of China. Noisy music and extravagant gestures are the characteristic features of the Chinese stage.
There is every reason to believe, that Punch and his wife were originally natives of China; and that all our puppet-shows were brought from that country. The little theatre, above the head of a man concealed behind a curtain, is precisely Chinese. Les ombres Chinoises still bear the name of their inventors; but the annexed representation of a puppet-showman is somewhat different from both, and is the simple origin of the Fantoccini, which consists in giving motion to the puppets, by means of springs attached to particular parts of the figures. These little dancing puppets are not merely exhibited for the amusement of children; they furnish entertainment for the Emperor and his court, and more especially for the ladies who, from their recluse mode of life, are easily diverted with any kind of amusement, however childish. We find from Mr. Barrow, that a puppet-show was one species of entertainment given to Lord Macartney and his suite at the Emperor’s palace of Gehol in Tartary.
The Exhibitor of strange Animals
From Twelfth Century Manuscript, Royal Library of Brussels.
Representation of a Ballet before Henri III. and his Court, in the Gallery of the Louvre.--Fac-simile of an Engraving on Copper of the "Ballet de la Royne," by Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx (folio, Paris, Mamert Patisson, 1582.)
Tournaments in honour of the Entry of Queen Isabel into Paris--From a Miniature in the "Chroniques" of Froissart, Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (National Library of Paris).
Notwithstanding the miseries to which they were generally subject, the rural population had their days of rest and amusement, which were then much more numerous than at present. At that period the festivals of the Church were frequent and rigidly kept, and as each of them was the pretext for a forced holiday from manual labour, the peasants thought of nothing, after church, but of amusing themselves; they drank, talked, sang, danced, and, above all, laughed, for the laugh of our forefathers quite rivalled the Homeric laugh, and burst forth with a noisy joviality.
Most of the bourgeois and the villagers played a variety of games of agility, many of which have descended to our times, and are still to be found at our schools and colleges. Wrestling, running races, the game of bars, high and wide jumping, leap-frog, blind-man's buff, games of ball of all sorts, gymnastics, and all exercises which strengthened the body or added to the suppleness of the limbs, were long in use among the youth of the nobility
Sword-dance to the sound of the Bagpipe.--Fac-simile of a Manuscript in the British Museum (Fourteenth Century).
Somersaults.--Fac-simile of a Woodcut in "Exercises in Leaping and Vaulting," by A. Tuccaro: 4to (Paris, 1599).
-The Dance called "La Gaillarde."--Fac-simile of Wood Engravings from the "Orchésographie" of Thoinot Arbeau (Jehan Tabourot): 4to (Langres, 1588).
Fireworks could not fail to be attractive at the Court of the Valois, to which Catherine de Médicis had introduced the manners and customs of Italy. The French, who up to that time had only been accustomed to the illuminations of St. John's Day and of the first Sunday in Lent, received those fireworks with great enthusiasm, and they soon became a regular part of the programme for public festivals.
Fireworks on the Water, with an Imitation of a Naval Combat.--Fac-simile of an Engraving on Copper of the "Pyrotechnie" of Hanzelet le Lorrain: 4to (Pont-à-Mousson, 1630).
These kings of jugglers exercised a supreme authority over the art of jugglery and over all the members of this jovial fraternity. It must not be imagined that these jugglers merely recited snatches from tales and fables in rhyme; this was the least of their talents. The cleverest of them played all sorts of musical instruments, sung songs, and repeated by heart a multitude of stories, after the example of their reputed forefather, King Borgabed, or Bédabie, who, according to these troubadours, was King of Great Britain at the time that Alexander the Great was King of Macedonia. The jugglers of a lower order especially excelled in tumbling and in tricks of legerdemain.
Feats in Balancing.--Fac-simile of a Miniature in a Manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Thirteenth Century).