Page images

CgAjijEf, Were the performances in dumb show, by puppets, or with dialogue, by living characters?

Ma. Constance. With dialogue in Old English rhyme, aided by scenery representing the heavens, Jcc.; and the performances in some of the principal towns of the kingdom, were so attractive as to draw forth the nobility from a distance, and even royalty itself. Coventry especially, which was famous for its pageants, (forty manuscripts of which are now preserved in the British Museum,) was honoured in 1483, by the presence of Richard III. as also in 1492, by Henry VII. and his Queen, to witness the performance of these sacred mysteries or plays.

William. Who were the performers? . Mr. ConStance. In some instances the friars, bfl4 more frequently the trading companies, each company having its pageant or part. The Feast of Fools, the Feast of the Ass, and the Boy Bishop, were a kind of religious farces: and as they are of very early origin, having been first practised in the Greek church, little doubt can be entertained but that they were instituted for the purpose of weaning the people from tie Bacchanalian and other calendar solemnities. The better sense of the people has now, however, abolished these profane practices; and, although the season of Whitsuntide is frequently celebrated by noisy mirth, few instances of studied impiety are to be observed. i .- ,|

"Mrs. Constance. The next day which claims attention, William, is of St. Dunstan, on the 19th: although I have beard it said he was born at Glastonbury, in Somersetshire, and was descended from noble parents, I am ignorant of the particulars of his life, - Wiu;iam. Itwasa very important one, Ma'am; and -whatever interest may have been excited by the narratives of those /before mentioned. St. Dunstan's character w#l «ot, I think, fail to amuse, He was bofl» ju the yejtf $4

[ocr errors]

and although no mention is made of his parents, Elphegus, Bishop of Winchester, and Athelm, Archbishop of Canterbury, are stated to have been his uncles. The abbey of his native town was his early residence, and place of tuition; and so closely did he apply himself to his studies, that he not only became one of the greatest scholars of his age, but was also well skilled in the arts of painting, sculpture, and music. The forging and refining of metals, with the manufacture of bells, crosses, vials, and sacred vestrnents, were also familiar to him. Added to these useful acquirements, he possessed every personal accomplishment, and was for some time an ornament of the court of Athelstan, to whom he was also related; but taking umbrage at the king's conduct, he became a monk. On the accession of Edmund, he again appeared in public, and was made Abbot of Glastonbury; and in the next reign, (that of Edred) he was made king's confessor, and prime minister. He continued an eminent character during the three next reigns: and after filling the important offices of bishop of Worcester and of London, and retaining the archbishopric of Canterbury for the space of twenty-seven years, closed his days on the 19th of May, 988, the wonder of the age in which he lived, and an object of respectful remembrance to the present day.

Maria. What an eventful life! But I have surely heard of his being accused of witchcraft. -;

William. He was; but whether in consequence of the qualifications I have already mentioned, or from the absurd and impious accounts promulgated by his fellow monks, is not very apparent. That many wonderful ex ploits are related of him cannot be denied; and when we consider the time in which he lived, and the art and cunning practised to delude the poor and ignorant, our surprise will cease on learning that he was looked upon as something more than man. . .......

Mrs. Constance. Was he admired for piety as well as ability?

Mr. Constance. At this very remote period, it is difficult to say: since there are no other documents handed down to us than those written by the monks, which are extremely contradictory. By some he has been portrayed as one possessing all the best feelings of our nature —forbearing, charitable, and just; while by others his character has been drawn in unfavourable colours, and vanity, arrogance and superstition are stated to have been his prominent defects. But these contradictions may, I think, be reconciled, when we reflect, that great abilities and surprising genius, though they frequently receive the applause of the discriminating and the just, seldom fail to excite an opposite feeling in the breasts of the envious and malignant. That St. Dunstan possessed superior ability to any of his contemporaries, has not been denied; and I am inclined to think that he inherited many shining virtues; at least, according to the best accounts, his good offices appear to have exceeded his defects.

Mrs. Constance. From the statement given of the many important stations which St. Dunstan filled, and the honest boldness with which he is said to have reproved the four successive sovereigns whom he served, it is but just to conclude, that his character has been traduced; and probably by those who envied his meritorious abilities.

Angelina. If I mistake not, the invention of that charming instrument, the iEolian harp, has been attributed to St. Dunstan. If so, I am not surprised that the rude barbarians of his time should have conceived a notion of his possessing supernatural powers; for if any music can convey, even to the cultivated mind, an idea of heavenly strains, it is the soft, pleasing, soul-stirring tone which Is produced from that enchanting harp.

William. I agree with you, Angelina, as to the impression likely to result from hearing such wild harmony; but it was not the sound merely, but the manner in whipb. that sound was caused, that induced those who heard it to believe St. Dunstan supremely gifted. You are aware how that instrument is, acted upon by the air; but the manner of it not being understood at the period pf its invention, procured for its author the character of a worker of miracles. And it was one of the many ascribed to St. Punstan, that he was enabled to play upon the harp . without touching it.

Charles. Pray, what other miracles did this surprising character perform?

Mr. Constance. He is said to have performed many, none of which I believe; and there are few worth mentioning. As we have taken sufficient notice of this highly-gifted man, you will please to pass to the consideration of the next remarkable day, William.

William. It is called Trinity Sunday, and is tb.e first sabbath after Whitsuntide. It is held as a church festival, in adoration of the union of Father, Son, and , Holy Ghost. There have been many important discus, sions, at various times, on the subject of the Trinity. The term is said to have been first used by Theophilus of Antioch, in the year 150; after which period it was discussed by many eminent characters. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, Arius, a learned Christian, Constantine the Great, Eusebius, Athanasius, who is supposed to have Written the creed which bears his name, and who succeeded Alexander in the see of Alexandria, with many other distinguished individuals, took part in this controversy, which was carried on with great acrimony.

Mr. Constance. The first office in commemoration of the Trinity was drawn up about the year 920, by Stephen, Bishop of Liege, which also gave rise to a violent controversy, and prevented its formal admission into the Romish church till the fourteenth century. So much importance, however, is now attached to thp subject by the Protestant church, that appropriate services for twentythree Sundays in succession are ordained, as you will s«f by referring to the prayer-book. . .. , .

Charles. Corpus Christi, one of the moveable feasts, is also a day in Trinity week, I perceive.

William- It is so; and is held in high veneration in Catholic countries. The whole six days, from Trinity Sunday to the Sunday following, were observed as hpjydays by the Romish church, although the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the day styled Corpus Christi, which signifies "body of Christ." The object of this festival is to celebrate the blessings conferred upon m&nr kind by the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, when the actual presence of pur Saviour is believed. On this day many of those absurd and mystical processions just mentioned by Mr. Constance were practised; and although, since the Reformation, such processions have been discontinued, the English could formerly rival the most bigoted of the Continent in the absurdity and extravagancy of its celebration. |n Ireland, too, it was observed with great ceremony, when the members of all societies or fraternities had respective characters allotted to them, and the host -Was carried about by the priests; and so important was this pageantry considered, that persons of all ranks thought it a religious duty to join. In the evening, sacred history was made the medium of theatrical exhibition, for the amusement and edification of the multitude. .

Angelina. Miss Plumtre, in her "Residence in

.France," gives a long and very curious account of the

festivities of this day, which were renewed, in the city of

Aix, in the year 1803, for the first time since the French

Revolution; during which, I believe, not only all religious

« PreviousContinue »