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to the destruction of Constantinople and the consequent introduction of ancient literature into Europe, there was a continued succession of individual intellects ;—the golden chain was never wholly broken, though the connecting links were often of baser metal. A dark cloud, like another sky, covered the entire cope of heaven, - but in this place it thinned
away, and white stains of light showed a half eclipsed star behind it, - in that place it was rent asunder, and a star passed across the opening in all its brightness, and then vanished. Such stars exhibited themselves only ; surrounding objects did not partake of their light. There were deep wells of knowledge, but no fertilizing rills and rivulets. For the drama, society was altogether al state of chaos, out of which it was, for a while at least, to proceed anew, as if there had been none before it. And yet it is not undelightful to contemplate the eduction of good from evil. The ignorance of the great mass of our countrymen was the efficient cause of the reproduction of the drama; and the preceding darkness and the returning light were alike necessary in order to the creation of a Shakspeare.
The drama re-commenced in England, as it first began in Greece, in religion. The people were not able to read, - the priesthood were unwilling that they should read ; and yet their own interest compelled them not to leave the people wholly ignorant of the great events of sacred history. They did
that, therefore, by scenic representations, which in after ages it has been attempted to do in Roman Catholic countries by pictures. They presented Mysteries, and often at great expense; and reliques of this system still remain in the south of Europe, and indeed throughout Italy, where at Christmas the convents and the great nobles rival each other in the scenic representation of the birth of Christ and its circumstances. I heard two instances mentioned to me at different times, one in Sicily and the other in Rome, of noble devotees, the ruin of whose fortunes was said to have commenced in the extravagant expense which had been incurred in presenting the presepe or manger.
But these Mysteries, in order to answer their design, must not only be instructive, but entertaining; and as, when they became so, the people began to take pleasure in acting them themselves—in interloping,
(against which the priests seem to have fought hard and yet in vain) the most ludicrous images were mixed with the most awful personations; and whatever the subject might be, however sublime, however pathetic, yet the Vice and the Devil, who are the genuine antecessors of Harlequin and the Clown, were necessary component parts. I have myself a piece of this kind, which I transcribed a few years ago at Helmstadt, in Germany, on the education of Eve's children, in which after the fall and repentance of Adam, the offended Maker, as in proof of his reconciliation, condescends to visit
them, and to catechise the children, - who with a noble contempt of chronology are all brought together from Abel to Noah. The good children say the ten Commandments, the Belief and the Lord's Prayer; but Cain and his rout, after he had received a box on the ear for not taking off his hat, and afterwards offering his left hand, is prompted by the devil so to blunder in the Lord's Prayer as to reverse the petitions and say
it backward ! Unaffectedly I declare I feel pain at repetitions like these, however innocent. As historical documents they are valuable ; but I am sensible that what I can read with my eye with perfect innocence, I cannot without inward fear and misgivings pronounce with my tongue.
Let me, however, be acquitted of presumption if I say that I cannot agree with Mr. Malone, that our ancestors did not perceive the ludicrous in these things, or that they paid no separate attention to the serious and comic parts. Indeed his own statement contradicts it. For what purpose should the Vice leap upon the Devil's back and belabour him, but to produce this separate attention ? The people laughed heartily, no doubt. Nor can I conceive any meaning attached to the words
separate attention,” that is not fully answered by one part of an exhibition exciting seriousness or pity, and the
See vol. i. p. 76, where this is told more at length and attributed to Hans Sachs. Ed. Vol. ii. pp. 16, 17, 2nd edit. S. C.
other raising mirth and loud laughter. That they felt no impiety in the affair is most true. For it is the very essence of that system of Christian polytheism, which in all its essentials is now fully as gross in Spain, in Sicily and the south of Italy, as it ever was in England in the days of Henry VI.(nay, more so, for a Wicliffe had not then appeared only, but scattered the good seed widely,) it is an essential part, I say, of that system
draw the mind wholly from its own inward whispers and quiet discriminations, and to habituate the conscience to pronounce sentence in every case according to the established verdicts of the church and the casuists. I have looked through volume after volume of the most approved casuists, — and still I find disquisitions whether this or that act is right, and under what circumstances, to a minuteness that makes reasoning ridiculous, and of a callous and unnatural immodesty, to which none but a monk could harden himself, who has been stripped of all the tender charities of life, yet is goaded on to make war against them by the unsubdued hauntings of our meaner nature, even as dogs are said to get the hydrophobia from excessive thirst. I fully believe that our ancestors laughed as heartily, as their posterity do at Grimaldi ; — and not having been told that they would be punished for laughing, they thought it very innocent;- and if their priests had left out murder in the catalogue of their prohibitions (as indeed they did under certain circumstances of heالى حد
resy,) the greater part of them, the moral instincts common to all men having been smothered and kept from development,—would have thought as little of murder.
However this may be, the necessity of at once +,-) instructing and gratifying the people produced the great distinction between the Greek and the Eng. lish theatres ; - for to this we must attribute the true origin of tragi-comedy, or a representation of human events inore lively, nearer the truth, and permitting a larger field of moral instruction, a more ample exhibition of the recesses of the human heart, under all the trials and circumstances that most concern us, than was known or, guessed at by ¿Eschylus, Sophocles, or Euripides ;-and at the same time we learn to account for, and-relatively to the author-perceive the necessity of, the Fool or Clown or both, as the substitutes of the Vice and the Deol vil, which our ancestors had been so accustomed to in
every exhibition of the stage, that they could not feel any performance perfect without them. Even to this day in Italy, every opera-(even Metastasio obeyed the claim throughout)- must have six characters, generally two pairs of cross lovers, a tyrant and a confidant, or a father and two confidants, themselves lovers; - and when a new opera appears, it is the universal fashion to ask—which is the tyrant, which the lover ? &c.
It is the especial honour of Christianity, that in its worst and most corrupted form it cannot wholly