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OWENS, the Irish tragedian, Revenge, performance of 113
101 Richard III. exculpation of 159
answer to it
tragedy of, analyzed 180
131 Spanish nation, character of 105
201 Simon Shadow to the Editor of
152, 232, 294
ode to Sorrow
106 TRAVELLER, the, an oriental
by G. Wethers 166, 302, 376 by Lewis, critique upon 370
244 WARREN, the actor, life of 73, 140,
343 Windham, Right Hon. William
353 Women, French and English,
26 West, the painter, anecdote of 301
284, 350 Weston, letter of, to the editor 397
106) YATES's letter to an editor 42
[Continued from page 413, Volume II.] A DESCRIPTION has already been given of the *Entremets. The MYSTERIES are next to be described: and, as they found their way into the other nations of Europe, as well as France, and may be considered as ranking among the most monstrous and extraordinary anomalies to which the human brain has ever given birth, they deserve a very full and particular share of description.
Few pursuits are more pleasing than the tracing of human inventions, from their highest state of perfection, back to their first unshapen rudiments, and searching in the wide range of conjecture for the first seeds of their conception in the human mind; for, although of such questions no certain solution should be found, the inquiry forms a delightful intellectual exercise; and the result, if at all plausible, comes in time to be taken for granted, and answers a purpose to all intents as useful as the most absolute discovery of truth. Thus the old conjecture, that the breast bone of a water fowl first suggested the idea of that immense moving body which now carries the thunder of Britain from pole to pole, having enough of plausibility to pass uncontradicted, soon obtain
* See Vol. II, page 414. VOL. III.
ed the consent of a world which had neither light nor leisure to investigate such subjects, and, though at first sufficiently problematical, at length acquired the dignity of a postulate. On the subject now in hand proofs are more relevant and perfect, being sanctioned by concurrent testimonies in history.
It has already been stated that the barbarous exhibitions called FEASTS, which the French derived from the Romans, received their first shock from the enthusiastic religious spirit diffused through Europe by the crusaders. The entremets declined in proportion as the chivalrous spirits of France moved off to the Holy Land; and when the knights of the cross returned from their frantic and disgraceful enterprise, they brought back along with them such multitudes of stories respecting chivalrous adventures, that the christian world was filled with them. Prodigies of valour had no doubt been performed on both sides; but the very nature of the passion which generated the enterprise, and the enthusiasm of those employed in it, rendered it highly probable that for the fame which they acquired by the relation of their prowess they were indebted at least as much to the invention of the narrator as to their own actual deeds of arms.
Such as the stories were however, they were readily believed by a people prepared to receive any tale discreditable to the proselytes of Mahomet, and honourable to christian gentlemen and warriors. Credulity has the digestion of an ostrich; and the people, one and all, not only swallowed with ease, but sanctified from all contradiction, many of those incredible legends, so that to doubt them was deemed a heresy from the orthodox faith. The priests, then the chief, or only dramatists, turned those stories to their advantage, and made them the subjects of plays. The appetite of the public, however, soon began to flag; enthusiasm gradually settled down to something like a rational level; the fierce blaze which dazzled the eyes of the christian world insensibly passed off; and as it faded, the eye of reason, enabled to look more steadily at the object, perceived that it was all madness. Thus the plays founded on the crusades fell into disrepute; and the priests, intent upon preserving to themselves so affluent a source of emolument, desisted from singing the feats of sacerdotal knights errant, and taking up sacred history in their stead, composed and acted dramas founded upon the incidents, and personifying the characters, of the old and new testaments. In order to give full effect to their purpose, and
as much as possible preclude opposition or interruption, they formed themselves into a society, to which they gave the name of “ THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE Passion,” and, to defray the expenses of their project, brought over some of the most wealthy citizens of Paris to enter into their scheme, and supply the funds, which they themselves were either unable to advance, or unwilling to hazard upon speculation. With the money obtained from these their proselytes, they erected a theatre in the vicinity of Paris, in the Bourg de St. Maur des Fosses, a place consecrated to piety, having been long the resort of pilgrims, who visited it for the purposes of devotion. This theatre they opened with a mystery which they called “ The History of the Death of our Saviour."
Nothing could surpass the popularity which this species of amusement obtained at once. The number of its followers were incredible. The rage for it spread in all directions, and infected the people with something like an epidemic insanity. The wheels of the public economy were clogged, business was left at a stand, and all, even the most important concerns of life, were neglected for the gratification of this new passion. The evil became at length sufficiently alarming to call for the interposition of the secular authority. The magistracy took it under their cognisance; and in the year twelve hundred and ninety-eight, the prevôt of Paris issued his interdict to suppress the performance of the mysteries. The authority of the civil magistrate, however, was no match for the influence of the priests, who not only got rid of the effects of his interdict, but cunningly turned the interference of the prevột to their own advantage. They petitioned the king to take off the interdiction, and had the address to put their petition into a shape that excited his curiosity to see their performances. Accordingly they were invited to play before him, and his majesty was so delighted with the poetry and acting that he established the society and their theatre by letters patent. No sooner was it known that the society was established under royal auspices, than the grandees became ardent admirers and proselytes of the drama; the fashionable world followed it with eagerness; multitudes of men of rank became members; and not only the greatest in the king's household, but the king himself, condescended to enrol their names in the company.
Their original theatre being found insufficient, in accommodation of every kind, as well as splendor, it was resolved to have another;
but instead of constructing a new one, they cast their eyes on a large building originally founded for the reception of pilgrims, and denominated the Hospital of the Trinity, and converted it into a theatre for the representation of their mysteries. From the descriptions which have been handed down of this theatre, it was admirably constructed for the purpose of giving effect to dramatic exhibitions. The front much resembled those which exist in Britain, France, and America at this day: but all behind the curtain and belonging to the stage differed extremely from them; and being intended for the representation of actions not only on earth, but in heaven and in hell, was so constructed as to represent those three places with great facility. The contrivance and the execution of it is said to have displayed vast mechanical ingenuity. Was the scene to be laid as if in heaven, an enormous congeries of clouds expanded to an immense height, and spread to an extent of which the eye perceived no limits, convolving around the stage: if on earth, the stage represented something like our country scenes, the extremity exhibiting an immense expanse, on which natural objects appeared in proper places: and if in hell, the whole stage was lifted up like the jaw of a monstrous dragon, representing a tremendous and interminable abyss, the mouth of which, vomiting fire, gave up legions of devils,
The first mystery the society represented, intitled, as has been already stated, “the Passion of our Saviour,” is thought to have been in all probability written some centuries before; a conjecture which arose from the name of the author being unknown. But for the rést of their dramas, the fraternity are said to be indebted to three poets, who flourished at the same period, in the thirteenth century, and whose writings were deposited among the choice manuscripts of Charles the Sixth. The names of those were Rutebeuf, Bodel, and Adam de la Halle. All their productions that are known were mysteries, which, in their way, were considered excellent. The most celebrated of them being, first, “ The Prodigal Son;" secondly, “ The Miracle of Theophilus;" thirdly, "The Crusades," and fourthly, “ St. Nicholas and the Children in the Tub." These three poets had a multitude (some say not less than sixty) of inferior imitators, of whose compositions some scattered passages are imperfectly spoken of in the history of the French stage. All, however, were alike founded on scripture subjects, reduced to dialogue and action; and some of them are reported to have contained