Imatges de pÓgina

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debauchery, it was now filled with continual lewdness. The prior led the fashion, and the whole convent imitated his pious example. Matrons came hither to confess their sins, and to commit new : virgins came hither who seldom went virgins away. Nor was this a convent peculiarly wicked; every convent at that period was equally fond of pleasure, and gave a boundless loose to appetite. The laws allowed it ; each priest had a right to a favourite companion, and a power of discarding her as often as he pleased. The laity grumbled, quarreled with their wives and daughters, hated their confessors and maintained them in opulence

- These, these were happy times, Mr Rigmarole! these were times of piety, bravery, and simplicity."

.“ Not so very happy, neither, good madam ; pretty much like the present, - those that labour starve, and those that do nothing wear fine clothes, and live in luxury.”

“ In this manner the fatners lived for some years without molestation ; they transgressed, confessed themselves to each other, and were forgiven. One evening, however, our prior keeping a lady of distinction somewhat too long at confession, her husband unexpectedly came upon them, and testified all the indignation which was natural upon such an occasion. The prior assured the gentleman that it was the devil who put it into his heart ; and the lady was very certain that she was under the influence of magic, or she could never have behaved in so unfaithful a manner. The husband, however, was not to be put off by such evasions, but summoned both before the tribunal of justice. His proofs were flagrant, and he expected large damages. Such, indeed, he nad a right to expect, were the tribunals of those days constituted in the same manner as they are now. The cause of the priest was to be tried before an assembly of priests ; and a layman was to expect redress only from their impartiality and candour. What plea, then, do you think the prior made to obviate this accusation? He denied the fact, and challenged the plaintiff to try the merits of their cause by single combat. It was a little hard, you may be sure, upon the poor gentleman, not only to be made a cuckold, but to be obliged to fight a duel into the bargain ; yet such was the justice of the times. The prior threw down his glove, and the injured husband was obliged to take it up, in token of his accepting the challenge. Upon this the priest supplied his champion, for it was not lawful for the

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clergy to hght; and the defendant and plaintiff, according to custom, were put in prison ; both ordered to fast and pray, every method being previously used to induce both to a confession of the truth. After a month's imprisonment, the hair of each was cut, their bodies anointed with oil, the field of battle appointed and guarded by soldiers, while his majesty presided over the whole in person. Both the champions were sworn not to seek victory either by fraud or magic. They prayed and confessed upon their knees ; and after these ceremonies, the rest was left to the courage and conduct of the combatants. As the champion whom the prior had pitched upon had fought six or eight times upon similar occasions, it was no way extraordinary to find him victorious in the present combat. In short, the husband was discomfited ; he was taken from the field of battle, stripped to his shirt, and after one of his legs had been cut off, as justice ordained in such cases, he was hanged as a terror to future offenders. - These, these were the times, Mr Rigmarole! you see how much more just, and wise, and valiant, our ancestors were than us.

.“ I rather fancy, madam, that the times then were pretty much like our own; where a multiplicity of laws gives a judge as much power as a want of law, since he is ever sure to find among the number some to countenance his partiality."

“ Our convent, victorious over their enemies, now gave à loose to every demonstration of joy. The lady became a nun, the prior was made a bishop, and three Wickliffites were burned in the illuminations and fireworks that were made on the present occasion. Our convent now began to enjoy a very high degree of reputation. There was not one in London that had the character of hating heretics so much as ours. Ladies of the first distinction chose from our convent their confessors. In short, it flourished, and might have flourished to this hour, but for a fatal accident which terminated in its overthrow. The lady, whom the prior had placed in a nunnery, and whom he continued to visit for some time with great punctuality, began at last to perceive that she was quite forsaken. Secluded from conversation, as usual, she now entertained the visions of a devotee ; found herself strangely disturbed ; but hesitated in determining whether she was possessed by an angel or a demon. She was not long in suspense ; for upon vomiting a large quantity of crooked pins, and finding the palms of her hands turned outward, she quickly concluded that she was possessed by the devil.

She soon lost entirely the use of speech ; and when she seemed to speak, every body that was present perceived that her voice was not her own, but that of the devil within her. In short, she was bewitched ; and all the difficulty lay in determining who it could be that bewitched her. The nuns and the monks all demanded the magician's name, but the devil made no reply ; for he knew they had no authority to ask questions. By the rules of witchcraft, when an evil spirit has taken possession, he may refuse to answer any questions asked him, unless they are put by a bishop, and to these he is obliged to reply. A bishop, therefore, was sent for, and now the whole secret came out : the devil reluctantly owned that he was a servant of the prior ; that by his command he resided in his present habitation, and that without his command he was resolved to keep in possession. The bishop was an able exorcist ; he drove the devil out by force of mystical arms : the prior was arraigned for witchcraft ; the witnesses were strong and numerous against him, not less than fourteen persons being by, who heard the devil talk Latin. There was no resisting such a cloud of witnesses : the prior was condemned ; and he who had assisted at so many burnings, was burned himself in turn. These were times, Mr Rigmarole! the people of those times were not infidels, as now, but sincere believers." Equally faulty with ourselves ; they believed what the devil was pleased to tell them, and we seem resolved at last to believe neither God nor devil.”

“ After such a stain upon the convent, it was not to be supposed it could subsist any longer ; the fathers were ordered to decamp, an the house was once again converted into a tavern. The King conferred it on one of his cast mistresses ; she was constituted landlady by royal authority ; and as the tavern was in the neighbourhood of the court, and the mistress a very polite woman, it began to have more business than ever, and sometimes took not less than four shillings a-day.

“ But perhaps you are desirous of knowing what were the peculiar qualifications of a woman of fashion at that period ; and in a description of the present landlady, you will have a tolerable idea of all the rest. This lady was the daughter of a nobleman, and received such an education

in the country as became her quality, beauty, and great expectations. She could make shifts and hose for herselt and all the servants of the family, when she was twelve years old. She knew the names of the four-and-twenty letters, so that it was impossible to bewitch her ; and this was a greater piece of learning than any lady in the whole country could pretend to. She was always up early, and saw breakfast served in the great hall by six o'clock. At this scene of festivity, she generally improved good humour by telling her dreams, relating stories of spirits, several of which she herself had seen, and one of which she was reported to have killed with a black-hafted knife. Hence she usually went to make pastry in the larder, and here she was followed by her sweethearts, who were much helped on in conversation by struggling with her for kisses. About ten, Miss generally went to play at hot-cockles and blindman's-buff" in the parlour; and when the young folks (for they seldom played at hot-cockles when grown old) were tired of such amusements, the gentlemen entertained Miss with the history of their greyhounds, bear-baitings, and victories at cudgel-playing. If the weather was fine, they ran at the ring, and shot at butts; while Miss held in her hand a ribbon, with which she adorned the conqueror.

Her mental qualifications were exactly fitted to her external accomplishments. Before she was fifteen, she could tell the story of Jack the Giant Killer, could name every mountain that was inhabited by fairies, knew a witch at first sight, and could repeat four Latin prayers without a prompter. Her dress was perfectly fashionable ; her arms and her hair were completely covered ; a monstrous ruff was put round her neck, so that her head seemed like that of John the Baptist placed in a charger. In short, when completely equipped, her appearance was so very modest, that she discovered little more than her nose.- - These were the times, Mr Rigmarole ! when every lady that had a good nose might set up for a beauty ; when every woman that could tell stories might be cried up for a wit.” - “ I am as much displeased at those dresses which conceal too much, as at those which discover too much : I am equally an enemy to a female dunce or a female pedant.”

“ You may be sure that Miss chose a husband with qualifications resembling her own : she pitched upon a courtier, equally remarkable for hunting and drinking, who had given

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several proofs of his great virility among the daughters or his tenants and domestics. They fell in love at first sight, (for such was the gallantry of the times,) were married, came to court, and madam appeared with superior qualifications. The king was struck with her beauty. All property was at the king's command : the husband was obliged to resign all pretensions in his wife to the sovereign, whom God had anointed to commit adultery where he thought proper. The king loved her for some time ; but at length, repenting of his misdeeds, and instigated by his fatherconfessor, from a principle of conscience removed her from his levee to the bar of this tavern, and took a new mistress in her stead. Let it not surprise you to behold the mistress of a king degraded to so humble an office. As the ladies had no mental accomplishments, a good face was enough to raise them to the royal couch ; and she who was this day a royal mistress, might the next, when her beauty palled upon enjoyment, be doomed to infamy and want.

“ Under the care of this lady the tavern grew into great reputation ; the courtiers had not yet learned to game, bu they paid it off by drinking : drunkenness is ever the vice of a barbarous, and gaming of a luxurious age. They had not such frequent entertainments as the moderns have, but were more expensive and more luxurious in those they had. All their fooleries were more elaborate, and more admired by the great and the vulgar, than now. A courtier has been known to spend his whole fortune at a single feast, a king to mortgage his dominions to furnish out the frippery of a tournament. There were certain days appointed for riot and debauchery, and to be sober at such times was reputed a crime. Kings themselves set the example ; and I have seen monarchs, in this room, drunk before the entertainment was half concluded. - These were the times, sir, when kings kept mistresses, and got drunk in public ; they were too plain and simple in those happy times to hide their vices, and act the hypocrite, as now. -“ Lord! Mrs Quickly," interrupting her, “ I expected to have heard a story, and here you are going to tell me I know not what of times and vices : prithee let me entreat thee once more to wave reflections, and give thy history without deviation.”

“ No lady upon earth,” continued my visionary correspondent, “ knew how to put off her damaged wine or women with more art than she. When these grew flat, or those

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