Imatges de pÓgina


rational a people as ourselves; but at the same time the relations of respectable travellers ought not to be discountenanced upon slight grounds. His majesty of China, the lord of the celestial empire, monarch of the earth, brother to the sun, and uncle to the moon, (which destroys the mythological relationship between Apollo and Diana,) cousin-german to the stars, and protector of the firmament, can find no better sport than sitting under an umbrella of yellow silk, surrounded with banners of the dragon, phenix, tyger, and flying tortoise, to be fanned by a handsome boy while he is sipping sherbet and playing cup and ball. The Great Mogul, according to Voltaire, indulges his courtiers by condescending to talk ; and his faithful omras, whenever he utters any thing that possesses common sense, testify their loyalty by exclaiming, karamot! karamot!-a miracle! a miracle !

These are the pastimes of uncivilized courts or barbarous æras; but we are indebted to royal lassitude for more rational amusements. Cards were invented about the year 1390, to divert the melancholy of Charles VI. of France, the four classes of whose subjects were intended to be represented by the four suits. By the cours (hearts) were signified the gens de choeur, choir-men or ecclesiastics; the pike heads or lances, which we ignorantly term spades, typified the nobles or military part of the nation; the carreaux, (square stones or tiles,) by us designated diamonds, figured the citizens and tradesmen; the trefoil, our clubs) alludes to the husbandmen and peasants; and the court cards have all their appropriate significations. Upon what trivial chances do the happiness of whole classes and the employment of entire years sometimes depend! If a king of France had not been attacked with blue devils four hundred years ago, how would all the intermediate dowagers, and old maids, and nabobs, and hypochondriacs, and whist-players, have con

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trived to shuffle and cut away time? What must have become of Bath, and of the long winter evenings, from the days of ombre and piquet down to the present reign of short whist and écarte? The city must have been swallowed up in a mouth-quake of yawns, and the inhabitants have all perished of ennui. Chess is another recreation, or rather a study, which also owes its origin to courts, having been devised for one of the brothers to the sun and uncles to the moon of China, who could not be brought to understand any thing of political economy until these hieroglyphics were placed before him, and all the various estates of his empires, together with their attributes and privileges, were shadowed forth in the figures and powers of these wooden representatives. We have not availed ourserves of an expedient devised for one of the young French princes, who-being too indolent or stupid to acquire his alphabet by the ordinary process, twenty-four servants were placed in attendance upon him, with each a huge letter painted upon his stomach; and as he knew not their names he was obliged to call them by their letter, whenever he had occasion for their services, which in due time gave him the requisite degree of literature for the exercise of the royal functions. In private families this experiment might be somewhat too costly, but it is well worth the attention of Lancaster and Bell.

Unquestionably the most sprightly of all inventions which we owe to the dulness of Courts is that of the professional jester or fool, than which nothing could have been more expressly or admirably adapted to its end. If not witty himself, he was at least the cause of wit in others--the but at which the shaft of their ridicule was shot, and through whom they sometimes launched thein at their neighbours. The jokes might be poor, quibbling, bald, bad ; but the contest was at all events mental ; not

so sparkling, perhaps, as the fight between Congreve's intellectual gladiators, but still preferable to what it displaced, for a play upon words is more comical than a play upon the ribs ; it is better to elicit bad puns from one another's skulls than to be drinking wine out of them ; it is quite as facetious to smoke a quiz as a segar; a quibble in the head is as conical as a bump upon it; and cutting jokes, however common-place, is assuredly as sprightly as, and as humorous as cutting capers. Besides, the Court fool frequently availed himself of his offices for nobler purposes. He was a moralist in a motley coat, a fabulist in a cap and bells -a Pilpay or an Æsop, who, promulgating the boldest truths to the most arbitrary sovereign, by making his own mouth the medium of wisdom instead of that of animals, might avail himself of his reputed irrationality for conveying the most rational admonitions. Look at Shakspeare's fools ; they are either wits in disguise or philosophers in masquerade ; and we may be assured, that for the Court pantomime, as well as for that at the theatre, the cleverest was generally chosen as clown; for it was necessary that he should be nimble in mind as well as person, that, like Mercury, he should have wings to his head as well as his heels. It must have been a flattering unction to the wounded self-respect of the courtiers, and have reconciled them to the weight of royal superiority, to find that there was at least one man among them as good as the king, and that man a fool; that there was a professor of equality who could set his arms a-kimbo and wag his head with its cap and bells against that which wore a crown-who would familiarly offer his own to the hand which wielded a sceptre flout the idol which they were constrained to worship, and irreverently jeer and jibber at the Lord's anointed. Whoever first established these chartered merry-andrews, we ought to wear his name in 'our heart's core, if it be only on Shakspeare's account. Strange that these omniloquent professors of Facetiæ should have left so few names upon the rolls of fame. Brutus was only an amateur fool, who assumed the character for a political object. We should have known nothing of Yorick, the Danish king's jester, had not the grave-digger in Hamlet knocked him about the mazzard with a spade. Killigrew was a sort of Court jester to Charles the Second; but, not content with saying good things, he ventured upon publishing them; and as his pen was very inferior to his tongue, in which he afforded a contrast to Cowley, Sir John Denhamrtook occasion to exclaim

Had Cowley ne'er spoke-Killigrew ne'er writ,

Combined in one they'd made a matchless wit." Many others may be recorded, to whose memorials I have no present means of access, and still more“cui genus humanum ludere, ludus erat”-must have exchanged the quips and quiddets of the laughing Court for the silence of the narrow tomb, who, like the brave men before Agamemnon, are

omnes illachrymabiles” for want of a comic Homer. Like actors, they enjoy too much present to expect posthumous celebrity--they have their immortality in their life time.

Considering how few offices and sinecures are abolished now-a-days, one cannot help regretting that this should have been selected for extinction, and we are tempted to inquire

Why, pray, of late do Europe's kings

No jesters in their Courts admit?
They're grown such stately solemn things,

To hear a joke they think not fit.
But though each Court a jester lacks

To laugh at monarchs to their face,
All mankind do behind their backs

Supply the honest jester's place."

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Perhaps it may be urged that the Laureate is retained to perform both functions-a surmise to which I should be happy to add the weight of my authority, but that I stand in awe of the retort fulminated against Ned:

“Yes, every poet is a fool

By demonstration Ned can show it;
Happy, if Ned's inverted rule

Prove every fool to be a poet.” Whatever may have been the motive, certain it is, that the professional jester was suppressed in France by Louis the Fourteenth, who at the same time, with equal bad taste, revived the cumbersome, puerile, costly, and preposterous mummery of justs and tournaments in the Court of the Tuileries, of the gorgeous absurdity of which no one can form a perfect idea who has not seen the paintings of the whole raree-show preserved in the city library at Versailles. Every friend to the fool's cap, whose bells were perpetually shaking out peals of laughter, must think the worse of the pompous pretender and fustian hero who banished it from his Court. We may judge of the degree of familiarity allowed by this solemn personification of stiffness and etiquette, when it is recorded that Racine died of chagrin because the monarch took no notice of his profound bow as he marched through the room called the Bull's Eye, at Versailles.

“To content and fill the eye of the understanding the best authors sprinkle their works with pleasing digressions, with which they recreate the minds of their readers :” so says Dryden ; and if it be admitted that what the best writers do, the worst may attempt, I may, perhaps, stand excused for having so long wandered from the Last of the Fools. His title, however, would not allow me to take him first; and having ended every thing else, it is high time that I should begin to notice my subject. Be

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