Not the wild billow, when it breaks its barrier--
Not the wild wind, escaping from its cavern--
Not the wild fiend, that mingles both together,
And pours their rage upon the ripening harvest,
Can match the wild freaks of this mirthful meeting--
Comic, yet fearful--droll, and yet destructive.
Involuntarily, as it were, Magdalen Graeme and the page stepped from
the station which hitherto they had occupied unnoticed, and approached
to the altar, as desirous of sharing the fate which approached the
monks, whatever that might be. Both bowed reverently low to the Abbot;
and while Magdalen seemed about to speak, the youth, looking towards
the main entrance, at which the noise now roared most loudly, and
which was at the same time assailed with much knocking, laid his hand
upon his dagger.
The Abbot motioned to both to forbear: "Peace, my sister," he said, in
a low tone, but which, being in a different key from the tumultuary
sounds without, could be distinctly heard, even amidst the
tumult;--"Peace," he said, "my sister; let the new Superior of Saint
Mary's himself receive and reply to the grateful acclamations of the
vassals, who come to celebrate his installation.--And thou, my son,
forbear, I charge thee, to touch thy earthly weapon;--if it is the
pleasure of our protectress, that her shrine be this day desecrated by
deeds of violence, and polluted by blood-shedding, let it not, I
charge thee, happen through the deed of a Catholic son of the church."
The noise and knocking at the outer gate became now every moment
louder; and voices were heard impatiently demanding admittance. The
Abbot, with dignity, and with a step which even the emergency of
danger rendered neither faltering nor precipitate, moved towards the
portal, and demanded to know, in a tone of authority, who it was that
disturbed their worship, and what they desired?
There was a moment's silence, and then a loud laugh from without. At
length a voice replied, "We desire entrance into the church; and when
the door is opened you will soon see who we are."
"By whose authority do you require entrance?" said the Father.
"By authority of the right reverend Lord Abbot of Unreason,"
[Footnote: We learn from no less authority than that of Napoleon
Bonaparte, that there is but a single step between the sublime and
ridiculous; and it is a transition from one extreme to another; so
very easy, that the vulgar of every degree are peculiarly captivated
with it. Thus the inclination to laugh becomes uncontrollable, when
the solemnity and gravity of time, place, and circumstances, render it
peculiarly improper. Some species of general license, like that which
inspired the ancient Saturnalia, or the modern Carnival, has been
commonly indulged to the people at all times and in almost all
countries. But it was, I think, peculiar to the Roman Catholic Church,
that while they studied how to render their church rites imposing and
magnificent, by all that pomp, music, architecture, and external
display could add to them, they nevertheless connived, upon special
occasions, at the frolics of the rude vulgar, who, in almost all
Catholic countries, enjoyed, or at least assumed, the privilege of
making: some Lord of the revels, who, under the name of the Abbot of
Unreason, the Boy Bishop, or the President of Fools, occupied the
churches, profaned the holy places by a mock imitation of the sacred
rites, and sung indecent parodies on hymns of the church. The
indifference of the clergy, even when their power was greatest, to the
indecent exhibitions which they always tolerated, and sometimes
encouraged, forms a strong contrast to the sensitiveness with which
they regarded any serious attempt, by preaching or writing, to impeach
any of the doctrines of the church. It could only be compared to the
singular apathy with which they endured, and often admired the gross
novels which Chaucer, Dunbar, Boccacio, Bandello, and others, composed
upon the bad morals of the clergy. It seems as if the churchmen in
both instances had endeavoured to compromise with the laity, and
allowed them occasionally to gratify their coarse humour by indecent
satire, provided they would abstain from any grave question concerning
the foundation of the doctrines on which was erected such an immense
fabric of ecclesiastical power.
But the sports thus licensed assumed a very different appearance, so
soon as the Protestant doctrines began to prevail; and the license
which their forefathers had exercised in mere gaiety of heart, and
without the least intention of dishonouring religion by their frolics,
were now persevered in by the common people as a mode of testifying
their utter disregard for the Roman priesthood and its ceremonies.
I may observe, for example, the case of an apparitor sent to Borthwick
from the Primate of Saint Andrews, to cite the lord of that castle,
who was opposed by an Abbot of Unreason, at whose command the officer
of the spiritual court was appointed to be ducked in a mill-dam, and
obliged to eat up his parchment citation.
The reader may be amused with the following whimsical details of this
incident, which took place in the castle of Borthwick, in the year
1517. It appears, that in consequence of a process betwixt Master
George Hay de Minzeane and the Lord Borthwick, letters of
excommunication had passed against the latter, on account of the
contumacy of certain witnesses. William Langlands, an apparitor or
macer (_bacularius_) of the See of St Andrews, presented these
letters to the curate of the church of Borthwick, requiring him to
publish the same at the service of high mass. It seems that the
inhabitants of the castle were at this time engaged in the favourite
sport of enacting the Abbot of Unreason, a species of high jinks, in
which a mimic prelate was elected, who, like the Lord of Misrule in
England, turned all sort of lawful authority, and particularly the
church ritual, into ridicule. This frolicsome person with his retinue,
notwithstanding of the apparitor's character, entered the church,
seized upon the primate's officer without hesitation, and, dragging
him to the mill-dam on the south side of the castle, compelled him to
leap into the water. Not contented with this partial immersion, the
Abbot of Unreason pronounced, that Mr. William Langlands was not yet
sufficiently bathed, and therefore caused his assistants to lay him on
his back in the stream, and duck him in the most satisfactory and
perfect manner. The unfortunate apparitor was then conducted back to
the church, where, for his refreshment after his bath, the letters of
excommunication were torn to pieces, and steeped in a bowl of wine;
the mock abbot being probably of opinion that a tough parchment was
but dry eating, Langlands was compelled to eat the letters, and
swallow the wine, and dismissed by the Abbot of Unreason, with the
comfortable assurance, that if any more such letters should arrive
during the continuance of his office, "they should a' gang the same
gate," _i. e._ go the same road.
A similar scene occurs betwixt a sumner of the Bishop of Rochester,
and Harpool, the servant of Lord Cobham, in the old play of Sir John
Oldcastle, when the former compels the church-officer to eat his
citation. The dialogue, which may be found in the note, contains most
of the jests which may be supposed, appropriate to such an
_Harpool_ Marry, sir, is, this process parchment?
_Sumner._ Yes, marry is it.
_Harpool._ And this seal wax?
_Sumner._ It is so.
_Harpool._ If this be parchment, and this be wax, eat you this
parchment and wax, or I will make parchment of your skin, and beat
your brains into wax. Sirrah Sumner, despatch--devour, sirrah, devour.
_Sumner._ I am my Lord of Rochester's sumner; I came to do my
office, and thou shall answer it.
_Harpool._ Sirrah, no railing, but, betake thyself to thy teeth.
Thou shalt, eat no worse than thou bringest with thee. Thou bringest
it for my lord; and wilt thou bring my lord worse than thou wilt eat
_Sumner._ Sir. I brought it not my lord to eat.
_Harpool._ O, do you Sir me now? All's one for that; I'll make
you eat it for bringing it.
_Sumner._ I cannot eat it.
_Harpool._ Can you not? 'Sblood, I'll beat you till you have a
stomach! (_Beats him._)
_Sumner._ Oh, hold, hold, good Mr. Servingman; I will eat it.
_Harpool._ Be champing, be chewing, sir, or I will chew you, you
rogue. Tough wax is the purest of the honey.
_Sumner._ The purest of the honey?--O Lord, sir, oh! oh!
_Harpool._ Feed, feed; 'tis wholesome, rogue, wholesome. Cannot
you, like an honest sumner, walk with the devil your brother, to fetch
in your bailiff's rents, but you must come to a nobleman's house with
process! If the seal were broad as the lead which covers Rochester
Church, thou shouldst eat it.
_Sumner._ Oh, I am almost choked--I am almost choked!
_Harpool._ Who's within there? Will you shame my lord? Is there
no beer in the house? Butler, I say.
_Butler._ Here, here.
_Harpool._ Give him beer. Tough old sheep skin's but dry meat.
_First Part of Sir John Oldcastle_, Act II. Scene I.]
replied the voice from without; and, from the laugh--which followed,
it seemed as if there was something highly ludicrous couched under
"I know not, and seek not to know, your meaning," replied the Abbot,
"since it is probably a rude one. But begone, in the name of God, and
leave his servants in peace. I speak this, as having lawful authority
to command here."
"Open the door," said another rude voice, "and we will try titles with
you, Sir Monk, and show you a superior we must all obey."
"Break open the doors if he dallies any longer," said a third, "and
down with the carrion monks who would bar us of our privilege!" A
general shout followed. "Ay, ay, our privilege! our privilege! down
with the doors, and with the lurdane monks, if they make opposition!"
The knocking was now exchanged for blows with great, hammers, to which
the doors, strong as they were, must soon have given way. But the
Abbot, who saw resistance would be in vain, and who did not wish to
incense the assailants by an attempt at offering it, besought silence
earnestly, and with difficulty obtained a hearing. "My children," said
he, "I will save you from committing a great sin. The porter will
presently undo the gate--he is gone to fetch the keys--meantime I pray
you to consider with yourselves, if you are in a state of mind to
cross the holy threshold."
"Tillyvally for your papistry!" was answered from without; "we are in
the mood of the monks when they are merriest, and that is when they
sup beef-brewis for lanten-kail. So, if your porter hath not the gout,
let him come speedily, or we heave away readily.--Said I well,
"Bravely said, and it shall be as bravely done," said the multitude;
and had not the keys arrived at that moment, and the porter in hasty
terror performed his office, throwing open the great door, the
populace would have saved him the trouble. The instant he had done so,
the affrighted janitor fled, like one who has drawn the bolts of a
flood-gate, and expects to be overwhelmed by the rushing inundation.
The monks, with one consent, had withdrawn themselves behind the
Abbot, who alone kept his station, about three yards from the
entrance, showing no signs of fear or perturbation. His
brethren--partly encouraged by his devotion, partly ashamed to desert
him, and partly animated by a sense of duty.--remained huddled close
together, at the back of their Superior. There was a loud laugh and
huzza when the doors were opened; but, contrary to what might have
been expected, no crowd of enraged assailants rushed into the church.
On the contrary, there was a cry of "A halt!-a halt--to order, my
masters! and let the two reverend fathers greet each other, as beseems
The appearance of the crowd who were thus called to order, was
grotesque in the extreme. It was composed of men, women, and children,
ludicrously disguised in various habits, and presenting groups equally
diversified and grotesque. Here one fellow with a horse's head painted
before him, and a tail behind, and the whole covered with a long
foot-cloth, which was supposed to hide the body of the animal, ambled,
caracoled, pranced, and plunged, as he performed the celebrated part
of the hobby-horse,
[Footnote: This exhibition, the play-mare of Scotland, stood high
among holyday gambols. It must be carefully separated from the wooden
chargers which furnish out our nurseries. It gives rise to Hamlet's
But oh, but oh, the hobby-horse is forgot!
There is a very comic scene in Beaumont and Fletcher's play of "Woman
Pleased," where Hope-on-high Bombye, a puritan cobbler, refuses to
dance with the hobby-horse. There was much difficulty and great
variety in the motions which the hobby-horse was expected to exhibit.
The learned Mr. Douce, who has contributed so much to the illustration
of our theatrical antiquities, has given us a full account of this
pageant, and the burlesque horsemanship which it practised.
"The hobby-horse," says Mr. Douce, "was represented by a man equipped
with as much pasteboard as was sufficient to form the head and hinder
parts of a horse, the quadrupedal defects being concealed by a long
mantle or footcloth that nearly touched the ground. The former, on
this occasion, exerted all his skill in burlesque horsemanship. In
Sympson's play of the Law-breakers, 1636, a miller personates the
hobby-horse, and being angry that the Mayor of the city is put in
competition with him, exclaims, 'Let the mayor play the hobby-horse
among his brethren, an he will; I hope our town-lads cannot want a
hobby-horse. Have I practised my reins, my careers, my prankers, my
ambles, my false trots, my smooth ambles, and Canterbury paces, and
shall master mayor put me beside the hobby-horse? Have I borrowed the
fore-horse bells, his plumes, his braveries; nay, had his mane new
shorn and frizzled, and shall the mayor put me beside the
--_Douce's Illustrations_, vol. II. p. 468]
so often alluded to in our ancient drama; and which still flourishes
on the stage in the battle that concludes Bayes's tragedy. To rival
the address and agility displayed by this character, another personage
advanced in the more formidable character of a huge dragon, with
gilded wings, open jaws, and a scarlet tongue, cloven at the end,
which made various efforts to overtake and devour a lad, dressed as
the lovely Sabaea, daughter of the King of Egypt, who fled before him;
while a martial Saint George, grotesquely armed with a goblet for a
helmet, and a spit for a lance, ever and anon interfered, and
compelled the monster to relinquish his prey. A bear, a wolf, and one
or two other wild animals, played their parts with the discretion of
Snug the joiner; for the decided preference which they gave to the use
of their hind legs, was sufficient, without any formal annunciation,
to assure the most timorous spectators that they had to do with
habitual bipeds. There was a group of outlaws with Robin Hood and
Little John at their head
[Footnote: The representation of Robin Hood was the darling Maygame
both in England and Scotland, and doubtless the favourite
personification was often revived, when the Abbot of Unreason, or
other pretences of frolic, gave an unusual decree of license.
The Protestant clergy, who had formerly reaped advantage from the
opportunities which these sports afforded them of directing their own
satire and the ridicule of the lower orders against the Catholic
church, began to find that, when these purposes were served, their
favourite pastimes deprived them of the wish to attend divine worship,
and disturbed the frame of mind in which it can be attended to
advantage. The celebrated Bishop Latimer gives a very _naive_
account of the manner in which, bishop as he was, he found himself
compelled to give place to Robin Hood and his followers.
"I came once myselfe riding on a journey homeward from London, and I
sent word over night into the towne that I would preach there in the
morning, because it was holiday, and me thought it was a holidayes
worke. The church stood in my way, and I took my horse and my company,
and went thither, (I thought I should have found a great company in
the church,) and when I came there the church doore was fast locked.
I tarryed there halfe an houre and more. At last the key was found,
and one of the parish comes to me and said,--'Sir, this is a busie day
with us, we cannot hear you; it is Robin Hood's day. The parish are
gone abroad to gather for Robin Hood. I pray you let them not.' I was
faine there to give place to Robin Hood. I thought my rochet should
have been regarded, though I were not: but it would not serve, it was
faine to give place to Robin Hood's men. It is no laughing matter, my
friends, it is a weeping matter, a heavie matter, a heavie matter.
Under the pretence for gathering for Robin Hood, a traytour, and a
theif, to put out a preacher; to have his office lesse esteemed; to
preferre Robin Hood before the ministration of God's word; and all
this hath come of unpreaching prelates. This realme hath been ill
provided for, that it hath had such corrupt judgments in it, to prefer
Robin Hood to God's word."--_Bishop Latimer's sixth Sermon before
While the English Protestants thus preferred the outlaw's pageant to
the preaching of their excellent Bishop, the Scottish calvinistic
clergy, with the celebrated John Knox at their head, and backed by the
authority of the magistrates of Edinburgh, who had of late been chosen
exclusively from this party, found it impossible to control the rage
of the populace, when they attempted to deprive them of the privilege
of presenting their pageant of Robin Hood.
[Note on old Scottish spelling: leading y = modern 'th'; leading v =
(561) "Vpon the xxi day of Junij. Archibalde Dowglas of Kilspindie,
Provest of Edr., David Symmer and Adame Fullartoun, baillies of the
samyne, causit ane cordinare servant, callit James Gillion takin of
befoir, for playing in Edr. with Robene Hude, to wnderly the law, and
put him to the knawlege of ane assyize qlk yaij haid electit of yair
favoraris, quha with schort deliberatioun condemnit him to be hangit
for ye said cryme. And the deaconis of ye craftismen fearing vproare,
maid great solistatuis at ye handis of ye said provost and baillies,
and als requirit John Knox, minister, for eschewing of tumult, to
superceid ye execution of him, vnto ye tyme yai suld adverteis my Lord
Duke yairof. And yan, if it wes his mynd and will yat he should be
disponit vpoun, ye said deaconis and craftismen sould convey him
yaire; quha answerit, yat yai culd na way stope ye executioun of
justice. Quhan ye time of ye said pouer mans hanging approchit, and
yat ye hangman wes cum to ye jibbat with ye ledder, vpoune ye qlk ye
said cordinare should have bene hangit, ane certaine and remanent
craftischilder, quha wes put to ye horne with ye said Gillione, ffor
ye said Robene Huide's _playes_, and vyris yair assistaris and
favoraris, past to wappinis, and yai brak down ye said jibbat, and yan
chacit ye said provest, baillies, and Alexr. Guthrie, in ye said
Alexander's writing buith, and held yame yairin; and yairefter past to
ye tolbuyt, and becaus the samyne was steiket, and onnawayes culd get
the keyes thairof, thai brak the said tolbuith dore with foure
harberis, per force, (the said provest and baillies luckand thairon.)
and not onlie put thar the said Gillione to fredome and libertie, and
brocht him furth of the said tolbuit, bot alsua the remanent
presonaris being thairintill; and this done, the said craftismen's
servands, with the said condempnit cordonar, past doun to the
Netherbow, to have past furth thairat; bot becaus the samyne on thair
coming thairto wes closet, thai past vp agane the Hie streit of the
said bourghe to the Castellhill, and in this menetymne the saidis
provest and baillies, and thair assistaris being in the writing buith
of the said Alexr. Guthrie, past and enterit in the said tolbuyt, and
in the said servandes passage vp the Hie streit, then schote furth
thairof at thame ane dog, and hurt ane servand of the said childer.
This being done, thair wes nathing vthir but the one partie schuteand
out and castand stanes furth of the said tolbuyt, and the vther
pairtie schuteand hagbuttis in the same agane. Aund sua the
craftismen's servandis, aboue written, held and inclosit the said
provest and baillies continewallie in the said tolbuyth, frae three
houris efternone, quhill aught houris at even, and na man of the said
town prensit to relieve their said provest and baillies. And than thai
send to the maisters of the Castell, to caus tham if thai mycht stay
the said servandis, quha maid ane maner to do the same, bot thai could
not bring the same to ane finall end, ffor the said servands wold on
noways stay fra, quhill thai had revengit the hurting of ane of them;
and thairefter the constable of the castell come down thairfra, and he
with the said maisters treatet betwix the said pties in this
maner:--That the said provost and baillies sall remit to the said
craftischilder, all actioun, cryme, and offens that thai had committit
aganes thame in any tyme bygane; and band and oblast thame never to
pursew them thairfor; and als commandit thair maisters to resaue them
agane in thair services, as thai did befoir. And this being proclainit
at the mercat cross, thai scalit, and the said provest and bailies
come furth of the same tolbouyth." &c. &c. &c.
John Knox, who writes at large upon this tumult, informs us it was
inflamed by the deacons of craftes, who, resenting; the superiority
assumed over them by the magistrates, would yield no assistance to put
down the tumult. "They will be magistrates alone," said the recusant
deacons, "e'en let them rule the populace alone;" and accordingly they
passed quietly to take _their four-hours penny_, and left the
magistrates to help themselves as they could. Many persons were
excommunicated for this outrage, and not admitted to church ordinances
till they had made satisfaction.]
--the best representation exhibited at the time; and no great wonder,
since most of the actors were, by profession, the banished men and
thieves whom they presented. Other masqueraders there were, of a less
marked description. Men were disguised as women, and women as
men--children wore the dress of aged people, and tottered with
crutch-sticks in their hands, furred gowns on their little backs, and
caps on their round heads--while grandsires assumed the infantine tone
as well as the dress of children. Besides these, many had their faces
painted, and wore their shirts over the rest of their dress; while
coloured pasteboard and ribbons furnished out decorations for others.
Those who wanted all these properties, blacked their faces, and turned
their jackets inside out; and thus the transmutation of the whole
assembly into a set of mad grotesque mummers, was at once completed.
The pause which the masqueraders made, waiting apparently for some
person of the highest authority amongst them, gave those within the
Abbey Church full time to observe all these absurdities. They were at
no loss to comprehend their purpose and meaning.
Few readers can be ignorant, that at an early period, and during the
plenitude of her power, the Church of Rome not only connived at, but
even encouraged, such Saturnalian licenses as the inhabitants of
Kennaquhair and the neighbourhood had now in hand, and that the
vulgar, on such occasions, were not only permitted but encouraged by a
number of gambols, sometimes puerile and ludicrous, sometimes immoral
and profane, to indemnify themselves for the privations and penances
imposed on them at other seasons. But, of all other topics for
burlesque and ridicule, the rites and ceremonial of the church itself
were most frequently resorted to; and, strange to say, with the
approbation of the clergy themselves.
While the hierarchy flourished in full glory, they do not appear to
have dreaded the consequences of suffering the people to become so
irreverently familiar with things sacred; they then imagined the laity
to be much in the condition of the labourer's horse, which does not
submit to the bridle and the whip with greater reluctance, because, at
rare intervals, he is allowed to frolic at large in his pasture, and
fling out his heels in clumsy gambols at the master who usually drives
him. But, when times changed--when doubt of the Roman Catholic
doctrine, and hatred of their priesthood, had possessed the reformed
party, the clergy discovered, too late, that no small inconvenience
arose from the established practice of games and merry-makings, in
which they themselves, and all they held most sacred, were made the
subject of ridicule. It then became obvious to duller politicians than
the Romish churchmen, that the same actions have a very different
tendency when done in the spirit of sarcastic insolence and hatred,
than when acted merely in exuberance of rude and uncontrollable
spirits. They, therefore, though of the latest, endeavoured, where
they had any remaining influence, to discourage the renewal of these
indecorous festivities. In this particular, the Catholic clergy were
joined by most of the reformed preachers, who were more shocked at the
profanity and immorality of many of these exhibitions, than disposed
to profit by the ridiculous light in which they placed the Church of
Rome and her observances. But it was long ere these scandalous and
immoral sports could be abrogated;--the rude multitude continued
attached to their favourite pastimes, and, both in England and
Scotland, the mitre of the Catholic--the rochet of the reformed
bishop--and the cloak and band of the Calvinistic divine--were, in
turn, compelled to give place to those jocular personages, the Pope of
Fools, the Boy-Bishop, and the Abbot of Unreason. [Footnote: From the
interesting novel entitled Anastasius, it seems the same burlesque
ceremonies were practised in the Greek Church. ]
It was the latter personage who now, in full costume, made his
approach to the great door of the church of St. Mary's, accoutred in
such a manner as to form a caricature, or practical parody, on the
costume and attendants of the real Superior, whom he came to beard on
the very day of his installation, in the presence of his clergy, and
in the chancel of his church. The mock dignitary was a stout-made
under-sized fellow, whose thick squab form had been rendered grotesque
by a supplemental paunch, well stuffed. He wore a mitre of leather,
with the front like a grenadier's cap, adorned with mock embroidery,
and trinkets of tin. This surmounted a visage, the nose of which was
the most prominent feature, being of unusual size, and at least as
richly gemmed as his head-gear. His robe was of buckram, and his cope
of canvass, curiously painted, and cut into open work. On one shoulder
was fixed the painted figure of an owl; and he bore in the right hand
his pastoral staff, and in the left a small mirror having a handle to
it, thus resembling a celebrated jester, whose adventures, translated
into English, were whilom extremely popular, and which may still be
procured in black letter, for about one sterling pound per leaf.
The attendants of this mock dignitary had their proper dresses and
equipage, bearing the same burlesque resemblance to the officers of
the Convent which their leader did to the Superior. They followed
their leader in regular procession, and the motley characters, which
had waited his arrival, now crowded into the church in his train,
shouting as they came,--"A hall, a hall! for the venerable Father
Howleglas, the learned Monk of Misrule, and the Right Reverend Abbot
The discordant minstrelsy of every kind renewed its din; the boys
shrieked and howled, and the men laughed and hallooed, and the women
giggled and screamed, and the beasts roared, and the dragon wallopped
and hissed, and the hobby-horse neighed, pranced, and capered, and the
rest frisked and frolicked, clashing their hobnailed shoes against the
pavement, till it sparkled with the marks of their energetic
It was, in fine, a scene of ridiculous confusion, that deafened the
ear, made the eyes giddy, and must have altogether stunned any
indifferent spectator; the monks, whom personal apprehension and a
consciousness that much of the popular enjoyment arose from the
ridicule being directed against them, were, moreover, little comforted
by the reflection, that, bold in their disguise, the mummers who
whooped and capered around them, might, on slight provocation, turn
their jest into earnest, or at least proceed to those practical
pleasantries, which at all times arise so naturally out of the
frolicsome and mischievous disposition of the populace. They looked to
their Abbot amid the tumult, with such looks as landsmen cast upon the
pilot when the storm is at the highest--looks which express that they
are devoid of all hope arising from their own exertions, and not very
confident in any success likely to attend those of their Palinurus.
The Abbot himself seemed at a stand; he felt no fear, but he was
sensible of the danger of expressing his rising indignation, which he
was scarcely able to suppress. He made a gesture with his hand as if
commanding silence, which was at first only replied to by redoubled
shouts, and peals of wild laughter. When, however, the same motion,
and as nearly in the same manner, had been made by Howleglas, it was
immediately obeyed by his riotous companions, who expected fresh food
for mirth in the conversation betwixt the real and mock Abbot, having
no small confidence in the vulgar wit and impudence of their leader.
Accordingly, they began to shout, "To it, fathers--to it I"--"Fight
monk, fight madcap--Abbot against Abbot is fair play, and so is reason
against unreason, and malice against monkery!"
"Silence, my mates!" said Howleglas; "cannot two learned Fathers of
the Church hold communion together, but you must come here with your
bear-garden whoop and hollo, as if you were hounding forth a mastiff
upon a mad bull? I say silence! and let this learned Father and me
confer, touching matters affecting our mutual state and authority."
"My children"-said Father Ambrose.
"_My_ children too,--and happy children they are!" said his
burlesque counterpart; "many a wise child knows not its own father,
and it is well they have two to choose betwixt."
"If thou hast aught in thee, save scoffing and ribaldry," said the
real Abbot, "permit me, for thine own soul's sake, to speak a few
words to these misguided men."
"Aught in me but scoffing, sayest thou?" retorted the Abbot of
Unreason; "why, reverend brother, I have all that becomes mine office
at this time a-day--I have beef, ale, and brandy-wine, with other
condiments not worth mentioning; and for speaking, man--why, speak
away, and we will have turn about, like honest fellows."
During this discussion the wrath of Magdalen Graeme had risen to the
uttermost; she approached the Abbot, and placing herself by his side,
said in a low and yet distinct tone-"Wake and arouse thee, Father--the
sword of Saint Peter is in thy hand--strike and avenge Saint Peter's
patrimony!--Bind them in the chains which, being riveted by the
church on earth, are riveted in Heaven--"
"Peace, sister!" said the Abbot; "let not their madness destroy our
discretion--I pray thee, peace, and let me do mine office. It is the
first, peradventure it may be the last time, I shall be called on to
"Nay, my holy brother!" said Howleglas, "I rede you, take the holy
sister's advice--never throve convent without woman's counsel."
"Peace, vain man!" said the Abbot; "and you, my brethren--"
"Nay, nay!" said the Abbot of Unreason, "no speaking to the lay
people, until you have conferred with your brother of the cowl. I
swear by bell, book, and candle, that no one of my congregation shall
listen to one word you have to say; so you had as well address
yourself to me who will."
To escape a conference so ludicrous, the Abbot again attempted an
appeal to what respectful feelings might yet remain amongst the
inhabitants of the Halidome, once so devoted to their spiritual
Superiors. Alas! the Abbot of Unreason had only to nourish his mock
crosier, and the whooping, the hallooing, and the dancing, were
renewed with a vehemence which would have defied the lungs of Stentor.
"And now, my mates," said the Abbot of Unreason, "once again dight
your gabs and be hushed-let us see if the Cock of Kennaquhair will
fight or flee the pit."
There was again a dead silence of expectation, of which Father Ambrose
availed himself to address his antagonist, seeing plainly that he
could gain an audience on no other terms. "Wretched man!" said he,
"hast thou no better employment for thy carnal wit, than to employ it
in leading these blind and helpless creatures into the pit of utter
"Truly, my brother," replied Howleglas, "I can see little difference
betwixt your employment and mine, save that you make a sermon of a
jest, and I make a jest of a sermon."
"Unhappy being," said the Abbot, "who hast no better subject of
pleasantry than that which should make thee tremble--no sounder jest
than thine own sins, and no better objects for laughter than those who
can absolve thee from the guilt of them!"
"Verily, my reverend brother," said the mock Abbot, "what you say
might be true, if, in laughing at hypocrites, I meant to laugh at
religion.--Oh, it is a precious thing to wear a long dress, with a
girdle and a cowl--we become a holy pillar of Mother Church, and a
boy must not play at ball against the walls for fear of breaking a
"And will you, my friends," said the Abbot, looking round and speaking
with a vehemence which secured him a tranquil audience for some
time,--"will you suffer a profane buffoon, within the very church of
God, to insult his ministers? Many of you--all of you, perhaps--have
lived under my holy predecessors, who were called upon to rule in this
church where I am called upon to suffer. If you have worldly goods,
they are their gift; and, when you scorned not to accept better
gifts--the mercy and forgiveness of the church--were they not ever at
your command?--did we not pray while you were jovial--wake while you
"Some of the good wives of the Halidome were wont to say so," said the
Abbot of Unreason; but his jest met in this instance but slight
applause, and Father Ambrose, having gained a moment's attention,
hastened to improve it.
"What!" said he; "and is this grateful--is it seemly--is it honest--to
assail with scorn a few old men, from whose predecessors you hold all,
and whose only wish is to die in peace among these fragments of what
was once the light of the land, and whose daily prayer is, that they
may be removed ere that hour comes when the last spark shall be
extinguished, and the land left in the darkness which it has chosen
rather than light? We have not turned against you the edge of the
spiritual sword, to revenge our temporal persecution; the tempest of
your wrath hath despoiled us of land, and deprived us almost of our
daily food, but we have not repaid it with the thunders of
excommunication--we only pray your leave to live and die within the
church which is our own, invoking God, our Lady, and the Holy Saints
to pardon your sins, and our own, undisturbed by scurril buffoonery
This speech, so different in tone and termination from that which the
crowd had expected, produced an effect upon their feelings
unfavourable to the prosecution of their frolic. The morris-dancers
stood still--the hobby-horse surceased his capering--pipe and tabor
were mute, and "silence, like a heavy cloud," seemed to descend on the
once noisy rabble. Several of the beasts were obviously moved to
compunction; the bear could not restrain his sobs, and a huge fox was
observed to wipe his eyes with his tail. But in especial the dragon,
lately so formidably rampant, now relaxed the terror of his claws,
uncoiled his tremendous rings, and grumbled out of his fiery throat in
a repentant tone, "By the mass, I thought no harm in exercising our
old pastime, but an I had thought the good Father would have taken it
so to heart, I would as soon have played your devil, as your dragon."
In this momentary pause, the Abbot stood amongst the miscellaneous and
grotesque forms by which he was surrounded, triumphant as Saint
Anthony, in Callot's Temptations; but Howleglas would not so resign
"And how now, my masters!" said he, "is this fair play or no? Have you
not chosen me Abbot of Unreason, and is it lawful for any of you to
listen to common sense to-day? Was I not formally elected by you in
solemn chapter, held in Luckie Martin's change-house, and will you now
desert me, and give up your old pastime and privilege? Play out the
play--and he that speaks the next word of sense or reason, or bids us
think or consider, or the like of that, which befits not the day, I
will have him solemnly ducked in the mill-dam!"
The rabble, mutable as usual, huzzaed, the pipe and tabor struck up,
the hobby-horse pranced, the beasts roared, and even the repentant
dragon began again to coil up his spires, and prepare himself for
fresh gambols. But the Abbot might still have overcome, by his
eloquence and his entreaties, the malicious designs of the revellers,
had not Dame Magdalen Graeme given loose to the indignation which she
had long suppressed.
"Scoffers," she said, "and men of Belial--Blasphemous heretics, and
"Your patience, my sister, I entreat and I command you!" said the
Abbot; "let me do my duty--disturb me not in mine office!"
But Dame Magdalen continued to thunder forth her threats in the name
of Popes and Councils, and in the name of every Saint, from St.
"My comrades!" said the Abbot of Unreason, "this good dame hath not
spoken a single word of reason, and therein may esteem herself free
from the law. But what she spoke was meant for reason, and, therefore,
unless she confesses and avouches all which she has said to be
nonsense, it shall pass for such, so far as to incur our statutes.
Wherefore, holy dame, pilgrim, or abbess, or whatever thou art, be
mute with thy mummery or beware the mill-dam. We will have neither
spiritual nor temporal scolds in our Diocese of Unreason!"
As he spoke thus, he extended his hand towards the old woman, while
his followers shouted, "A doom--a doom!" and prepared to second his
purpose, when lo! it was suddenly frustrated. Roland Graeme had
witnessed with indignation the insults offered to his old spiritual
preceptor, but yet had wit enough to reflect he could render him no
assistance, but might well, by ineffective interference, make matters
worse. But when he saw his aged relative in danger of personal
violence, he gave way to the natural impetuosity of his temper, and,
stepping forward, struck his poniard into the body of the Abbot of
Unreason, whom the blow instantly prostrated on the pavement.
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