Billeder på siden

ornament, must have been done as an occupation to fill up the heavy hours of prison life. I do not wish to exaggerate--and do not mean to say that any of the ornaments attached to the inscriptions are very finely done—but there are several coats of arms and devices of all kinds and sorts—such as crosses, flowers, eagles, figures of Time and Death-nay, sometimes what may be considered more than a mere device; for instance, a representation of a man kneeling at a tombthese things, I say, are done in a manner which I cannot at all understand being within the power of prisoners, taken generally, it is true, from the educated ranks of life, yet who cannot be supposed to have had skill in sculpture. I use this term, because nearly all the decorations, and a very large proportion of even the inscriptions, are in reliefbeing the exact reverse of the ordinary mode of writing. I am sure there are very few. lords and gentlemen' of the present day, who, if they were shut up in the Tower, could place upon the wall their coats of arms, or a moral reflection, or stanza of verse, in letters protruding from the wall, instead of cut into it.

This is a problem which may perhaps be solved in one of two ways. Either an artist must have been employed, which, to say nothing of the greater part of the figures not quite reaching that pitch, must be exceedingly improbable from the distance of dates one from the other, and the almost impossibility of such a person being admitted into the prison at various times ;-or the prisoners under stateaccusations must have much more generally possessed graphic powers than persons of the same condition would at the present day. I surmise, from the dates and other circumstances, that most of the prisoners in this room were confined on account of religion, on one side or other : several of them were ecclesiastics or students; these persons, perhaps, may have studied such things as illumination of books, and may thus have been able to decorate the stone walls of their prisons, when they had nothing else to write upon. At all events, so the facts are. My readers may, perhaps, be more competent to trace them to their causes than I am, who am but a poor antiquarian.

I have copied a few of the inscriptions I considered the most curious. One is in five different languages. There is an oblong sort of figure on the wall, somewhat in the shape of an ordinary tomb-stone-in, over, and around which, in every possible direction, are the following reflections and apothegms : these are all in relief. First, at each side of the top are the dates of the year and month. Anno D. 1571.-10th Sept.—the latter probably meaning the day on which the whole was finished, or begun, as it must have taken a considerable time. The year 1571 appears in more of these inscriptions than any other. It is no very violent conclusion to suppose that the prisoners of this date were Catholics, as it was just at that time that the famous bull of Pius V. depriving Elizabeth of her right to the crown, and absolving all her subjects from their allegiance, was affixed to the gates of the Bishop of London's palace. This business occasioned extreme agitation among the Catholics; not to speak of the great plot concocted during that year, between the leaders of the Catholic party and Queen Mary, and the Spanish ambassador and the agent of the Pope; which ended in Norfolk's execution. Somehow implicated in the troubles arising from these transactions it is natural to suppose our polyglotist to have been; but, though he writes in many tongues, he says very little; it is difficult to extract much more than the most general sentiments from the following :

“The most unhappy man in the world is he that is not patient in adversities, for men are not killed with the adversities they have, but with the impatience which they suffer.” of the English I have modernized the spelling, for really copying a dozen consonants out of use, and final ee's innumerable, was too much for me. In the French and Italian I have stuck to it as it is in the original, lest, in the latter at least, my modernizations of the words might be alterations of the sense. The next part of the inscription is the following apothegm, which the man who would impugn, must be an inveterate disputant. “ Tout vient a poient, quy puelt attendre"-that is, supposing my friend and I are right in supposing these most hieroglyphically written words to mean, that Every thing will come to an issue (for him) who can wait.” Close below this is an assertion of the linguist's grief in Italian—" Gli sospiri ne son testimoni del langoscia inia.” Now, notwithstanding the cruel divorce inflicted upon the two l's of dell', every young lady will acknowledge the truth of the statement that “Sighs bear witness of my anguish!" We have, then, the signature" Charles Bailly," and the age, “Æt. 29.” The name, as it is spelled, may be either French or English ; and it is impossible, from the gift of tongues possessed by the writer, to know which country has the juster claim to his birth. Then we have a scrap of Latin. “Principium sapentiæ timor Domini."* And, after a little couplet, one line on each side of the figure

Be friend to one,

Enemy to nonewe came to a language which neither I nor the friend who was with me, who is an excellent linguist, could very well identify. The words are “Hoepende Hebt Pacientie,” which we agreed, from its queer resemblance to German, must be either Dutch, or some bastard dialect of that language. Guided by the German, we guessed, for it is mere guess-work, this to mean “ Hoping raises the patience”—Pacientie, however, in no degree resembles the German word, which is geduld.Probably the sentence is patchwork. The whole of this inscription is, I think, very

curious—there are so many languages used to say nothing. I can well understand that any very explicit declaration of sentiment on the subject of the imprisonment might cause considerable inconvenience. Still, some others do hint their opinions a little ; as, for instance, I found a cross, with “ Staro fidele," written underneath it; and though in this case, the directness of the application must depend entirely on the circumstances of the individual and of the time,-a representation of an oakleaf between two acorns, with the inscription of * Sperando me godero." This is dated 1537, and signed with a sort of extraordinary combination of an M, an E, and a little B growing out of the M's left leg, which I am confident there is no type in the fount to represent.

The prevalence of Italian in these inscriptions is very remarkable. I conclude there must have been many ecclesiastics of that country

# The chief of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.

imprisoned during the religious turmoils here, in the sixteenth century. But even that will not account for the following very curious inscription, for, (to say nothing of the English name) as far as the date is distinguishable, it is 1428. The Italian seems to be slightly mixed with Latin; at all events it is of a description quite obsolete now. The characters are exceedingly old and curiously-shaped, but very distinctly cut. We had great difficulty in decyphering some of them—the Ď especially, which resembled rather a German capital (printed) S, than any other letter we knew. After much puzzling we read the inscription as follows :-"Dispoi che vole la Fortuna que la mea speransa va al vento! pianger ho volio el tempo perdudo ; e semper stelme : tristo, e discontento. William Tyrrell.” The following is what my friend and I'construed this composition to mean: “Since Fortune wills that my hope should go to the winds, I will lament the time lost ; my star is always sad and discontented.” We suppose stelme : to be an abbreviation of stella mea-for there is evidently a mixture of Latin in the language sufficient to account for its being mea, instead of mia—and the marks of coutraction are quite distinct.

One more, and this is a thorough English one, and I have done. Two bears are represented holding a staff between them, something after the fashion of arms, though not on a shield, or, as far as I recollect, with the distinguishing mark of a crest beneath. Below the staff, is the name John Dudley-a prominent name in English history, but here there is no date wherewith to distinguish which of its possessors is meant. Beneath this are four verses, of which one is, alas ! incomplete. What remains distinguishable is as follows :

You that these beasts do well behold and see,
May deem with ease wherefore here made they be,
With borders

4 brothers' names who list to reach the ground. I confess that, for my part, I have not the least idea wherefore the beasts are there made; but they are very well made, and perhaps the third line would have told us.

And now, gentle reader, I have to congratulate you on escaping an evil with which you are probably unconscious of having been threatened. As I walked home from the Tower, I had this prison-room full in my mind-Lady Jane Grey (who was confined there) and all ; and I revolved in my thoughts divers dismal reflections upon all the misery that room had witnessed. These I had intended to pour forth upon your devoted head, in this my account of my visit : but that account has run terribly long already; and, what perhaps may be more to the purpose, I am dead tired of my pen. Therefore, reader, you are spared ! As I behave so forbearingly, perhaps you will look into my glass again, when it is turned upon some other object.

[blocks in formation]


5th. Last night Covent Garden Theatre re-opened, after the close rendered necessary by all the turmoil the gas has lately occasioned. It is fortunate, indeed, that that close took place when it did—for, certainly, it then fully came to light that the state in which the whole of the gas establishment was, might, at any moment, have occasioned accidents in which the destruction of human life—to say nothing of property-would have been dreadful. Four lives have been lost, and that under circumstances most painful to contemplate ; but there probably never was an instance in which the old adage, “ 'Tis well it's no worse," could be more strongly applicable.

But it is not of the theatre itself that it is our present purpose to speak. We wish to say a few words concerning the performance with which it opened. We mean the Merchant of Venice. We have very long considered it both an outrage and a disgrace that this play should be acted in its present state. With every possible admiration of Shakspeare, short of considering his faults beauties because they are his, we cannot allow that his name should be sufficient to carry through gross indecencies which would, in a moment, be hooted off the stage, if they were brought forward in the shape of a new production, or even of a revival of a piece of one of his contemporaries. Why have we given up so many of our elder comedies, abounding with pleasantry“ of every gradation, from the richest humour to the keenest and most elegant wit, but on account of their moral looseness? We regret the loss of so much of the most nervous and characteristic part of our dramatic literature; but we resign it cheerfully when it can be retained only at the cost of modesty, delicacy, and good feeling. And we will venture to assert that there is scarcely anything more utterly and grossly unfit to be repeated before an audience of our time, in all Wycherley, Congreve, and Vanburgh, than the fifth Act of the Merchant of Venice. It is most painful to see the actresses reduced to the necessity of uttering the words put into their mouths: and still more painful to witness the ladies in the audience compelled to hear all the filth and ribaldry which form the dialogue of the fifth act. When people go to see the Merchant of Venice, it is Shylock of which they think. The last Act is so totally unconnected with the plot that they almost forget its existence till the odious infliction begins. When a party goes to Love for Love, or the Country Girl, they know that they are going to a play which, however clever, is full of improprieties—and they have no right to complain of what they meet. But it is really no affectation to say that those who go for the sake of Mr. Kean's Shylock, really overlook Nerissa and the Doctor's clerk altogether.

We dare say we shall be accused of the highest literary sin in England, viz., treason against the majesty of Shakspeare, when we say that we think it would be a most material improvement to this play to make it end with the fourth Act. The catastrophe occurs with the disappointment of the Jew ;--the play is really over-its plot and action

certainly are-at the end of the trial-scene. But stage-regulations require a fifth act; and, therefore, the flimsy and filthy supplement of the rings is tacked on. Now, when nearly all plays of the date of Shakspeare, including his own, are of necessity subjected to revision, and, in nearly all cases, to, at least, the alteration of curtailment and omissions-when such is the fact, we really cannot see that there would be any great indignity against the immortal bard if this Act, which is by far the most continuously indecent thing in all his works, were to be omitted. Shakspeare, of course, like all other writers of his age, has occasional expressions and allusions of a coarse nature ---but considering what the general tone of literature was in his days, they are astonishingly few-and he never, as far as general recollection serves us, has given into the very usual habit of his brethren of forming a plot depending on an indecent circumstance, except in this one instance, Why, then, it should scrupulously be retained—when, in addition to its impropriety, it is a fantastic and needless excrescence, we cannot in the least conceive. Let our managers boldly lop it off; and the improvement will, we are convinced, be universally felt and acknowledged at once.

8th. The lovers of religious liberty must receive great gratification from the account of the meeting at Leeds, which appeared in the papers of this morning. To us, especially, it has given pleasure—from its proving so soon the justice of the opinion we ventured to give on the occasion of the Penenden Heath meeting—that the towns of England would be in favour of the Catholic question. When we consider the plans of organization on the one side which have since come to light, and the utter, even foolish, absence of everything of the kind on the other; when we reflect upon the fact of the strong and condensed unity of the Brunswickers—the one, the only, feeling of opposition to the Catholics pervading them all-while their opponents are gathered from every grade of liberalism-when we call to mind how the flocks of tenants of the anti-catholics were driven to the hustings, while nothing of the sort was attempted by the advocates of emancipationwe shall not, we think, have much cause to wonder at the majority being as it was on Penenden Heath. Above all, that meeting was held for country people, in a very countrified part of the country. Care was taken that the place of assembly should be at a great distance from all the important towns of the county. The ports, the towns of the Isle of Thanet, Rochester, Chatham, all were at a distance, the place was in the centre of the uneducated and ignorant, and the uneducated and ignorant prevailed.

At that time we said, 'Go to the towns and see what they will say to you there.' Leeds is the first town where the experiment has been tried, and there, in despite of all manner of maneuvres, a petition has been carried in favour of the Catholic question. Now even in a town, education is not yet by any means thoroughly spread; but it exists to an extent totally unknown in the agricultural parts of the country. There are all sorts of prejudices still lingering among but too many of our countrymen, which cause the cry of No Popery to sound welcome in their ears. The absurd and iniquitous cheatery of

« ForrigeFortsæt »