[ocr errors]

FITS, or intermissions. So Puttenham in his Art of Englise poefie, 1989, says, the Epithalamie was divided by * breaches into three partes to serve for three several Fits,

or times to be fung:" p. 41.

From the same writer we learn some curious particulars relative to the state of ballad-finging in that age, that will throw light on the present subject : Speaking of the quick returns of one manner of tune in the sport measures used by common rhimers; these, be says, " glut sbe eare, unless it be in small and popular musickes, fing by thefe Gantabanqui, upon benches and barrels heads, where they have none s other audience then boys or countrey fellows, that passe by them in the streete ; or else by BLIND HARPERS, or fuch « like taverne minstrels, that give a Pit of mirth for a “ GROAT,

their matter being for the most part Aories of old time, as the tale of Sir Topas, the reportes of Bevis of

Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, Adam Bell and Clymme

of the Clough, and such other old romances or biftorical rimes, made purposely for recreation of the common people at

Christmase dinners and brideales, and in tavernes and "5 alebouses, and such other places of bafe reforte.D: 69.

This species of entertain nent, which seems to have been handed down from the ancient bards, was in the time of Puttenham falling apace into neglect ; but that it was not, even then, wholly excluded more genteel assemblies, be gives us room to infer from another passage.We ourselves, says this courtly writer, have written for pleasure a litle

brief romance, or historical ditty in the English tong of the isle of Great Britaine in fort and long meetres, and by breaches or divisions [i. e. fits,) to be more com.

modiously sung to the barpe in places of of assembly, where the company mal be desirous to heare of old adventures

, and valiąunces of noble knights in times past, as are those


[ocr errors]

* He was one of Q. Elizabeth's gent. penfioners, at a time, when the w band consisted of men of

linguisbed birth and fortune. Vid. Ath, Ox,

of king Arthur and his knights of the Round table, Sir Bevys of Southampton, , Guy of Warwicke, and others

o like.p. 33.


In more ancient times no grand scene of festivity was compleat without one of these reciters to entertain the company with feats of armes, and tales of knighthood, or, as one of these old minstrels says, in the beginning of an ancient romance in the Editor's folio MS.

" Wher meate and drinke is great plentyè,
And lords and ladyes ftill wil bee,
And fite and folace lythe ;

Perhaps Then itt is time for mee to speake

" blythe." « Of keene knightes, and kempès great,

" Sucb carping for to kythe.If we consider that a groat in the age of Elizabeth was more than equivalent to a shilling now, we shall find that the old harpers were even then, when their art was on the decline, upon a far more reputable footing than the balladfingers of our time. The reciting of one such ballad as this of the Beggar of Bednal-green, in II parts, was rewarded with half a crown of our money.

And that they made a very respectable appearance, we may learn from the dress of the old beggar, in the following stanzas, ver. 34, where he comes into company in the habit and character of one of these minstrels, being not known to be the bride's father, till after her Speech, ver. 63. The exordium of his song, and his

a GROAT for his reward, v. 76, are peculiarly characteristic of that profesion. Most of the old ballads begin in a pompous manner, in order to captivate the attention of the audience, and induce them to purchase a recital of the Song : and they seldom conclude the first part without large promises of still greater entertainment in the second. This was a necessary piece of art to incline the hearers to be at the expence of a second great's-worth.- Many of the old romances extend to eight or nine Fits, which would afford a conhderable profit to the reciter.


[ocr errors]


To return to the word fit ; it seems at first to have pecuculiarly signified the pause, or breathing time between the leveral parts, (answering to Passus in the visions of Pierce Plowman): thus in the old poem of JOHN THE Reeve the First part ends with this line,

The first fitt here find wee :' i. e. here we come to the first pause or intermission. ---By degrees it came to signify the whole part or división preceding the pause; and this sense it had obtained fo early as the time of Chaucer : who thus concludes the first part of his rhyme of Sir Thopas ( writ in ridicule of the old ballad romances)

[blocks in formation]


hin a gorgeous palace most brave,

Adorned with all the cost they colde have,
This wedding was kept most sumptuouslìe,
And all for the creditt of prettye Bessee.


[ocr errors]

All kind of dainties, and delicates fweete
Were bought for their banquet, as it was meete;
Partridge, and plover, and venison most free,
Against the brave wedding of pretty Bessee.

This wedding through England was spread by report,
So that a great number therto did resort

10 Of nobles and gentles in every degree ; And all for the fame of prettye Bessee.

To church then went this gallant young knight;
His bride followed after, an angell most bright,
With troopes of ladyes, the like nere was seene,
That went with sweete Befly of Bednall-greene.


This marryage being solemnized then,
With muficke performed by the skillfullest men,
The nobles and gentles fate downe at that tyde,
Each one admiring the beautifull bryde.


Now, after the sumptuous dinner was done,
To talke, and to reason a number begunn :
They talkt of the blind beggars daughter mot bright,
And what with his daughter he gave to the knight.


Then spake the nobles, “ Much marveil have wce,
This jolly blind beggar we cannot here see.”
My lords, quoth the bride, my father's so base,
He is loth with his presence these states to disgrace.


“ The prayfe of a woman in questyon to bringe
Before her owne face, were a flattering thinge ;
Wee thinke thy father's baseness, quoth they,
Might by thy bewtye be cleane put awaye.”

L 3


They had no sooner these pleasant words spoke,
But in comes the beggar clad in a silke cloke ;
A faire velvet capp, and a fether had hee,
And now a musicyan forsooth hee wold bee.


He had a daintye lute under his arme,
He touched the strings, which made such a charme,
Saies, Please you to heare any muficke of mee,
Ile fing you a song of prettye Bessee.


With that his lute he twanged straight way,
And thereon begann most sweetlye to play ;
And after that lessons were playd two or three,
He strayned out this song most delicatelìe.

“ A poore beggars daughter did dwell on a greene, 45 " Who for her fairenesse might well be a queene : “ A blithe bonny lasse, and dainty was shee, And many one called her prettye Bessee.


“ Her father he had noe goods, nor noe land, “ But beggd for a penny all day with his hand; " And yett to her marriage he gave thousands three, “ And still he hath somewhat for prettye Bessee.

“ And if any one here her birth doe disdaine, ·
“ Her father is ready, with might and with maine,
“ To prove shee is come of noble degree :
« Therfòre never flout at prettye Bessee.”


« 上一页继续 »