« PreviousContinue »
wifery which the careful housewife never omitted buying—the ginger, nutmegs, and cinnamon, for the Christmas posset, and Sheer-Monday furmety; the currants and almonds for the Twelfth-Night cake (an observance which dates almost as far back as the Conquest); the figs, with which our forefathers always celebrated Palm-Sunday; and the pepper, the saffron, and the cummin, so highly prized in ancient cookery. All these articles bore high prices, and therefore it was with great consideration and care that they were bought.
"But the task of providing raiment for the family also devolved upon the mistress, and there were no dealers save for the richer articles of wearing apparel to be found. The wool that formed the chief clothing was the produce of the flock, or purchased in a raw state; and was carded, spun, and in some instances woven at home. Flax, also, was often spun for the coarser kinds of linen, and occasionally woven. Thus, the mistress of a household had most important duties to fulfil, for on her wise and prudent manngement depended not merely the comfort, but the actual well-being of her extensive housenoid. If the winter's stores were insufficient, there were no markets from whence an additional supply could be obtained; and the lord of wide estates and numerous manors might be reduced to the most annoying privations through the mismanagement of the mistress of the family."
The " costly and delicate needle-work" is here, as elsewhere, passed over with merely a mention: It is, naturally, too insignificant a subject to task the attention of those whose energies are devoted to describing the warfare and welfare of kingdoms and thrones. Thus did we look only to professed historians, though enough exists in their pages to evidence the existence of such productions as those which form the subject of our chapter, our evidence would be meagre indeed as to the minuter details: but as the " novel" now describes those minutiae of every day life which we should think it ridiculous to look for in the writings of the politician or historian, so the romances of the days of chivalry present us with descriptions which, if they be somewhat redundant in ornament, are still correct in groundwork; and the details gathered from romances have in, it may be, unimportant circumstances, that accidental corroboration from history which fairly stamps their faithfulness in more important particulars: and it has been shown, says the author of' Godefridus,' by learned men, in the memoirs of the French Academy of Inscriptions, that they may be used in common with history, and as of equal authority whenever an inquiry takes place respecting the spirit and manners of the ages in which they were composed. But we are writing a dissertation on romance instead of describing the " clodes ryche," to which we must now proceed.
So highly was a facility in the use of the needle prized in these " ould ancient times," that a wandering damsel is not merely tolerated but cherished in a family in which she is a perfect stranger, solely from her skill in this much-loved art.
After being exposed in an open boat, Emare was rescued by Syr Kadore, remained in his castle, and there—
*' She tawghte hem to sewe and marks
Of her they wer ful fayne." *
Syr Kadore says of her—
"She ys the konnyngest wommon,
And again describing her—
"She sewed sylke werk yn hour."
This same accomplished and luckless lady had, princess though she was, every advantage of early tuition in this notable art, having been sent in her childhood to a lady called Abro, who not only taught her " curtesye and thewe" (virtue and good manners), but also
"Golde and sylke for to sewe,
evidently an old dame's school; where, however, we may infer from the arrangement of the accomplishments taught, and the special mention of needle-work, that the extra expense would be for the sewing; whereas, in our time and country (or county), the routine has been, " Reding And Soing,
THREE-PENCE A WEEK: A PENY EXTRA FOR MANNERS."
This expensive and troublesome acquirement— the art of sewing in "golde and silke "—was of general adoption: gorgeous must have been the appearance of the damsels and knights of those days, when their
"Clothys wyth bestes & byrdes wer bete,\
All abowte for pryde."
* Emare. f Bete—inlayed, embroidered.
"By that light Amadis saw his lady, and she appeared more beautiful than man could fancy woman could be. She had on a robe of Indian silk, thickly wrought with flowers of gold; her hair was so beautiful that it was a wonder, and she had covered it only with a garland." *
"Now when the fair Grasinda heard of the coming of the fleet, and of all that had befallen, she made ready to receive Oriana, whom of all persons in the world she most desired to see, because of her great renown that was everywhere spread abroad. She therefore wished to appear before her like a lady of such rank and such wealth as indeed she was: the robe which she put on was adorned with roses of gold, wrought with marvellous skill, and bordered with pearls and precious stones of exceeding value." f
"His fine, soft garments, wove with cunning skill,
"Mayde Elene, al so tyte.
Anoon sche gan her tyre,
Arayde wyth golde wyre.
Sche caste abowte her swyre;
The best yn that empyre." *J[
* Amadis of Gaul, bk. i. ch. xv. f Ibid. bk. iv. ch. iii.
X Oil. Fur.: transl. by Rose. § Samyte—rich silk.
j| Petered—furred. «J Lybeaus Disconus.
We read perpetually of" kercheves well schyre,*
"Arayde wyth ryche gold wyre/'
But the labours of those days were not confined to merely good-appearing garments: the skill of the needle-woman — for doubtless it was solely attributable to that—could imbue them with a value far beyond that of mere outward garnish.
"She seyde, Syr Knight, gentyl and hende,f
Be naught aschamed of me;
Ryche i wyll make the.
Wyth fayr ymages thre;
In wat place that thou be."§
But infinitely more marvellous is the following :— "King Lisuarte was so content with the tidings of Amadis and Galaor, which the dwarf had brought him, that he determined to hold the most honourable court that ever had been held in Great Britain. Presently three knights came through the gate, two of them armed at all points, the third unarmed, of good stature and well proportioned, his hair grey, but of a green and comely old age. He held in his hand a coffer; and, having inquired which was the king, dismounted from his palfrey and kneeled before him, saying, 'God preserve you, Sir! for you have made the noblest promise that ever king did, if you hold it.'