Page images

"The story of Adam, there was goodly wrought,
And of his wyfe Eve, bytwene them the serpent,
How they were deceyved, and to theyr peynes brought;
There was Cayu and Abell, offerynge theyr present,
The sacryfyce of Abell, accepte full evydent:
Tuball and Tubalcain were purtrayed in that place,
The inventours of musyke and crafte by great grace.

"Noe and his shyppe was made there curyously

Sendynge forthe a raven, whiche never came again;
And how the dove returned, with a braunche hastely,
A token of comforte and peace, to man certayne:
Abraham there was, standing upon the mount playne
To offer in sacrifice Isaac his dere sone,
And how the shepe for hym was offered in oblacyon.

"The twelve sones of Jacob there were in purtrayture,
And how into Egypt yonge Josephe was solde,
There was imprisoned, by a false conjectour,
After in all Egypte, was ruler (as is tolde).
There was in pycture Moyses wyse and bolde,
Our Lorde apperynge in bushe flammynge as fyre,
And nothing thereof brent, lefe, tree, nor spyre.*

"The ten plages of Egypt were well embost,
The chyldren of Israel passyng the reed see,
Kynge Pharoo drowned, with all his proude hoost,
And how the two table, at the Mounte Synaye
Were gyven to Moyses, and how soon to idolatry
The people were prone, and punysshed were therefore,
How Datan and Abyron, for pryde were full youre."f

Then Duke Joshua leading the Israelites: the division of the promised land; Kyng Saul! and David, and " prudent Solomon ;" Roboas succeeding;

"The good Kynge Esechyas and his generacyon,
And so to the Machabus, and dyvers other nacyon."

* Spyre—twig, branch. f Youre- burnt.


All these

"Theyr noble actes, and tryumphes marcyall,
Freshly were browdred in these clothes royall."

"But over the hye desse, in the pryncypall place.
Where the sayd thre kynges sate crowned all,
The best hallynge * hanged, as reason was,
Whereon were wrought the nine orders angelicall
Dyvyded in thre ierarchyses, not cessynge to call
Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, blessed be the Trynite,
Dominius Deus Sabaoth. three persons in one deyte,"

Then followed in order our Blessed Lady, the twelve Apostles, "eche one in his figure," the four Evangelists "wrought most curyously," all the disciples

"Prechynge and techynge, unto every nacyon, The faythtesf of holy chyrche, for their salvacyon.''

"Martyrs then followed, right manifolde;" Confessors " fressely embrodred in ryche tyshewe and fyne." Saintly virgins "were brothered J the clothes of gold within," and the long array was closed on the other side of the hall by

"Noble auncyent storyes, and how the stronge Sampson
Subdued his enemyes by his myghty power;
Of Hector of Troye, slayne by fals treason;
Of noble Arthur, kynge of this regyon;
With many other mo, which it is to longe
Playnly to expresse this tyme you amonge."

But the powers of the chief proportion of needlewomen, and of many of the subsequent tapestry looms were devoted to giving permanence to those fables which, as exhibited in the Romances of Chivalry, formed the very life and delight of our ancestors in

* Hallynge—Tapestry. f Faythtes—feats, facts,

t Brothered—embroidered.

that happy season

Ere bright Fancy bent to reason j
When the spirit of our stories,
Filled the mind with unseen glories;
Told of creatures of the air,
Spirits, fairies, goblins rare,
Guarding man with tenderest care."

These fables, says Warton, were not only perpetually repeated at the festivals of our ancestors, but were the constant objects of their eyes. The very walls of their apartments were clothed with romantic history.

We have mentioned the history of Alexander in Tapestry as forming an important part of the peace offering of the king of France to Bajazet, and probably there were few princes who did not possess a suit of tapestry on this subject; a most important one in romance, and consequently a desired one for the loom.

There seems an innate propensity in the writers of the Romance of Chivalry to exaggerate, almost to distortion, the achievements of those whose heroic bearing needed no pomp of diction, or wild flow of imagination to illustrate it. Thus Charlemagne, one of the best and greatest of men, appears in romance like one whose thirst for slaughter it requires myriads of " Paynims " to quench.

Arthur, on the contrary, a very (if history tell truth) a very "so-so" sort of a man, having not one tithe of the intellect or the magnanimity of him to whom we have just referred—Arthur is invested in


romance with a halo of interest and of beauty which is perfectly fascinating; and it seems almost impossible to divest oneself of these impressions and to look upon him only in the unattractive light in which history represents him.

A person not initiated in romance would suppose that the real actions of Alexander—the subjugator of Greece, the conqueror of Persia, the captor of the great Darius, but the generous protector of his family—might sufficiently immortalize him. By no means. He cuts a considerable figure in many romances; but in one, appropriated more exclusively to his exploits, he " surpasses himself." The world was conquered:—from north to south, and from east to west his sovereignty was acknowledged; so he forthwith flew up into the air to bring the aerial potentates to his feet. But this experiment not answering, he descended to the depths of the waters with much better success; for immediately all their inhabitants, from the whale to the herring, the cannibal shark, the voracious pike, the majestic sturgeon, the lordly salmon, the rich turbot, and the delicate trout, with all their kith, kin, relations, and allies, the lobster, the crab, and the muscle,

"The sounds and seas with all their finny drove"

crowd round him to do him homage: the oyster lays her pearl at his feet, and the coral boughs meekly wave in token of subjection. Doubtless in addition to the legitimate "battles" these exploits, if not fully displayed, were intimated by symbols in the Tapestry. The Tale of Troy was a very favourite subject for

[ocr errors]

Tapestry, and was found in many noble mansions, especially in France. It has indeed been conjectured, and on sufficient grounds, that the whole Iliad had been wrought in a consecutive series of hangings. Though during the early part of the middle ages Homer himself was lost, still the " Tale of Troy divine" was kept alive in two Latin works, which in 1260 formed the basis of a prose romance by a Sicilian.

The great original himself however, had become the companion not only of the studious and learned, but also of the fair and fashionable, while yet the Flemish looms were in the zenith of their popularity. This subject formed part of the decoration of Holyrood House, on the occasion of the marriage of Henry the Seventh's daughter to James, King of Scotland in 1503. We are told in an ancient record, that the "hanginge of the queene's gret chammer represented the ystory of Troye toune, that the king's grett chammer had one table, wer was satt, hys chamer- layne, the grett sqyer, and many others, well served; the which chammer was haunged about with the story of Hercules, together with other ystorys." And at the same solemnity, " in the hall wher the qwene's company wer satt in lyke as in the other, an wich was haunged of the history of Hercules."

The tragic and fearful story of Coucy's heart gave rise to an old metrical English Romance, called the 'Knight of Courtesy and the Lady of Faguel.' It was entirely represented in tapestry. The incident, a true one, on which it was founded, occurred about 1180; and was thus :—

"Some hundred and odd years since, there was

« PreviousContinue »