Page images

worn in Homer's time bore a strong resemblance to those now worn by the Moguls; and the custom of making presents, so discernible through his work, still prevails throughout Asia. It is not (says Sir James Forbes) so much the custom in India to present dresses ready made to the visitors as to offer the materials, especially to Europeans. In Turkey, Persia, and Arabia, it is generally the reverse. We find in Chardin that the kings of Persia had great wardrobes, where there were always many hundred habits, sorted, ready for presents, and that more than forty tailors were always employed in this service.

It is not improbable that this ancient custom of presenting a visitor with a new dress as a token of welcome, a symbol of rejoicing at his presence, may have led to many of the general customs which have prevailed, and do still, of having new clothes at any season of joy or festivity. New clothes are thought by the people of the East requisite for the due solemnization of a time of rejoicing. The Turks, even the poorest of them, would submit to any privation rather than be without new clothes at the Bairam or Great Festival. There is an anecdote recorded of the Caliph Montanser Billah, that going one day to the upper roof of his palace he saw a number of clothes spread out on the flat roofs of the houses of Bagdat. He asked the reason, and was told that the inhabitants of Bagdat were drying their clothes, which they had newly washed, on account of the approach of the Bairam. The caliph was so concerned that any should be so poor as to be obliged to wash their old clothes for want of new ones with which to celebrate this festival, that he ordered a great quantity of gold to be instantly made into bullets, proper to be shot out of crossbows, which he and his courtiers threw, by this means, upon every terrace of the city where he saw garments spread to dry.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

*' There was an auncient house not far away,

Renown'd throughout the world fur sacred lore

And pure unspotted life: so well they say
It govern'd was, and guided evermore
Through wisedome of a matrone grave and hore,

Whose onely joy was to relieve the needes

Of wretched soules, and helpe the helplesse pore:

All night she spent in bidding of her bedes,

And all the day in doing good and godly dedes."

Faerie Queene*

"Meantime, whilst monks' pens were thus employed, nuns with their needles wrote histories also: that of Christ his passion for their altar-clothes; and other Scripture- (and more legend-) stories in hangings to adorn their houses.'' Fuller, Ch. Hist., B. 6.

Needlework is an art so indissolubly connected with the convenience and comfort of mankind at large, that it is impossible to suppose any state of society in which it has not existed. Its modes varied, of course, according to the lesser or greater degrees of refinement in other matters with which it was connected; and when we find from Muratori that "nulla s' e detto finqui dell' Arte del Tessere dopo la declinazione del Romano Imperio; e solo in fuggire s' e parlato di alcune vesti degli antichi/' we may fairly infer that the ornamental needlework of the time was not extensively encouraged, although never entirely laid aside.

The desolation that overran the world was found alike in its greatest or most insignificant concerns; and the same torrent that swept monarchs from their thrones and peers from their halls did away with the necessity for professors of the decorative arts. There needed not the embroiderer of gold and purple to blazon the triumph of a conqueror who disdained other habiliment than the skin of some slaughtered beast*

The matron who yet retained the principle of Roman virtue, or the fair and refined maiden of the eastern capital,far from seeking personal adornment, rather shunned any decoration which might attract the eyes and inflame the passions of untamed and ruthless conquerors. All usual habits were subverted, and for long years the history of the European world is but a bloody record of war and tumult, of bloodshed and strife. Few are the cases of peace and tranquillity in this desert of tumult and bloodguiltiness; but those few " isles of the blessed" in this ocean of discord, those few sunny spots in the gloomy landscape, are intimately connected with our theme. The use of the needle for the daily

* " In the most inclement winter the hardy German was satisfied with a scanty garment made of the skin of some animal."—Gibbon.

necessities of life could never, as we have remarked, be superseded; but the practice of ornamental needlework, in common with every ennobling science and improving art, was kept alive during this period of desolation by the church, and by the individual labours and collective zeal of the despised and contemned monks.

Sharing that hallowed influence which hovered over and protected the church at this fearful season —for, from the carelessness or superstition of the barbarians, the ministers of religion were spared— nunneries, with some few exceptions, were now like refuges pointed out by Heaven itself. They were originally founded by the sister of St. Anthony, the hermit of the Egyptian desert, and in their primitive institution were meant solely for those who, abjuring the world for religious motives, were desirous to spend their whole time in devotional exercises. But their sphere of utility became afterwards widely extended. They became safe and peaceable asylums for all those to whom life's pilgrimage had been too thorny. The frail but repentant maiden was here sheltered from the scorn of an uncharitable world; the virtuous but suffering female, whose earthly hopes had, from whatever cause, been crushed, could here weep and pray in peace: while she to whom the more tangible trouble of poverty had descended might here, without the galling yoke of charity and dependence, look to a refuge for those evil days when the breaking of the golden bowl, the loosing of the silver cord, should disable her from the exertions necessary for her maintenance.

Have we any—ay, with all their faults and inv

« PreviousContinue »