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It is this day three hundred and forty-eight years six months and nineteen days since that the good people of Paris were awakened by a grand peal from all the bells in the three districts of the City, the University, and the Ville. January 6, 1482, was, nevertheless, a day of which history has not preserved any record. There was nothing worthy of note in the event which so early set in motion the bells and the citizens of Paris. It was neither an assault of the Picards nor the Burgundians, nor a procession with the shrine of some saint, nor a mutiny of the students, nor an entry of our “most redoubted lord, Monsieur the king,” nor even an execution of rogues of either sex, before the Palace of Justice of Paris. Neither was it an arrival of some bedizened and befeathered embassy, a sight of frequent occurrence in the fifteenth century. It was but two days since the last cavalcade of this kind, that of the Flemish Ambassadors commissioned to conclude a marriage between the Dauphin and Margaret of Flanders, had made its entry into Paris, to the great annoyance of the Cardinal of Bourbon, who, in order to please the king, had been obliged to receive this vulgar squad of Flemish burgomasters with a good grace, and to entertain them at his hotel de Bourbon with a goodly morality, mummery, and farce, while a deluge of rain drenched the magnificent tapestry at his door.
What set in motion all the population of Paris on January 6, was the double solemnity, united from time immemorial, of the Epiphany and the Festival of Fools. On that day there was to be an exhibition of fireworks in the Place de Greve, a Maytree planted at the chapel ofBraque, and a mystery performed at the Palace of Justice. Proclamation had been made to this effect on the preceding day, with sound of trumpet in the public places, by the provost’s officers in fair coats of purple camlet, with large white crosses on the breast.
That morning, therefore, all the houses and shops remained shut, and crowds of citizens of both sexes were to be seen wending their way toward one of the three places specified above. Be it, however, observed, to the honor of the taste of the cockneys of Paris, that the majority of this concourse were proceeding toward the fireworks, which were quite seasonable, or to the mystery which was to be represented in the great hall of the palace, well covered in and sheltered, and that the curious agreed to let the poor leafless May shiver all alone beneath a January sky in the cemetery of the Chapel of Braque.
All the avenues to the Palace of Justice were particularly thronged, because it was known that the Flemish Ambassadors, who had arrived two days before, purposed to attend the representation of the mystery, and the election of the Pope of Fools, which was also to take place in the great hall.
It was no easy matter on that day to get into this great hall, though then reputed to be the largest room in the world. To the spectators at the windows, the palace yard crowded with people had the appearance of a sea, into which five or six streets, like the mouths of so many rivers, disgorged their living streams. The waves of this sea, incessantly swelled by fresh accessions, broke against the angles of the houses, projecting here and there like promontories into the irregular basin of the Place. In the center of the lofty Gothic facade of the palace, the grand staircase, with its double current ascending and descending, poured incessantly into the Place like a cascade into a lake. Great were the noise and the clamor produced by the cries of some, the laughter of others, and the tramping of the thousands of feet. From time to time, this clamor and this noise were redoubled; the current which propelled the crowd toward the grand staircase turned back, agitated and whirling about. It was a dash made by an archer, or the horse of one of the provost’s sergeants kicking and plunging to restore order—an admirable maneuver, which the provost bequeathed to the constabulary, the constabulary to the marechaussee, and the marechaussee to the present gendarmerie of Paris.
Doors, windows, loopholes, the roofs of the houses, swarmed with thousands of calm and honest faces gazing at the palace and at the crowd, and desiring nothing more; for most of the good people of Paris are quite content with the sight of the spectators; nay, a blank wall, behind which something or other is going forward, is to us an object of great curiosity.
If it could be given to us mortals living in the year 1830 to mingle in imagination with those Parisians of the fifteenth century and to enter with them, shoved, elbowed, hustled, that immense hall of the palace so straitened for room on January 6, 1482, the sight would not be destitute either of interest or of charm; and all that we should have around us would be so ancient as to appear absolutely new. If it is agreeable to the reader, we will endeavor to retrace in imagination the impressions which he would have felt with us on crossing the threshold of the great hall, amid this motley crowd, coated, gowned, or clothed in the paraphernalia of office.
In the first place, how one’s ears are stunned with the noise!—how one’s eyes are dazzled! Overhead is a double roof of pointed arches, ceiled with carved wood, painted sky-blue, and studded with fleurs-de-lis in gold; underfoot, a pavement of alternate squares of black and white marbel. A few paces from us stands an enormous pillar, then another, and another; in all, seven pillars, intersecting the hall longitudinally, and supporting the return of the double-vaulted roof. Around the first four pillars are shops, glistening with glass and jewelry; and around the other three, benches worn and polished by the hose of the pleaders and the gowns of the attorneys. Along the lofty walls, between the doors, between the windows, between the pillars, is ranged the interminable series of all the Kings of France ever since Pharamond; the indolent kings with pendant arms and downcast eyes; the valiant and warlike kings with heads and hands boldly raised toward heaven. The tall, pointed windows are glazed with panes of a thousand hues; at the outlets are rich doors, finely carved; and the whole, ceiling, pillars, walls, wainscot, doors, statues, covered from top to bottom with a splendid coloring of blue and gold, which, already somewhat tarnished at the time we behold it, was almost entirely buried in dust and cobwebs in the year of grace 1549, when Du Breul still admired it by tradition.
Now figure to yourself that immense oblong hall, illumined by the dim light of a January day, stormed by a motley and noisy crowd, pouring in along the walls, and circling round the pillars, and you will have a faint idea of the general outline of the picture; the curious details of which we shall endeavor to delineate more precisely.
One of the extremities of this prodigious parallelogram was occupied by the famous marble table, of a single piece, so long, so broad, and so thick, that, as the ancient terriers say, in a style that might have given an appetite to Gargantua, “never was there seen in the world a slice of marble to match it”; and the other by the chapel where Louis XI placed his own effigy kneeling before the Virgin, and to which, reckless of leaving two vacant niches in the file of royal statues, he removed those of Charlemagne and Saint Louis, saints whom he conceived to possess great influence with Heaven as kings of France. This chapel, still new, having been built scarcely six years, was in that charming style of delicate architecture, wonderful sculpture, and sharp deep carving, which marks with us the conclusion of the Gothic era, and prevails still about the middle of the sixteenth century in the fairy fantasies of the revival of the art. The small rose mullion over the porch was in particular a masterpiece of lightness and delicacy; you would have taken it for a star of lacework.
In the middle of the hall, opposite to the great door, an inclosed platform lined with gold brocade, backed against the wall, and to which there had been made a private entrance by means of a window from the passage to the gilded chamber, was erected expressly for the Flemish Envoys, and the other distinguished personages invited to the representation of the mystery.
On this marble table, according to established usage, the mystery was to be performed. Arrangements for this purpose had been made early in the morning. The rich marble floor, scratched all over by the heels of the clerks of the Bazoche, supported a cage of woodwork of considerable height, the upper floor of which, exposed to view from every part of the hall, was to serve for the stage, while the lower, masked by hangings of tapestry, formed a sort of dressing-room for the actors. A ladder, undisguisedly placed outside, was to be the channel of communication between the two, and its rude steps were to furnish the only medium as well for entrances as for exits. There was no movement, however abrupt and unexpected, no piece of stage-effect so sudden, but had to be executed by the intervention of this ladder. Innocent and venerable infancy of the art of machinery!
Four sergeants of the bailiff of Paris, whose duty it was to superintend all the amusements of the people, as well on festivals as on days of execution, were stationed one at each corner of the marble table.
It was not till the great clock of the Place had struck the hour of twelve that the performance was to begin—a late hour, to be sure, for a theatrical representation, but it had been found necessary to suit it to the convenience of the ambassadors.
Now, the whole assembled multitude had been waiting ever since the morning. Many of these honest sight-loving folks had, indeed, been shivering from daybreak before the steps of the palace; nay, some declared that they had passed the night under the great porch, to make sure of getting in. The crowd increased every moment, and, like water that rises above its level, began to mount along the walls, to swell about the pillars, to cover the entablatures, the cornices, all the salient points of the architecture, all the relievos of the sculpture. Accordingly, the weariness, the impatience, the freedom of a day of license, the quarrels occasioned every moment by a sharp elbow or a hobnailed shoe, and the tediousness of long waiting, gave, long before the hour at which the ambassadors were to arrive, a sharp, sour tone to the clamor of the populace, kicked, cuffed, jostled, squeezed, and wedged together almost to suffocation. Nothing was to be heard but complaints and imprecations against the Flemings, the provost of the merchants, the Cardinal of Bourbon, the bailiff of the palace, Madame Margaret of Austria, the sergeant-vergers, the cold, the heat, the bad weather, the Bishop of Paris, the Pope of Fools, the pillars, the statues, this closed door, that open window—all to the great amusement of the groups of scholars and serving-men distributed through the crowd, who mingled with all this discontent their sarcasms and mischievous sallies, which, like pins thrust into a wound, produced no small aggravation of the general illhumor.
There was among others a knot of these merry wights, who, after knocking the glass out of one of the windows, had boldly seated themselves on the entablature, and thence cast their eyes and their jokes alternately within and without, among the crowd in the hall and the crowd in the Place. From their mimicries, their peals of laughter, and the jeers which they exchanged from one end of the hall to the other with their comrades, it was evident that these young clerks felt none of the weariness and ennui which overpowered the rest of the assembly, and they well knew how to extract from the scene before them sufficient amusement to enable them to wait patiently for the promised spectacle.
“Why, ’pon my soul, ’tis you, Joannes Frollo de Molendino!” cried one of them, a youth with a fair complexion, handsome face, and arch look, perched on the acanthi of a capital; “you are rightly named, Jehan du Moulin, for your arms and legs are exactly like the four sails of a windmill. How long have you been here?”
“By the devil’s mercy,” replied Joannes Frollo, “more than four hours, and I hope they will be counted into my time of purgatory. I heard the King of Sicily’s eight chanters strike up the first verse of High Mass at seven o’clock in the Holy Chapel.”
“Rare chanters, forsooth!” rejoined the other, “with voices sharper than their pointed caps! The king, before he founded a Mass to Monsieur St. John, ought to have ascertained whether Monsieur St. John is fond of Latin chanted with a Provencal twang.”
“And it was to employ those cursed signers of the king of Sicily that he did it!” cried an old woman among the crowd at the foot of the window. “Only think! a thousand livres parisis for one mass, and granted out of the farmrent of the sea-fish sold in the market of Paris into the bargain!”
“Silence!” ejaculated a lusty, portly personage, who was holding his nose by the side of the fish-woman; “how could the kind help founding a mass? Would you have him fall ill again?”
“Admirably spoken, sire Gilles Lecornu, master-furrier of the king’s robes!” shouted the little scholar clinging to the capital.
A general peal of laughter from his comrades greeted the unlucky name of the poor master-furrier of the king’s robes.
“Lecornu! Gilles Lecornu!” cried some of them.
“Cornutus et hirsutus,” said another.
“Ay, no doubt,” replied the little demon of the capital. “What is there to laugh at? An honorable man, Gilles Lecornu, brother of Master Jehan Lecornu, provost of the king’s household, son of Master Mahiet Lecornu, first porter of the wood of Vincennes, all citizens of Paris, all married from father to son!”
A fresh explosion of mirth succeeded; all eyes were fixed on the fat master-furrier, who, without uttering a word in reply, strove to withdraw himself from the public gaze; but in vain he puffed and struggled till he was covered with perspiration; the efforts which he made served only to wedge in his bloated apopletic face, purple with rage and vexation, the more firmly between the shoulders of his neighbors.
At length, one of these short, pursy, and venerable as himself, had the courage to take his part.
“What abomination! Scholars dare to talk thus to a citizen! In my time they would have been scourged with rods and burned with them afterward.”
The whole band burst out, “Soho! who sings that tune? What screech-owl of ill omen is that?”
“Say; I know him,” said one; “’tis Master Andry Musnier.”
“One of the four sworn booksellers to the University,” said another.
“Everything goes by fours at that shop,” cried a third; “the four nations, the four faculties, the four festivals, the four proctors, the four electors, the four booksellers.”
“Musnier, we will burn thy books!”
“Musnier, we will beat thy serving-man!”
“Musnier, we will tear thy wife’s rags off her back!”
“The good fat Mademoiselle Oudarde.”
“Who is as fresh and as buxom as though she were a widow.”
“The devil fetch you all!” muttered Master Andry Musnier.
“Master Andry,” rejoined Jehan, still perched on his capital, “hold thy tongue, man, or I will drop upon thy head.”
Master Andry lifted his eyes, appeared to be measuring for a moment the height of the pillar, estimating the weight of the wag, mentally multiplying this weight by the square of the velocity, and he held his tongue.
Jehan, master of the field of battle, triumphantly continued, “I would do it too, though I am the brother of an archdeacon.”
“Pretty gentry those belonging to our universities! not even to enforce respect for our privileges on such a day as this!”
“Down with the rector; the electors, and the proctors!” cried Joannes.
“Let us make a bonfire tonight with Master Andry’s books in the Champ Gaillard!” exclaimed another.
“And the desks of the scribes!” said his neighbor.
“And the wands of the bedels!”
“And the chair of the rector!”
“Down,” responded little Jehan, “down with Master Andry, the bedels, and the scribes! down with the theologians, the physicians, and the decretists! down with the proctors, the electors, and the rector!”
“It must surely be the end of the world!” murmured Master Andry, clapping his hands to his ears.
“The rector! there goes the rector!” cried one of those at the window.
All eyes were instantly turned toward the Place.
“Is it really our venerable rector, Master Thibaut?” inquired Jehan Frollo du Moulin, who, from his position on the pillar within, could not see what was passing without.
“Yes, yes,” replied the others, “’tis he! ’tis Master Thibaut, the rector!”
It was, in fact, the rector and all the dignitaries of the university, going in procession to meet the embassy, and at that moment crossing the palace-yard. The scholars who had taken post at the window greeted them as they passed with sarcasms and ironical plaudits. The rector, who was at the head of his company, received the first volley, which was a sharp one.
“Good morrow, Mr. Rector! Soho! good morrow then!”
“How has he managed to get hither—the old gambler? how could he leave his dice?”
“Ho, there! Mr. Rector Thibaut, how often did you throw double-six last night?”
“How he trots along on his mule! I declare the beast’s ears are not so long as his master’s!”
“Oh, the cadaverous face—haggard, wrinkled, and wizened, with the love of gaming and dicing!”
Presently it came to the turn of the other dignitaries.
“Down with the bedels! down with the mace-bearers!”
“Robin Poussepin, who is that yonder?”
“It is Gilbert le Suilly, chancellor of the college of Autun.”
“Here, take my shoe; you are in a better place than I am; throw it at his head.”
“Saturnalitias mittimus ecce nuces.”
“Down with these six theologians in their white surplices!”
“Are they the theologians? Why, I took them for the six white geese given by St. Genevieve to the city for the fief of Roogny.”
“Down with the physicians!”
“May the devil strangle the proctor of the German nation!”
“And the chaplains of the Holy Chapel, with their gray mices!”
“Ho, there, masters of arts! you in smart black copes, and you in smarter red ones!”
“What a rare tail they make to the rector!”
“You would suppose it was the Doge of Venice going to marry the sea.”
Meanwhile, Master Andry Musnier, sworn bookseller to the university, inclining his lips toward the ear of Master Gilles Lecornu, master-furrier of the king’s robes, “I tell you, sir,” he whispered, “it is the end of the world. Never were known such excesses of the scholars; it is the cursed inventions of the age that ruin everything—artillery, serpentines, bombards, and, above all, printing, that other pestilence from Germany. No more manuscripts! no more books! Printing is cutting up the bookselling trade. The end of the world is certainly at hand.”
“I perceive so,” said the master-furrier, “because velvets have become so common.”
At this moment the clock struck twelve.
“Aha!” said the whole assembled multitude with one voice. The scholars were mute; and there ensued a prodigious bustle, a general movement of feet and heads, a grand detonation of coughing and handkerchiefs; each individual took his station, and set himself to rights. Profound silence succeeded; every neck was stretched, every mouth open, every eye fixed on the marble table; but nothing was to be seen, save the four sergeants of the bailiff, who still stood there, stiff and motionless as four painted statues. Every face then turned toward the platform reserved for the Flemish ambassadors; the door remained shut, and the platform empty. The crowd had been waiting ever since morning for three things: noon, the Flanders Embassy, and the mystery. Noon alone had been punctual to its time. This was rather too bad.
They waited one, two, three, five minutes, a quarter of an hour; nothing came. Not a creature appeared either on the platform or on the stage. Meanwhile impatience grew into irritation. Angry words were circulated, at first, it is true, in a low tone. “The mystery! the mystery!” was faintly muttered. A storm, which as yet only rumbled at a distance, began to gather over the crowd. It was Jehan du Moulin who drew from it the first spark.
“The mystery, and let the Flemings go to the devil!” shouted he, with all his might, twisting like a snake about his capital. The crowd clapped their hands. “The mystery!” they repeated, “and send Flanders to all the devils!”
“Let us instantly have the mystery,” resumed the scholar, “or I recommend that we should hang the bailiff of the palace by way of comedy and morality.”
“Well said!” cried the people; “and let us begin with hanging the sergeants!”
Prodigious were the acclamations that followed. The four poor devils turned pale, and began to look at each other. The crowd moved toward them, and they saw the frail wooden balustrade which separated them from the people already bending and giving way to the pressure of the multitude.
The moment was critical. “Down, down with them!” was the cry, which resounded from all sides. At this instant the tapestry of the dressing-room, which we have before described, was thrown open, and forth issued a personage the mere sight of whom suddenly appeased the crowd, and changed, as if by magic, its indignation into curiosity.
“Silence! silence!” was the universal cry.
The personage in question, shaking with fear in every limb, advanced to the edge of the marble table, with a profusion of bows which, the nearer he approached, more and more resembled genuflexions. Meanwhile, tranquillity was pretty well restored; nothing was to be heard but that slight noise which always rises even from a silent crowd.
“Messieurs les bourgeois, and Mesdemoiselles les bourgeoises,” said he, “we are to have the honor of declaiming and performing, before his eminence Monsieur the Cardinal, a very goodly morality, called The Good Judgment of Madam the Virgin Mary. The part of Jupiter will be enacted by myself. His eminence is at this moment attending the most honorable the embassy of Monsieur the Duke of Austria, which is detained till now to hear the speech of Monsieur the Rector of the university, at the gate of Baudets. The moment his eminence the Cardinal arrives, we shall begin.”
It is very certain that nothing but the interposition of Jupiter saved the necks of the four unlucky sergeants of the bailiff of the palace. Had we even the honor of inventing this most true history, and were we in consequence responsible for it before the tribunal of criticism, it is not against us that the classic precept of antiquity, Nec Deus intersit, could at this moment be adduced. For the rest, the costume of his godship was very superb, and had contributed not a little to quiet the crowd by engrossing all their attention. He was attired in a brigandine of black velvet with gilt studs; on his head he wore a helmet, adorned with silver gilt buttons; and but for the rouge and the thick beard, which divided his face between them; but for the roll of gilt pasteboard, garnished all over with stripes of tinsel, which he held in his hand, and in which the practiced eye easily recognized the thunderbolt of Jove; but for his fleshcolored legs, and feet sandaled after the Greek fashion; he might have sustained a comparison for his stately port with a Breton archer of the corps of Monsieur de Berry.
All new material in this edition copyright © 1996 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.