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The Origin of the Cholera in Egypt, 141-Soothsaying in India, 142-Acting in Earnest, 142-A New Form
MOFFAT, THE LATE DR..
MOSCHELLES. By Rev. H. R. Haweis
NAPOLEON MYTH IN THE YEAR 3000, THE
NEW THEORY OF SUN-SPOTS, A. By Prof. Richard A. Proctor.
HELEN'S TOWER. By Robert Browning and Alfred Ten-
PESSIMISM. By J. S. B
POST-MORTEM. By Algernon Charles Swinburne..... .Fortnightly Review.................................
SIX SONNETS OF CONTRAST. By H. D. Traill...
POETRY OF THE EARLY MYSTERIES, THE. By F. M. Capes. The Nineteenth Century.
SALON, A French.
SCRIPTURE, ON THE INSPIRATION OF. By His
The Nineteenth Century............................
SENILIA: PROSE POEMS BY IVAN TURGENIEFF.
SOUDAN AND ITS FUTURE, THE. By Sir Samuel White Baker. Contemporary Review...
SPAIN. THE POLITICAL CONDITION OF. By Don Laureano
TERRORISM IN RUSSIA AND TERRORISM IN EUROPE.
TONQUIN AND ANAM. By Samuel Mossman.
VENICE, SCRAPS FROM THE CHRONICLES OF. By Amy Layard. National Review....
WORDSWORTH AND BYRON. By Algernon Charles Swinburne.Nineteenth Century..
THERE has been for some time past an interest abroad in our early Miracle or Mystery Plays which shows that the idea of their existence has become to a certain extent popular, and that to treat of them is in nowise to open up new ground. But this general interest is probably, in the main, either historical or archæological: the greater number of people who hear and talk of miracle plays do so with the idea that they are interesting either as having been the subjects of curious mediæval spectacles and bygone religious customs, or as illustrating some special stages of our drama and language. That they should have, apart from these connections, an interest of their own; that they should possess any intrinsic merit as literary compositions, or be likely to prove agreeable to take up and read as sacred dramatic poetry; that, in short, they belong to the present as well as to the NEW SERIES.-VOL. XXXIX., No. I
past-all this is not popularly suspected of them.
The present article pretends to no archæological or learned intention. To those who are interested in our ancient sacred drama from antiquarian motives, whether dramatic or linguistic, their original forms are open in full, and may make part of their literary studies. But everybody who cares for poetry does. not care, or has not time, for routing it out from somewhat obscure sources, though he may thoroughly enjoy and fully appreciate what is routed out for him; and the purpose of this article is simply to bring before such of the reading public as may not have the opportunity of coming across them in any other way the real poetical beauties of these old plays.
With this object the writer has chosen, arranged, and to a certain extent modernized some short specimens of
this early poetry which it is hoped will be enough to rouse the interest of modern readers in it. What is specially aimed at is to show that the very vividness of faith which caused our forefathers to represent dramatically, without a thought of irreverence, the mysteries of religion and the incidents of the Gospel, inspired them with a combined simplicity and vividness of language, and a power of blending human weakness and naturalness with things divine, in the highest degree poetical; also, that there is in many of these plays a pathos that is rarely to be found in directly religious poetry, and which would make it difficult for any one capable of being stirred to pity by verse to read some passages in them unmoved.
The idea had birth in an attempt to put into modern form the "Harrowing of Hell" as a poem for publication by itself. The beauties of this composition, which grew on the adapter by closer acquaintance, led to a further
search among the Mysteries" for
similar beauties; and, moreover, the obviousness of an Article of the Creed as a motto to this first solitary play suggested a sequence which proved a satisfactory guide to the search. The result has been a choice of specimens which, while they specially illustrate the poetry of the plays, also exhibit two other striking qualities that they possess those, namely, of forming complete popular systems of theology, and of being marvellously well calculated to instil into the minds taught by them a spirit of solid and practical devotion. These qualities, as well as the beauty of the poetry itself, can of course be but very imperfectly illustrated by such portions of the plays as may come within the compass of a review article; but if a suggestive arrangement of the specimens induces any hitherto uninterested reader to look further for himself, he will be well repaid by finding how much more there is in these compositions than mere rude stage-dialogue, to be used as a medium for acting by the representatives of sacred characters before an unlettered audience.
The extracts here to follow are taken, with the exception of the "Harrowing of Hell" above mentioned, from the Towneley Mysteries" -the edition published by the Surtees Society in 1836.
This set of plays treats of the whole scheme of man's fall and redemption, from the Creation to the Last Judgment, and includes a good deal of repetition and uninteresting matter. The dialect in which they are written is that of Northern English; the date about the middle of the fifteenth century. Nearly all the best poetry in the collection is to be found in the plays which treat of our Lord's personality, the mingling of His Divine and human natures being realized throughout with striking vividness. Consequently, the choice of extracts which illustrate the first part of the Apostles' Creed has been likewise the choice of the most beautiful passages. It must, however, be understood that even in the best plays the writing is extremely unequal, and that in some of the very plays from which examples have been taken there are passages that are coarse and "realistic" to a degree that might with some reason shock a modern reader.
The poetry shall now speak for itself; but a word must first be said about the plan which the adapter has tried to follow in dealing with the language. It has been that of putting it into sufficiently modern form to do away with all difficulty in reading to those who might be repelled by antiquated forms of English, while keeping close enough to the original to destroy as little as possible the quaint simplicity and unevenness which is part of the very beauty of the old writing. There has been no attempt to produce perfect rhyme or metre; the only way to render many passages well has been to let pass similarity of vowel or consonant sound, and sometimes even only equality of line or syllable, for rhyme; and occasionally it has been impossible to change either a name or the accent on a name so as to make the verse run smoothly: in which case it has been left to run roughly.
Now, taking the Apostles' Creed in regular order, the first article-"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth"-is embodied in the opening play of the series, the Creation. The whole of this play is so good that it is a great pity to have room for only a small portion of it here. It begins thus, with no introductory description:
Ego sum Alpha et O,
I am the first and last also,
I am without beginning,
One God in persons three,
And the first thing we choose to do
Their time to serve, and be:
Darkness we call the night,
It shall be as I say:
After my will this forth is brought-
The Creation is brought up to the fifth day, and then the scene takes us among the angels, where we have first the cheru
bim singing the praises of God for the Creation. The greatest object of their
praise is Lucifer:
Lord, thou art much full of might,
We love the Lord, with all our thought,
Here God leaves His throne, and Lucifer seats himself on it.
Then follows a speech of Lucifer's, of which we can give only a portion:
And ye shall see full soon anon,
I am so seemly, blood and bone,
My seat shall be there, as was His.
To sit in seat of Trinity?
I am so bright of ev'ry limb,
I trow me seems as good as Him!
An argument between the good and bad angels is then brought to a conclusion, and their fall lamented thus:
Now, now-a straw what recks it me?
Since I am in myself so bright,
Therefore will I take a flight!
Here the devils go forth, crying out, and the first says,
Alas! alas! for very woe,