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And after that lessons were playd two or three,
'A poore beggars daughter did dwell on a greene,
Her father hee had noe goods, nor noe land,
And if any one here her birth doe disdaine,
With that the lords and the companye round
On this the bride all blushing did rise,
If this be thy father,' the nobles did say, ,
1 So the folio MS.
And therfore, blind man, we pray thee bewray,
* Then give me leave, nobles and gentles, each one,
[Sir Simon de Montfort my subject shal bee;
When the barons in armes did king Henrye oppose, 85
At length in the battle on Evèshame plaine
Along with the nobles, that fell at that tyde,
Among the dead bodyes all lifelesse he laye,
A barons faire daughter stept forth in the nighte
In secrette she nurst him, and swagèd his paine, 105 While he throughe the realme was beleevd to be
slaine: At lengthe his faire bride she consented to bee, And made him glad father of prettye Bessee.
And nowe lest oure foes our lives sholde betraye,
And here have wee lived in fortunes despite,
Now when the faire companye everye one,
With that the faire bride they all did embrace,
Thus was the feast ended with joye and delighte; A bridegroome most happy then was the young knighte;
130 In joy and felicitie long livèd hee, All with his faire ladye, the pretty Bessee.
ttt The word 'fit,' for part, often occurs in our ancient ballads, and metrical romances : which being divided into several parts for the convenience of singing them at public entertainments, were in the intervals of the feast sung by fits, or intermissions. So Puttenham in his · Art of English Poesie,' 1589, says, the Epithalamie was divided by breaches into three partes to serve for three several fits, or times to be sung.' p. 41.
From the same writer we learn some curious particulars relative to the state of ballad-singing in that age, that will throw light on the present subject : speaking of the quick returns of one manner of tune in the short measures used by common rhymers; these, he says, 'glut the eare, unless it be in small and popular musickes, sung by these Cantabanqui, upon benches and barrels heads, where they have none other audience then boys or countrey fellowes, that passe by them in the streete; or else by blind harpers, or such like taverne Minstrels, that give a fit of mirth for a groat, .
their matter being for the most part stories of old time, as the tale of Sir Topas, the reportes of Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, Adam Bell and Clymme of the Clough, and such other old romances or historical rimes, made purposely for recreation of the common people at Christmasse dinners and brideales, and in tavernes and alehouses, and such other places of base resorte.' p. 69. .
This species of entertainment, which seems to have been handed down from the ancient bards, was in the time of Puttenham falling into neglect; but that it was not, even then, wholly excluded more genteel assemblies, he gives us room to infer from another passage, We ourselves, says this courtly 1 writer, have written for pleasure a little brief romance, or historical ditty in the English tong of the Isle of Great Britaine in short and long meetres, and by breaches or divisions [i.e. fits] to be more commodiously sung to the harpe in places of assembly, where the company shal be desirous to heare of old adventures, and valiaunces of noble knights in times past, as are those of king Arthur and his knights of the Round table, Sir Bevys of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, and others like.'
ip. 33. In more ancient times no grand scene of festivity was complete without one of these reciters to entertain the company with feats of arms, and tales of knighthood, or, as one of these old minstrels says, in the beginning of an ancient romance in the Editor's folio MS.
"When meate and drinke is great plentyè,
And sitt and solace lythe; 3
Such carping for to kythe.'
1 He was one of Q. Elizabeth's gent. pensioners, at a time when the whole band consisted of men of distinguished birth and fortune. Vid. Ath. Ox._ Perhaps 'blythe.'
If we consider that a groat in the age of Elizabeth was more than equivalent to a shilling now, we shall find that the old harpers were even then, when their art was on the decline, upon a far more reputable footing than the ballad-singers of our time. The reciting of one such ballad as this of the Beggar of Bednal Green, in two parts, was rewarded with half a crown of our money. And that they made a very respectable appearance, we may learn from the dress of the old beggar, in the preceding Ballad, v. 37, where he comes into company in the habit and character of one of these minstrels, being not known to be the bride's father, till after her speech, ver. 63. The exordium of his song, and his claiming a groat for his reward, v. 76, are peculiarly characteristic of that profession. Most of the old ballads begin in a pompous manner, in order to captivate the attention of the audience, and induce them to purchase a recital of the song: and they seldom conclude the first part without large promises of still greater entertainment in the second. This was a necessary piece of art to incline the hearers to be at the expense of a second groat's-worth. Many of the old romances extend to eight or nine fits, which would afford a cor derable profit to the reciter.
To return to the word fit; it seems at one time to have peculiarly signified the pause, or breathing-time, between the several parts, (answering to Passus in the visions of Pierce Plowman): thus in the ancient Ballad of Chevy-Chase, (Vol. I. p. 6,) the first Part ends with this line,
“The first fit here I fynde:' i.e. here I come to the first pause or intermission. (See also Vol. I. p. 20.) By degrees it came to signify the whole part or division preceding the pause. (See Vol. I. pp. 124, 131.) This sense it had obtained so early as the time of Chaucers who thus concludes the first part of his rhyme of Sir Thopas (writ in ridicule of the old ballad romances):
Lo! lordis mine, here is a fitt;
To tell it woll I fonde.' The word fit indeed appears originally to have signified a Poetic Strain, Verse, or Poem; for in these senses it is used by the Anglo-Saxon writers. Thus K. Ælfred in his Boetius, having given a version of lib. 3, metr. 5, adds, Đase pisdom tha thas fitte asunjen hærde, p. 65, i.e. When wisdom had sung these [Fitts] verses.' And in the Proem to the same book Fon on fitte, 'Put into [fitt] verse.' So in Cedmon, p 45. Feond on fitte, seems to mean 'composed a song,' or ' poem.' The reader will trace this old Saxon phrase, in the application of the word fond, in the foregoing passage of Chaucer. See Gloss.
Spencer has used the word fit to denote a strain of music:' see his poem, intitled, “Collin Clout 's come home again,' where he says,
"The Shepherd of the ocean [Sir Walt. Raleigh]
And when he heard the music which I made
He found himself full greatlye pleas'd at it,' &c.
From being applied to Music, this word was easily transferred to Dancing; thus in the old play of Lusty Juventus (described in p. 93.), Juventus says,
‘By the masse I would fayne go daunce a Fitte.' And from being used as a Part or Division in a Ballad, Poem, &c. it is applied