Page images

the expectations of his hearers. He tells us of the son of an eminent and opulent Roman knight, to whom the wretched Emperor Caligula took such an aversion, merely from envy to the superior graces of his person and dress, that he ordered him for execution. Not contented with this, he had the wanton cruelty to insist on the father's presence at an entertainment, while he knew his .sun was suffering death. He did more ; he drank to bim in full bowls, having first placed a spy, who might watch and report every change of his countenance. The wretched parent commanded his features, and formed them to express content, and even hilarity; nay, he entered into the spirit of the feast wore the convivial chaplet, and though old and infirm, be vied with the most robust of the guests in every joyous excess.

- You ask me,” here observes Seneca, “how and wherefore he acted this strange part. I answer,

Habehat alterum," He had another son.

Here, by a single, and very short sentence, the passions of the hearers, which must have been highly excited against the parent, for his mean and odious dissimulation, are now as strongly roused in his favour, whose care for the surviving son (the life of whom would have been forfeited by the least cloud on the father's countenance) had forced him to stifle every feeling of nature, and to wear the mask of joy, while his heart was agonized with every throb of parental wretchedness.

A single ill-chosen word is sometimes fatal to the effect of a really pathetic tale. Dr. Cook, in his Travels through Russia, (a valuable and entertaining work) affords more than one insistance of this error, which, however, in one who had resided a long term of years out of his native country, is very pardonable. He describes the cruelties exercised by the Russian troops at the storming of Ocksakow, in 1737, and interests his reader strenuously in favour of a gallant Scots Lieutenant, a Mr. Innes, who flew from place to place, to check the barbarity of the private soldiers, and, at the extreme hazard of his life, put to death a grenadier, who,“ in a ridiculous manner, was basely diverting himself with the agonies of a poor little innocent, whom he had just pierced with his bayonet."

Sometimes the distress of the tale will unfortunately chance to be of a species so awkward and ridiculous that where the audience ought, by the laws of narration, to be most bitterly affected, the smile will unkindly supercede the tear. A refuge officer, who lived to a great age at Bristol under the title of Captian Calmite, took great delight in recounting to his neighbours, the misfortunes of his early years. His favourite tale was that of his captivity at Algiers. His stature, it must be observed, was most singularly diminutive, and his strength of body small in proportion. To such a one, no severe tasks of labour could be assigned, even by the most barbarous task-master. What were then the cruelties he had to relate ? "I was treated," he used to say to his young friends," like a brute animal. They could not make me tug at the oar ; they could not make me drag heavy stones ; they made me, then they made me sit, day after day and night after night, in one cruel constricted posture-to hatch young turkeys!"


There is still a part of the world where simple genuine virtue receives public honours—it is in a village of Picardy, a place far distant from the politeness and luxury of great cities. There, an affecting ceremony, which draws tears from the spectators, a solemnity, awful from its venerable antiquity, and salutary influence, has been preserved notwithstanding the revolutions of twelve centuries ; there, the simple lustre of the flowers with which innocence is annually crowned is at once the reward, the encouragement, and the emblem. Here, indeed, ambition preys upon the young heart, but it is a gentle ambition; the prize is a hat, decorated with roses. The preparations for a public decision, the pomp of the festival, the concourse of people which it assembles, their attention fixed upon modesty, which does itself honour by its blushes, the simplicity of the reward, an emblem of those virtues by which it is obtained, the affectionate friendship of those rivals, who, in heightening the triumph of their Queen, conceal, in the bottom of their worthy hearts, the timid hope of reigning in their turn: all these circumstances united, gave a pleasing and affecting pomp to this singular ceremony, which causes every heart to palpitate, every eye to sparkle with tears of delight, and makes wisdom the object of passion. To be irreproachable not sufficient, there is a kind of nobleness, of which proofs are required ; a nobleness, not of rank and dignity, but of worth and innocence. These proofs must include several generations, both on the father and mother's side ; so that a whole family is crowned upon the head of one; the triumph of

the glory of the whole ; and the old man in grey hairs, who


[blocks in formation]

reap virtue.

sheds tears of sensibility on the victory gained by the daughter of his son, placed by her side, receives, in effect, the reward of sixty years, spent in a life of virtue.

By this means, emulation becomes general, for the honour of the whole ; every one dreads by an indelicate action, to dethrone either his sister or his daughter. The Crown of Roses, promised to the most prudent, is expected with emotion, distributed with justice, and establishes goodness, rectitude, and morality, in every family; it attaches the best people to the most peaceful residence.

Example, powerful example, acts even at a distance; there, the bud of worthy actions is unfolded, and the traveller, in approach ng this territory, perceives, before he enters it, that he is not far from Salency. In the course of so many successive ages, all around them has changed; they alone will hand down to their children the pure inheritance they received from their fathers : : an institution truly great, from its simplicity; powerful, under an appearance of weakness ; such is the almost unknown influence of honours; such is the strength of that easy spring, by which all men may be governed : sow honour, and you

will If we reflect upon the time the Salencians have celebrated this festival, it is the most ancient ceremony existing. If we attend to its objects, it is, perhaps, the only one which is dedicated to the service of virtue. If virtue is the most useful and estimable advantage to society in general, this establishment, by which it is encouraged, is a public national benefit, and belongs to France.

According to a tradition, handed down from age to age, Saint Medrad, born at Salency, proprietor, rather than Lord, of the territory of Salency (for there were no fiefs at that time) was the institutor of that charming festival which has made virtue flourish for so many ages. He had himself the pleasing consolation of enjoying the fruit of his wisdom, and his family was honoured with the prize which he had instituted, for his sister obtained the Crown of Roses.

This affecting and valuable festival has been handed down from the fifth century to the present day. To this Rose is attached a purity of morals, which, from time immemorial, has never suffered the slightest blemish ; to this Rose are attached the happiness, peace, and glory of the Salencians.

This Rose is the portion, frequently the only portion which virtue brings with it, this Rose forms the amiable and pleasing tie of a happy marriage. Even fortuue is anxious to obtain it, and comes with respect, to receive it from the hand of honourable indigence. A possession of twelve hundred years, in such splendid advantages, is the fairest title that exists in the world.

An important period for the festival of the Rose was, when Louis the XIII. sent the Marquis de Gordes the Captain of his guards, from the Castle of Varennes to Salency, with a blue ribbon, and a silver ring, to be presented from him to the Queen of the Rose. It is from that honourable epocha that a blue ribbon, flowing in streamers, surrounds the Crown of Roses ; that a ring is fastened to it, and the young girls of her train wear over their white robes a blue ribbon, in the manner of a scarf.

In 1766, Mr. Morfontaine settled a yearly income of one hundred and twenty livres upon the girl then elected Queen. The income to be enjoyed by her during life, and after her death each succeeding girl who should be crowned Queen, to have her year's income on the day of her election. This noble generosity can only be rewarded by the homage of the public, and honour alone is the worthy recompence.

Some days before the feast of Saint Madard, the inhabitants assemble in presence of the Officers of Justice, where this worthy company deliberate upon the important business of making a choice; in doing which they have no object in view but equity. They know all the merits that give a title to the Crown; they are acquainted with all the domestic details of their peaceful village; they have not, nor cannot have, any other intention, but to be just : enthusiasm and respect for the memory of the holy Institutor, and the excellence of the institution, are still in full force among them. They name three girls, three virtuous Salencians, of the most esteemed and respectable families.

The nomination is immediately carried to the Lord of Salency, or to the person appointed to represent him, who is free to decide between the three girls, but obliged to choose one of them, whom he proclaims Queen for the year.

Eight days before the ceremony, the name of the successful candidate is declared in church.

When the great day of the festival arrives, which is always the eighth of June, the Lord of Salency may claim the honour of conducting the Queen to be crowned. On that grand day, she is greater than all by whom she is surrounded, and that greatness is of a nature which has nothing in common with the usual distinctions of rank.

The Lord of Salency has the privilege of going to take virtue from her cottage, and lead her in triumph. Leaning upon his arm, or the arm of the person whom he has substituted in his place, the Queen steps forth from her simple dwelling, escorted by twelve young girls, dressed in white, with blue scarfs ;

and twelve youths, who wear the livery of the Queen ; she is preceded by music and drums, which announce the beginning of the procession she passes along the streets of the village, between rows of spectators, whom the festival had drawn to Salency, from the distance of four leagues. The public admire and applaud her; the mothers shed tears of joy; the old men renew their strength to follow their beloved Queen, and compare her with those whom they have seen in their youth. The Salencians are proud of the merits of her to whom they give the Crown; she is one of themselves, she belongs to them, she reigns by their choice, she reigns alone, and is the only object of attention.

The Queen, being arrived at the church, the place appointed for her is always in the midst of the people, the only situation that could do her honour ; where she is, there is no longer any distinction of rank, it all vanishes in the presence of virtue. A pew is placed in the middle of the Choir, in sight of all the people, prepared to receive her: her train range themselves in two lines by her side ; she is the only object of the day, all eyes remain fixed upon her, and her triumph continues.

After Vespers the procession begins again; the Clergy lead the way, the Lord of Salency receives her hand, her train join, the people follow, and line the streets, while some of the inhabitants, under arms, support the two rows, offering their homage by the loudest acclamations, until she arrives at the chapel of St. Medard, where the gates are kept open : the good Salencians do not forsake their Queen at the instant when the reward of virtue is going to be delivered; it is at that moment in particular, that it is pleasing to see her, and honourable for her to be seen.

The officiating Clergyman blesses the Hat, decorated with Roses, and its other ornaments : then turning toward the assembly, he pronounces a discourse on the subject of the festival. What an affecting gravity, what an awful impression does the language of the Priest (who in such a moment celebrates the praises of Wisdom) make upon the minds of his hearers! He holds the Crown in his hand, while Virtue waits kneeling at his feet; all the spectators are affected, tears in every eye, persuasion in every heart; then is the moment of lasting impressions ; and at that instant he places the Crown upon her head.

After this begins a Te Deum. during which the procession is resumed.

The Queen, with the Crown upon her head, and attended in the same manner as she was when going to receive it, returns the way she came ; her triumph still increasing as she passes along, till she again enters the church, and occupies the same place in the middle of the Choir, till the end of the service.

She has new homage to receive, and, going forth, is attended to a particular piece of ground, where crowned Innocence finds expecting vassals prepared to offer her presents. They are simple gifts, but their simplicity proves the antiquity of the custom ; a nosegay of flowers, a dart, two balls, &c. &c.

From thence she is conducted, with the same pomp, and led back to her relations, and, in her own house, if she thinks proper, gives a rural collation to her conductor and her retinue.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »