« ElőzőTovább »
There is a bird in the interior of Africa, whose habits would rather seem to belong to the interior
There he arriving round about doth flie,
No. III.-WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 27th, 1819.
This is the lady, who under the title of Countess of Coventry, used to make such a figure in our childhood upon some old pocket-pieces of that city,
We hope she is in great request there still ; or the inhabitants deserve to be sent from Coventry. That city used to be famous in saintly legends for the visit of the eleven thousand virgins,
“ incredible number,” saith Selden. But the eleven thousand virgins have vanished with their credibility; and a real noble-hearted woman of flesh and blood is Coventry's true immortality. The story of Godiva is not a fiction, as many suppose it.
At least it is to be found in Matthew of Westminster, and is not of a nature to have been a mere invention. Her name, and that of her husband, Leofric, are mentioned in an old charter recorded by another early historian. That the story is omitted by Hume and others argues little against it; for the latter are accustomed to confound the most interesting anecdotes of times and manners with something below the dignity of history (a very absurd mistake); and Hume, of whose philosophy better things might have been expected, is notoriously less philosophical in his history than in any other of his works. A certain coldness of temperament, not unmixed with aristocratical pride, or at least from a great aversion from every thing like vulgar credulity, rendered his scepticisın so extreme, that it became in spite of itself a sort of superstition in turn, and blinded him to the claims of
every species of enthusiasm, civil as well as religious. Milton, with his poetical eyesight, saw better when he meditated the history of his native country. We do not remember whether he relates the present story; but we remember well, that at the beginning of his fragment on that subject, he says he shall relate doubtful stories as well as authentic ones, for the benefit of those, if no others, who will know how to make use of them,-namely, the poets.* We have faith however in the story ourselves. It has innate evidence enough for
* When Dr. Johnson, among his other impatient accusations of our great re. publican, charged him with telling unwarrantable stories in his history, he must have overlooked this announcement; and yet, if we recollect, it is but in the second page of the fragment. So hasty, and blind, and liable to be put to shame, is prejudice.
us, to give full weight to that of the old annalist. Imagination can invent a good deal; affection more: but affection can sometimes do things, such as the tenderest imagination is at least not in the habit of inventing; and this piece of noble-heartedness we believe to have been one of them.
Leofric, Earl of Leicester, was the lord of a large feudal territory in the middle of England, of which Coventry formed a part. He lived in the time of Edward the Confessor ; and was so eminently a feudal lord, that the hereditary greatness of his dominion appears to have been singular even at that time, and to have lasted with an uninterrupted succession from Ethelbald to the Conquest,
period of more than three hundred years. He was a great and useful opponent of the famous Earl Goodwin.
Whether it was owing to Leofric or not, does not appear ; but Coventry was subject to a very oppressive tollage, by which it would seem that the feudal despot enjoyed the greater part of the profit of all marketable commodities. The progress of knowledge has shewn us how abominable, and even how unhappy for all parties, is an injustice of this description ; yet it gives one an extraordinary idea of a mind in those times, to see it capable of piercing through the clouds of custom, of ignorance, and even of self-interest, and petitioning the petty tyrant to forego such a privilege. This mind was Godiva's.
The other sex, always more slow to admit reason through the medium of feeling, were then occupied to the full in their warlike habits. It was reserved for a woman to anticipate whole ages of liberal opinion, and to surpass them in the daring virtue of setting a principle above a custom.
The countess entreated her lord to give up his fancied right; but in vain. At last, wishing to put an end to her importunities, he told her, either in a spirit of bitter jesting, or with a playful raillery that could not be bitter with so sweet an earnestness, that he would give up his tax, provided she rode through the city of Coventry, naked. She took him at his word ; and said she would. One may imagine the astonishment of a fierce unlettered chieftain, not untinged with chivalry, at hearing a woman, and that too of the greatest delicacy and rank, maintaining seriously her intention of acting in a manner contrary to all that was supposed fitting for her sex, and at the same time forcing upon him a sense of the very beauty of her conduct by its principled excess. It is probable, that as he could not prevail upon her to give up her design, he had sworn some religious oath when he made his promise : but be this as it may, he took every possible precaution to secure her modesty from hurt. The people of Coventry were ordered to keep within doors, to close up all their windows and outlets, and not to give a glance into the streets upon pain of death. The day came; and Coventry, it may be imagined, was silent as death. The lady went out at the palace door, was set on horseback, and at the same time divested of her wrapping garment, as if she had been going into a bath ; then taking the fillet from her head, she let down her long and lovely tresses, which poured around her body like a veil ; and so, with only
her white legs remaining conspicuous, took her gentle way through the streets. *
What scene can be more touching to the imagination,-beauty, modesty, feminine softness, a daring sympathy; an extravagance, producing by the nobleness of it's object and the strange gentleness of it's means, the grave and profound effect of the most reverend custom. We may suppose the scene taking place in the warm noon; the doors all shut, the windows closed; the earl and his court serious and wondering; the other inhabitants, many of them gushing with grateful tears, and all reverently listening to hear the footsteps of the horse; and lastly, the lady herself, with a downcast but not a shamefaced eye, looking towards the earth through her flowing locks, and riding through the dumb and deserted streets, like an angelic spirit.
In was an honourable superstition in that part of the country, that a man who ventured to look at the fair saviour of his native town, was struck blind. But the vulgar use to which this superstition has been turned by some writers of late times, is not so honourable. The whole story is as unvulgar and as sweetly serious, as can be conceived.
Drayton has not made so much of this subject, as might have been expected; yet what he says is said well and earnestly.
Coventry at length
Went on, and by that mean the city clearly freed. We wonder that none of our painters have yet drawn us Godiva upon her horse. They can hardly have met with the subject, or surely they would have fallen in love with it.
*“ Nuda,” says Matthew of Westminster," equum ascendens, erines capitis et tricas dissolvens, corpus suum totum, præter crura candidissima, inde velavit.” See Selden's Notes to the Polyolbion of Drayton. Song 13.
It is Selden from whom we learn, that Leofric was Earl of Leicester, and the other particulars of him mentioned above. The Earl was buried at Coventry, his Countess most probably in the same tomb.
PLEASANT RECOLLECTIONS CONNECTED WITH VARIOUS PARTS
OF THE METROPOLIS. One of the best secrets of enjoyment is the art of cultivating pleasant associations. We spoke of this in our first number, and shall often have occasion to recur to it. It is an art that of necessity increases with the stock of our knowledge; and though in acquiring our knowledge we must encounter disagreeable associations also, yet if we secure a reasonable quantity of health by the way, these will be far less in number than the agreeable ones : for unless the circumstances which gave rise to the associations, press upon us, it is only from want of health that the power of throwing off these burdensome images become suspended.
And the beauty of this art is, that it does not insist upon pleasant materials to work on. Nor indeed does health. Health will give us a vague sense of delight, in the midst of objects that would teaze and oppress us during sickness. But healthy association peoples this vague sense with agreeable images. It will relieve us, even when a painful sympathy with the distresses of others becomes a part of the very health of our minds. For instance, we can never go through St. Giles's, but the sense of the extravagant inequalities in human condition presses more forcibly upon us; but some pleasant images are at hand even there to refresh it. They do not displace the others, so as to injure the sense of public duty which they excite; they only serve to keep our spirits fresh for their task, and hinder them from running into desperation or hopelessness. In St. Giles's church lie Chapman, the earliest and best translator of Homer; and Andrew Marvell, the wit and patriot, whose poverty Charles the Second could not bribe. We are as sure to think of these two men, and of all the good and pleasure they have done to the world, as of the less happy objects about us.
The steeple of the church itself too is a handsome one; and there is a flock of pigeons in that neighbourhood, which we have stood with great pleasure to see careering about it of a fine afternoon, when a western wind had swept back the smoke towards the city, and shewed the white of the stone steeple piercing up into a blue sky. So much for St. Giles's, whose very name is a nuisance with some. It is dangerous to speak disrespectfully of old districts. Who would suppose that the Borough was the most classical ground in the metropolis? And yet it is undoubtedly so. The Globe theatre was there, of which Shakspeare himself was a proprietor, and for which he wrote his plays. Globe-lane, in which it stood, is still extant, we believe, under that name. It is probable that he lived near it: it is certain that he must have been much there. It is also certain that on the Borough side of the river, then and still called the Bank side, in the same lodging, having the same wardrobe, and some say, with other participations more remarkable, lived Beaumont and Fletcher. In the Borough also, at St. Saviour's, lie Fletcher and Massinger in one grave; in the same church, under a monument and effigy, lies Chaucer's contemporary, Gower; and from an inn in the Borough, the existence of which is still boasted, and the scite pointed out by a picture and inscription, Chaucer sets out his pilgrims and himself on their famous road to Canterbury.
To return over the water, who would expect any thing poetical from East Smithfield? Yet there was born the most poetical even of poets, Spenser. Pope was born within the sound of Bow-bell, in a street no less anti-poetical than Lombard-street. So was Gray, in Cornhill. So was Milton, in Bread-street, Cheapside. The presence of the same
great poet and patriot has given happy memories to many parts of the metropolis. He lived in St. Bride's Church-yard, Fleet-street; in Aldersgate-street, in Jewin-street, in Barbican, in Bartholomew-close; in Holborn, looking back to Lincoln’s-inn-Fields; in Holborn, near Red Lion-square; in Scotland-yard; in a house looking to St. James's Park, now belonging to an eminent writer on legislation, and lately occupied by a celebrated critic and metaphysician; and he died in the Artillery-walk, Bunhill-fields; and was buried in St. Giles's, Cripplegate.
Ben Jonson, who was born“ in Hartshorne-lane, near Charingcross,” was at one time “master” of a theatre in Barbican. He appears also to have visited a tavern called the Sun and Moon, in Aldersgate-street; and is known to have frequented, with Beaumont and others, the famous one called the Mermaid, which was in Cornhill. Beaumont, writing to him from the country, in an epistle full of jovial wit, says,
The sun, which doth the greatest comfort bring,
Right witty;-though but downright fools, mere wise.
Under the cloisters in Christ's Hospital (which stands in the heart of the city unknown to most persons, like a house kept invisible for young and learned eyes) lie buried a multitude of persons of all ranks ; for it was once a monastery of Grey Friars. Among them is John of Bourbon, one of the prisoners taken at the battle of Agincourt.