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Anecdotes Of European Manners
by [?]

What shall we think of this imbecile mixture of superstition and farce? This ass was perhaps typical of the ass which Jesus rode! The children of Israel worshipped a golden ass, and Balaam made another speak. How fortunate then was James Naylor, who desirous of entering Bristol on an ass, Hume informs us–it is indeed but a piece of cold pleasantry–that all Bristol could not afford him one!

At the time when all these follies were practised, they would not suffer men to play at chess! Velly says, “A statute of Eudes de Sully prohibits clergymen not only from playing at chess, but even from having a chess-board in their house.” Who could believe, that while half the ceremonies of religion consisted in the grossest buffoonery, a prince preferred death rather than cure himself by a remedy which offended his chastity! Louis VIII. being dangerously ill, the physicians consulted, and agreed to place near the monarch while he slept a young and beautiful lady, who, when he awoke, should inform him of the motive which had conducted her to him. Louis answered, “No, my girl, I prefer dying rather than to save my life by a mortal sin!” And, in fact, the good king died! He would not be prescribed for out of the whole Pharmacopoeia of Love!

An account of our taste in female beauty is given, by Mr. Ellis, who observes, in his notes to Way’s Fabliaux, “In the times of chivalry the minstrels dwelt with great complacency on the fair hair and delicate complexion of their damsels. This taste was continued for a long time, and to render the hair light was a great object of education. Even when wig first came into fashion they were all flaxen. Such was the colour of the Gauls and of their German conquerors. It required some centuries to reconcile their eyes to the swarthy beauties of their Spanish and their Italian neighbours.”[3]

The following is an amusing anecdote of the difficulty in which an honest Vicar of Bray found himself in those contentious times.

When the court of Rome, under the pontificates of Gregory IX. and Innocent IV., set no bounds to their ambitious projects, they were opposed by the Emperor Frederick; who was of course anathematised. A curate of Paris, a humorous fellow, got up in his pulpit with the bull of Innocent in his hand. “You know, my brethren (said he), that I am ordered to proclaim an excommunication against Frederick. I am ignorant of the motive. All that I know is, that there exist, between this Prince and the Roman Pontiff great differences, and an irreconcileable hatred. God only knows which of the two is wrong. Therefore with all my power I excommunicate him who injures the other; and I absolve him who suffers, to the great scandal of all Christianity.”

The following anecdotes relate to a period which is sufficiently remote to excite curiosity; yet not so distant as to weaken the interest we feel in those minutiae of the times.

The present one may serve as a curious specimen of the despotism and simplicity of an age not literary, in discovering the author of a libel. It took place in the reign of Henry VIII. A great jealousy subsisted between the Londoners and those foreigners who traded here. The foreigners probably (observes Mr. Lodge, in his Illustrations of English History) worked cheaper and were more industrious.

There was a libel affixed on St. Paul’s door, which reflected on Henry VIII. and these foreigners, who were accused of buying up the wool with the king’s money, to the undoing of Englishmen. This tended to inflame the minds of the people. The method adopted to discover the writer of the libel must excite a smile in the present day, while it shows the state in which knowledge must have been in this country. The plan adopted was this: In every ward one of the King’s council, with an alderman of the same, was commanded to see every man write that could, and further took every man’s book and sealed them, and brought them to Guildhall to confront them with the original. So that if of this number many wrote alike, the judges must have been much puzzled to fix on the criminal.