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Jocular Preachers
by [?]

These preachers, whose works are excessively rare, form a race unknown to the general reader. I shall sketch the characters of these pious buffoons, before I introduce them to his acquaintance. They, as it has been said of Sterne, seemed to have wished, every now and then, to have thrown their wigs into the faces of their auditors.

These preachers flourished in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries; we are therefore to ascribe their extravagant mixture of grave admonition with facetious illustration, comic tales which have been occasionally adopted by the most licentious writers, and minute and lively descriptions, to the great simplicity of the times, when the grossest indecency was never concealed under a gentle periphrasis, but everything was called by its name. All this was enforced by the most daring personalities, and seasoned by those temporary allusions which neither spared, nor feared even the throne. These ancient sermons therefore are singularly precious, to those whose inquisitive pleasures are gratified by tracing the manners of former ages. When Henry Stephens, in his apology for Herodotus, describes the irregularities of the age, and the minutiae of national manners, he effects this chiefly by extracts from these sermons. Their wit is not always the brightest, nor their satire the most poignant; but there is always that prevailing naivete of the age running through their rude eloquence, which interests the reflecting mind. In a word, these sermons were addressed to the multitude; and therefore they show good sense and absurdity; fancy and puerility; satire and insipidity; extravagance and truth.

Oliver Maillard, a famous cordelier, died in 1502. This preacher having pointed some keen traits in his sermons at Louis XI., the irritated monarch had our cordelier informed that he would throw him into the river. He replied undaunted, and not forgetting his satire: “The king may do as he chooses; but tell him that I shall sooner get to paradise by water, than he will arrive by all his post-horses.” He alluded to travelling by post, which this monarch had lately introduced into France. This bold answer, it is said, intimidated Louis: it is certain that Maillard continued as courageous and satirical as ever in his pulpit.

The following extracts are descriptive of the manners of the times.

In attacking rapine and robbery, under the first head he describes a kind of usury, which was practised in the days of Ben Jonson, and I am told in the present, as well as in the times of Maillard. “This,” says he, “is called a palliated usury. It is thus. When a person is in want of money, he goes to a treasurer (a kind of banker or merchant), on whom he has an order for 1000 crowns; the treasurer tells him that he will pay him in a fortnight’s time, when he is to receive the money. The poor man cannot wait. Our good treasurer tells him, I will give you half in money and half in goods. So he passes his goods that are worth 100 crowns for 200.” He then touches on the bribes which these treasurers and clerks in office took, excusing themselves by alleging the little pay they otherwise received. “All these practices be sent to the devils!” cries Maillard, in thus addressing himself to the ladies: “it is for you all this damnation ensues. Yes! yes! you must have rich satins, and girdles of gold out of this accursed money. When any one has anything to receive from the husband, he must make a present to the wife of some fine gown, or girdle, or ring. If you ladies and gentlemen who are battening on your pleasures, and wear scarlet clothes, I believe if you were closely put in a good press, we should see the blood of the poor gush out, with which your scarlet is dyed.”

Maillard notices the following curious particulars of the mode of cheating in trade in his times.