FICTIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES.

BY DELTA.

THE BUTTERFLY BISHOP.

Amongst the numerous grievances complained of, during the reigns of the Anglo-Norman sovereigns, none gave more uneasiness than the inhuman severity of the forest-laws; they disgusted those nobles not in the confidence of the monarch, oppressed the people, and impoverished the country.

The privilege of hunting in the royal forests was confined to the king and his favourites, who spent the greater portion of their time, not engaged in active warfare, in that diversion; many of them pursued wild beasts with greater fury than they did enemies of their country, and became as savage as the very brutes they hunted.

The punishment for hunting or destroying game in royal forests, or other property belonging to the crown, was very severe: the offender was generally put to death; but, if he could afford to pay an enormous mulct to the king, the sentence was commuted either to dismemberment or tedious imprisonment.

The propensity of the dignified clergy to follow secular pastimes, especially that of hunting, is well known: they were ambitious to surpass the laity in the number and splendid livery of their huntsmen, and to excel in making the woods resound with the echo of their bugles; many of them are recorded for their skill in the aristocratic and manly amusement of the chase. Few persons, however, either ecclesiastic or secular, equalled Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, in his fondness for, and prowess in, the chase.

Peter had spent the prime of his life as a soldier, and having rendered King John essential service in such capacity, that monarch conferred upon him the lucrative office of Bishop of Winchester, and he thenceforth became a curer of souls instead of a destroyer of bodies.

Peter's appointment as a bishop afforded him ample time to devote to the fascinating employment of chasing the "full-acorned boar" and stealthy fox: he thought the hunter's shout, the winding notes of the clanging horn, and the joyous bark of the hounds, much sweeter music than the nasal chaunt of the drowsy monks.

It happened one day that Peter, (who was, according to the Chronicle of Lanercost, a proud and worldly man,—as was too often the case with bishops of that period,) with a bugle dangling at his belt, and mounted upon a fiery steed, attended by a vast retinue of men, horses, and hounds, was in hot pursuit of a wary old fox; his courser,—more fleet than the mountain roe, scarce bruising the grass with his iron-shod hoofs,—like Bucephalus of Macedon, took fright at his own shadow, and became unmanageable; nor were all the skill and spur of the rider able to check his impetuous speed: the harder the bishop pulled, the more unruly became his steed; the bridle now suddenly snapped in twain, and the bishop was left to the fate that awaited him. Velocipede, for so the horse was called, now seemed exultingly to bound over the deepest ditches, and to clear the highest thorny-twining hedge with the greatest ease: nothing could moderate his foaming rage; he resembled more the far-famed Pegasus of Medusan blood, than the palfrey of a gentle bishop. The retinue, and eager hounds, notwithstanding their utmost endeavour to keep pace with their master, were left far behind.

Peter, having no control over his flying barbary, awaited with truly apostolic calmness and gravity the issue of his wondrous ride, seriously expecting every minute a broken neck or leg; or, perchance, to have his preaching spoilt by the dislocation of a jaw-bone.—Such thoughts will frequently obtrude themselves into the minds of men encompassed with similar difficulties, let their presence of mind be never so great.

After half an hour's ride in such unepiscopal speed, which can only be compared to that of a steam-engine upon the Manchester railroad, Velocipede suddenly stopped before a magnificent castle with frowning battlements and a gloomy moat. The bishop, wondering at what he saw, was struck dumb with astonishment; for he well knew that so extensive a castle had not hitherto existed in his diocese, nor did he know of any such in England. Velocipede seemed also at his wits' end, and commenced frisking and gamboling about; and, in making a devotional curvet to the castle, threw the gallant, but unprepared bishop, over his head. Peter was either stunned or entranced by the fall,—whether his senses ever returned the reader must determine for himself when he has perused what follows: the bishop, however, always declared that he was never senseless, and that he could preach as well after, as before his fall.

No sooner was the bishop safely located upon the verdant down by the reverential feelings of the awe-struck Velocipede, than the castle's drawbridge fell, and an aged seneschal, of rubicund-tinted face, with at least fifty liveried lackeys in fanciful suits, ran to assist the bishop, and help him to regain his legs.

By the aid of a restorative cordial the bishop was resuscitated, and, upon coming to himself, was welcomed by the seneschal to the castle of Utopia.

The bishop looked aghast.

"My lord bishop," said the seneschal, "the king, our master, has been long expecting you; he is all impatient to embrace you: hasten, my lord, hasten your steps into the castle; the wines are cooled, the supper is ready; oh, such a supper! my mouth waters at the very smell thereof! Four wild turkeys smoke upon the spit, seven bitterns, six-and-twenty grey partridges, two-and-thirty red-legged ones, sixteen pheasants, nine woodcocks, nineteen herons, two-and-thirty rooks, twenty ring-doves, sixty leverets, twelve hares, twenty rabbits, and an ocean of Welsh ones, (enough to surfeit all the mice, and kill every apoplectic person in the world,) twenty kids, six roebucks, eight he-goats, fifteen sucking wild-boars, a flock of wild-ducks, to say nothing of the sturgeons, pikes, jacks, and other fish, both fresh and saltwater, besides ten tons of the most exquisite native oysters: and then there are flagons, goblets, and mead-cups overflowing with frothy ale, exhilarating wine, and goodly mead, all longing to empty their contents into our parched and ready stomachs, which are unquenchable asbestos; for we drink lustily, my lord, and eat powdered beef salted at Shrovetide, to season our mouths, and render them rabid for liquid in the same proportion as a rabid dog avoids it."

The seneschal here paused to take breath, for his description of the supper exhausted the wind-trunk of his organ; and the bishop, seizing the opportunity of its being replenished, said,

"Peace, hoary dotard! thou hast mistaken thy man; I am Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and Protector of England during the king's sojourn abroad."

"You need not tell me what I already know," replied the seneschal; "though, it seems, I must again remind you that my lord the king awaits your coming within the castle walls, and has prepared a sumptuous supper, with all manner of good cheer, to greet you."

"Supper!" said the bishop in astonishment, "I have not yet dined; besides I never eat supper."

"The devil take your inhuman fashion, then!" replied the seneschal: "in extreme necessity I might forego a dinner, provided I had eaten an overwhelming breakfast; but I would as soon die as go without my supper. To go to bed without supper is a base and aristocratic custom; I say it is an error offensive to nature, and nature's dictates; all fasting is bad save breakfasting. That wicked pope who first invented fasting ought to have been baked alive in the papal kitchen."

To the latter part of the seneschal's speech the bishop mentally assented; but he merely said,

"Go to, thou gorged dullard, and tell thy master to gormandize without me."

"Well, go I suppose I must, if you will not come," returned the seneschal, "for I cannot longer tarry here. Ah, Sir Bishop, did you feel the gnawings of my stomach, you would be glad to throw some food to the hungry mastiff that seems feeding upon my very vitals!"

"Hold thy balderdash!" said the bishop, who had become very irritated, and would have sworn, had it been etiquette to do so in those days, at the effusive and edacious harangue of the seneschal. "Verily, thy hunger and thirst have gotten the better of thy wits! Whence comest thou?"

"From within the pincernary of that castle, where I have been indefatigably filling the goblets," answered the seneschal, smacking his lips. "Sitio! sitio! my parched mouth moistens at the thought! Oh! the lachryma Christi, the nectar, the ambrosia, and the true Falernian! Ah! Sir Bishop, some persons drink to quench their thirst, but I drink to prevent it."

"Pshaw!" said the bishop, "the wine that thou hast already drunken hath fuddled thy brains."

"By a gammon of the saltest bacon!" returned the seneschal, "I have more sense of what is good in my little finger than your reverence has in your whole pate, or you would not stand shilly-shambling here whilst so goodly a supper waits within."

The bishop was highly incensed at the seneschal's reflection upon his pate, and would have followed, had he dared, the slashing example of his namesake, and have smitten off the ear of this high-priest of the pantry; (for he always wore a sword, even in the pulpit, firmly believing in the efficacy of cold steel, knowing from experience that it would make a deeper and more lasting impression upon human obduracy than the most eloquent preaching;) but the bishop was deterred by prudential reflections from such sanguinary vengeance.

How long the confabulation between the bishop and the loquacious seneschal would have lasted, and to what extent the patience of the former might have been tried, it would at this remote period be difficult to determine, especially as the Lanercost Chronicle does not inform us. At any rate, it was cut shorter than it would have been, by the approach of twenty youthful knights, clad in superb armour, and riding upon horses caparisoned in most costly and gorgeous trappings; they dismounted, and made a low obeisance. The bishop returned it as lowly as bishops generally do, unless they are bowing to the premier during the vacancy of an archbishoprick. The knights advanced; but Peter remained as firm and majestic as the rock of Gibraltar.

"Sir Bishop," said the chief of the knights, a youth with a most beautiful and smiling face, "we are come to request your speedy attendance upon our lord the king, who with any other than yourself would have been much displeased at your perverse absence, after you have been bidden by the steward of the household."

The bishop rubbed, shut, and opened his eyes.—"Am I bewitched," thought he to himself, "or do I dream?"

"Neither the one nor the other," said the knight, who perfectly understood the bishop's cogitations.

"No? What, then, does all this mean?" inquired the bishop. "When did my lord the king return from Picardy?"

"Proceed into the castle," replied the knight, "and let him answer for himself."

"If these people consider this a joke," thought the bishop, "I by no means think it one. At all events, come what come may, I will follow up this strange adventure, and be even with these gentlemen. I have not a bishop's garment," said he, addressing the seneschal; "how can I appear before the king, accoutred as I am?"

"Knowing how much you are addicted to hunting," returned the seneschal, "the king will assuredly receive you in your usual costume."

"Tut, fool!" said the bishop sneeringly; "do you forget, or has your time been so engrossed with epicurean pursuits, that you have not learnt how a guest, though bidden, was punished because he attended a supper-party without a proper garment? Find me a becoming dress, and I will instantly attend his highness' pleasure."

"If you will condescend to follow me," said the youthful knight, "a sacerdotal dress shall be procured for you."

The bishop, nodding assent, was then conducted in solemn silence into the wardrobe of the castle, where the obsequious attendants soon arrayed him in a dress fit for a bishop to sit with the king at supper in. It was not such unpretending costume as that in which bishops are at present apparelled; but robes of the tinctured colours of the East, which were more apt to remind both the wearer and the beholders of mundane pomps and vanities, than of the humility and simplicity of Christianity. The alb was of most dazzling white, the dalmatica of gold tissue, the stole was embroidered with precious stones, and the chasuble, of purple velvet wrought with orfraise, was also studded with costly orient gems.

The bishop thus splendidly accoutred was conducted with great state and solemnity into the banqueting-room, one of the most magnificent and spacious of the kind. It excelled everything he had ever before seen: odoriferous and fragrant perfumes, fit for a Peri to feed on, saluted his nose; his sight was dazzled by splendid and radiant illuminations, the most exquisite music stole upon his ear, and laughter and mirth seemed to be universal; every face (there were many hundreds in the room) was decked with a smile; there wanted but one thing to complete the enchantment of the scene,—the light of woman's laughing eye.

As the bishop entered the hall, five hundred harpers in an instant twanged their harps; and the air resounded with trumpets, clarions, fifes, and other musical instruments, not omitting the hollow drum.

The bishop, being tainted with the superstitious feelings of the age, easily persuaded himself that he was in an enchanted palace; he therefore determined to conform to every custom that prevailed in the assembled company, and by that means he hoped to ingratiate himself with the presiding spirit. When he had reached the centre of the hall, the king (he wore a robe of rich crimson velvet, furred with ermine, over a dalmatica flowered with gold, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and diamonds, and on his head was a splendid crown beyond estimation,) descended from a throne of the purest crystal, and advanced to meet the bishop. As he passed the obsequious nobles, he received their servile adulation with a smile, and, extending his arms, folded the bishop in a royal embrace. The latter surveyed with some awe the brawny shoulders of the king, and regarded with much respect the amber-coloured locks hanging in great profusion down his musculous back. The bishop thought that the aquiline nose, the expansive brow, the large clear azure eye, and the ruddy complexion of his host, about as much resembled those of his own monarch as a terrible-looking bull-dog does a snarling mongrel. But he kept his complimentary thoughts of his host to himself, as he was not at any time of a communicative spirit,—he was a proud, not a vain man,—and he moreover did not know how his compliment might be received.

The king handed the bishop to the upper end of the hall, and placed him at his right hand. No sooner were they seated than twenty trumpeters, in a gallery at the lower end of the room, blew, as the signal for supper to be served up, three such electrifying blasts, that, had the building not been as substantial as beautiful, it must have been shaken.

As the loquacious seneschal, in tempting the bishop to quicken his steps to supper, has put us in possession of many of the various articles provided for this festive entertainment, we shall not weary our reader by recapitulating them; but content ourselves with stating that, in addition to the solid fare, there were exquisite and delicate fruits and viands, with wines and liqueurs of the choicest quality and flavour. The supper-service was of the most superb description, frosted silver and burnished gold; the goblets, vases, and wine-cups were of crystal, mounted in gold richly carved. Such a feast the bishop had never seen or tasted; and yet he was, like many of his predecessors and successors too, perfectly familiar with the charms of eating and drinking.

Nothing produces good-fellowship, intimacy, and conviviality more than a good supper. We do not mean the cold, formal, and pompous supper given to a fashionable party of the present day; but such as were peculiar to by-gone days, when the table groaned under hot and solid joints, and the company, with good appetites as provocatives, ate and drank right heartily,—when glee and joy sat merrily upon every face, and the glass went briskly round. Even misanthropes or proud men could not be insensible to such festive scenes; their hearts would necessarily warm as the exhilarating wine washed away their gloomy and proud thoughts.

The bishop soon became familiar with his host, ate, drank, laughed, and was merry; (we will not so scandalise the Bench as to presume that he was drunk, although the Chronicle of Lanercost insinuates as much;) the conversation was brilliant, the wit bright and poignant, and the repartees flashed, and often rebounded upon the discharger.

To put a direct or pointed question at any time is, to say the least of it, ungentlemanly; it very often gives dire offence, is seldom admired or tolerated even by your most intimate acquaintance; and men are seldom guilty of it, unless in their cups, or with a desire of insulting:—how unpalatable must it be to royalty! As we know it was the bishop's desire to keep upon good terms with his host, it is but natural to infer that he would not intentionally insult him by any rude question. If, therefore, any rudeness occurred on the part of the bishop, it is charitable to set it down to inebriation, or perhaps to the bishop's habit of putting questions in the confessional.

To the ineffable surprise of the king, the bishop was so injudicious as to ask his host, in the most direct and pointed manner, who he was, and whence he came there.

No sooner had the bishop attempted to satisfy his prying curiosity by what appeared to him a very natural question, than the hall shook as if Nature were indignant at his presumptuous inquiry; the whole place was filled with an effulgent lambent light so brilliant, that it entirely eclipsed the blaze of the variegated lamps that burned in the hall; a low murmuring wind followed. The king's eyes seemed to flash liquid fire as he answered, "Know me for what I am,—Arthur, formerly lord of the whole monarchy of Britain, son of the mighty Pendragon, and the illustrious founder of the Order of the Round Table."

The bishop, having a firm heart and buxom valour, was far from being daunted, as most men in a similar situation would have been, and he inquired whether the story then current was true, that King Arthur was not dead, but had been carried away by fairies into some pleasant place, where he was to remain for a time, and then return again and reign in as great authority as ever; or whether he died by the sword-wounds he received from the sons of the king of the Picts; and if so, whether his soul was saved, and come to revisit this sublunary world. The bishop, meditating authorship, asked a thousand other questions relative to the immortality of the soul; and so subtle were they, that, had they been put in these days of sciolism and charlatanry, his fame would have been as brilliant, lasting, and deserved as that of the noble editor of Paley's Theology.

Whether King Arthur did not choose to satisfy the bishop's curiosity, or whether, judging from the usual depth of the human mind, he thought the immortality of the soul a subject too deep and mystic for such moonshine treatises as have been written concerning it, the Chronicle of Lanercost does not inform us. It merely states, that to all the bishop's searching questions Arthur only replied, "Verč expecto misericordiam Dei magnam." He had no sooner uttered those words than a roar, like the falling of mighty waters such as Niagara's was heard, and from the incense-altar another blaze of transcendent light issued: the whole assembly, excepting the bishop, prostrated themselves and chaunted a hymn, which he, mistaking for a bacchanal-venatical chorus, heartily joined in. Upon this outrage of public decency, the chaunt instantly terminated with a crash resembling what is ignorantly called the falling of a thunderbolt; the altar again smoked, and horrible and clamorous noises issued therefrom, like the bellowing of buffaloes, the howling of wolves, the snarling and barking of hounds, the neighing of horses, the halloo of huntsmen, and the blasts of brazen trumpets, all in heterogeneous mingle. The smoke gradually assumed the appearance of a host of hunters; one of them, evidently their chief, fixed his glaring eyes upon the bishop, and frowned awfully. The bishop did not admire the looks of the hunter-chief, and even winced a little when he raised his ghastly arm, (as a self-satisfied orator does when about to enforce some appalling clap-trap sentiment,) and said in a gruff growl, "I am Nimrod, of hunting fame, and such a hunter was I as the world had not before, or since, or will ever have again. Yet was I no monopolizer of game, or murderer of men to preserve it, as some have unjustly charged me. I loved the chase, and taught my subjects to love it too; but thou, oh Bishop Peter, hast been a cruel hunter, and strict preserver of game. The tongues thou hast dilacerated, the ears and noses thou hast cut off, and the wretches thou hast slain, form an awful catalogue of cruelty, and one that will require tears of blood to wash out. Hearken to the lamentations of thy victims, and the bewailings of the widows and orphans thy cruelty hath made! Hadst thou not been so peerless and bold a hunter, I should not have condescended to warn you of the terrible fate you will experience in the world to come, unless you mend your ways. Lover and encourager that I was, and interested as I still am in that manly sport, I would sooner that it were entirely lost to the world than it should be disgraced by human bloodshed. List, I say, to the cries of the victims whom thou hast sacrificed at the altar of Diana, thy divinity!" Loud lamentations were now heard, and a hideous group of dismembered menacing ghosts flitted rapidly before the bishop's wondering sight. He closed his eyes to avoid their angry looks; one writer insinuates that he swooned, but we think that unlikely. Be it, however, as it may, upon his opening his eyes he neither saw Nimrod, his crew, nor any of the victims of the forest-laws. They had every one of them disappeared!

King Arthur, like a brave and magnanimous prince, soon forgot and forgave the bishop's want of good breeding in asking impertinent questions; though he severely chid him for having split so many human noses, and dismembered Christians without the slightest remorse, for so trifling an offence as infraction of the forest-laws: and that, too, within the very precinct of Winchester Castle, where the Round Table was preserved. The bishop thought those offences anything but trifling, and that the souls as well as bodies of the offenders merited the severest punishment, instead of commiseration.

King Arthur then denounced the concupiscence of the dignitaries of the church, and their appetite for, and easy digestion of, the good things of the world; and he declared that they regarded nothing but sensual gratification, and wasted their precious lives in banqueting, hawking, and hunting. He entreated the bishop to leave off his hunting habits, and to take unto those that were more episcopal and less sanguinary. He told him that it would add considerably to his mundane happiness, and tend more to his salvation than ten thousand thoughtless repetitions of the "pater noster" and twelve thousand of the "ave Maria." So much did King Arthur say, needless here to be repeated, that the bishop mentally resolved to profit by the king's advice. But it occurred to him that he could not suddenly leave off hunting without assigning a sufficient reason for his determination; and that if he related what had befallen him, his being a bishop would not entitle him to credit, nor protect him from the derision of his sovereign and his courtiers; for who would believe his most solemn asseveration that he had seen Nimrod, and conversed and supped with King Arthur?

King Arthur, perceiving what was agitating the bishop's ideas, determined to assist in fulfilling so righteous a resolve as the bishop was meditating.

"Extend your right hand," said Arthur; the bishop complied. "Shut it," said Arthur; the bishop did as he was told. "Now open it," continued Arthur. The bishop opened his hand, and there flew therefrom an exquisitely beautiful butterfly.

The bishop, notwithstanding all that he had just before seen and heard, now in real good earnest believed himself bewitched, and heartily wished that he had never forsaken the profession of a soldier for that of a bishop, to be subject to miracles; for in those days miracles and visions only occurred to the dignified clergy.

King Arthur, compassionating the bishop's perturbation, said, "Whenever in relating your adventure any one doubts it, you shall afford him sufficient autopsy of its verity by sending, at all seasons of the year, a butterfly from your hand, in memorial of me and of your virtuous resolution."

The bishop cordially thanked King Arthur for his kindness and consideration, and swore by the face at Lucca, (his favourite oath,) that as long as he lived, he would never again sound the bugle, follow hounds, nor punish man, woman, or child for infringing the game-laws; and that he would moreover exert all his influence with King John to relax the inhuman severity of the forest-laws.

No sooner had the bishop made a solemn adjuration to that effect than he felt a stunning blow upon his head, which deprived him of all sensation. When he recovered, he found himself lying where Velocipede had thrown him, and the brute quietly grazing by his side.

The bishop vaulted upon his saddle, spurred his steed, and galloped off as fast as the creature could go. After a ride of about five miles, he found his attendants anxiously seeking him. He related all that had occurred, to their great awe and astonishment; but when they had autoptical evidence of the truth of his narration, by his letting loose a mealy-winged butterfly from his hand, their fear and wonder exceeded all bounds.

The bishop's adventure was soon bruited abroad, and thousands flocked from all parts of England, Scotland, Ireland, and even the Continent, to see the man who had supped with King Arthur, and seen the hunter Nimrod. Many more came to witness a miracle performed: a circumstance of rare occurrence to the vulgar in those days, miracles, as we have above observed, being reserved for the private view of bishops and monks. Those pilgrimaging to Winchester always sought and received a blessing from the butterfly hand of the bishop as soon as he was satisfied that a liberal oblation had been made at the high altar of his cathedral.

The frequent repetition of the miracle obtained for Peter the appellation of the Butterfly Bishop; and the offerings at the high altar so greatly augmented his revenue, that he never once repented of his promise to King Arthur. His time was so occupied in performing the miracle and blessing the people, that he had no time, whatever was his inclination, for hunting.

The Chronicler ends this strange story in the following words "Quid in hoc anima Arthuri mortalis adhuc docere voluerit, perpendat qui meliůs conjicere poterit:"—which, for the benefit of our female readers, may be rendered thus,—"What the still mortal soul of Arthur wished to teach by this, let him consider who can best interpret."