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Outdoor Diversion, I shall commence with that branch of the former which, from the talent or apparatus required for its exhibition, may be considered as the most important, namely, the dramatic entertainments and minstrelsy that so often cheered the halls, or awakened the echoes, of Brougham, Londesborough, and Skipton.
Fortunately a few of the memoranda which allude to these festivities have been collected from the papers of the family, and brought before us in the following order:
« 1521. Payd to the French Wheyn mynstrell, iiis. ivd.; mynstrell of Newer Daye, vis. viiid.
“6 1595. To lord Willowby's men playing at this hows twice, xxxs.
“ 1609. Payd to the musitioners which were appointed to play at Londesbr. at the play the 12 Marche, sir Hutton and divers others being there, iïïis.
“ 1609, 27 April. Given to the waites of Halifaxe, who plaied in the court, sir Step. Tempest being there, iis.
“ Given to a company of players, my lord Vawses men, in reward not playing, because it was Lent, and therefore not fitting, xs.
“ 1614. Given to my lord Wharton his players, who played one playe before my lord and the ladies
“ 1619. Given to 15 men that were players, who belonged to the late queene, sijis. ivd.
“ Sept. 28. Given to a companie of players, being prince Charles's servants, who came to Londesbro and played a play, xis.
“ 1624. Gave to a set of players, going by the name of the kings players, who played 3 times, iïil.
“ 1633. To certain players itinerants, il.
“ 1635. To a certeyne company of roguish players, who represented 'A New Way to pay Old Debts,' il.
“ To Adam Gerdler, whom my lord sent for from York to act a part in 'The Knight of the Burning Pestell,' vs.”
On these articles, which throw a strong light on a very prominent part of the domestic amusements of the
Dr. Whitaker has given us a comment so rich in just remark with regard to the dramatic and histrionic merit of past and present times, that it would be an injury to my readers not to insert it.
“ There is no proof," he observes, “ to be drawn from their papers, that the Cliffords maintained a
company of minstrels or players as a part of their establishment. Yet, why they did not, as well as lord Willoughby, lord Wharton, and lord Vaux, all their inferiors, it would not be easy to discover. Of the dramatic power of these vagrants, who strolled about the country from one nobleman's house to another, and were rewarded for each entertainment with a few shillings, it is impossible to form any high idea. They were probably of no higher rank, or greater talents, than those who are now content to aniuse a country village in a barn. Dramatic composition was at its height before dramatic representation had emerged far above barbarism. That elegant but too often licentious amusement will never attain to any very high degree of excellence, till a wealthy and luxurious age has made the rewards of it a national object, which again will often not take place till the powers of dramatic composition, which usually reaches its acme a little before that period of society, are on the decline. It follows, that the highest gratification in this walk will be obtained by a judicious combination of the dramas of one period with the performance of another, from want of which, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, and Shakspeare, it is more than
probable, never conceived the full force of some of their own greatest characters. Meanwhile, the rant or the buffoonery of strollers would pass for fine acting in the halls of Londesborough and Skipton ; and intellectual gratification, though very imperfect, might contribute to suspend the orgies of intemperance, to awaken the latent sparks of feeling or sentiment, and to soften the general ferocity of manners *
Of those diversions which, as requiring only a few members of a family for their performance, are still more strictly entitled to the appellation of indoor or fireside amusements, there are only three or four notices to be found in the printed inventories of the Cliffords. The first and second of these are dated 1619, and, consequently, relate to Francis the fourth earl; they run as follows:
“Given to my lord to play at tables in the great chamber, vs.
“ Paid to his lordship’s losses at shovelboard, xs."
Tables, so named from the French and Latin, differed little, if at all, from the modern game of backgammon; but shovel-board, now superseded
* Hist. of Craven, p. 318, note.
by the use of billiards, was the pastime and chief ornament of every old hall, and doubtless of that at Skipton castle. As it consisted in pushing or shoving pieces of smooth money along a very polished surface to certain fixed marks, the currency of the day so employed was often distinguished by an epithet corresponding with this occasional application of it; thus, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, the era of the invention of shovel-board, the silver groats of that monarch were called shovegroats ; and when the smooth broad shillings of Edward the Sixth came into being, they, from a like cause, were denominated shovel-board shillings. That this board was sometimes a piece of furniture of magnificent dimensions, and worthy of the most splendid baronial hall, is evident from what Dr. Plot has told us of that at Chartley in Staffordshire, which was more than thirty feet in length, and consisted of two hundred and sixty pieces *.
Whether the ladies at Skipton castle ever partook of this diversion cannot now be ascertained ;
* Natural History of Staffordshire, p. 383. For a copious and minute description of this board, and the mode of playing at it, see my“Shakspeare and his Times," vol. i. pp. 306, 307, 308.