Percy's Reliques - A Ballad of Luther, the Pope, a Cardinal, and a Husbandman.

A Ballad of Luther, the Pope, a Cardinal, and a Husbandman.

            In the former Book we brought down this Second Series of poems as low as about the middle of the sixteenth century. We now find the Muses deeply engaged in religious controversy. The sudden revolution wrought in the opinions of mankind by the Reformation, is one of the most striking events in the history of the human mind. It could not but engross the attention of every individual in that age, and therefore no other writings would have any chance to be read, but such as related to this grand topic. The alterations made in the established religion by Henry VIII., the sudden changes it underwent in the three succeeding reigns within so short space as eleven or twelve years, and the violent struggles between expiring Popery, and growing Protestantism, could not but interest all mankind. Accordingly every pen was engaged in the dispute. The followers of the old and new profession (as they were called) had their respective ballad-makers; and every day produced some popular sonnet for or against the Reformation; The following ballad, and that intitled Little John Nobody, may serve for specimens of the writings of each party. Both were written in the reign of Edward VI.; and are not the worst that were composed upon the occasion. Controversial divinity is no friend to poetic flights. Yet this ballad of "Luther and the Pope," is not altogether devoid of spirit; it is of the dramatic kind, and the characters are tolerably well sustained; especially that of Luther, which is made to speak in a manner not unbecoming the spirit and courage of that vigorous reformer. It is printed from the original black-letter copy (in the Pepys Collection, vol. i. folio), to which is prefixed a large wooden cut, designed and executed by some eminent master.

            We are not to wonder that the ballad-writers of that age should be inspired with the zeal of controversy, when the very stage teemed with polemic divinity. I have now before me two very ancient quarto black-letter plays: the one published in the time of Henry VIII. intitled Every Man; the other called Lusty Juventus, printed in the reign of Edward VI. In the former of these, occasion is taken to inculcate great reverence for old mother church and her superstitions;[ 1] in the other, the poet (one R. Wever) with great success attacks both. So that the stage in those days literally was, what wise men have always wished it -- a supplement to the pulpit. This was so much the case, that in the play of "Lusty Juventus,' chapter and verse are every where quoted as formally as in a sermon. Take an instance:

The Lord by his prophet Ezechiel sayeth in this wise playnlye,
As in the xxxiij chapter it doth appere:
Be converted, O ye children, &c.

            From this play we learn that most of the young people were New Gospellers, or friends to the Reformation, and that the old were tenacious of the doctrines imbibed in their youth: for thus the Devil is introduced lamenting the downfal of superstition:

"The olde people would believe stil in my lawes,
But the yonger sort leade them a contrary way,
They wyl not beleve, they playnly say,
In olde traditions, and made by men," &c.

And in another place Hypocrisy urges,

"The worlde was never meri
Since chyldren were so boulde:
Now every boy will be a teacher,
The father a foole, the chyld a preacher."

Of the plays above-mentioned, to the first is subjoined the following printer's Colophon: ¶Thus endethe this moral playe of Every Man. ¶Imprynted at London in Powles churche yeard by me John Skot. In Mr. Garrick's collection is an imperfect copy of the same play, printed by Richarde Pynson.

            The other is entitled, An enterlude called Lusty Juventus;and is thus distinguished at the end: Finis, quod R. Weber. Imprynted at London in Powles churche yeard by Abraham Dele at the signe of the Lambe. Of this too Mr. Garrick has an imperfect copy of a different edition.

            Of these two plays the reader may find some further particulars in Book ii., above. See "The Essay on the Origin of the English Stage:" and the curious reader will find the plays themselves printed at large in Hawkins's "Origin of the English Drama," 3 vols. Oxford, 1773, 12mo.

 

THE HUSBANDMAN

"LET us lift up our hartes all,
And prayse the Lordes magnificence,
Which hath given the wolues a fall,
And is become our strong defence:
For they thorowe a false pretens
From Christes bloude dyd all us leade,[ 2]
Gettynge from every man his pence,
As satisfactours for the deade.

"For what we with our FLAYLES coulde get
To kepe our house, and servauntes;
That did the Freers from us fet,
And with our soules played the merchauntes:
And thus they with theyr false warrantes
Of our sweate have easelye lyved,
That for fatnesse theyr belyes pantes,
So greatlye have they us deceaued.

"They spared not the fatherlesse,
The carefull, nor the pore wydowe;
They wolde have somewhat more or lesse,
If it above the ground did growe:
But now we Husbandmen do knowe
Al their subteltye, and their false caste;
For the Lorde hath them overthrowe
With his swete word now at the laste."

DOCTOR MARTIN LUTHER

"Thou antichrist, with thy thre crownes,
Hast usurped kynges powers,
As having power over realmes and townes,
Whom thou oughtest to serve all houres:
Thou thinkest by thy jugglyng colours
Thou maist lykewise Gods word oppresse;
As do the deceatful foulers,
When they theyr nettes craftelye dresse.

"Thou flatterest every prince, and lord,
Thretening poore men with swearde and fyre
All those, that do followe Gods worde,
To make them cleve to thy desire,
Theyr bokes thou burnest in flaming fire;
Cursing with boke, bell, and candell,
Such as to reade them have desyre
Or with them are wyllynge to meddell.

"Thy false power wyl I bring down,
Thou shalt not raygne many a yer,
I shall dryve the from citye to towne,
Even with this PEN that thou seyste here;
Thou fyghtest with swerd, shylde and speare,
But I wyll fyght with Gods worde;
Which is now so open and cleare,
That it shall brynge the under the borde."[ 3]

THE POPE

"Though I brought never so many to hel,
And to utter dampnacion,
Throughe myne ensample, and consel,
Or thorow any abhominacion,
Yet doth our lawe excuse my fashion.
And thou, Luther, arte accursed;
For blamynge me, and my condition,
The holy decres have the condempned.

"Thou stryvest against my purgatory,
Because thou findest it not in scripture:
As though I by myne auctorite
Alyght not make one for myne honoure.
Knowest thou not, that I have power
To make, and mar, in heaven and hell,
In erth, and every creature?
Whatsoever I do it must be well.

"As for scripture, I am above it;
Am not I Gods hye vicare?
Shulde I be bounde to folowe it,
As the carpenter his ruler?[ 4]
Nay, nay, hereticks ye are,
That will not obey my auctoritie.
With this SWORDE I wyll declare,
That ye shal al accursed be."

THE CARDINAL

"I am a Cardinall of Rome,
Sent from Christes hye vicary,
To graunt pardon to more, and sume,
That wil Luther resist strongly:
He is a greate hereticke treuly,
And regardeth to much the scripture;
For he thinketh onely thereby
To subdue the popes high honoure.

"Receive ye this PARDON devoutely,
And loke that ye agaynst him fight;
Plucke up youre herts, and be manyle,
For the pope sayth that ye do but ryght:
And this be sure, that at one flyghte,
Allthough ye be overcome by chaunce,
Ye shall to heaven go with greate myghte;
God can make you no resistaunce.

"Put these heretikes for their medlynge
Shall go down to hel every one;
For they have not the popes blessynge,
Nor regard his holy pardon:
They thinke from all destruction
By Christes bloud to be saved,
Fearynge not our excommunication,
Therefore shall they al be dampned."

NOTES

1. Take a specimen from his high encomiums on the priesthood:

"There is no emperour, kyng, duke, ne baron
That of God hath commissyon,
As hath the leest preest in the world beynge.
*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *
God hath to them more power gyven,
Than to any aungell, that is in heven;
With v. words he may consecrate
Goddes body in flesshe and blode to take,
And handeleth his maker bytwene his handes.
The preest byndeth and unbindeth all bandes,
Both in erthe and in heven.--
Thou ministers all the sacramentes seven.
Though we kyst thy fete thou were worthy;
Thou art the surgyan that cureth synne dedly;
No remedy may we fynde under God,
But alone on preesthode.
--God gave preest that dignitè,
And letteth them in his stede amonge us be,
Thus be they above aungels in degre.
See Hawkins's Orig. of Eng. Drama, vol. i. p. 61.

2. i.e. denied us the Cup, see below, ver. 94.

3. i.e. make thee knock under the table.

4. i.e. his rule.

 

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