The Joculator--His different Denominations and extraordinary Deceptions--His Performances ascribed to Magic--Asiatic Jugglers--Remarkable Story from Froissart--Tricks of the Jugglers ascribed to the Agency of the Devil; but more reasonably accounted for--John Rykell, a celebrated Tregetour--Their various Performances--Privileges of the Joculators at Paris--The King's Joculator an Officer of Rank--The great Disrepute of modern Jugglers.
THE JOCULATOR.--The joculator, or the jugglour of the Normans, was frequently included under the collective appellation of minstrel. His profession originally was very comprehensive, and included the practice of all the arts attributed to the minstrel; and some of the jugglers were excellent tumblers. Joinville, in the Life of St Louis and Charpentier, quotes an old author, who speaks of a joculator, qui sciebat tombare. 1 He was called a gleeman in the Saxon era, and answers to the juggler of the more modern times. In the fourteenth century he was also denominated a tregetour, or tragetour, at which time he appears to have been separated from the musical poets, who exercised the first branches of the gleeman's art, and are more generally considered as minstrels.
DIFFERENT DENOMINATIONS OF THE JOCULATOR, AND HIS EXTRAORDINARY DECEPTIONS.--The name of tregetours was chiefly, if not entirely, appropriated to those artists who, by sleight of hand, with the assistance of machinery of various kinds, deceived the eyes of the spectators, and produced such illusions as were usually supposed to be the effect of enchantment; for which reason they were frequently ranked with magicians, sorcerers, and witches; and, indeed, the feats they performed, according to the descriptions given of them, abundantly prove that they were no contemptible practitioners in the arts of deception. Chaucer, who, no doubt, had frequently an opportunity of seeing the tricks exhibited by the tregetours in his time, says, "There I sawe playenge jogelours, magyciens, trageteours, phetonysses, charmeresses, olde witches, and sorceresses," etc. 2 He speaks of them in a style that may well excite astonishment: "There are," says he, "sciences by which men can delude the eye with divers appearances, such as the subtil tregetours perform at feasts. In a large hall they will produce water with boats rowed up and down upon it." In the library of Sir Hans Sloane, at the British Museum, is a MS 3 which contains "an experiment to make the appearance of a flode of water to come into a house." The directions are, to steep a thread in the liquor produced from snakes' eggs bruised, and to hang it up over a basin of water in the place where
the trick is to be performed. The tregetours, no doubt, had recourse to a surer method. Chaucer goes on to say, "Sometimes they will bring in the similitude of a grim lion, or make flowers spring up as in a meadow; sometimes they cause a vine to flourish, bearing white and red grapes; or show a castle built with stone; and when they please, they cause the whole to disappear." He then speaks of "a learned clerk," who, for the amusement of his friend, showed to him "forests full of wild deer, where he saw an hundred of them slain, some with hounds and some with arrows; the hunting being finished, a company of falconers appeared upon the banks of a fair river, where the birds pursued the herons, and slew them. He then saw knights justing upon a plain"; and, by way of conclusion, "the resemblance of his beloved lady dancing; which occasioned him to dance also." But, when "the maister that this magike wrought thought fit, he clapped his hands together, and all was gone in an instante." 1 Again, in another part of his works, the same poet says:--
THE JOCULATORS' PERFORMANCES ASCRIBED TO MAGIC.--Chaucer attributes these illusions to the practice of natural magic. Thus the Squire, in his Tale, says:--
And again, in the third book of the House of Fame:--
[paragraph continues] Meaning, I suppose, an artful combination of different powers of nature in a manner not generally understood; and therefore he makes the Devil say to the Sompner in the Friar's Tale, "I can take any shape that pleases me; of a man, of an ape, or of an angel; and it is no wonder, a lousy juggler can deceive you; and I can assure you my skill is superior to his." I need not say, that a greater latitude was assigned to what the poet calls natural magic in his days, than will be granted in the present time.
ASIATIC JUGGLERS.--Sir John Mandeville, who wrote about the same period as Chaucer, speaks thus of a similar exhibition performed before the Great Chan: "And then comen jogulours, and enchauntours, that doen many marvaylles"; for they make, says he, the appearance of the sun and the moon in the air; and then they make the night so dark, that nothing can be seen; and again they restore the daylight, with the sun shining brightly; then they "bringen-in daunces, of the fairest damsels of the world, and the richest arrayed"; afterwards they make other damsels to come in, bringing cups of gold, full of the milk of
divers animals, and give drink to the lords and ladies; and then "they make knyghts jousten in armes fulle lustily," who run together, and in the encounter break their spears so rudely, that the splinters fly all about the hall. 1 They also bring in a hunting of the hart and of the boar, with hounds running at them open-mouthed; and many other things they do by the craft of their enchantments, that are "marvellous to see." In another part he says, "And be it done by craft, or by nicromancy, I wot not." 2
REMARKABLE STORY FROM FROISSART.--The foregoing passages bring to my recollection a curious piece of history related by Froissart, which extends the practice of these deceptions far beyond the knowledge of the modern jugglers. When, says that author, the duke of Anjou and the earl of Savoy were lying with their army before the city of Naples, there was "an enchaunter, a conning man in nigromancy, in the Marches of Naples." This man promised to the duke of Anjou, that he would put him in possession of the castle of Leufe, at that time besieged by him. The duke was desirous of knowing by what means this could be effected; and the magician said, "I shall, by enchauntment, make the ayre so thicke, that they within the castell will think there is a great brydge over the sea, large enough for ten men a-breast to come to them; and when they see this brydge, they will readily yeilde themselves to your mercy, least they should be taken perforce." And may not my men, said the duke, pass over this bridge in reality? To this question the juggler artfully replied, "I dare not, syr, assure you that; for, if any one of the men that passeth on the brydge shall make the sign of the cross upon him, all shall go to noughte, and they that be upon it shall fall into the sea." The earl of Savoy was not present at this conference; but being afterwards made acquainted with it, he said to the duke, "I know well it is the same enchaunter, by whom the queene of Naples and syr Othes of Bresugeth were taken in this castle; for he caused, by his crafte, the sea to seeme so high, that they within were sore abashed, and wend all to have died; but no confidence," continued he, "ought to be placed in a fellow of this kind, who has already betrayed the queen for hire; and now, for the sake of another reward, is willing to give up the man whose bounty he has received." The earl then commanded the enchanter to be brought before him; when he boasted that, by the power of his art, he had caused the castle to be delivered to Sir Charles de la Paye, who was then in possession of it; and concluded his speech with these words: "Syr, I am the man of the world that syr Charles reputeth most, and is most in fear of." "By my fayth," replied the earl of Savoy, "ye say well; and I will that syr Charles shall know that he hath great wrong to feare you: but I shall assure hym of you, for ye shal never do more enchauntments to deceyve hym, nor yet any other." So saying, he ordered him to be beheaded; and the sentence was instantly put into execution before the door of the earl's tent. "Thus," adds our author, "ended the mayster enchantour: and so he was payed hys wages according to his desertes." 3
TRICKS OF THE JUGGLERS ASCRIBED TO INFERNAL AGENCY; BUT MORE REASONABLY ACCOUNTED FOR.--Our learned monarch James I. was perfectly convinced that these, and other inferior feats exhibited by the tregetours, could only be performed by the agency of the Devil, "who," says he, "will learne them many juglarie tricks, at cardes and dice, to deceive men's senses thereby, and such innumerable false practiques, which are proved by over-many in this age." 1 It is not, however, very easy to reconcile with common sense the knowledge the king pre-tended to have had of the intercourse between Satan and his scholars the conjurers; unless his majesty had been, what nobody, I trust, suspects him to have been, one of the fraternity. But, notwithstanding the high authority of a crowned head in favour of Beelzebub, it is the opinion of some modern writers, that the tricks of the jugglers may be accounted for upon much more reasonable, as well as more natural, principles. These artists were greatly encouraged in the middle ages; they travelled in large companies, and carried with them, no doubt, such machinery as was necessary for the performance of their deceptions; and we are all well aware, that very surprising things may be exhibited through the medium of a proper apparatus, and with the assistance of expert confederates. A magic lanthorn will produce appearances almost as wonderful as some of those described by Sir John Mandeville, to persons totally ignorant of the existence and nature of such a machine. The principles of natural philosophy were very little known in those dark ages; and, for that reason, the spectators were more readily deceived. In our own times we have had several exhibitions that excited much astonishment; such as an image of wax, suspended by a ribband in the middle of a large room, which answered questions in various languages; an automaton chess-player, that few professors of the game could beat; 2 and men ascending the air without the assistance of wings: yet these phenomena are considered as puerile, now the secrets upon which their performance depends have been divulged. But, returning to the tregetour, we shall find that he often performed his feats upon a scaffold erected for that purpose; and probably, says a late ingenious writer, 3 received his name from the trebuchet, or trap-door, because he frequently made use of such insidious machines in the displayment of his operations. Chaucer has told us, that Coll the tregetour exhibited upon a table; and other authors speak of "juggling upon the boardes," which clearly indicates the use of a stage or temporary scaffold. Now, let us only add the machinery proper for the occasion, and all the wonders specified in the foregoing passages may be reduced to mere pantomimical deceptions, assisted by sleight of hand, and the whole readily accounted for without any reference to supernatural agency.
JOHN RYKELL, A CELEBRATED TREGETOUR.--In the fourteenth century, the tregetours seem to have been in the zenith of their glory; from that period they gradually declined in the popular esteem; their performances were more confined,
and of course became less consequential. Lydgate, in one of his poems, 1 introduces Death speaking to a famous tregetour belonging to the court of king Henry V. in this manner:--
To this summons the sorrowful juggler replies:--
In "The Disobedient Child," an old morality, or interlude, written by Thomas Ingeland in the reign of queen Elizabeth, a servant, describing the sports at his master's wedding, says:--
These tricks approximate nearly to those of the modern jugglers, who have knives so constructed, that, when they are applied to the legs, the arms, and other parts of the human figure, they have the appearance of being thrust through them; the bearing of the forms, or seats, I suppose, was the balancing of them; and the holding of swords, the flourishing them about in the sword-dance; which the reader will find described in the succeeding chapter.
VARIOUS PERFORMANCES OF THE JOCULATORS.--Originally, as we have before observed, the profession of the joculator included all the arts attributed to the minstrels; and accordingly his performance was called his minstrelsy in the reign of Edward II., and even after he had obtained the appellation of a tregetour. 3 We are well assured, that playing upon the vielle and the harp, and singing of songs, verses, and poems taken from popular stories; together with dancing, tumbling, and other feats of agility, formed a principal part of the joculator's occupation at the commencement of the thirteenth century; and
probably so they might in the days of Chaucer. Another part of the juggler's profession, and which constituted a prominent feature in his character, was teaching bears, apes, monkeys, dogs, and various other animals, to tumble, dance, and counterfeit the actions of men; but we shall have occasion to enlarge upon this subject a few pages farther on.
In a book of customs, says St Foix, 1 made in the reign of Saint Louis, for the regulation of the duties to be paid upon the little chatelet at the entrance into Paris, we read, that a merchant, who brought apes to sell, should pay four deniers; but, if an ape belonged to a joculator, this man, by causing the animal to dance in the presence of the toll-man, was privileged to pass duty-free, with all the apparatus necessary for his performances: hence came the proverb, "Pay in money; the ape pays in gambols." Another article specifies that the joculator might escape the payment of the toll by singing a couplet of a song before the collector of the duty.
Comenius, I take it, has given us a proper view of the juggler's exhibition, as it was displayed a century and a half back, in a short chapter entitled Prestigiæ, or Sleights. 2 It consists of four divertisements, including the joculator's own performances; and the other three are tumbling and jumping through a hoop; the grotesque dances of the clown, or mimic, who, it is said, appeared with a mark upon his face; and dancing upon the tight rope. The print at the head of his chapter is made agreeably to the English custom, and differs a little from the original description. In the latter it is said, "The juggler sheweth sleights out of a purse." In the print there is no purse represented; but the artist is practising with cups and balls in the manner they are used at present. The tumbler is walking upon his hands. The rope-dancing is performed by a woman holding a balancing pole; and on the same rope a man, probably "clown to the rope," is represented hanging by one leg with his head downwards. In modern times, the juggler has united songs and puppet-plays to his show.
PRIVILEGES OF THE JOCULATORS AT PARIS--THE KINGS JOCULATOR.--The joculalor regis, or king's juggler, was anciently an officer of note in the royal household; and we find, from Domesday Book (under Gloucestershire) that Berdic, who held that office in the reign of the Conqueror, was a man of property. 3 In the succeeding century, or soon afterwards, the title of rex juglatorum, or king of the jugglers, was conferred upon the chief performer of the company, and the rest, I presume, were under his control. The king's juggler continued to have an establishment in the royal household till the time of Henry VIII.; 4 and in his reign the office and title seem to have been discontinued.
GREAT DISREPUTE OF MODERN JUGGLERS.--The profession of the juggler,
with that of the minstrel, had fallen so low in the public estimation at the close of the reign of queen Elizabeth, that the performers were ranked, by the moral writers of the time, not only with "ruffians, blasphemers, thieves, and vagabonds"; but also with "Heretics, Jews, Pagans, and sorcerers"; 1 and, indeed, at an earlier period they were treated with but little more respect, as appears from the following lines in Barclay's Eclogues:
[paragraph continues] In another passage, he speaks of a disguised juggler, and a vile jester or bourder; 3 by the word disguised he refers, perhaps, to the clown, or mimic; who, as Comenius has just informed us, danced "disguised with a vizard." In more modern times, by way of derision, the juggler was called a hocus-pocus, 4 a term applicable to a pick-pocket, or a common cheat.
167:1 Supplement to Du Cange.
167:2 Chaucer, House of Fame, book iii.
167:3 No. 1315.
168:1 Frankeleyn's Tale.
168:2 House of Fame, book iii.
169:1 Mandeville's Travels, p. 285.
169:3 Froissart's Chronicle, vol. iii. chap. 392, fol. 272.
170:2 See The Conjuror Unveiled, a small pamphlet translated from the French; which gives a full account of these curious pieces of mechanism, and of several others equally surprising.
170:3 Mr. Tyrwhitt, in his edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, vol. iii. p. 299.
171:1 "The Daunce of Macabre," translated, or rather paraphrased, from the French. In this Daunce, Death is represented addressing himself to persons of all ranks and ages. MS. Harl. No. 116.
171:2 Garrick's Collection of Old Plays, K. vol. ii.
171:3 "Janino le tregettor, facienti ministralsiam swam coram rege," etc.; that is, to Janino the tregetour, for performing his minstrelsy before the king, in his chamber near the priory of Swineshead, twenty shillings. Lib. Comput. Garderobæ, an. 4 Edw. II. fol. 86, MS. Cott. Nero, C. viii.
172:1 Essais Hist. sur Paris, vol. ii. p. 39.
172:2 Orbis Sensualium Pictus, by Hoole, 1658; chap. 132.
172:3 "Glowecesterscire. Berdic, joculator regis, habet iij villas, et ibi v car.; nil redd."
172:4 Essay on Ancient Minstrels, prefixed to Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, vol. i. p. xciii.
173:1 Treatise against Dicing, Dauncing, vaine Playes, or Enterludes, etc., by John Northbrooke, 1579.
173:2 Egloge the third, at the end of Brant's Ship of Fools, by Barclay, printed A.D. 1508.
173:3 Mirrour of Good Manners, translated from the Latin by Barclay.
173:4 Or hokos-pokos, as by Ben Jonson, in The Staple of Newes (1625). This is the earliest mention I have found of this term. It occurs again in the Seven Champions, by John Kirk, acted in 1663: "My mother could juggle as well as any hocus-pocus in the world."
* Murray's Dictionary says that this term as the appellation of a juggler, and apparently as the assumed name of a particular conjurer, appears early in the seventeenth century, and was derived from the sham Latin formula employed by him. Ady's Candle in Dark (1655) is cited:--"I will speak of one man . . . that went about in king James his time who called himself The Kings Majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus, and so was called, because that at the playing of every Trick, he used to say Hocus pocus, toutus taloutus, vade celeriter jubeo, a dark composure of words, to blinde the eyes of the beholders, to make his Trick pass the more currantly without discovery." Tillotson (Sermon xxvi.) in 1742 is responsible for the highly improbable and irreverent suggestion that Hocus-pocus is a corruption of Hoc est Corpus of the Mass. Hocus apparently is responsible for originating the later word hoax, that is to play a trick upon any one.