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p. 235



PERHAPS there is no people among whom versification is so common, and among whom really high-class poetry is so rare, as among the Basques. The faculty of rhyming and of improvisation in verse is constantly to be met with, Not unusually a traveller in one of the country diligences, especially on a market-day, will be annoyed by the persistent crooning of one of the company, like Horace of old, more or less under the inspiration of Bacchus; and if he enquire what the man is about, he will be told that he is reciting a narrative in verse of all the events of the past day, mingled probably with more or less sarcastic reflections on the present company, and with especial emphasis on the stranger. At the yearly village fêtes, when the great match of Jeu de Paume au Rebot has been lost or won, prizes are sometimes given for improvisation on themes suggested at the moment, and the rapidity of the leading improvisatori 1 is something marvellous. Moreover, there are two species of native Drama., One, the Pastorale, the more regular and important,

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is now confined to the Vallée of La Saison and the Souletin district. The other, the Charivari, or Mascarade, more unfettered and impromptu, giving free rein to the invention of the actors, is occasionally, but rarely, acted in all districts of the Pays Basque.

The Pastorale, or Tragedy, is certainly a representative and survival of the Mediæval Mystery, or Miracle Play; and in the remoter districts is acted almost as seriously as is the Ammergau Passion Play. It is an open-air performance, which unites in interminable length, and in the same piece, tragedy and comedy, music, dancing, and opera. Though undoubtedly the oldest form in which Basque poetry of any kind is preserved, it can have no claim to be an indigenous product. The subjects of the older Pastorales are drawn from three sources--from the Bible; from the lives of the Saints, or Hagiology; from the Chansons de Geste and Romances of Chivalry. None of the extant Pastorales, even in their earliest form, would, we think, be anterior to the thirteenth century. The anachronisms, the prejudices, the colouring, the state of education evinced, are all those of the date when the Chansons de Geste and the Legenda Aurea were the favourite literature of high and low; the epoch at the close of which flourished the brilliant petty courts of Gaston de Foix at Orthez, and of the Black Prince at Bordeaux. The anachronisms make Charlemagne a contemporary of the Crusaders; Mahomet is an idol, and in the shape of a wooden puppet sits on a cross-bar over one of the stage-entrances, where he is worshipped by all his followers as they pass in and out. The make-up of the characters and the dresses are conventional. But though we cannot .assign any higher antiquity even to the original form of any of the extant Pastorales--we say original form, because they have been edited and re-edited generation after generation by almost every prompter at each successive representation--yet several of the accessories and part of the stage-business point to possibly older traditions. The stage, at least in

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the more inaccessible villages, where alone the Pastorales are now to be seen in anything like their genuine form, may still be described as "modicis pulpita tignis." It is generally constructed against a house in the "Place" of the village, and is composed of boards resting on inverted barrels; one or more sheets, suspended from cross-bars, hide the house walls, and form the background; to this drapery bunches of flowers and flags are affixed, and thus is formed the whole "scenery"; the rest is open air and sky. Usually behind the sheet, though sometimes in front on a chair, sits the prompter, or stage-director; at the corners and sides of the stage are the stage-keepers, armed with muskets, which are fired off at certain effective moments, and always at the end of a fight. But there are four points in which a Pastorale recals more ancient traditions: (1) The sexes are never mingled; the Pastorale being played either entirely by men, or entirely by women. 1 (2) The speech is always a kind of recitative or chant, varying in time according to the step of the actors. (3) There is a true chorus. (4) The feet and metre of the verse correspond to the step and march of the actors, and to the dancing of the chorus.

Now, as to (1), the effect is not unpleasing; the boy-lady or the boy-angel is often one of the most successful actors, and makes an excellent substitute for the real lady. There is no coarseness in his acting; on the contrary, there is a certain reserve of movement caused by the unwonted dress, which looks like a pleasing modesty, and makes the boy appear really lady-like. His get-up is generally unexceptionable.

We have once only had an opportunity of seeing a girl's Pastorale, "Ste. Helène," at Garindein, in April of the present year, 1879. Unfortunately it was interrupted, almost as soon as commenced, by violent rain. The costumes were very modest and pretty. The heroines of the piece wore blue or

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scarlet-jackets, with long white skirts; the lady-heroes had shorter skirts and white unmentionables. The Pastorale of "Ste. Helène" has nothing to do with the mother of Constantine the Great, or with the Invention of the Cross. It is an olla podrida of old legends. The opening scene is taken from "The King who wished to marry his own daughter" (see above, p. 165.) A King Antoina wishes to marry his daughter Helène, and for that purpose procures a dispensation from the Pope, who appears on the scene, attended by an angel. Helène, however, still refuses, and escapes; she embarks for England, but the captain of the vessel falls outrageously in love with her (cf. "Juan Dekos," p. 148). A shipwreck saves her from his persecutions; she lands alone in England, is seen by Henry, King of England, who falls in love with her and forthwith marries her, in spite of his mother's objections. He is forced to go to the wars; Helène gives birth to twin boys, but the queen-mother changes the letter, and sends word to the King that she is confined of two puppies (cf. "The singing tree, the bird which tells the truth, and the water that makes young," p. 177). Ste. Helène is condemned to death; Clarice, her maid, offers to die in her stead, but both escape; the boys, who were supposed to have been murdered, at last reappear, and all ends happily as in the legends. The part of the "Satans" was taken by three middle-aged men, in buff breeches and white stockings, who danced very well. The preliminary procession on horseback, and the opening scene on the stage, were exceedingly pretty.

(:2) The recitative is always accompanied by music; generally a violin or two, a flute, the chirola, and the so-called Basque tambourine, a species of six-stringed guitar, beaten by a short stick, or plectrum. The tune is almost a monotone, but differs in time, being faster or slower according to the action of the piece; with the exception of those parts in which the chorus alone has possession of the stage, when the Saut Basque or other lively dancing airs are played. The strong, clear chant of the actor accompanying this

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music, which is never overpowering in its loudness, is heard much better and to a greater distance in the open air than any mere speaking would be; and, moreover, it prevents rant, without altogether effacing vivacity. For (3) there is a singular idea running through all these Basque Pastorales, according to which sanctity and nobility of character are associated with calmness of demeanour and tone, and villany and devilry of all kinds with restlessness and excitement. The angels and saints, the archbishops and bishops, move with folded hands and softly gliding steps; the heroes walk majestically slow; the common soldiers are somewhat more animated and careless in their gestures; the Saracens, the enemies, the villains, rush wildly about; but the chorus, or "Satans," are ever in restless, aimless, agitated movement, except when engaged in actual dancing. It is on these last, the chorus--of whom there should be three, or two at least--that the great fatigue and burden of the acting weighs. None but the most active and well-knit lads can play the part, and even them it tries severely. This chorus is invariably called "Satans;" their dress is always rigidly the same, and a pretty one it is--red beret or cap, red open jacket, white trousers with red stripes, red sashes, spartingues (hempen sandals) bound with red ribands; and they carry a little wand ornamented with red ribands and terminating in a three-forked hooked prong. 1 Blue is the colour consecrated to the good and virtuous; red to the enemy and the vicious, to the English, Saracens, and "Satans." The task of the "Satans" is not only to take part among the actors, but the difficulty of their utterance is much heightened by the compelled rapidity of their movements, while at intervals, when the stage is empty of other actors, they

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occupy the front corners of it, and dance the wild Saut Basque, singing at the same time some reflections on, or anticipations of, the action of the piece played, much like the chorus of a Greek tragedy; but, in addition to this, there is generally a comic interlude, more or less impromptu, and very slightly, if at all, connected with the main piece, wherein the "Satans" take the principal rôle, together with the best comedian of the other actors. This is done to relieve the tedium of the heavy tragedy, and, oddly enough, is often spoken partly in Gascon or in French, while only Basque is used in the Pastorale proper. (4) As will be judged from the above remarks, there is, perhaps, no spectacle in Europe from which the original relations of feet, line, pause, metre, verse, strophe, antistrophe, and rhythm in music, dance, and poetry can be better studied than at a Basque Pastorale. It will be seen there at a glance how far these terms are from being mere metaphors.

Now, when we add that many of the actors in these Pastorales cannot--scarcely any could before the present generation--read or write; that the Pastorales extend from three to seven thousand lines, distributed in ballad verses of four lines each, the second and fourth rhyming; and that the representations last from six to eight hours, our readers may imagine the amount of serious preparation required where every sentence has to be learned by heart from repetition of a reader or reciter. Consequently, to get up a Pastorale, a whole winter is not too long. The task is generally performed at home in the actor's family, or in a house where two or three meet together for the study, if neighbours. We have seen some pleasing instances of the pride the whole family take in the success of the actor. Asking once a pretty boy where he could have learnt to play his part of lady in so very ladylike a manner, he answered, "From my father and my mother in the winter." At another time we had as companion in a long day's walk a man upwards of sixty, who had been a "Satan" in his youth. He explained how very

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trying it is both to dance well and to sing at the same time so as to be clearly heard. His father had been a "Satan" before him, and had trained him for the occasion, and had made him eat two raw eggs before commencing. He spoke of the joy of the whole family when his performance was successful, though he lost his voice for several days afterwards. To show what his former agility must have been, he cleared every fence and obstacle in our path gallantly, despite his sixty years. These Pastorales are seldom, if ever, acted as a money speculation, but during the acting of them one or two young men, accompanied by a pretty girl, make the round of the spectators, offering a glass of wine, in quasi-payment for which you are expected to place a coin in the plate which the maiden carries. The amount collected is seldom much beyond what is required for the necessary expenses; more often it is below, but if anything remains it is spent on a grand feast to all the actors. The number of Pastorales in existence is variously stated at from seventy to two hundred. The former number we believe to be the nearer to the fact. The names of those best known are as follows:--


Abraham, avec Sara and Agar
Josué de Moïse
S. Pierre
S. Jacques
S. Jean Baptiste
S. Louis
S. Alexis
S. Roch

S. Claudieus et Ste. Marsimissa
Ste. Engrace
Ste. Helène, or Elaine
Ste. Geneviève
Les Trois Martyrs
Ste. Agnes
Ste. Catherine
Ste. Marguerite
La Destruction de Jerusalem





Mustafa, le Grand Turc

Godefroi de Bouillon et la Deliverance de Jerusalem
Marie de Navarro



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Les Douze Pairs de France
Les Quatre Fils Aymon
Geneviève de Brabant
Richard Sans Peur, Duc de Normandie 1

Jeanne d'Arc
Jean Caillabit
La Princesse de Gamatie
Jean de Paris
Jean de Calais 2


Napoleon--(1) Le Consulat
(2) L'Empire

(3) Ste. Helène


We will now give a brief epitome of "Abraham" as a specimen, not of the best, but of the only one which we have at hand in MS., 3 for none of the Pastorales, we believe, have ever been printed in extenso. The dramatis personæ are:

The Eternal Father, who speaks chiefly in Latin quotations from the Vulgate, and always from behind the scenes, i.e., the suspended sheets mentioned above.

Three Angels--Michael, Raphael, Gabriel--all of whom mingle quotations from the Vulgate with their Basque.

Abraham, Sara, Agar, Isaac, and Ismael. Lot, and Uxor (sic) Lot's wife. Tina and Mina, Lot's daughters.

Salamiel and Nahason, shepherds of Abraham. Sylva and Milla, shepherds of Lot.


Escol, a companion of Abraham.

All these names are from the Vulgate:

Raphel (Amraphel)
E Arioch

Kings of the Turks (Turcac).


Good Kings.


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Pharaon, King of Egypt.

Corion and Gober, Pharaon's courtiers.


Good Soldiers, defenders of the Holy Religion.

Chavoq and Chorre, good giants, killed by the Turkish kings.

Cocor, Patar; Maneton, and Catilie, inhabitants of Sodom. The last two are ladies. Maneton is a diminutive from Marie--Manon, Manette, Maneton; like Jeannette, Jeanneton, from Jeanne.

"Satans"--Satan and Bulgifer--who swear most frightfully in French, on the principle, perhaps, of omne ignotum pro magnifico, and because swearing, while more terrible, is less mischievous when uttered in a tongue "not understanded of the people."


Abraham is the model of a Christian, and Abraham and Pharaon both address their followers as "barons." Satan flatteringly addresses the shepherds by the Spanish title "Caballeros" when he wants to lead them into mischief. The actors are by no means so numerous as the "rôles"; one takes several successive parts, often without change of dress, a custom which heightens not a little the difficulty of following an acted Pastorale.

There is more dramatic unity in "Abraham," and the main plot is more skilfully conducted than might be expected from its title. The key-note of the action is given at once when Satan and Bulgifer appear on horseback in the "Place" in front of the stage, and announce their project of "tormenting Abraham," and of "weakening the Christian Faith." The plot then follows pretty closely the Bible narrative. Only it is Satan and Bulgifer who are the authors of all Abraham's misfortunes and vexations; although the angels constantly appear to save him when matters are at their worst. It is the "Satans" who inflame Pharaon in Egypt with the report and sight of Sara's beauty; it is they who stir up strife between Abraham's and Lot's herdsmen; they are delighted with the wickedness of the

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inhabitants of Sodom, which they direct to suit their own purposes; they stir up war against Abraham and Lot in the persons of the Turkish kings with Biblical names. These at first conquer Lot, and one by one slay all. his partisans, including the good giants Chavoq and Chorre, whose corpses are carried off by Satan to be feasted upon, with the licorish exclamation: "O what cutlets! what a fine leg!!" Then they tempt Agar, and make her quarrel with Sara. In the scene preceding the destruction of Sodom, although the angels are present, the inhabitants round Lot's door are blinded, not by them, but "by some magician." Lot's wife, Uxor, when to be changed into a pillar of salt, ingeniously falls under the stage, and there the transformation takes place unseen. When Isaac is born, he is forthwith baptised. Agar and Ismael are driven into the desert, and are saved by the angel Gabriel. The play then gradually works up to the climax, the sacrifice of Isaac--the last and terrible temptation--in which the "Satans" tempt the "two Christians," Abraham and Isaac, to unbelief and disobedience, and are foiled as ever. After this, the action languishes, Abraham dies, and the Pastorale comes to an end. All the actors appear on the stage and chant the De Profundis, then the angels sing, and all unite in a concluding chant. We give a few verses from the scene of the sacrifice as a specimen of the whole:--



Abraham, art thou ignorant?
What art thou thinking of?
Leave him in life;
Thou hast some wise hairs.

I tell thee to return
To the house with the child
And there you shall live
With very great joy.


Ah! alas! wretched torment!
Always thus on this earth
Satan doth vex me
In all my doings.

Nevertheless, I take courage
Yes, even now
To slay Isaac
I am ready on the instant.

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He has given me the order,
The good God Himself,
That I sacrifice Isaac
On this mountain myself.


He who gave you this order
Was not God. No!
Go off to your house,
And take your young son.
  .    .    .    .   .


My only son Isaac,
If I sacrifice him,
All of my race
I quickly destroy.

The good God had told me
That he would marry;
But if he dies now,
How can that be?

I trust, nevertheless,
On our Lord God;
I am willing to offer to Him,
To Him alone, my son.
  .    .    .    .   .

At last Satan and Bulgifer go off, exclaiming:--

O, you accursed one!
You always overcome us;
To confusion always
You do put us.

But, if we no more tempt you,
We will tempt some one else;
And we will even take down
To hell some soul.

In despair we depart
For ever from thee;
And we leave you now
In a very sad case.

After a few words between father and son, Isaac then offers himself, and prays as follows:--

People, I pray you, look
On this poor innocent child;
I am about to leave the world,
And have done harm to none.

O King of Heaven!
Who art powerful
Above all other,
Wise and triumphant. (Music)


O Lord ! our Saviour!
Unjustly crucified!
Lord, I must also
Soon leave this world. (Music.)

I ask pardon of Thee
For all my sins,
Wherewith I oft have offended
Thee from my birth.

He binds himself, and goes on:--

All those, O Lord!
Blot from remembrance;
To Thy glory, I pray,
Receive me immediately.

King of the Angels,
Prince of the Heaven,
May'st Thou grant me,
I pray Thee, Thy rest.

I ask Thee pardon
From my whole heart;
Succour me, O Lord!
With Thy holy hand.

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I have not enough wit
To thank Thee therewith;
But if to Heaven I should go,
There will I praise Thee.

O Lord! I pray Thee, have pity!
Thou shouldest grant it me;
For to leave this world
I am determined.

Angel of the Lord,
Grant me strength,
Since Thou art
My Guide!

Lord, I commend
To Thee my spirit;
It is Thou Who first
Hast created me.

And O! great God! I pray,
If it be Thy will,
In the repose of the blessed
Place my soul.

Father,--whenever You will,--
Sacrifice me now;--
To find my God
I would depart.

Abraham is in the act of sacrificing when the Angel Gabriel seizes him from behind, and bids him not do it, &c., &c. Any foreigner who, unless he has a most charming interpreter or interpretress, can sit out a whole Pastorale would surely deserve the first prize in the school of patience.

The other kind of dramatic performance is much more irregular, and may assume various forms according to the circumstances which give occasion to it. It may be only a wild kind of carnival procession, the Mascarade, where each gesticulates as the character he represents; or a charivari in honour (?) of a dotard's marriage, wherein the advantages of celibacy over married life are sarcastically set forth; or it may take the form of a really witty impromptu comedy played on a tiny stage in honour of the marriage or the good fortune of the most popular persons of the village. One of the first kind is excellently described in Chaho's "Biarritz, entre les Pyrénées et l'Océan," vol. ii. pp. 84-121, to which we refer the reader. One of the last kind was acted at Louhossoa about 1866, on the double occasion of some marriages, and of the return of some young men from South America. There were three actors; the piece was witty and well played, and seemed to give the greatest satisfaction to the audience.


235:1 The names of some of the most famous improvisatori, or Coblacaris, as they are called in Basque, have been preserved: Fernando Amezquetarra, in the Spanish Provinces; and Pierre Topet dit Etchehun, and Bernard Mardo of Barcus, in the French Pays Basque.

237:1 An exception is occasionally made in the case of the "Satans," as the part is almost too fatiguing for girls.

239:1 This little wand plays an important part of its own. In many of its uses it resembles the Caduceus of Mercury; a touch from it renders invisible, puts to death, or restores to life at the will of the Satanic possessor. It appears also as given to the hero in many of the "Legends;" Cf. pp. 34, 35, above.

242:1 An account of the acting of Richard Sans Peur, at Larrau, in June 1864, is given in Macmillan's Magazine, January, 1865.

242:2 Cf. Legends above, p. 151.

242:3 This MS. was kindly lent by M. J. Vinson, to whom we have been so often indebted.

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