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THE MASQUE OF BLACKNESS.] This and the Masque of Beauty which follows it, were published in 4to. with this title. "The characters of two royal Masques, the one of Blacknesse, the other of Beautie, personated by the most magnificent of Queens, Anne, Queen of Great Britain, &c., with her honourable Ladyes, 1605 and 1608, at Whitehall."
Great preparations were made for this masque, which was performed with unusual magnificence. Among Winwood's State Papers, there is a letter to that minister from Mr. Chamberlaine, of which the following passage is an extract. "Here is great provision of masks and revells against the marriage of sir Phillip Herbert and the lady Susan Vere, which is to be celebrated on St. John's day; the Queen hath likewise a great mask in hand against Twelfth-tide, for which there was 3000l. delivered a month ago." Dec. 18, 1604, vol. ii. p. 41.
Sir Thomas Edmonds also thus writes to the great earl of Shrewsbury, Dec. 5, 1604. "Our corte is preparing to solempnize the Christmas with a gallant maske, which doth cost the Exchequer 3000l. Sir Phi. Harberte's marriage will also produce an other maske among the noblemen and gentlemen." Lodge's Illustrations, vol. iii. p. 250.
It should be added that this was the first entertainment given by the Queen, that her brother, the duke of Holstein, was present at it, and that the day was a day of peculiar state, several knights of the Bath having been installed and the king's second son (the unfortunate Charles) created duke of York.
The Garrick copy of this masque, now in the British Museum, was the presentation copy of Jonson to the queen, (James's wife,) and has this inscription in the poet's own writing:
M. BRITANNIARUM INSU. HIB. &C.
HUNC LIBRUM VOVIT
FAMEÆ ET HONORI EJUS
VICTURUS GENIUM DEBET HABERE LIBER.
HE honour and splendour of these Spectacles was such in the performance, as, could those hours have lasted, this of mine, now, had been a most unprofitable work. But when it is the fate even of the greatest, and most absolute births, to need and borrow a life of posterity, little had been done to the study of magnificence in these, if presently with the rage of the people, who (as a part of greatness) are privileged by custom, to deface their carcases, the spirits had also perished. In duty therefore to that Majesty, who gave them their authority and grace, and, no less than the most royal of predecessors, deserves eminent celebration for these solemnities, I add this later hand to redeem them as well from ignorance as envy, two common evils, the one of censure, the other of oblivion.
Pliny, Solinus, Ptolemy, and of late Leod the African, remember unto us a river in Ethiopia, famous by the name of Niger; of which the people were called Nigritæ, now Negroes; and are the
a Nat. Hist. 1. v. c. 8
c Lib. iv. c. 5.
b Poly. Hist. c. 40, and 43.
blackest nation of the world. This river taketh spring out of a certain lake, eastward; and after a long race, falleth into the western ocean.1 Hence (because it was her majesty's will to have them blackmoors at first) the invention was derived by me, and presented thus:
First, for the scene, was drawn a landtschap (landscape) consisting of small woods, and here and there a void place filled with huntings; which falling, an artificial sea was seen to shoot forth, as if it flowed to the land, raised with waves which seemed to move, and in some places the billows to break, as imitating that orderly disorder which is common in nature. In front of this sea were placed six tritons, in moving and sprightly actions, their upper parts human, save that their hairs were blue, as partaking of the sea-colour: their desinent parts fish, mounted above their heads, and all varied in disposition. From their backs were borne out certain light pieces of taffata, as if carried by the wind, and their music made out of wreathed shells. Behind these, a pair of sea-maids, for song, were as conspicuously seated; between which, two great sea-horses, as big as the life, put forth themselves; the one mounting aloft,
• Some take it to be the same with Nilus, which is by Lucan called Melas, signifying Niger. Howsoever Plin. in the place above noted, hath this: Nigri fluvio eadem natura, quæ Nilo, calamum, papyrum, et easdem gignit animantes. See Solin. abovementioned.
1 And falleth into the Western Ocean.] We now know that the Niger runs towards the east. Had the adventurous discoverer of this important geographical fact happily lived to return from his second expedition, we should probably have also learned whether the Niger loses itself in the sands, is swallowed up in some vast inland lake, or constitutes, as some think, the chief branch or feeder of the Nile.
The form of these tritons, with their trumpets, you may read lively described in Ov. Met. lib. i. Caruleum Tritona vocat, &c. ; and in Virg. Æneid. lib. x. Hunc vehit immanis triton, et sequent.
and writhing his head from the other, which seemed to sink forward; so intended for variation, and that the figure behind might come off better: upon their backs, Oceanus and Niger were advanced.
Oceanus presented in a human form, the colour of his flesh blue; and shadowed with a robe of seagreen; his head gray, and horned," as he is described by the ancients: his beard of the like mixed colour : he was garlanded with alga, or sea-grass; and in his hand a trident.
Niger, in form and colour of an Æthiop; his hair and rare beard curled, shadowed with a blue and bright mantle: his front, neck, and wrists adorned with pearl, and crowned with an artificial wreath of cane and paper-rush.
These induced the masquers, which were twelve nymphs, negroes, and the daughters of Niger; attended by so many of the Oceania, which were their light-bearers.2
The masquers were placed in a great concave shell, like mother of pearl, curiously made to move on those waters and rise with the billow; the top thereof was stuck with a cheveron of lights, which indented to the proportion of the shell, struck a
8 Lucian in Pηrop. Aidao. presents Nilus so, Equo fluviatili insidentem. And Statius Neptune, in Theb.
h The ancients induced Oceanus always with a bull's head: propter vim ventorum, à quibus incitatur, et impellitur: vel quia tauris similem fremitum emittat; vel quia tanquam taurus furibundus, in littora feratur. Euripid. in Orest. Ωκεανος ὁν ταυροκρανος ἀγκαλαις ἐλισσων, κυκλει χθονα. And rivers sometimes were so called. Look Virg. de Tiberi et Eridano. Georg. iv. Æneid. viii. Hor. Car. lib. iv. ode 14, and Euripid. in Ione.
i The daughters of Oceanus and Tethys. See Hesiod. in Theogon. Orph. in Hym. and Virgil in Georg.
2 Which were their light-bearers.] It will not be amiss to observe here once for all, that every masquer was invariably attended by his torch-bearer, who preceded his entrance and exit, and sided him (though at a distance) while in action.
glorious beam upon them, as they were seated one above another: so that they were all seen, but in an extravagant order.3
On sides of the shell did swim six huge sea-monsters, varied in their shapes and dispositions, bearing on their backs the twelve torch-bearers, who were planted there in several graces; so as the backs of some were seen; some in purfle, or side; others in face; and all having their lights burning out of whelks, or murex-shells.
The attire of the masquers was alike in all, without difference: the colours azure and silver; but returned on the top with a scroll and antique dressing of feathers, and jewels interlaced with ropes of pearl.
3 The prose descriptions of Jonson are singularly bold and beautiful. I do not, however, notice the paragraph on this account, but solely to shew with what facility an ill-natured critic may throw an air of ridicule on things of this nature. In giving an account of this splendid exhibition to Winwood, sir Dudley Carleton says: "At night we had the Queen's Maske in the Banquetting-House: there was a great engine at the lower end of the room, which had motion, and in it were the images of seahorses, with other terrible fishes, which were ridden by Moors: the indecorum was, that there was all fish and no water."-There was assuredly as much of one as the other; but this it is to be witty. Sir Dudley proceeds: "At the further end there was a great shell in form of a skallop, wherein were four seats; on the lowest sat the Queen with my lady Bedford; on the rest were placed the ladies Suffolk, Darby, Rich, Effingham, Ann Herbert, Susan Herbert, Elizabeth Howard, Walsingham and Bevil. Their appearance was rich, but too light and courtezan-like for such great ones. Instead of vizzards, their faces and arms up to the elbows were painted black, but it became them nothing so well as their own red and white, &c." Winwood's Memorials, vol. ii. p. 44. Sir Dudley would make no indifferent newspaper critic for the present times. The plot required the actors to appear as Moors, and he finds out that they would look better if they kept their natural colour! It is to be hoped that some handsome Othello will take the hint. "The Spanish and Venetian ambassadors," our letter-writer adds, "were both present, and sate by the king in state," to the great annoyance of the French ambassador, who vowed in a pet, "that the whole court was Spanish."