Brother Rush  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

From History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art

THE people in the middle ages, as well as its fuperiors, had its comic literature and legend. Legend was the literature efpecially of the peafant, and in it the fpirit of burlefque and fatire manifefted itfelf in many ways. Simplicity, combined with vulgar cunningj and the circumftances arifing out of the exercife of thefe qualities, prefented the greateft ftimulants to popular mirth. They produced their popular heroes, who, at firft, were much more than half legendary, fuch as the familiar fpirit, Robin Goodfellow, whofe pranks were a fource of con- tinual amufement rather than of terror to the iimple minds which liftened to thofe who told them. Thefe ftories excited with flill greater intereft as their fpiritual heroes became incarnate, and the auditors were perfuaded that the perpetrators of fb many artful acls of cunning and of fo many mifchievous practical jokes, were but ordinary men like them- felves. It was but a fign or fymbol of the change from the mythic age to that of practical life. One of the earlieft of thefe flories of mythic comedy transformed into, or at leaft prefented under the guife of, humanity, is that of Brother Rum. Although the earlieft verfion of this ftory with which we are acquainted dates only from the beginning of the fixteenth century,* there is no reafon for doubt that the ftory itfelf was in exiftence at a much more remote period. Ruth

Rufh was, in truth, a fpirit of darknefs, whofe miffion it was to wander on the earth tempting and impelling people to do evil. Perceiv- ing that the internal condition of a certain abbey was well fuited to his purpofe, he prefented himfelf at its gates in the difguife of a youth who wanted employment, and was received as an afiiftant in the kitchen, but he pleafed the monks beft by the fkill with which he furnifbed them all with fair companions. At length he quarrelled with the cook, and threw him into the boiling caldron, and the monks, afluming that his death was accidental, appointed Rum to be cook in his place. After a fervice of feven years in the kitchen which appears to have been confidered a fair apprenticefhip for the new honour which was to be conferred upon him the abbot and convent rewarded him by making him a monk. He now followed ftill more earneftly his defign for the ruin of his brethren, both foul and body, and began by raifing a quarrel about a woman, which led, through his contrivance, to a fight, in which the monks all fuffered grievous bodily injuries, and in which Brother Rufh was efpecially aclive. He went on in this way until at laft his true character was accidentally difcovered. A neighbouring farmer, overtaken by night, took flicker in a hollow tree. It happened to be the night appointed by Lucifer to meet his agents on earth, and hear from them the report of their feveral proceedings, and he had fele&ed this very oak as the place of rendezvous. There Brother Ruih appeared, and the farmer, in his hiding-place, heard his confeflion from his own lips, and told it to the abbot, who, being as it would appear a magician, conjured him into the form of a hcrfe, and banifhed him. Rufli hurried away to England, where he laid afide his equine form, and entered the body of the king's daughter, who fuffered great torments from his poffeflion. At length fome of the great doctors from Paris came and obliged the fpirit to confefs that nobody but the abbot of the diftant monaftery had any power over him. The abbot came, called him out of the maiden, and conjured him more forcibly than ever into the form of a horfe.

Such is, in mere outline, the ftory of Brother Rufh, which was gradually enlarged by the addition of new incidents. But the people wanted a hero who prefented more of the character of reality, who, in fact, might be recognifed as one of themfelves ; and fuch heroes appear to have exifted at all times. They ufually reprefented a clafs in fociety, and efpecially that clafs which confifted of idle fharpers, who lived by their wits, and which was more numerous and more familiarly known in the middle ages than at the prefent day. Folly and cunning combined prefented a never-failing fubjeft of mirth. This clafs of adventurers firft came into print in Germany, and it is there that we find its firft popular hero, to whom they gave the name of Eulenfpiegel, which means literally " the owl's mirror," and has been fince ufed in German in the fenfe of a merry fool. Tyll Eulenfpiegel, and his ftory, are fuppofed to have be- longed to the fourteenth century, though we firft know them in the printed book of the commencement of the fixteenth, which is believed to have come from the pen of the well-known popular writer, Thomas Murner, of whom I mail have to fpeak more at length in another chapter. The popularity of this work was very great, and it was quickly tranflated into French, Englifh, Latin, and almoft every other language of Weftern Europe. In the Englifh verfion the name alfo was tranflated, and appears under the form of Owleglafs, or, as it often occurs with the fuperfluous afpirate, Howleglafs.* According to the ftory, Tyll Eulen- fpiegel was the fon of a peafant, and was born at a village called Kneit- lingen, in the land of Brunfwick. The ftory of his birth may be given in the words of the early Englifh verfion, as a fpecimen of its quaint and antiquated language :

  • This earliest known version is in German verse, and was printed in 1515.

An English version, in prose, was printed in 1620, and is reprinted in Thoms's " Collection of Early Prose Romances."

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