36 THE BOOK OF CHRISTMAS.
of a prophet. Shakspeare knew more than any other mere man ever knew ; and none can tell how that knowledge came to him. " All men's business and bosoms " lay open to him. We should not like to have him quoted against us, on any subject. Nothing escaped him, and he never made a mistake (we are not speaking of technical ones). He was the universal interpreter into language of the human mind ; and he knew all the myriad voices by which nature speaks. He reminds us of the vizier in the eastern story, who is said to have understood the languages of all animals. The utterings of the elements, the voices of beasts and of birds, Shakspeare could translate into the language of men ; and the thoughts and sentiments of men he rendered into words as sweet as the singing of birds. If the reign of Elizabeth had been illustrated only by the advent of this great spirit, it might itself have accounted for some portion of that prejudice which (illustrated as, in fact, it was, by much that was great and noble), blinds men, still,—or induces them to shut their eyes,—to the true personal claims and character of that queen.
But we are digressing, again ;—as who does not, when the image of Shakspeare comes across him ? To return :—
The court celebrations of Christmas were observed throughout the reign of the first James ; and the Prince Charles, himself, was an occasional performer in the pageantries prepared for the occasion, at great cost. But at no period do they appear to have been more zealously sought after, or performed with more splendor, than during that which immediately preceded the persecution, from whose effects they have never since recovered, into anything like their former lustihood. In the early years of Charles the First's reign, the court-pageants of this season were got up with extraordinary brilliancy—the king with the lords of his court, and the queen with h-~- —..o, irequently taking parts therein. This was the case in 1630-1; and at the Christmas of 1632-3, the queen, says Sandys, " got up a pastoral in Somerset House, in which it would seem she herself took a part. There were masques at the same time, independently of this performance, the cost of which considerably exceeded £2,000 ; besides that portion of the charge which was borne by the office of%ie revels, and charged to the accounts of that department." In the same year,