Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XI

— Tuck, the merry friar, who many a sermon made

In praise of Robin Hood, his outlaws, and their trade.

Drayton.

The baron, with some of his retainers and all the foresters, halted at daybreak in Sherwood forest. The foresters quickly erected tents, and prepared an abundant breakfast of venison and ale.

“Now, Lord Fitzwater,” said the chief forester, “recognise your son-inlaw that was to have been, in the outlaw Robin Hood.”

“Ay, ay,” said the baron, “I have recognised you long ago.”

“And recognise your young friend Gamwell,” said the second, “in the outlaw Scarlet.”

“And Little John, the page,” said the third, “in Little John the outlaw.”

“And Father Michael, of Rubygill Abbey,” said the friar, “in Friar Tuck, of Sherwood forest. Truly, I have a chapel here hard by, in the shape of a hollow tree, where I put up my prayers for travellers, and Little John holds the plate at the door, for good praying deserves good paying.”

“I am in fine company,” said the baron.

“In the very best of company,” said the friar, “in the high court of Nature, and in the midst of her own nobility. Is it not so? This goodly grove is our palace: the oak and the beech are its colonnade and its canopy: the sun and the moon and the stars are its everlasting lamps: the grass, and the daisy, and the primrose, and the violet, are its many-coloured floor of green, white, yellow, and blue; the may-flower, and the woodbine, and the eglantine, and the ivy, are its decorations, its curtains, and its tapestry: the lark, and the thrush, and the linnet, and the nightingale, are its unhired minstrels and musicians. Robin Hood is king of the forest both by dignity of birth and by virtue of his standing army: to say nothing of the free choice of his people, which he has indeed, but I pass it by as an illegitimate basis of power. He holds his dominion over the forest, and its horned multitude of citizen-deer, and its swinish multitude or peasantry of wild boars, by right of conquest and force of arms. He levies contributions among them by the free consent of his archers, their virtual representatives. If they should find a voice to complain that we are ‘tyrants and usurpers to kill and cook them up in their assigned and native dwelling-place,’ we should most convincingly admonish them, with point of arrow, that they have nothing to do with our laws but to obey them. Is it not written that the fat ribs of the herd shall be fed upon by the mighty in the land? And have not they withal my blessing? my orthodox, canonical, and archiepiscopal blessing? Do I not give thanks for them when they are well roasted and smoking under my nose? What title had William of Normandy to England, that Robin of Locksley has not to merry Sherwood? William fought for his claim. So does Robin. With whom, both? With any that would or will dispute it. William raised contributions. So does Robin. From whom, both? From all that they could or can make pay them. Why did any pay them to William? Why do any pay them to Robin? For the same reason to both: because they could not or cannot help it. They differ indeed, in this, that William took from the poor and gave to the rich, and Robin takes from the rich and gives to the poor: and therein is Robin illegitimate; though in all else he is true prince. Scarlet and John, are they not peers of the forest? lords temporal of Sherwood? And am not I lord spiritual? Am I not archbishop? Am I not pope? Do I not consecrate their banner and absolve their sins? Are not they state, and am not I church? Are not they state monarchical, and am not I church militant? Do I not excommunicate our enemies from venison and brawn, and by ‘r Lady, when need calls, beat them down under my feet? The state levies tax, and the church levies tithe. Even so do we. Mass, we take all at once. What then? It is tax by redemption and tithe by commutation. Your William and Richard can cut and come again, but our Robin deals with slippery subjects that come not twice to his exchequer. What need we then to constitute a court, except a fool and a laureate? For the fool, his only use is to make false knaves merry by art, and we are true men and are merry by nature. For the laureate, his only office is to find virtues in those who have none, and to drink sack for his pains. We have quite virtue enough to need him not, and can drink our sack for ourselves.” “Well preached, friar,” said Robin Hood: “yet there is one thing wanting to constitute a court, and that is a queen. And now, lovely Matilda, look round upon these sylvan shades where we have so often roused the stag from his ferny covert. The rising sun smiles upon us through the stems of that beechen knoll. Shall I take your hand, Matilda, in the presence of this my court? Shall I crown you with our wild-wood coronal, and hail you queen of the forest? Will you be the queen Matilda of your own true king Robin?”

Matilda smiled assent.

“Not Matilda,” said the friar: “the rules of our holy alliance require new birth. We have excepted in favour of Little John, because he is great John, and his name is a misnomer. I sprinkle, not thy forehead with water, but thy lips with wine, and baptize thee MARIAN.”

“Here is a pretty conspiracy,” exclaimed the baron. “Why, you villanous friar, think you to nickname and marry my daughter before my face with impunity?”

“Even so, bold baron,” said the friar; “we are strongest here. Say you, might overcomes right? I say no. There is no right but might: and to say that might overcomes right is to say that right overcomes itself: an absurdity most palpable. Your right was the stronger in Arlingford, and ours is the stronger in Sherwood. Your right was right as long as you could maintain it; so is ours. So is King Richard’s, with all deference be it spoken; and so is King Saladin’s; and their two mights are now committed in bloody fray, and that which overcomes will be right, just as long as it lasts, and as far as it reaches. And now if any of you know any just impediment ——”

“Fire and fury,” said the baron.

“Fire and fury,” said the friar, “are modes of that might which constitutes right, and are just impediments to any thing against which they can be brought to bear. They are our good allies upon occasion, and would declare for us now if you should put them to the test.”

“Father,” said Matilda, “you know the terms of our compact: from the moment you restrained my liberty, you renounced your claim to all but compulsory obedience. The friar argues well. Right ends with might. Thick walls, dreary galleries, and tapestried chambers, were indifferent to me while I could leave them at pleasure, but have ever been hateful to me since they held me by force. May I never again have roof but the blue sky, nor canopy but the green leaves, nor barrier but the forest-bounds; with the foresters to my train, Little John to my page, Friar Tuck to my ghostly adviser, and Robin Hood to my liege lord. I am no longer lady Matilda Fitzwater, of Arlingford Castle, but plain Maid Marian, of Sherwood Forest.”

“Long live Maid Marian!” re-echoed the foresters.

“Oh false girl!” said the baron, “do you renounce your name and parentage?”

“Not my parentage,” said Marian, “but my name indeed: do not all maids renounce it at the altar?”

“The altar!” said the baron: “grant me patience! what do you mean by the altar?”

“Pile green turf,” said the friar, “wreathe it with flowers, and crown it with fruit, and we will show the noble baron what we mean by the altar.”

The foresters did as the friar directed.

“Now, Little John,” said the friar, “on with the cloak of the abbot of Doubleflask. I appoint thee my clerk: thou art here duly elected in full mote.”

“I wish you were all in full moat together,” said the baron, “and smooth wall on both sides.”

“Punnest thou?” said the friar. “A heinous anti-christian offence. Why anti-christian? Because anti-catholic? Why anti-catholic? Because anti-roman. Why anti-roman? Because Carthaginian. Is not pun from Punic? punica fides: the very quint-essential quiddity of bad faith: double-visaged: double-tongued. He that will make a pun will —— I say no more. Fie on it. Stand forth, clerk. Who is the bride’s father?”

“There is no bride’s father,” said the baron. “I am the father of Matilda Fitzwater.”

“There is none such,” said the friar. “This is the fair Maid Marian. Will you make a virtue of necessity, or will you give laws to the flowing tide? Will you give her, or shall Robin take her? Will you be her true natural father, or shall I commute paternity? Stand forth, Scarlet.”

“Stand back, sirrah Scarlet,” said the baron. “My daughter shall have no father but me. Needs must when the devil drives.”

“No matter who drives,” said the friar, “so that, like a well-disposed subject, you yield cheerful obedience to those who can enforce it.”

“Mawd, sweet Mawd,” said the baron, “will you then forsake your poor old father in his distress, with his castle in ashes, and his enemy in power?”

“Not so, father,” said Marian; “I will always be your true daughter: I will always love, and serve, and watch, and defend you: but neither will I forsake my plighted love, and my own liege lord, who was your choice before he was mine, for you made him my associate in infancy; and that he continued to be mine when he ceased to be yours, does not in any way show remissness in my duties or falling off in my affections. And though I here plight my troth at the altar to Robin, in the presence of this holy priest and pious clerk, yet. . . . Father, when Richard returns from Palestine, he will restore you to your barony, and perhaps, for your sake, your daughter’s husband to the earldom of Huntingdon: should that never be, should it be the will of fate that we must live and die in the greenwood, I will live and die MAID MARIAN.” 4

4

And therefore is she called Maid Marian

Because she leads a spotless maiden life

And shall till Robin’s outlaw life have end.

              — Old Play.

“A pretty resolution,” said the baron, “if Robin will let you keep it.”

“I have sworn it,” said Robin. “Should I expose her tenderness to the perils of maternity, when life and death may hang on shifting at a moment’s notice from Sherwood to Barnsdale, and from Barnsdale to the sea-shore? And why should I banquet when my merry men starve? Chastity is our forest law, and even the friar has kept it since he has been here.”

“Truly so,” said the friar: “for temptation dwells with ease and luxury: but the hunter is Hippolytus, and the huntress is Dian. And now, dearly beloved ——”

The friar went through the ceremony with great unction, and Little John was most clerical in the intonation of his responses. After which, the friar sang, and Little John fiddled, and the foresters danced, Robin with Marian, and Scarlet with the baron; and the venison smoked, and the ale frothed, and the wine sparkled, and the sun went down on their unwearied festivity: which they wound up with the following song, the friar leading and the foresters joining chorus:

Oh! bold Robin Hood is a forester good, As ever drew bow in the merry greenwood: At his bugle’s shrill singing the echoes are ringing, The wild deer are springing for many a rood: Its summons we follow, through brake, over hollow, The thrice-blown shrill summons of bold Robin Hood.

And what eye hath e’er seen such a sweet Maiden Queen, As Marian, the pride of the forester’s green? A sweet garden-flower, she blooms in the bower, Where alone to this hour the wild rose has been: We hail her in duty the queen of all beauty: We will live, we will die, by our sweet Maiden queen.

And here’s a grey friar, good as heart can desire, To absolve all our sins as the case may require: Who with courage so stout, lays his oak-plant about, And puts to the rout all the foes of his choir: For we are his choristers, we merry foresters, Chorussing thus with our militant friar

And Scarlet cloth bring his good yew-bough and string, Prime minister is he of Robin our king: No mark is too narrow for little John’s arrow, That hits a cock sparrow a mile on the wing; Robin and Marion, Scarlet, and Little John, Long with their glory old Sherwood shall ring.

Each a good liver, for well-feathered quiver Doth furnish brawn, venison, and fowl of the river: But the best game we dish up, it is a fat bishop: When his angels we fish up, he proves a free giver: For a prelate so lowly has angels more holy, And should this world’s false angels to sinners deliver.

Robin and Marion, Scarlet and Little John, Drink to them one by one, drink as ye sing: Robin and Marion, Scarlet and Little John, Echo to echo through Sherwood shall fling: Robin and Marion, Scarlet and Little John, Long with their glory old Sherwood shall ring.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/peacock/thomas_love/p35m/chapter11.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24