Far in a wild, unknown to public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;
The moss his bed, the cave his humble cell,
His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well
Remote from man, with God he pass'd his days,
Prayer all his business---all his pleasure praise.
The reader cannot have forgotten that the event of the tournament
was decided by the exertions of an unknown knight, whom, on
account of the passive and indifferent conduct which he had
manifested on the former part of the day, the spectators had
entitled, "Le Noir Faineant". This knight had left the field
abruptly when the victory was achieved; and when he was called
upon to receive the reward of his valour, he was nowhere to be
found. In the meantime, while summoned by heralds and by
trumpets, the knight was holding his course northward, avoiding
all frequented paths, and taking the shortest road through the
woodlands. He paused for the night at a small hostelry lying out
of the ordinary route, where, however, he obtained from a
wandering minstrel news of the event of the tourney.
On the next morning the knight departed early, with the intention
of making a long journey; the condition of his horse, which he
had carefully spared during the preceding morning, being such as
enabled him to travel far without the necessity of much repose.
Yet his purpose was baffled by the devious paths through which he
rode, so that when evening closed upon him, he only found himself
on the frontiers of the West Riding of Yorkshire. By this time
both horse and man required refreshment, and it became necessary,
moreover, to look out for some place in which they might spend
the night, which was now fast approaching.
The place where the traveller found himself seemed unpropitious
for obtaining either shelter or refreshment, and he was likely to
be reduced to the usual expedient of knights-errant, who, on such
occasions, turned their horses to graze, and laid themselves down
to meditate on their lady-mistress, with an oak-tree for a
canopy. But the Black Knight either had no mistress to meditate
upon, or, being as indifferent in love as he seemed to be in war,
was not sufficiently occupied by passionate reflections upon her
beauty and cruelty, to be able to parry the effects of fatigue
and hunger, and suffer love to act as a substitute for the solid
comforts of a bed and supper. He felt dissatisfied, therefore,
when, looking around, he found himself deeply involved in woods,
through which indeed there were many open glades, and some paths,
but such as seemed only formed by the numerous herds of cattle
which grazed in the forest, or by the animals of chase, and the
hunters who made prey of them.
The sun, by which the knight had chiefly directed his course, had
now sunk behind the Derbyshire hills on his left, and every
effort which he might make to pursue his journey was as likely to
lead him out of his road as to advance him on his route. After
having in vain endeavoured to select the most beaten path, in
hopes it might lead to the cottage of some herdsman, or the
silvan lodge of a forester, and having repeatedly found himself
totally unable to determine on a choice, the knight resolved to
trust to the sagacity of his horse; experience having, on former
occasions, made him acquainted with the wonderful talent
possessed by these animals for extricating themselves and their
riders on such emergencies.
The good steed, grievously fatigued with so long a day's journey
under a rider cased in mail, had no sooner found, by the
slackened reins, that he was abandoned to his own guidance, than
he seemed to assume new strength and spirit; and whereas,
formerly he had scarce replied to the spur, otherwise than by a
groan, he now, as if proud of the confidence reposed in him,
pricked up his ears, and assumed, of his own accord, a more
lively motion. The path which the animal adopted rather turned
off from the course pursued by the knight during the day; but as
the horse seemed confident in his choice, the rider abandoned
himself to his discretion.
He was justified by the event; for the footpath soon after
appeared a little wider and more worn, and the tinkle of a small
bell gave the knight to understand that he was in the vicinity
of some chapel or hermitage.
Accordingly, he soon reached an open plat of turf, on the
opposite side of which, a rock, rising abruptly from a gently
sloping plain, offered its grey and weatherbeaten front to the
traveller. Ivy mantled its sides in some places, and in others
oaks and holly bushes, whose roots found nourishment in the
cliffs of the crag, waved over the precipices below, like the
plumage of the warrior over his steel helmet, giving grace to
that whose chief expression was terror. At the bottom of the
rock, and leaning, as it were, against it, was constructed a rude
hut, built chiefly of the trunks of trees felled in the
neighbouring forest, and secured against the weather by having
its crevices stuffed with moss mingled with clay. The stem of a
young fir-tree lopped of its branches, with a piece of wood tied
across near the top, was planted upright by the door, as a rude
emblem of the holy cross. At a little distance on the right
hand, a fountain of the purest water trickled out of the rock,
and was received in a hollow stone, which labour had formed into
a rustic basin. Escaping from thence, the stream murmured down
the descent by a channel which its course had long worn, and so
wandered through the little plain to lose itself in the
Beside this fountain were the ruins of a very small chapel, of
which the roof had partly fallen in. The building, when entire,
had never been above sixteen feet long by twelve feet in breadth,
and the roof, low in proportion, rested upon four concentric
arches which sprung from the four corners of the building, each
supported upon a short and heavy pillar. The ribs of two of
these arches remained, though the roof had fallen down betwixt
them; over the others it remained entire. The entrance to this
ancient place of devotion was under a very low round arch,
ornamented by several courses of that zig-zag moulding,
resembling shark's teeth, which appears so often in the more
ancient Saxon architecture. A belfry rose above the porch on
four small pillars, within which hung the green and weatherbeaten
bell, the feeble sounds of which had been some time before heard
by the Black Knight.
The whole peaceful and quiet scene lay glimmering in twilight
before the eyes of the traveller, giving him good assurance of
lodging for the night; since it was a special duty of those
hermits who dwelt in the woods, to exercise hospitality towards
benighted or bewildered passengers.
Accordingly, the knight took no time to consider minutely the
particulars which we have detailed, but thanking Saint Julian
(the patron of travellers) who had sent him good harbourage, he
leaped from his horse and assailed the door of the hermitage
with the butt of his lance, in order to arouse attention and
It was some time before he obtained any answer,
and the reply, when made, was unpropitious.
"Pass on, whosoever thou art," was the answer given by a deep
hoarse voice from within the hut, "and disturb not the servant of
God and St Dunstan in his evening devotions."
"Worthy father," answered the knight, "here is a poor wanderer
bewildered in these woods, who gives thee the opportunity of
exercising thy charity and hospitality."
"Good brother," replied the inhabitant of the hermitage, "it has
pleased Our Lady and St Dunstan to destine me for the object of
those virtues, instead of the exercise thereof. I have no
provisions here which even a dog would share with me, and a horse
of any tenderness of nurture would despise my couch---pass
therefore on thy way, and God speed thee."
"But how," replied the knight, "is it possible for me to find my
way through such a wood as this, when darkness is coming on? I
pray you, reverend father as you are a Christian, to undo your
door, and at least point out to me my road."
"And I pray you, good Christian brother," replied the anchorite,
"to disturb me no more. You have already interrupted one
'pater', two 'aves', and a 'credo', which I, miserable sinner
that I am, should, according to my vow, have said before
"The road---the road!" vociferated the knight, "give me
directions for the road, if I am to expect no more from thee."
"The road," replied the hermit, "is easy to hit. The path from
the wood leads to a morass, and from thence to a ford, which, as
the rains have abated, may now be passable. When thou hast
crossed the ford, thou wilt take care of thy footing up the left
bank, as it is somewhat precipitous; and the path, which hangs
over the river, has lately, as I learn, (for I seldom leave the
duties of my chapel,) given way in sundry places. Thou wilt then
keep straight forward-----"
"A broken path---a precipice---a ford, and a morass!" said the
knight interrupting him,---"Sir Hermit, if you were the holiest
that ever wore beard or told bead, you shall scarce prevail on me
to hold this road to-night. I tell thee, that thou, who livest
by the charity of the country---ill deserved, as I doubt it is
---hast no right to refuse shelter to the wayfarer when in
distress. Either open the door quickly, or, by the rood, I will
beat it down and make entry for myself."
"Friend wayfarer," replied the hermit, "be not importunate; if
thou puttest me to use the carnal weapon in mine own defence, it
will be e'en the worse for you."
At this moment a distant noise of barking and growling, which the
traveller had for some time heard, became extremely loud and
furious, and made the knight suppose that the hermit, alarmed
by his threat of making forcible entry, had called the dogs who
made this clamour to aid him in his defence, out of some inner
recess in which they had been kennelled. Incensed at this
preparation on the hermit's part for making good his inhospitable
purpose, the knight struck the door so furiously with his foot,
that posts as well as staples shook with violence.
The anchorite, not caring again to expose his door to a similar
shock, now called out aloud, "Patience, patience---spare thy
strength, good traveller, and I will presently undo the door,
though, it may be, my doing so will be little to thy pleasure."
The door accordingly was opened; and the hermit, a large,
strong-built man, in his sackcloth gown and hood, girt with a
rope of rushes, stood before the knight. He had in one hand a
lighted torch, or link, and in the other a baton of crab-tree,
so thick and heavy, that it might well be termed a club. Two
large shaggy dogs, half greyhound half mastiff, stood ready to
rush upon the traveller as soon as the door should be opened.
But when the torch glanced upon the lofty crest and golden spurs
of the knight, who stood without, the hermit, altering probably
his original intentions, repressed the rage of his auxiliaries,
and, changing his tone to a sort of churlish courtesy, invited
the knight to enter his hut, making excuse for his unwillingness
to open his lodge after sunset, by alleging the multitude of
robbers and outlaws who were abroad, and who gave no honour to
Our Lady or St Dunstan, nor to those holy men who spent life in
"The poverty of your cell, good father," said the knight, looking
around him, and seeing nothing but a bed of leaves, a crucifix
rudely carved in oak, a missal, with a rough-hewn table and two
stools, and one or two clumsy articles of furniture---"the
poverty of your cell should seem a sufficient defence against any
risk of thieves, not to mention the aid of two trusty dogs, large
and strong enough, I think, to pull down a stag, and of course,
to match with most men."
"The good keeper of the forest," said the hermit, "hath allowed
me the use of these animals, to protect my solitude until the
times shall mend."
Having said this, he fixed his torch in a twisted branch of iron
which served for a candlestick; and, placing the oaken trivet
before the embers of the fire, which he refreshed with some dry
wood, he placed a stool upon one side of the table, and beckoned
to the knight to do the same upon the other.
They sat down, and gazed with great gravity at each other, each
thinking in his heart that he had seldom seen a stronger or more
athletic figure than was placed opposite to him.
"Reverend hermit," said the knight, after looking long and
fixedly at his host, "were it not to interrupt your devout
meditations, I would pray to know three things of your holiness;
first, where I am to put my horse?---secondly, what I can have
for supper?---thirdly, where I am to take up my couch for the
"I will reply to you," said the hermit, "with my finger, it being
against my rule to speak by words where signs can answer the
purpose." So saying, he pointed successively to two corners of
the hut. "Your stable," said he, "is there---your bed there;
and," reaching down a platter with two handfuls of parched pease
upon it from the neighbouring shelf, and placing it upon the
table, he added, "your supper is here."
The knight shrugged his shoulders, and leaving the hut, brought
in his horse, (which in the interim he had fastened to a tree,)
unsaddled him with much attention, and spread upon the steed's
weary back his own mantle.
The hermit was apparently somewhat moved to compassion by the
anxiety as well as address which the stranger displayed in
tending his horse; for, muttering something about provender left
for the keeper's palfrey, he dragged out of a recess a bundle of
forage, which he spread before the knight's charger, and
immediately afterwards shook down a quantity of dried fern in the
corner which he had assigned for the rider's couch. The knight
returned him thanks for his courtesy; and, this duty done, both
resumed their seats by the table, whereon stood the trencher of
pease placed between them. The hermit, after a long grace, which
had once been Latin, but of which original language few traces
remained, excepting here and there the long rolling termination
of some word or phrase, set example to his guest, by modestly
putting into a very large mouth, furnished with teeth which might
have ranked with those of a boar both in sharpness and whiteness,
some three or four dried pease, a miserable grist as it seemed
for so large and able a mill.
The knight, in order to follow so laudable an example, laid aside
his helmet, his corslet, and the greater part of his armour, and
showed to the hermit a head thick-curled with yellow hair, high
features, blue eyes, remarkably bright and sparkling, a mouth
well formed, having an upper lip clothed with mustachoes darker
than his hair, and bearing altogether the look of a bold, daring,
and enterprising man, with which his strong form well
The hermit, as if wishing to answer to the confidence of his
guest, threw back his cowl, and showed a round bullet head
belonging to a man in the prime of life. His close-shaven crown,
surrounded by a circle of stiff curled black hair, had something
the appearance of a parish pinfold begirt by its high hedge. The
features expressed nothing of monastic austerity, or of ascetic
privations; on the contrary, it was a bold bluff countenance,
with broad black eyebrows, a well-turned forehead, and cheeks as
round and vermilion as those of a trumpeter, from which descended
a long and curly black beard. Such a visage, joined to the
brawny form of the holy man, spoke rather of sirloins and
haunches, than of pease and pulse. This incongruity did not
escape the guest. After he had with great difficulty
accomplished the mastication of a mouthful of the dried pease, he
found it absolutely necessary to request his pious entertainer to
furnish him with some liquor; who replied to his request by
placing before him a large can of the purest water from the
"It is from the well of St Dunstan," said he, "in which, betwixt
sun and sun, he baptized five hundred heathen Danes and Britons
---blessed be his name!" And applying his black beard to the
pitcher, he took a draught much more moderate in quantity than
his encomium seemed to warrant.
"It seems to me, reverend father," said the knight, "that the
small morsels which you eat, together with this holy, but
somewhat thin beverage, have thriven with you marvellously. You
appear a man more fit to win the ram at a wrestling match, or the
ring at a bout at quarter-staff, or the bucklers at a sword-play,
than to linger out your time in this desolate wilderness, saying
masses, and living upon parched pease and cold water."
"Sir Knight," answered the hermit, "your thoughts, like those of
the ignorant laity, are according to the flesh. It has pleased
Our Lady and my patron saint to bless the pittance to which I
restrain myself, even as the pulse and water was blessed to the
children Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, who drank the same
rather than defile themselves with the wine and meats which were
appointed them by the King of the Saracens."
"Holy father," said the knight, "upon whose countenance it hath
pleased Heaven to work such a miracle, permit a sinful layman to
crave thy name?"
"Thou mayst call me," answered the hermit, "the Clerk of
Copmanhurst, for so I am termed in these parts---They add, it is
true, the epithet holy, but I stand not upon that, as being
unworthy of such addition.---And now, valiant knight, may I pray
ye for the name of my honourable guest?"
"Truly," said the knight, "Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, men call me
in these parts the Black Knight,---many, sir, add to it the
epithet of Sluggard, whereby I am no way ambitious to be
The hermit could scarcely forbear from smiling at his guest's
"I see," said he, "Sir Sluggish Knight, that thou art a man of
prudence and of counsel; and moreover, I see that my poor
monastic fare likes thee not, accustomed, perhaps, as thou hast
been, to the license of courts and of camps, and the luxuries of
cities; and now I bethink me, Sir Sluggard, that when the
charitable keeper of this forest-walk left those dogs for my
protection, and also those bundles of forage, he left me also
some food, which, being unfit for my use, the very recollection
of it had escaped me amid my more weighty meditations."
"I dare be sworn he did so," said the knight; "I was convinced
that there was better food in the cell, Holy Clerk, since you
first doffed your cowl.---Your keeper is ever a jovial fellow;
and none who beheld thy grinders contending with these pease, and
thy throat flooded with this ungenial element, could see thee
doomed to such horse-provender and horse-beverage," (pointing to
the provisions upon the table,) "and refrain from mending thy
cheer. Let us see the keeper's bounty, therefore, without
The hermit cast a wistful look upon the knight, in which there
was a sort of comic expression of hesitation, as if uncertain how
far he should act prudently in trusting his guest. There was,
however, as much of bold frankness in the knight's countenance
as was possible to be expressed by features. His smile, too, had
something in it irresistibly comic, and gave an assurance of
faith and loyalty, with which his host could not refrain from
After exchanging a mute glance or two, the hermit went to the
further side of the hut, and opened a hutch, which was concealed
with great care and some ingenuity. Out of the recesses of a
dark closet, into which this aperture gave admittance, he brought
a large pasty, baked in a pewter platter of unusual dimensions.
This mighty dish he placed before his guest, who, using his
poniard to cut it open, lost no time in making himself acquainted
with its contents.
"How long is it since the good keeper has been here?" said the
knight to his host, after having swallowed several hasty morsels
of this reinforcement to the hermit's good cheer.
"About two months," answered the father hastily.
"By the true Lord," answered the knight, "every thing in your
hermitage is miraculous, Holy Clerk! for I would have been sworn
that the fat buck which furnished this venison had been running
on foot within the week."
The hermit was somewhat discountenanced by this observation; and,
moreover, he made but a poor figure while gazing on the
diminution of the pasty, on which his guest was making desperate
inroads; a warfare in which his previous profession of abstinence
left him no pretext for joining.
"I have been in Palestine, Sir Clerk," said the knight, stopping
short of a sudden, "and I bethink me it is a custom there that
every host who entertains a guest shall assure him of the
wholesomeness of his food, by partaking of it along with him.
Far be it from me to suspect so holy a man of aught inhospitable;
nevertheless I will be highly bound to you would you comply with
this Eastern custom."
"To ease your unnecessary scruples, Sir Knight, I will for once
depart from my rule," replied the hermit. And as there were no
forks in those days, his clutches were instantly in the bowels
of the pasty.
The ice of ceremony being once broken, it seemed matter of
rivalry between the guest and the entertainer which should
display the best appetite; and although the former had probably
fasted longest, yet the hermit fairly surpassed him.
"Holy Clerk," said the knight, when his hunger was appeased, "I
would gage my good horse yonder against a zecchin, that that same
honest keeper to whom we are obliged for the venison has left
thee a stoup of wine, or a runlet of canary, or some such trifle,
by way of ally to this noble pasty. This would be a
circumstance, doubtless, totally unworthy to dwell in the memory
of so rigid an anchorite; yet, I think, were you to search yonder
crypt once more, you would find that I am right in my
The hermit only replied by a grin; and returning to the hutch, he
produced a leathern bottle, which might contain about four
quarts. He also brought forth two large drinking cups, made out
of the horn of the urus, and hooped with silver. Having made
this goodly provision for washing down the supper, he seemed to
think no farther ceremonious scruple necessary on his part; but
filling both cups, and saying, in the Saxon fashion, "'Waes
hael', Sir Sluggish Knight!" he emptied his own at a draught.
"'Drink hael', Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst!" answered the warrior,
and did his host reason in a similar brimmer.
"Holy Clerk," said the stranger, after the first cup was thus
swallowed, "I cannot but marvel that a man possessed of such
thews and sinews as thine, and who therewithal shows the talent
of so goodly a trencher-man, should think of abiding by himself
in this wilderness. In my judgment, you are fitter to keep a
castle or a fort, eating of the fat and drinking of the strong,
than to live here upon pulse and water, or even upon the charity
of the keeper. At least, were I as thou, I should find myself
both disport and plenty out of the king's deer. There is many a
goodly herd in these forests, and a buck will never be missed
that goes to the use of Saint Dunstan's chaplain."
"Sir Sluggish Knight," replied the Clerk, "these are dangerous
words, and I pray you to forbear them. I am true hermit to the
king and law, and were I to spoil my liege's game, I should be
sure of the prison, and, an my gown saved me not, were in some
peril of hanging."
"Nevertheless, were I as thou," said the knight, "I would take my
walk by moonlight, when foresters and keepers were warm in bed,
and ever and anon,---as I pattered my prayers,---I would let fly
a shaft among the herds of dun deer that feed in the glades
--Resolve me, Holy Clerk, hast thou never practised such a
"Friend Sluggard," answered the hermit, "thou hast seen all that
can concern thee of my housekeeping, and something more than he
deserves who takes up his quarters by violence. Credit me, it is
better to enjoy the good which God sends thee, than to be
impertinently curious how it comes. Fill thy cup, and welcome;
and do not, I pray thee, by further impertinent enquiries, put me
to show that thou couldst hardly have made good thy lodging had I
been earnest to oppose thee."
"By my faith," said the knight, "thou makest me more curious than
ever! Thou art the most mysterious hermit I ever met; and I will
know more of thee ere we part. As for thy threats, know, holy
man, thou speakest to one whose trade it is to find out danger
wherever it is to be met with."
"Sir Sluggish Knight, I drink to thee," said the hermit;
"respecting thy valour much, but deeming wondrous slightly of thy
discretion. If thou wilt take equal arms with me, I will give
thee, in all friendship and brotherly love, such sufficing
penance and complete absolution, that thou shalt not for the next
twelve months sin the sin of excess of curiosity."
The knight pledged him, and desired him to name his weapons.
"There is none," replied the hermit, "from the scissors of
Delilah, and the tenpenny nail of Jael, to the scimitar of
Goliath, at which I am not a match for thee---But, if I am to
make the election, what sayst thou, good friend, to these
Thus speaking, he opened another hutch, and took out from it a
couple of broadswords and bucklers, such as were used by the
yeomanry of the period. The knight, who watched his motions,
observed that this second place of concealment was furnished with
two or three good long-bows, a cross-bow, a bundle of bolts for
the latter, and half-a-dozen sheaves of arrows for the former. A
harp, and other matters of a very uncanonical appearance, were
also visible when this dark recess was opened.
"I promise thee, brother Clerk," said he, "I will ask thee no
more offensive questions. The contents of that cupboard are an
answer to all my enquiries; and I see a weapon there" (here he
stooped and took out the harp) "on which I would more gladly
prove my skill with thee, than at the sword and buckler."
"I hope, Sir Knight," said the hermit, "thou hast given no good
reason for thy surname of the Sluggard. I do promise thee I
suspect thee grievously. Nevertheless, thou art my guest, and I
will not put thy manhood to the proof without thine own free
will. Sit thee down, then, and fill thy cup; let us drink, sing,
and be merry. If thou knowest ever a good lay, thou shalt be
welcome to a nook of pasty at Copmanhurst so long as I serve the
chapel of St Dunstan, which, please God, shall be till I change
my grey covering for one of green turf. But come, fill a flagon,
for it will crave some time to tune the harp; and nought pitches
the voice and sharpens the ear like a cup of wine. For my part,
I love to feel the grape at my very finger-ends before they make
the harp-strings tinkle."*
* The Jolly Hermit.---All readers, however slightly
acquainted with black letter, must recognise in the Clerk
of Copmanhurst, Friar Tuck, the buxom Confessor of Robin
Hood's gang, the Curtal Friar of Fountain's Abbey.