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uncommon circumstance that women are strangled by masked assassins, or, walking by the river-side, are plunged into it? Ran a popular proverb: “It is nothing, only a woman being drowned.'
A social chasm severed the rich from the poor. At first, as we have seen, the tiller of the soil was his lord's property. Custom gradually secured to each serf his little hut and garden-plot, and limited the amount of service he had to render. This done personally or by deputy,— his remaining hours were free. If by additional labor he acquired cattle, he was permitted to pasture them upon
the waste lands of his lord's estate. If unable to find employment in tillage, he was allowed to pay a money-rent. Manumissions were sold to refill the royal and baronial purse drained by incessant campaigns. Labor— no longer bound to one spot or one master - was free to hire itself where and to whom it would. A statute of the period complains that
Villains and tenants of lands in villainage withdrew their customs and services from their lords, having attached themselves to other persons who maintained and abetted them; and who, under color of exemplifications from Domesday of the manors and villas where they dwelt, claimed to be quit of all manner of services, either of their body or of their lands, and would suffer no distress or other course of justice to be taken against them; the villains aiding their maintainers by threatening the officers of their lords with peril of life and limb, as well by open assemblies as by confederacies to support each other,
Now for the first time is revealed the strife between capital and labor; and the struggle is now hushed, then intensified by that destroying blast which rising in the East, and sweeping across the shore of the Mediterranean and Baltic, swooped at the close of 1318
Britain. Harvests rotted, lands were left untilled, cattle strayed through the fields and corn, or poisoned the air with their decaying carcasses, grass grew in towns, villages were left without a single inhabitant, half the population perished. Individuals thought only of their own safety, the rich were rendered more oppressive, the licentious more abandoned; the laborer and artisan — masters at last of the labor market -demanded exorbitant wages, and turned easily into the sturdy beggar' or the bandit of the woods. Ran a royal ordinance:
"Every man or woman of whatsoever condition, free or hond, able in body, and within the age of three-score years, .
, and not having of his own whereof he may live, nor land of his own about the tillage of which he may occupy himself, and not
serving any other, shall be bound to serve the employer who shall require him to do so, and shall take only the wages which were accustomed to be taken in the neighborhood where he is bound to serve.' Not only was the price of labor fixed by act of parliament, but the labor class was once more tied to the soil. The laborer was forbidden to quit his own parish, and a refusal to obey was punished by imprisonment. The process of emancipation was checked. The ingenuity of lawyers was shamelessly exercised in cancelling on grounds of informality manumissions and exemptions, to bring back into bondage the villains and serfs who had delighted in their freedom. Discontent smouldered and spread. A ‘mad priest' gave terrible utterance to the tyranny of property and the defiance of socialism. Cried the preacher:
"Good people, things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villains and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? Why do they hold us in serfage? They are clothed in velvet, and warm in their furs, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread, and we oat-cake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labor, the rain and the wind in the fields.
And yet it is of us and our toil that these men hold their state. When Adam delved and Eve span, where was then the gentleman?' The insolence of the tax-gatherers fanned the scattered sparks of sedition into flame from sea to sea. Quaint rhymes served as call to arms; as,
* John Ball greeteth you all, and doth for to understand he hath rung your bell. Now right and might, will and skill, God speed every dele.' And,
* Falseness and guile have reigned too long, and truth hath been set under a lock, and falseness and guile reigneth in every stock.' The revolt, indeed, was outwardly suppressed, and happily so; but Tyler the smith and Ball the priest had sounded the knell of feudalism and the declaration of the equal rights of men. “We will that you free us forever, shouted the insurgents to the youthful Richard.
The struggle went on. The terror of the land-owners expressed itself in legislation, to which the stubbornness of resistance shows the temper of the people. Says a statute of 1385:
* Divers villains and neifs, as well of great lords as of other people, spiritual and temporal, do flee unto cities, towns, and places enfranchised, as the city of London, and feign divers suits against their lords, to the intent to make them free by answer of their lords.' Serfdom, by the operation of moral causes, is dying out. The word 'villen' gives place to the word “servant.'
In 1388, wages
are again regulated, because “servant and laborers will not serve and labor without outrageous and excessive hire.' In the same year it is harshly enacted that no servant or laborer can depart, even at the expiration of his service, from the hundred in which he lives, without permission under the king's seal; nor may any who have been bred to husbandry till twelve years old exercise any other calling. Later, the Commons petition that villains may not put their children to school in order to advance them by the Church, and complain that villains fly to cities and boroughs, whence their masters cannot recover them, and, if they attempt it, are hindered by the people.
Closely connected with the progress of constitutional government was the social movement that was fast changing the face of the country. The force of the feudal system is dissolved, and in every attempt to maintain it we see only the shadow of a power once supreme, retreating and diminishing before an expanding and omnipotent reality,—the doctrine that men are equal before God.
Religion. To the social revolution was added the fresh impulse of a religious one. The Church was in its noon of splendor, but the blaze was only a veil over the central darkness. Petrarch says the Papacy sat “as a blight over peoples, and nations, and tongues, toying and confident in the abundance of earthly riches, and careless of the eternal.' Of Rome itself he says:
Once Rome! now, false and guilty Babylon!
Sad world that doth endure it! Cast her out!'
Foreign priests were still intruded into English livings and English sees, direct taxes were imposed on the clergy, first fruits were claimed from all ecclesiastical preferments.
At the beginning of the century, the papal revenue was twelve times greater than the civil; at the end of the century, the Commons declared that the taxes paid to the Church were five times greater than the taxes paid to the crown.
While the exactions of Rome severed the priesthood, the greed and scandal of both provoked the sleepless hatred of the people. Half the soil was in the hands of the clergy, and with
all their wealth they bore as little as they could of the burdens of the State. Their courts mildly noticed the crimes and vices of their order. They worried the community by their insufferable claim to control wills, contracts, and divorces; by their endless dues and fees; by their countless legal citations of citizens, to extort costs and fines. They were rent by their own dissensions. Each order of friars hated the other; the monks hated them and the parish priests, or secular clergy, who were far better; and the last looked upon both as their natural enemies. The bishops, again, were estranged from the mass of the clergy by the shameful inequality between their respective revenues, and by their strife for political emoluments. There was a universal clamor against the mendicant orders, who, though rich, pretended to be poor; and, impure of life, pretended to be good.
There is a general desire to shake off the papal bondage, and an irrepressible cry for truth and purity in life and in the Church. In the reign of Edward III, every person is outlawed who carries any cause by appeal to the court of Rome. In the committee of eighteen to whom Richard's last parliament delegated their whole power, there is not the name of an ecclesiastic to be found. The barons are jealous of the prelates. The courtly Chaucer laughs at the jingling bells of the hunting abbots. Piers the Plowman, a man of the multitude and a victim, lifts his indignant voice. Robin Hood, the ballad hero, orders his folk to 'spare the yeomen, laborers, even knights, if they are good fellows,' but never to pardon abbots or bishops. Wycliffe protests against the cardinal beliefs of Catholicism, organizes the growing discontent, justifies and supports it with principles, tenets and reasonings. His disciples — the Simple Priests,' or 'Lollards,' whose homely sermons and long russet dress move the ridicule of the regulars — diffuse his doctrines, which rapidly infect all classes, the baronage of the city, the peasantry of the country-side, even the monasticism of the cell. Women, as well as men, become preachers of the new sect, whose numbers increase till it seems to the panicstricken churchmen that every third man in the street is a Lol. lard
- a heretic. A more wholesome conception of existence is forming, from which will be finally educed — in the yet far-off national outbreak of the Reformation - a better civilization, founded on the respect for liberty and justice.
Yet we will not forget that in the two great deliverances from the tyranny of nation over nation and from the property of man in
man, the chief agent was the Church of Rome. Distinctions of caste were to her peculiarly odious, because incompatible with other distinctions essential to her system. How great a part she had in the abolition of slavery we have elsewhere seen. Tenderly treating her own bondmen (whom she declined to enfranchise), we have seen her regularly adjuring the dying slaveholder, as he asked for the last sacraments, to emancipate his brethren for whom Christ had died. Corrupt as she was, there is reason to believe that had she been overthrown in the fourteenth century, the vacancy would have been occupied by a system more corrupt still. Her leading-strings, which will impede the full-grown man, are necessary to preserve and uphold the infant. She will be allowed a hundred and fifty years more in which to fill the measure of her offences, that she may fall only when time has laid bare the root of her degeneracy, when faith and manners, ideas and morals, may change together and subsist in harmony.
Learning.-In an age when every one, rich or poor, lives with his hand on his sword, it is not strange that general education should have been neglected. War and woodcraft were the pride of the great. Not one in five hundred could have stumbled through a psalm. If they read, they spelled the small words, and skipped the large ones.
Information passed from mouth to mouth, not from eye to eye. Men were auditors, not readers. The populace had poets for themselves, whose looser carols were the joy of the streets or the fields,- songs that perished on the lips of the singers. Across the gulf of mystery, the opening line of some fugitive rehearsal falls upon the ear like the echo of a vanished world,
Sitteth all stille, and harkeneth to me!'
The clergy alone were learned, and they only relatively. The pulpit was the chief means of instruction. In the little village church, -endeared to the peasant by the most touching incidents of his life, or in vast and spired cathedral, amid smoking censers, the blaze of lamps, the tinkling of silver bells, the play of jewelled vessels, and gorgeous dresses of violet, green, and gold, - listened the silent and unquestioning people.
Books--still in manuscripts, copied in the Scriptorium by the