« AnteriorContinuar »
diversified with oxen and goats; velvet shoes, covered with rosettes and ribbons; boots with falling tops, hung with lace, and embroidered with figures of birds, animals, flowers of silver and gold. When Elizabeth died, three thousand dresses were found in her wardrobe. Feasts were carnivals of splendor. Entertainments were like fairy scenes.
Sober thrift was forgotten in the universal expanse. Gallants gambled a fortune at a sitting, then sailed for the New World, in quest of a fresh one. Dreams of El Dorados lured the imagination of the meanest seaman. The advance of corporal well-being disclosed itself in the manners and tastes of all ranks - at the base as well as on the summit. The growth of the humanities is seen in the establishment of hospitals or retreats for the infirm and needy, and houses of correction for the vagrant and vicious.
Not modern England yet. Herds of deer strayed in vast and trackless forests. Fens forty or fifty miles in length reeked with miasm and fever. The population - barely five millions
perpetually thinned by pestilence and want, whose triumphs were numbered by the death-crier in the streets or the knell for the passing soul. The peasants shivered in their mud-built hovels, where chimneys still were rare.
For the poor there was no physician; for the dying - till the monasteries were suppressed – the monk and his crucifix. For a hundred years, agrarian changes had been leading to the mergence of smaller holdings and the introduction of sheep-farming on an enormous scale. Merchants, too, were investing heavily in land, and these farming gentlemen' were under little restraint in the eviction of the smaller tenants. The farmers, according to More, were 'got rid of either by fraud or force, or tired out with repeated wrongs into parting with their property.' He adds:
'In this way it comes to pass that these poor wretches, men, women, husbands, orphans, widows, parents with little children, householders greater in number than ir: wealth (for arable farming requires many hands, while one shepherd and herdsman will suffice for a pasture farm), all these emigrate from their native fields without knowing
where to go.'
Homeless wanderers, they joined the army of beggars, marauders, vagabonds -- a vast mass of disorder on which every rebellion might count for support. The poor man, if unemployed, preferring to be idle, might be demanded for service by any master of
his vocation, and compelled to work. If caught begging once, and neither aged nor infirm, he was whipped at the cart's tail. For a second offence, his ear was slit, or bored through with a hot iron. For a third, - proved thereby to be useless to himself and hurtful to others,— he suffered death as a felon. This law, enacted in 1536, and subsisting for sixty years, expressed the English conviction that it is better for a man not to live at all than to live a profitless and worthless life,- so reaching, perhaps, the heart of the whole matter. Rogue, mendicant, thief, were practically synonymous terms, embracing,
‘All persons calling themselves scholars, going about begging; all seafaring men pretending losses of their ships and goods on the sea; all idle persons going about either begging, or using any subtle craft or unlawful games and plays, or feigning to have knowledge in physiognomy, palmistry, or other like crafty science, or pretending that they can tell destinies, fortunes, or such other fastastical imaginations, all fencers, bear-wards, common players and minstrels; all jugglers.' Travelling required strong nerves. Some one petitions that ‘parties of horse be stationed all along the avenues of the city of London, so that is a coach or wagon wanted a convoy, two or three or more may be detached.' Sometimes, says More, you might see a score of thieves hung on the same gibbet. In the county of Somerset alone, we find the magistrates capturing a hundred at a stroke, hanging fifty at once, and impatient to swing the rest. On the byways, as on all the highways, stand the gallows. Beneath the idea of order is the idea of the scaf. fold. Savage energy remains. The living are cut down, disembowelled, quartered. “When his heart was cut out, he uttered a deep groan.' London witnesses the fearful spectacle of a living human being--a poisoner - boiled to death, 'to the terrible example of all others.' Judge of the moral tone by the utter absence of personal feeling. With business-like brevity, as if the thing were perfectly natural, Cromwell ticks off human lives:
*Item, the Abbot of Reading to be sent down to be tried and executed at Reading.' "Item, when Master Fisher shall go to his execution, and the other.' Honor, beauty, youth, and genius went quietly to the block, as if bloodshed were an accepted system. With the utmost equanimity, as if no murder could be extraordinary, Holinshed relates:
"The five and twentith daie of Maie (1535) was in saint Paules church at London examined nineteen men and six women born in Holland, whose opinions were (heretical). Fourteene of them were condemned, a man and a woman of them were burned in Smith field, the other twelve were sent to other townes, there to be burnt. On the nineteenth
of June were three moonkes of the Charterhouse hanged, drawne, and quartered at Tiburne, and their heads and quarters set up about London, for denieng the king to be supreme head of the church. Also the one and twentith of the same moneth, and for the Fame cause, doctor John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, was beheaded for denieng of the supremacie, and his head set upon London bridge, but his bodie buried within Barking churchyard. The pope elected him a cardinall, and sent his hat as far as Calais, but his head was off before his hat was on: so that they met not. On the sixth of Julie was Sir Thomas Moore beheaded for the like crime, that is to wit, for denieng the king to be supreme head.' In such a state, man can be happy — like swine. He is still a primitive animal, too heavy for refined sensations, too vehement for restraint; a hive of violent and uncurbed instincts, seeking only expansion, and, to that end, ready to appeal at once to arms. Says a correspondent:
"On Thursday laste, as my Lorde Rytche was rydynge in the streates, there was one Wyndam that stode in a dore, and shotte a dagge at him, thynkynge to have slayne him, ... The same daye, also, as Sir John Conway was goynge in the streetes, Mr. Lodovyke Grevell came sodenly upon him, and stroke him on the hedd with a sworde. .. . I am forced to trouble your Honors with thes tryflynge matters, for I know no greater.'
His enjoyment, if lacking decency, is heartfelt — the overflowing of a coarse animation. Bear and bull baitings are the delight of all classes, a 'charming entertainment’even to the queen. Cockfighting and throwing at cocks are regularly introduced into the public schools. They feast copiously, furnishing their tables as if to revictual Noah's ark. They drink without ceasing, as when they crossed the sea in leather boats; as now in Germany, where to drink is to drink for ever. Their holidays, with which tradition had filled the year, are the incarnation of natural life. Stubbes, whose mind is burdened with the pitiless doctrines of Calvin, says, with morose impatience:
First, all the wilde heades of the parishe, conventying together, chuse them a ground capitaine of mischeef, whan they innoble with the title of my Lorde of Misserule, and hym they crown with great solemnitie, and adopt for their kyng. This kyng anoynted, chuseth for the twentie, fourtie, three score or a hundred lustie guttes like to hymself to waite uppon his lordely maiestie. ... Then have they their hobbie horses, dragons, and other antiques together with their baudie pipers and thundering drommers, to strike up the devilles daunce withall: then marche these heathen companie towardes the churche and churche-yarde, their pipers pipyng, their drommers thonderyng, their stumppes dauncyng, their belles rynglyng, their hankerchefes swyngyng about their heades like madmen, their hobbie horses and other monsters skirmishyny amongest the throng; and in this sorte they goe to the churche (though the minister bee at praier or preachyng), danncyng and swingyng their bankerchecfes over their heads, in the churche, like devilles incarnate, with such a confused noise, that no man can heare his owne voice. Then the foolishe people they looke, they stare, they laugh, they fleere, and mount upon formes and pewes, to see these goodly pageauntes, solemnized in this sort. Then after this, aboute the churche they goe againe and againe, and so forthe into the churche-yarde, where they have commonly their sommer haules, their bowers, arbors and banquettyng
houses set up, wherein they feaste, banquet, and daunce all that daie, and preadventure all that night too. And thus these terrestriall furies spend the Sabboath daie.' And,
*Against Maie, every parishe, towne and village assemble themselves together, bothe men, women, and children, olde and yong, even all indifferently; they goe to the woodes where they spende all the night in pleasant pastymes, and in the mornyng they returne, bringing with them birch, bowes, and branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withall. But their cheefest iewell they bringe from thence is their Maie poole, which they bring home with great veneration, as thus: They have twenty or fourtie yoke of oxen, every ox havyng a sweete nosegaie of flowers tyed on the tippe of his hornes, and these oxen drawe home this Maie poole (this stinkyny idoll rather), ... and thus beyng reared up, they strawe the grounde aboute, binde greene boughes about it, sett up sommer haules, bowers, and arbours hard by it; and then fall they to banquet and feast, to leape and dance aboute it, as the heathen people did at the dedication of their idolles.'
What literature will this life create? You will see it all there, reflected in the drama, reproduced on the stage,- free and liberal living, a masquerade of splendor, vice raging without shame, a prodigality of carnage,-a young world, natural, unshackled, and tragic.
The Reformation.— Society is not possible without religion, and neither society nor religion can be founded only on the pursuit of pleasure and of power. Recall the secular irritations whose momentum had long been gathering for the impending outbreak. Imagine, if you can, the secret anger which the custom of sanctuary alone must have excited. Says the Venetian ambassador at the English court in 1502:
•The clergy are they who have the supreme sway over the country, both in peace and war. Among other things, they have provided that a number of sacred places in the kingdom should serve for the refuge and escape of all delinquents; and no one, were he a traitor to the crown, or had he practised against the king's own person, can be taken out of these by force. And a villain of this kind, who, for some great excess that he has committed, has been obliged to take refuge in one of these sacred places, often goes out of it to brawl in the public streets, and then, returning to it, escapes with impunity for every fresh offence he may have been guilty of. This is no detriment to the purses of the priests, nor to the other perpetual sanctuaries; but every church is a sanctuary for forty days; and if a thief or murderer, who has taken refuge in one, cannot leave it in safety during those forty days, he gives notice that he wishes to leave England. In which case, being stripped to the shirt by the chief magistrate of the place, and a crucifix placed in his hand, he is conducted along the road to the sea, where, if he finds a passage, he may go with a “God speed you." But if he should not find one, he walks into the sea up to the throat, and three times asks for a passage; and this is repeated till a ship appears, which comes for him, and so he departs in safety. It is not unamusing to hear how the women and children lament over the misfortune of these exiles, asking * how they can live so destitute out of England"; adding, moreover, that “they had better have died than go out of the world," as if England were the whole world.' Visible acts and invisible thoughts were environed and held down by an ecclesiastical code, which, only a vehicle for extor
tion, changed the police into an inquisition. Heresy,'
* What are the bishops divines?
Nor will suffer none other to preach.'!
'I would ask a strange question. Who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing of his office! I can tell, for I know him who it is; I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the others, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will ye know who it is? I will tell you. It is the devil. Therefore, ye unpreaching prelates, learn of the devil to be diligent in your office. If ye will not learn of God, for shame learn of the devil.' It was the frightful depravity of Rome that startled Luther into revolt. He went there an eager pilgrim, trudging penniless and barefoot across the Alps, as to the city of the saints, and
1 Roy's Burying of the Mass.