Imagens das páginas

flock, to make provision for the poor and defenceless, and to do what was needed in the way of training the mind. Then, to descend from the national to the local community, there were the common lands of the villagers, and the common property of the gild brethren.

The dissolution of the monasteries had the effect of giving a fatal tilt to this social balance. At an already critical time of transition, not far short of a quarter of the whole demesne land, as distinguished from the common land, passed from the hands of ecclesiastical corporations, bodies which at least owned some public responsibilities, into those of individuals. It would have been conceivable, and it was suggested at the time, that the Crown should have kept the effects of its sacrilege, and taken over the whole of the Church's social functions. But those who rob cannot afford to neglect their accomplices, and Henry was forced to relinquish what he had won. And so, on the one hand, social duties that had been performed inadequately by the Church, ceased to be performed at all, and on the other hand, the power of the big landowners was enormously increased.

One effect of this change was the rise of a new kind of house and a new school of architecture. The big country mansion, as we know it, may be said to date from this time, and is the symbol of a new type of domination, which was eventually to reduce the Crown to a cipher and the peasant to a labourer without land. As befits the dwellings of a class largely consisting of nouveaux riches, and owing their prosperity to the plunder of holy things, these dwellings take on an increasing worldliness, which is generally in direct proportion to their size.

The Gothic spirit was not conquered without a prolonged struggle extending over many generations, and especially in the smaller buildings, it contributed not a little to the charm of our country-house architecture. But in the mansions of the great the Renaissance was not

to be denied, and its tendency was everywhere to crush out the free energy of the Gothic. From the very foundations the keynote of the style was its symmetry, and symmetry in the product goes along with slavery in the workman. The delight in creation, the realization of human personality in matter, is incompatible with exact and rigid conformity to pattern. And thus the great symmetrical fronts of so many big houses are ominous of a changing state of society, in which the souls of common men count for less than in the days of Chaucer.

This interpretation is strengthened by the contrast of the big houses with the homes of the peasantry. Whatever may be the case with mansions of the rich, cottage architecture long remains a well of Gothic undefiled, and in the rare cases where the Renaissance style makes any sort of impression, it is in externals. The stone doorways in the West, like those of churches; the free and flowing plaster decoration of the East; the smiling and hospitable half-timber work of Kent, and the stout and austere sufficiency of the northern cottages, all these tell one story of the joy of craftsmanship, of the free play of local character, of the Englishman's deep sense of religion and obstinate pride of tradition. But to-day there is no cottage architecture, save that of a conscious and middleclass revival.

But the commonalty was hit in other ways than by the suppression of the monasteries. Before the Church was touched at all, complaints had been loud of the enclosures of common lands, principally in the midland counties, for the purpose of sheep-farming. It must not be imagined that the peasants of a pastoral were necessarily worse off than those of an agricultural district; on the contrary, we can see with our own eyes that the wool-growing parts, with their fine churches and substantial dwellings, were the most prosperous of all. It was no race of beggars that built the Cotswold villages. But the process of change

was too often a cruel one, and carried out by cruel means. Both the Tudor Henries, as well as the Protector Somerset, made an honest and sustained fight against this evil, and in particular Henry VIII extended his prerogative jurisdiction to include a Court of Requests for the special protection of the poor. But statutes were hard to enforce, nor were the essential features of the problem quite understood. The first attack of the oligarchy was only too successful, and in many districts the more thorough-going enclosers of the eighteenth century found their work done for them.

Towards the middle of the century the condition of the poor was extremely bad. The literature of the time is full of their complaint. When the strong hand of Henry VIII was withdrawn there followed the tragic interlude of the Duke of Somerset, a man who really tried to do his duty, and justify his title of Protector. Then the country passed into the hands of that worst government of all, a committee of nobles who were only united in maintaining the interests of their class against the poor man. It was at this time that what was perhaps the most keenly felt of all the Reformation changes was put into practice. One of the last acts of Henry VIII's Parliament was to put such property of gilds and chantries, as had been devoted to religious purposes, into the King's hands. Henry, for his part, had expressly promised that he would take care that the poor did not suffer-a necessary provision, seeing that the religious and charitable functions of these bodies were hardly distinguishable. Whether he would have kept his word is a question on which we may speculate, but that Edward VI's lords. were insensible to such considerations there can be no sort of question. Corrupt, inefficient and quarrelsome oligarchs as they were, they went far towards reproducing the worst features of Henry VI's rule, and their conduct in power is no small justification for the Tudor Henries,

with their Star Chamber and their axe. The Council showed their power, not in putting down the great, but by filling the Norfolk dykes with the blood of three thousand Englishmen, fighting for their rights and their lands, and slaughtered by the professional valour of foreign mercenaries.

There was another influence coming into play, which, to do the Council justice, rendered the social problem they scarcely tried to solve, doubly hard. Industry was becoming more and more based upon capital, and a new class of rich man was coming into existence, the employers of labour on a large scale. One of these early capitalists had been the merchant Canynge of Bristol, with whom readers of Chatterton will be familiar, and who entertained Edward IV with fitting magnificence. Then we have the famous Jack of Newbury, a big clothier, who seems to have owned quite a large factory, and to have conducted it upon model lines. From the earliest Tudor times we hear complaints of the huge sheep-runs and consequent enclosures, which came into existence in response to the increased demand for wool. The whole structure of industrial life was undergoing transformation, and the old gilds, which were hard enough hit by confiscation, were obviously unfitted, with their small masters and limited number of employees, for the new conditions.

How cruel was the lot of the poor may be judged from the evidence of Crowley, whom his modern editor describes as a Puritan of the narrowest school, and who was therefore the last man to be biassed in favour of the old Roman Catholic system. He writes, in his trotting workaday metre, of the abbeys that were suppressed "all by a law," and remarks what an opportunity was here for cherishing the poor and providing for education, now lost for ever. Again he tells of a merchant, who on returning from over the seas, passed by the site of an almshouse, on which was now erected a splendid mansion.

The merchant was naturally surprised at the well-being of a land where even the poor lived in palaces, but he was soon undeceived by some poor fellow who begged him for charity:

Alas, sir,' quoth the poor man,

[ocr errors]

We are all turned out,

And lie and die in corners

Here, there and about.
Men of great riches

Have bought our dwelling-place,
And when we crave of them
They turn away their face.'

In a prose pamphlet, also written during the reign of Edward VI, Crowley deals with these evils in a more systematic way. He shares the horrors of sedition that much experience of it had stamped on the minds of thoughtful Englishmen, and he would treat it as doctors do a dangerous disease, by putting away the causes whereof it grows. And what are the causes of sedition? Crowley lets the poor man speak for himself: "Cormorants, greedy gulls, yea, men that would eat up men, women and children, are the causes of sedition. They take our houses over our heads, they buy our grounds out of our hands, they raise our rents, they levy great (yea, unreasonable) fines, they enclose our commons. . . . No remedy, therefore, we must needs fight it out, or else be brought to the like slavery that the French men are in." No modern Socialist could have put the case of labour against capital more forcibly.

Yet we must grant that this change, cruel as it was in its workings, was necessary for England's development. The old order of society, with its all-absorbing local interests and its lack of adaptability, was no fit vessel for an exalted patriotism. By causes over which she had no control, England was shortly to be thrown into a position of infinitely greater possibilities than she had dreamed of before. Columbus and Vasco da Gama were working in

« AnteriorContinuar »