Page images



single combat or by the oaths of twelve of his neighbours; neither of them, however, likely to prove very infallible criteria of the right and wrong.

The criminal but probably too deeply inculpated reign of Richard III. is brightened by at least two meritorious acts. By one justices of the peace are empowered to accept bail for persons suspected of felony. Another was a great relief to the subject, by prohibiting the demand of any loan or benevolence ; these levies had been a heavy grievance, for the king named the sum, and payment was made compulsory.

Towards the middle and close of the present era, the ascendency of the sacerdotal order had become less exclusively engrossing. During the first century and a half after the Conquest almost the entire wealth and intellect of the community were dedicated to the exaltation of the priesthood. It was the period when the principal arts and industry of society were occupied in the erection and beautifying of magnificent cathedrals, and the founding of monasteries, the impressive remains of which still attest the ruling passion of the age. From the accession of William I. to the reign of John, 557 religious houses had been founded. To each of these an episcopal or conventual school was annexed, in which the young clergy were instructed in theology, the classics, church music, and medicine. From the middle of the thirteenth to that of the fifteenth centuries, the chief colleges and halls of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were endowed. Prior to these, in the chief cities and towns, what were termed Illustrious Schools had been established, in which youth were taught grammar, logic, and other branches of learning. The teachers of these appear to have been licensed, since the last canon of the Council of Westminster, held in 1138, prohibits the scholastics of cathedrals from taking money for licenses to teachers of schools in towns and villages. In 1447 there appears to have been a commencement of popular education in the city of London. In that year four incumbents of parishes, taking into consideration the low state of education in the city, petitioned parliament for leave to themselves and successors to set up grammar-schools in their respective parishes of Great Allhallows, St. Andrew Holborn, St. Peter Cornhill, and St. Mary Colechurch. Leave was granted by the king, and the attempt having succeeded, five more parishes of the city followed the example.

Two important auxiliaries to educational progress had been acquired in the discovery of the art of making paper and in the introduction of the art of printing by moveable types. It is unknown to whom the merit of first making paper is due. It had probably advanced through many intermediate stages, from the ancient papyrus, before it began to be made of cotton, and was called charta bombycina, or cotton paper.

About the eleventh century it began to be made of linen rags, and so it long continued. The ingenious William Caxton introduced printing into England in 1473 ; but this was not till thirty years had elapsed from the discovery of metallic types in Germany. Assisted by Thomas Milling, Abbot of Westminster, Caxton set up a printing press in the almonry of the abbey, and thence produced a little French work, called “The Game of Chess.” Two years later he printed the first edition of the works of the first English poet - Chaucer's “Canterbury Tales."

The time had certainly arrived when some aids had become desirable, not only to popular but patrician illumination. In 1371 a curious example occurred of the limits of geographical information. Parliament granted an aid to the king of 50,0001., by an assessment of 22s. 3d.



on each parish, supposing the number of parishes to be 45,000. But it was soon found that they did not amount to one-fifth of that number; consequently the tax would not have raised one-fifth part of the sum intended. To remedy this blunder, a new parliament was summoned, which raised the tax to 51. 10s. on each parish. In this last assembly only half the knights and burgesses who sat in the former were summoned ; the less accomplished, it is likely, being left to more congenial pursuits than fiscal legislation.

I shall conclude the Plantagenet era with noticing three of the direst calamities with which it was afflicted. These were fire, famine, and pestilence.

The first resulted from nearly all buildings being of wood, and an imperfect municipal police. The second originated, not only in bad seasons, crude husbandry, and the desolation of war, but from the absence of commerce, and deficient internal communications, which prevented the scarcity of one district being relieved by the redundant produce of another. Great fluctuation in prices and in the wages of labour necessarily resulted from frequent famines and their natural consequence, the increased mortality of the people. The pestilential fevers which raged with such malignity may in part be ascribed to the want of food, fresh air, and clothing; to vast tracts of undrained land, to towns crowded and filthy, together with the low state of medical knowledge.

One of the most destructive plagues occurred under Edward III. in 1349; it had appeared some time previously in Asia, then, spreading to the western continent, visited France with violence, and next settled in England. One-half the nation is said to have perished by this fearful visitation ; London especially suffered, and in one year buried 50,000 of its inhabitants in the churchyard of the Charterhouse.

These calamities may be all mainly attributed to an imperfect Civilisation. They were not peculiar to this country, but in frequency and aggravation of type pertained to the dark ages of Europe. “ Evil indeed," says Mr. Hallam, were those days in France, when, out of seventy-three years, the reigns of Hugh Capet and his two successors, forty-eight were years of famine. Evil were the days for five years from 1015 in the whole western world, when not a country could be named that was not destitute of bread. There were famines, so Radulphus Glaber and other contemporary writers tell us, in which mothers ate their children, and children their parents, and human flesh was sold with little pretence of concealment in the markets." *

It may be observed of this picture, as of the prevalent serfage of Europe, that if living men were made marketable, it was no great aggravation of the enormity that their dead bodies might be saleable.



BEFORE leaving the mediæval period of history it may be necessary to bring out with more precision, and in stronger relief, the influence on progress of the Universal Church. The subject has been already incidentally touched upon, and wili be subsequently resumed, but the papal power in the dark ages was so irresistible and

* Hist. Middle Ages, vol. i. p. 327.



omnipresent in ascendency over Christendom, that its progressive or obstructive tendencies seem to claim at this stage of inquiry a distinct recapitulation. In its infancy the Roman Church laid no claim to temporal power, only to the spiritual guidance of mankind. In this unpretentious guise it presented no aspect restrictive of social advancement; on the contrary, it might be beneficial, and doubtless the central authority it succeeded in arrogating contributed both to preserve and diffuse Christianity in the early stages of its promulgation. But the possession of ecclesiastical power speedily issued in the assumption of a not less absolute and coextensive secular domination. From this twofold consolidation resulted the corruptions and repressive efforts of the Popedom.

Individual enormities of the pontiffs formed only one of the world's afflictions from the rapid evolution of spiritual into lay ascendency. Installed in a sovereignty the most fascinating to human pride, and exercising absolute sway over the consciences, services, and affections of men, it was natural that the Roman see should seek by every contrivance which subtlety and fraud could devise to perpetuate so enviable a despotism. Hence it happened that so long as papal pretensions continued unchallenged and unweakened by their own unbearable pressure, there could be no social change - no progressno hope for prostrate humanity. God's vicegerents ruled in regular apostolic succession; and what mortal would dare to impugn so consecrated a heritage? They held the keys of heaven, they wielded the sceptre of the earth; for whatever pertained to weal or woe, above or beneath, they were all-sufficient. That which was not of them, was construed to be against them. It followed that science and invention could not thrive or coexist

« PreviousContinue »