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Title: A Short History of England
Author: Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Short History of England" ***

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Chatto & Windus

Printed in England by
William Clowes and Sons, Limited,
London and Beccles.
All rights reserved


    I. INTRODUCTION                          1

   II. THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN               6

  III. THE AGE OF LEGENDS                   19



   VI. THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES              58




    X. THE WAR OF THE USURPERS             119

   XI. THE REBELLION OF THE RICH           133


 XIII. THE AGE OF THE PURITANS             163

  XIV. THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS            179




XVIII. CONCLUSION                          238




It will be very reasonably asked why I should consent, though upon a
sort of challenge, to write even a popular essay in English history, who
make no pretence to particular scholarship and am merely a member of the
public. The answer is that I know just enough to know one thing: that a
history from the standpoint of a member of the public has not been
written. What we call the popular histories should rather be called the
anti-popular histories. They are all, nearly without exception, written
against the people; and in them the populace is either ignored or
elaborately proved to have been wrong. It is true that Green called his
book "A Short History of the English People"; but he seems to have
thought it too short for the people to be properly mentioned. For
instance, he calls one very large part of his story "Puritan England."
But England never was Puritan. It would have been almost as unfair to
call the rise of Henry of Navarre "Puritan France." And some of our
extreme Whig historians would have been pretty nearly capable of calling
the campaign of Wexford and Drogheda "Puritan Ireland."

But it is especially in the matter of the Middle Ages that the popular
histories trample upon the popular traditions. In this respect there is
an almost comic contrast between the general information provided about
England in the last two or three centuries, in which its present
industrial system was being built up, and the general information given
about the preceding centuries, which we call broadly mediæval. Of the
sort of waxwork history which is thought sufficient for the side-show of
the age of abbots and crusaders, a small instance will be sufficient. A
popular Encyclopædia appeared some years ago, professing among other
things to teach English History to the masses; and in this I came upon a
series of pictures of the English kings. No one could expect them to be
all authentic; but the interest attached to those that were necessarily
imaginary. There is much vivid material in contemporary literature for
portraits of men like Henry II. or Edward I.; but this did not seem to
have been found, or even sought. And wandering to the image that stood
for Stephen of Blois, my eye was staggered by a gentleman with one of
those helmets with steel brims curved like a crescent, which went with
the age of ruffs and trunk-hose. I am tempted to suspect that the head
was that of a halberdier at some such scene as the execution of Mary
Queen of Scots. But he had a helmet; and helmets were mediæval; and any
old helmet was good enough for Stephen.

Now suppose the readers of that work of reference had looked for the
portrait of Charles I. and found the head of a policeman. Suppose it had
been taken, modern helmet and all, out of some snapshot in the _Daily
Sketch_ of the arrest of Mrs. Pankhurst. I think we may go so far as to
say that the readers would have refused to accept it as a lifelike
portrait of Charles I. They would have formed the opinion that there
must be some mistake. Yet the time that elapsed between Stephen and Mary
was much longer than the time that has elapsed between Charles and
ourselves. The revolution in human society between the first of the
Crusades and the last of the Tudors was immeasurably more colossal and
complete than any change between Charles and ourselves. And, above all,
that revolution should be the first thing and the final thing in
anything calling itself a popular history. For it is the story of how
our populace gained great things, but to-day has lost everything.

Now I will modestly maintain that I know more about English history than
this; and that I have as much right to make a popular summary of it as
the gentleman who made the crusader and the halberdier change hats. But
the curious and arresting thing about the neglect, one might say the
omission, of mediæval civilization in such histories as this, lies in
the fact I have already noted. It is exactly the popular story that is
left out of the popular history. For instance, even a working man, a
carpenter or cooper or bricklayer, has been taught about the Great
Charter, as something like the Great Auk, save that its almost monstrous
solitude came from being before its time instead of after. He was not
taught that the whole stuff of the Middle Ages was stiff with the
parchment of charters; that society was once a system of charters, and
of a kind much more interesting to him. The carpenter heard of one
charter given to barons, and chiefly in the interest of barons; the
carpenter did not hear of any of the charters given to carpenters, to
coopers, to all the people like himself. Or, to take another instance,
the boy and girl reading the stock simplified histories of the schools
practically never heard of such a thing as a burgher, until he appears
in a shirt with a noose round his neck. They certainly do not imagine
anything of what he meant in the Middle Ages. And Victorian shopkeepers
did not conceive themselves as taking part in any such romance as the
adventure of Courtrai, where the mediæval shopkeepers more than won
their spurs--for they won the spurs of their enemies.

I have a very simple motive and excuse for telling the little I know of
this true tale. I have met in my wanderings a man brought up in the
lower quarters of a great house, fed mainly on its leavings and burdened
mostly with its labours. I know that his complaints are stilled, and
his status justified, by a story that is told to him. It is about how
his grandfather was a chimpanzee and his father a wild man of the woods,
caught by hunters and tamed into something like intelligence. In the
light of this, he may well be thankful for the almost human life that he
enjoys; and may be content with the hope of leaving behind him a yet
more evolved animal. Strangely enough, the calling of this story by the
sacred name of Progress ceased to satisfy me when I began to suspect
(and to discover) that it is not true. I know by now enough at least of
his origin to know that he was not evolved, but simply disinherited. His
family tree is not a monkey tree, save in the sense that no monkey could
have climbed it; rather it is like that tree torn up by the roots and
named "Dedischado," on the shield of the unknown knight.



The land on which we live once had the highly poetic privilege of being
the end of the world. Its extremity was _ultima Thule_, the other end of
nowhere. When these islands, lost in a night of northern seas, were lit
up at last by the long searchlights of Rome, it was felt that the
remotest remnant of things had been touched; and more for pride than

The sentiment was not unsuitable, even in geography. About these realms
upon the edge of everything there was really something that can only be
called edgy. Britain is not so much an island as an archipelago; it is
at least a labyrinth of peninsulas. In few of the kindred countries can
one so easily and so strangely find sea in the fields or fields in the
sea. The great rivers seem not only to meet in the ocean, but barely to
miss each other in the hills: the whole land, though low as a whole,
leans towards the west in shouldering mountains; and a prehistoric
tradition has taught it to look towards the sunset for islands yet
dreamier than its own. The islanders are of a kind with their islands.
Different as are the nations into which they are now divided, the
Scots, the English, the Irish, the Welsh of the western uplands, have
something altogether different from the humdrum docility of the inland
Germans, or from the _bon sens français_ which can be at will trenchant
or trite. There is something common to all the Britons, which even Acts
of Union have not torn asunder. The nearest name for it is insecurity,
something fitting in men walking on cliffs and the verge of things.
Adventure, a lonely taste in liberty, a humour without wit, perplex
their critics and perplex themselves. Their souls are fretted like their
coasts. They have an embarrassment, noted by all foreigners: it is
expressed, perhaps, in the Irish by a confusion of speech and in the
English by a confusion of thought. For the Irish bull is a license with
the symbol of language. But Bull's own bull, the English bull, is "a
dumb ox of thought"; a standing mystification in the mind. There is
something double in the thoughts as of the soul mirrored in many waters.
Of all peoples they are least attached to the purely classical; the
imperial plainness which the French do finely and the Germans coarsely,
but the Britons hardly at all. They are constantly colonists and
emigrants; they have the name of being at home in every country. But
they are in exile in their own country. They are torn between love of
home and love of something else; of which the sea may be the explanation
or may be only the symbol. It is also found in a nameless nursery rhyme
which is the finest line in English literature and the dumb refrain of
all English poems--"Over the hills and far away."

The great rationalist hero who first conquered Britain, whether or no he
was the detached demigod of "Cæsar and Cleopatra," was certainly a Latin
of the Latins, and described these islands when he found them with all
the curt positivism of his pen of steel. But even Julius Cæsar's brief
account of the Britons leaves on us something of this mystery, which is
more than ignorance of fact. They were apparently ruled by that terrible
thing, a pagan priesthood. Stones now shapeless yet arranged in symbolic
shapes bear witness to the order and labour of those that lifted them.
Their worship was probably Nature-worship; and while such a basis may
count for something in the elemental quality that has always soaked the
island arts, the collision between it and the tolerant Empire suggests
the presence of something which generally grows out of Nature-worship--I
mean the unnatural. But upon nearly all the matters of modern
controversy Cæsar is silent. He is silent about whether the language was
"Celtic"; and some of the place-names have even given rise to a
suggestion that, in parts at least, it was already Teutonic. I am not
capable of pronouncing upon the truth of such speculations, but I am of
pronouncing upon their importance; at least, to my own very simple
purpose. And indeed their importance has been very much exaggerated.
Cæsar professed to give no more than the glimpse of a traveller; but
when, some considerable time after, the Romans returned and turned
Britain into a Roman province, they continued to display a singular
indifference to questions that have excited so many professors. What
they cared about was getting and giving in Britain what they had got and
given in Gaul. We do not know whether the Britons then, or for that
matter the Britons now, were Iberian or Cymric or Teutonic. We do know
that in a short time they were Roman.

Every now and then there is discovered in modern England some fragment
such as a Roman pavement. Such Roman antiquities rather diminish than
increase the Roman reality. They make something seem distant which is
still very near, and something seem dead that is still alive. It is like
writing a man's epitaph on his front door. The epitaph would probably be
a compliment, but hardly a personal introduction. The important thing
about France and England is not that they have Roman remains. They are
Roman remains. In truth they are not so much remains as relics; for they
are still working miracles. A row of poplars is a more Roman relic than
a row of pillars. Nearly all that we call the works of nature have but
grown like fungoids upon this original work of man; and our woods are
mosses on the bones of a giant. Under the seed of our harvests and the
roots of our trees is a foundation of which the fragments of tile and
brick are but emblems; and under the colours of our wildest flowers are
the colours of a Roman pavement.

Britain was directly Roman for fully four hundred years; longer than she
has been Protestant, and very much longer than she has been industrial.
What was meant by being Roman it is necessary in a few lines to say, or
no sense can be made of what happened after, especially of what happened
immediately after. Being Roman did _not_ mean being subject, in the
sense that one savage tribe will enslave another, or in the sense that
the cynical politicians of recent times watched with a horrible
hopefulness for the evanescence of the Irish. Both conquerors and
conquered were heathen, and both had the institutions which seem to us
to give an inhumanity to heathenism: the triumph, the slave-market, the
lack of all the sensitive nationalism of modern history. But the Roman
Empire did not destroy nations; if anything, it created them. Britons
were not originally proud of being Britons; but they were proud of being
Romans. The Roman steel was at least as much a magnet as a sword. In
truth it was rather a round mirror of steel, in which every people came
to see itself. For Rome as Rome the very smallness of the civic origin
was a warrant for the largeness of the civic experiment. Rome itself
obviously could not rule the world, any more than Rutland. I mean it
could not rule the other races as the Spartans ruled the Helots or the
Americans ruled the negroes. A machine so huge had to be human; it had
to have a handle that fitted any man's hand. The Roman Empire
necessarily became less Roman as it became more of an Empire; until not
very long after Rome gave conquerors to Britain, Britain was giving
emperors to Rome. Out of Britain, as the Britons boasted, came at length
the great Empress Helena, who was the mother of Constantine. And it was
Constantine, as all men know, who first nailed up that proclamation
which all after generations have in truth been struggling either to
protect or to tear down.

About that revolution no man has ever been able to be impartial. The
present writer will make no idle pretence of being so. That it was the
most revolutionary of all revolutions, since it identified the dead body
on a servile gibbet with the fatherhood in the skies, has long been a
commonplace without ceasing to be a paradox. But there is another
historic element that must also be realized. Without saying anything
more of its tremendous essence, it is very necessary to note why even
pre-Christian Rome was regarded as something mystical for long
afterwards by all European men. The extreme view of it was held,
perhaps, by Dante; but it pervaded mediævalism, and therefore still
haunts modernity. Rome was regarded as Man, mighty, though fallen,
because it was the utmost that Man had done. It was divinely necessary
that the Roman Empire should succeed--if only that it might fail. Hence
the school of Dante implied the paradox that the Roman soldiers killed
Christ, not only by right, but even by divine right. That mere law
might fail at its highest test it had to be real law, and not mere
military lawlessness. Therefore God worked by Pilate as by Peter.
Therefore the mediæval poet is eager to show that Roman government was
simply good government, and not a usurpation. For it was the whole point
of the Christian revolution to maintain that in this, good government
was as bad as bad. Even good government was not good enough to know God
among the thieves. This is not only generally important as involving a
colossal change in the conscience; the loss of the whole heathen repose
in the complete sufficiency of the city or the state. It made a sort of
eternal rule enclosing an eternal rebellion. It must be incessantly
remembered through the first half of English history; for it is the
whole meaning in the quarrel of the priests and kings.

The double rule of the civilization and the religion in one sense
remained for centuries; and before its first misfortunes came it must be
conceived as substantially the same everywhere. And however it began it
largely ended in equality. Slavery certainly existed, as it had in the
most democratic states of ancient times. Harsh officialism certainly
existed, as it exists in the most democratic states of modern times. But
there was nothing of what we mean in modern times by aristocracy, still
less of what we mean by racial domination. In so far as any change was
passing over that society with its two levels of equal citizens and
equal slaves, it was only the slow growth of the power of the Church at
the expense of the power of the Empire. Now it is important to grasp
that the great exception to equality, the institution of Slavery, was
slowly modified by both causes. It was weakened both by the weakening of
the Empire and by the strengthening of the Church.

Slavery was for the Church not a difficulty of doctrine, but a strain on
the imagination. Aristotle and the pagan sages who had defined the
servile or "useful" arts, had regarded the slave as a tool, an axe to
cut wood or whatever wanted cutting. The Church did not denounce the
cutting; but she felt as if she was cutting glass with a diamond. She
was haunted by the memory that the diamond is so much more precious than
the glass. So Christianity could not settle down into the pagan
simplicity that the man was made for the work, when the work was so much
less immortally momentous than the man. At about this stage of a history
of England there is generally told the anecdote of a pun of Gregory the
Great; and this is perhaps the true point of it. By the Roman theory the
barbarian bondmen were meant to be useful. The saint's mysticism was
moved at finding them ornamental; and "Non Angli sed Angeli" meant more
nearly "Not slaves, but souls." It is to the point, in passing, to note
that in the modern country most collectively Christian, Russia, the
serfs were always referred to as "souls." The great Pope's phrase,
hackneyed as it is, is perhaps the first glimpse of the golden halos in
the best Christian Art. Thus the Church, with whatever other faults,
worked of her own nature towards greater social equality; and it is a
historical error to suppose that the Church hierarchy worked with
aristocracies, or was of a kind with them. It was an inversion of
aristocracy; in the ideal of it, at least, the last were to be first.
The Irish bull that "One man is as good as another and a great deal
better" contains a truth, like many contradictions; a truth that was the
link between Christianity and citizenship. Alone of all superiors, the
saint does not depress the human dignity of others. He is not conscious
of his superiority to them; but only more conscious of his inferiority
than they are.

But while a million little priests and monks like mice were already
nibbling at the bonds of the ancient servitude, another process was
going on, which has here been called the weakening of the Empire. It is
a process which is to this day very difficult to explain. But it
affected all the institutions of all the provinces, especially the
institution of Slavery. But of all the provinces its effect was heaviest
in Britain, which lay on or beyond the borders. The case of Britain,
however, cannot possibly be considered alone. The first half of English
history has been made quite unmeaning in the schools by the attempt to
tell it without reference to that corporate Christendom in which it took
part and pride. I fully accept the truth in Mr. Kipling's question of
"What can they know of England who only England know?" and merely differ
from the view that they will best broaden their minds by the study of
Wagga-Wagga and Timbuctoo. It is therefore necessary, though very
difficult, to frame in few words some idea of what happened to the whole
European race.

Rome itself, which had made all that strong world, was the weakest thing
in it. The centre had been growing fainter and fainter, and now the
centre disappeared. Rome had as much freed the world as ruled it, and
now she could rule no more. Save for the presence of the Pope and his
constantly increasing supernatural prestige, the eternal city became
like one of her own provincial towns. A loose localism was the result
rather than any conscious intellectual mutiny. There was anarchy, but
there was no rebellion. For rebellion must have a principle, and
therefore (for those who can think) an authority. Gibbon called his
great pageant of prose "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." The
Empire did decline, but it did not fall. It remains to this hour.

By a process very much more indirect even than that of the Church, this
decentralization and drift also worked against the slave-state of
antiquity. The localism did indeed produce that choice of territorial
chieftains which came to be called Feudalism, and of which we shall
speak later. But the direct possession of man by man the same localism
tended to destroy; though this negative influence upon it bears no kind
of proportion to the positive influence of the Catholic Church. The
later pagan slavery, like our own industrial labour which increasingly
resembles it, was worked on a larger and larger scale; and it was at
last too large to control. The bondman found the visible Lord more
distant than the new invisible one. The slave became the serf; that is,
he could be shut in, but not shut out. When once he belonged to the
land, it could not be long before the land belonged to him. Even in the
old and rather fictitious language of chattel slavery, there is here a
difference. It is the difference between a man being a chair and a man
being a house. Canute might call for his throne; but if he wanted his
throne-room he must go and get it himself. Similarly, he could tell his
slave to run, but he could only tell his serf to stay. Thus the two slow
changes of the time both tended to transform the tool into a man. His
status began to have roots; and whatever has roots will have rights.

What the decline did involve everywhere was decivilization; the loss of
letters, of laws, of roads and means of communication, the exaggeration
of local colour into caprice. But on the edges of the Empire this
decivilization became a definite barbarism, owing to the nearness of
wild neighbours who were ready to destroy as deafly and blindly as
things are destroyed by fire. Save for the lurid and apocalyptic
locust-flight of the Huns, it is perhaps an exaggeration to talk, even
in those darkest ages, of a deluge of the barbarians; at least when we
are speaking of the old civilization as a whole. But a deluge of
barbarians is not entirely an exaggeration of what happened on some of
the borders of the Empire; of such edges of the known world as we began
by describing in these pages. And on the extreme edge of the world lay

It may be true, though there is little proof of it, that the Roman
civilization itself was thinner in Britain than in the other provinces;
but it was a very civilized civilization. It gathered round the great
cities like York and Chester and London; for the cities are older than
the counties, and indeed older even than the countries. These were
connected by a skeleton of great roads which were and are the bones of
Britain. But with the weakening of Rome the bones began to break under
barbarian pressure, coming at first from the north; from the Picts who
lay beyond Agricola's boundary in what is now the Scotch Lowlands. The
whole of this bewildering time is full of temporary tribal alliances,
generally mercenary; of barbarians paid to come on or barbarians paid to
go away. It seems certain that in this welter Roman Britain bought help
from ruder races living about that neck of Denmark where is now the
duchy of Schleswig. Having been chosen only to fight somebody they
naturally fought anybody; and a century of fighting followed, under the
trampling of which the Roman pavement was broken into yet smaller
pieces. It is perhaps permissible to disagree with the historian Green
when he says that no spot should be more sacred to modern Englishmen
than the neighbourhood of Ramsgate, where the Schleswig people are
supposed to have landed; or when he suggests that their appearance is
the real beginning of our island story. It would be rather more true to
say that it was nearly, though prematurely, the end of it.



We should be startled if we were quietly reading a prosaic modern novel,
and somewhere in the middle it turned without warning into a fairy tale.
We should be surprised if one of the spinsters in _Cranford_, after
tidily sweeping the room with a broom, were to fly away on a broomstick.
Our attention would be arrested if one of Jane Austen's young ladies who
had just met a dragoon were to walk a little further and meet a dragon.
Yet something very like this extraordinary transition takes place in
British history at the end of the purely Roman period. We have to do
with rational and almost mechanical accounts of encampment and
engineering, of a busy bureaucracy and occasional frontier wars, quite
modern in their efficiency and inefficiency; and then all of a sudden we
are reading of wandering bells and wizard lances, of wars against men as
tall as trees or as short as toadstools. The soldier of civilization is
no longer fighting with Goths but with goblins; the land becomes a
labyrinth of faërie towns unknown to history; and scholars can suggest
but cannot explain how a Roman ruler or a Welsh chieftain towers up in
the twilight as the awful and unbegotten Arthur. The scientific age
comes first and the mythological age after it. One working example, the
echoes of which lingered till very late in English literature, may serve
to sum up the contrast. The British state which was found by Cæsar was
long believed to have been founded by Brutus. The contrast between the
one very dry discovery and the other very fantastic foundation has
something decidedly comic about it; as if Cæsar's "Et tu, Brute," might
be translated, "What, _you_ here?" But in one respect the fable is quite
as important as the fact. They both testify to the reality of the Roman
foundation of our insular society, and show that even the stories that
seem prehistoric are seldom pre-Roman. When England is Elfland, the
elves are not the Angles. All the phrases that can be used as clues
through that tangle of traditions are more or less Latin phrases. And in
all our speech there was no word more Roman than "romance."

The Roman legions left Britain in the fourth century. This did not mean
that the Roman civilization left it; but it did mean that the
civilization lay far more open both to admixture and attack.
Christianity had almost certainly come to Britain, not indeed otherwise
than by the routes established by Rome, but certainly long before the
official Roman mission of Gregory the Great. It had certainly been
largely swamped by later heathen invasions of the undefended coasts. It
may then rationally be urged that the hold both of the Empire and its
new religion were here weaker than elsewhere, and that the description
of the general civilization in the last chapter is proportionately
irrelevant. This, however, is not the chief truth of the matter.

There is one fundamental fact which must be understood of the whole of
this period. Yet a modern man must very nearly turn his mind upside down
to understand it. Almost every modern man has in his head an association
between freedom and the future. The whole culture of our time has been
full of the notion of "A Good Time Coming." Now the whole culture of the
Dark Ages was full of the notion of "A Good Time Going." They looked
backwards to old enlightenment and forwards to new prejudices. In our
time there has come a quarrel between faith and hope--which perhaps must
be healed by charity. But they were situated otherwise. They hoped--but
it may be said that they hoped for yesterday. All the motives that make
a man a progressive now made a man a conservative then. The more he
could keep of the past the more he had of a fair law and a free state;
the more he gave way to the future the more he must endure of ignorance
and privilege. All we call reason was one with all we call reaction. And
this is the clue which we must carry with us through the lives of all
the great men of the Dark Ages; of Alfred, of Bede, of Dunstan. If the
most extreme modern Republican were put back in that period he would be
an equally extreme Papist or even Imperialist. For the Pope was what was
left of the Empire; and the Empire what was left of the Republic.

We may compare the man of that time, therefore, to one who has left free
cities and even free fields behind him, and is forced to advance towards
a forest. And the forest is the fittest metaphor, not only because it
was really that wild European growth cloven here and there by the Roman
roads, but also because there has always been associated with forests
another idea which increased as the Roman order decayed. The idea of the
forests was the idea of enchantment. There was a notion of things being
double or different from themselves, of beasts behaving like men and not
merely, as modern wits would say, of men behaving like beasts. But it is
precisely here that it is most necessary to remember that an age of
reason had preceded the age of magic. The central pillar which has
sustained the storied house of our imagination ever since has been the
idea of the civilized knight amid the savage enchantments; the
adventures of a man still sane in a world gone mad.

The next thing to note in the matter is this: that in this barbaric time
none of the _heroes_ are barbaric. They are only heroes if they are
anti-barbaric. Men real or mythical, or more probably both, became
omnipresent like gods among the people, and forced themselves into the
faintest memory and the shortest record, exactly in proportion as they
had mastered the heathen madness of the time and preserved the Christian
rationality that had come from Rome. Arthur has his name because he
killed the heathen; the heathen who killed him have no names at all.
Englishmen who know nothing of English history, but less than nothing of
Irish history, have heard somehow or other of Brian Boru, though they
spell it Boroo and seem to be under the impression that it is a joke. It
is a joke the subtlety of which they would never have been able to
enjoy, if King Brian had not broken the heathen in Ireland at the great
Battle of Clontarf. The ordinary English reader would never have heard
of Olaf of Norway if he had not "preached the Gospel with his sword"; or
of the Cid if he had not fought against the Crescent. And though Alfred
the Great seems to have deserved his title even as a personality, he was
not so great as the work he had to do.

But the paradox remains that Arthur is more real than Alfred. For the
age is the age of legends. Towards these legends most men adopt by
instinct a sane attitude; and, of the two, credulity is certainly much
more sane than incredulity. It does not much matter whether most of the
stories are true; and (as in such cases as Bacon and Shakespeare) to
realize that the question does not matter is the first step towards
answering it correctly. But before the reader dismisses anything like an
attempt to tell the earlier history of the country by its legends, he
will do well to keep two principles in mind, both of them tending to
correct the crude and very thoughtless scepticism which has made this
part of the story so sterile. The nineteenth-century historians went on
the curious principle of dismissing all people of whom tales are told,
and concentrating upon people of whom nothing is told. Thus, Arthur is
made utterly impersonal because all legends are lies, but somebody of
the type of Hengist is made quite an important personality, merely
because nobody thought him important enough to lie about. Now this is to
reverse all common sense. A great many witty sayings are attributed to
Talleyrand which were really said by somebody else. But they would not
be so attributed if Talleyrand had been a fool, still less if he had
been a fable. That fictitious stories are told about a person is, nine
times out of ten, extremely good evidence that there was somebody to
tell them about. Indeed some allow that marvellous things were done, and
that there may have been a man named Arthur at the time in which they
were done; but here, so far as I am concerned, the distinction becomes
rather dim. I do not understand the attitude which holds that there was
an Ark and a man named Noah, but cannot believe in the existence of
Noah's Ark.

The other fact to be remembered is that scientific research for the last
few years has worked steadily in the direction of confirming and not
dissipating the legends of the populace. To take only the obvious
instance, modern excavators with modern spades have found a solid stone
labyrinth in Crete, like that associated with the Minataur, which was
conceived as being as cloudy a fable as the Chimera. To most people this
would have seemed quite as frantic as finding the roots of Jack's
Beanstalk or the skeletons in Bluebeard's cupboard, yet it is simply the
fact. Finally, a truth is to be remembered which scarcely ever is
remembered in estimating the past. It is the paradox that the past is
always present: yet it is not what was, but whatever seems to have been;
for all the past is a part of faith. What did they believe of their
fathers? In this matter new discoveries are useless because they are
new. We may find men wrong in what they thought they were, but we cannot
find them wrong in what they thought they thought. It is therefore very
practical to put in a few words, if possible, something of what a man of
these islands in the Dark Ages would have said about his ancestors and
his inheritance. I will attempt here to put some of the simpler things
in their order of importance as he would have seen them; and if we are
to understand our fathers who first made this country anything like
itself, it is most important that we should remember that if this was
not their real past, it was their real memory.

After that blessed crime, as the wit of mystics called it, which was for
these men hardly second to the creation of the world, St. Joseph of
Arimathea, one of the few followers of the new religion who seem to
have been wealthy, set sail as a missionary, and after long voyages came
to that litter of little islands which seemed to the men of the
Mediterranean something like the last clouds of the sunset. He came up
upon the western and wilder side of that wild and western land, and made
his way to a valley which through all the oldest records is called
Avalon. Something of rich rains and warmth in its westland meadows, or
something in some lost pagan traditions about it, made it persistently
regarded as a kind of Earthly Paradise. Arthur, after being slain at
Lyonesse, is carried here, as if to heaven. Here the pilgrim planted his
staff in the soil; and it took root as a tree that blossoms on Christmas

A mystical materialism marked Christianity from its birth; the very soul
of it was a body. Among the stoical philosophies and oriental negations
that were its first foes it fought fiercely and particularly for a
supernatural freedom to cure concrete maladies by concrete substances.
Hence the scattering of relics was everywhere like the scattering of
seed. All who took their mission from the divine tragedy bore tangible
fragments which became the germs of churches and cities. St. Joseph
carried the cup which held the wine of the Last Supper and the blood of
the Crucifixion to that shrine in Avalon which we now call Glastonbury;
and it became the heart of a whole universe of legends and romances, not
only for Britain but for Europe. Throughout this tremendous and
branching tradition it is called the Holy Grail. The vision of it was
especially the reward of that ring of powerful paladins whom King Arthur
feasted at a Round Table, a symbol of heroic comradeship such as was
afterwards imitated or invented by mediæval knighthood. Both the cup and
the table are of vast importance emblematically in the psychology of the
chivalric experiment. The idea of a round table is not merely
universality but equality. It has in it, modified of course, by other
tendencies to differentiation, the same idea that exists in the very
word "peers," as given to the knights of Charlemagne. In this the Round
Table is as Roman as the round arch, which might also serve as a type;
for instead of being one barbaric rock merely rolled on the others, the
king was rather the keystone of an arch. But to this tradition of a
level of dignity was added something unearthly that was from Rome, but
not of it; the privilege that inverted all privileges; the glimpse of
heaven which seemed almost as capricious as fairyland; the flying
chalice which was veiled from the highest of all the heroes, and which
appeared to one knight who was hardly more than a child.

Rightly or wrongly, this romance established Britain for after centuries
as a country with a chivalrous past. Britain had been a mirror of
universal knighthood. This fact, or fancy, is of colossal import in all
ensuing affairs, especially the affairs of barbarians. These and
numberless other local legends are indeed for us buried by the forests
of popular fancies that have grown out of them. It is all the harder for
the serious modern mind because our fathers felt at home with these
tales, and therefore took liberties with them. Probably the rhyme which

     "When good King Arthur ruled this land
     He was a noble king,
     He stole three pecks of barley meal,"

is much nearer the true mediæval note than the aristocratic stateliness
of Tennyson. But about all these grotesques of the popular fancy there
is one last thing to be remembered. It must especially be remembered by
those who would dwell exclusively on documents, and take no note of
tradition at all. Wild as would be the results of credulity concerning
all the old wives' tales, it would not be so wild as the errors that can
arise from trusting to written evidence when there is not enough of it.
Now the whole written evidence for the first parts of our history would
go into a small book. A very few details are mentioned, and none are
explained. A fact thus standing alone, without the key of contemporary
thought, may be very much more misleading than any fable. To know what
word an archaic scribe wrote without being sure of what thing he meant,
may produce a result that is literally mad. Thus, for instance, it would
be unwise to accept literally the tale that St. Helena was not only a
native of Colchester, but was a daughter of Old King Cole. But it would
not be very unwise; not so unwise as some things that are deduced from
documents. The natives of Colchester certainly did honour to St. Helena,
and might have had a king named Cole. According to the more serious
story, the saint's father was an innkeeper; and the only recorded action
of Cole is well within the resources of that calling. It would not be
nearly so unwise as to deduce from the written word, as some critic of
the future may do, that the natives of Colchester were oysters.



It is a quaint accident that we employ the word "short-sighted" as a
condemnation; but not the word "long-sighted," which we should probably
use, if at all, as a compliment. Yet the one is as much a malady of
vision as the other. We rightly say, in rebuke of a small-minded
modernity, that it is very short-sighted to be indifferent to all that
is historic. But it is as disastrously long-sighted to be interested
only in what is prehistoric. And this disaster has befallen a large
proportion of the learned who grope in the darkness of unrecorded epochs
for the roots of their favourite race or races. The wars, the
enslavements, the primitive marriage customs, the colossal migrations
and massacres upon which their theories repose, are no part of history
or even of legend. And rather than trust with entire simplicity to these
it would be infinitely wiser to trust to legend of the loosest and most
local sort. In any case, it is as well to record even so simple a
conclusion as that what is prehistoric is unhistorical.

But there is another way in which common sense can be brought to the
criticism of some prodigious racial theories. To employ the same
figure, suppose the scientific historians explain the historic centuries
in terms of a prehistoric division between short-sighted and
long-sighted men. They could cite their instances and illustrations.
They would certainly explain the curiosity of language I mentioned
first, as showing that the short-sighted were the conquered race, and
their name therefore a term of contempt. They could give us very graphic
pictures of the rude tribal war. They could show how the long-sighted
people were always cut to pieces in hand-to-hand struggles with axe and
knife; until, with the invention of bows and arrows, the advantage
veered to the long-sighted, and their enemies were shot down in droves.
I could easily write a ruthless romance about it, and still more easily
a ruthless anthropological theory. According to that thesis which refers
all moral to material changes, they could explain the tradition that old
people grow conservative in politics by the well-known fact that old
people grow more long-sighted. But I think there might be one thing
about this theory which would stump us, and might even, if it be
possible, stump them. Suppose it were pointed out that through all the
three thousand years of recorded history, abounding in literature of
every conceivable kind, there was not so much as a mention of the
oculist question for which all had been dared and done. Suppose not one
of the living or dead languages of mankind had so much as a word for
"long-sighted" or "short-sighted." Suppose, in short, the question that
had torn the whole world in two was never even asked at all, until some
spectacle-maker suggested it somewhere about 1750. In that case I think
we should find it hard to believe that this physical difference had
really played so fundamental a part in human history. And that is
exactly the case with the physical difference between the Celts, the
Teutons and the Latins.

I know of no way in which fair-haired people can be prevented from
falling in love with dark-haired people; and I do not believe that
whether a man was long-headed or round-headed ever made much difference
to any one who felt inclined to break his head. To all mortal
appearance, in all mortal records and experience, people seem to have
killed or spared, married or refrained from marriage, made kings or made
slaves, with reference to almost any other consideration except this
one. There was the love of a valley or a village, a site or a family;
there were enthusiasms for a prince and his hereditary office; there
were passions rooted in locality, special emotions about sea-folk or
mountain-folk; there were historic memories of a cause or an alliance;
there was, more than all, the tremendous test of religion. But of a
cause like that of the Celts or Teutons, covering half the earth, there
was little or nothing. Race was not only never at any given moment a
motive, but it was never even an excuse. The Teutons never had a creed;
they never had a cause; and it was only a few years ago that they began
even to have a cant.

The orthodox modern historian, notably Green, remarks on the singularity
of Britain in being alone of all Roman provinces wholly cleared and
repeopled by a Germanic race. He does not entertain, as an escape from
the singularity of this event, the possibility that it never happened.
In the same spirit he deals with the little that can be quoted of the
Teutonic society. His ideal picture of it is completed in small touches
which even an amateur can detect as dubious. Thus he will touch on the
Teuton with a phrase like "the basis of their society was the free man";
and on the Roman with a phrase like "the mines, if worked by forced
labour, must have been a source of endless oppression." The simple fact
being that the Roman and the Teuton both had slaves, he treats the
Teuton free man as the only thing to be considered, not only then but
now; and then goes out of his way to say that if the Roman treated his
slaves badly, the slaves were badly treated. He expresses a "strange
disappointment" that Gildas, the only British chronicler, does not
describe the great Teutonic system. In the opinion of Gildas, a
modification of that of Gregory, it was a case of _non Angli sed
diaboli_. The modern Teutonist is "disappointed" that the contemporary
authority saw nothing in his Teutons except wolves, dogs, and whelps
from the kennel of barbarism. But it is at least faintly tenable that
there was nothing else to be seen.

In any case when St. Augustine came to the largely barbarized land, with
what may be called the second of the three great southern visitations
which civilized these islands, he did not see any ethnological problems,
whatever there may have been to be seen. With him or his converts the
chain of literary testimony is taken up again; and we must look at the
world as they saw it. He found a king ruling in Kent, beyond whose
borders lay other kingdoms of about the same size, the kings of which
were all apparently heathen. The names of these kings were mostly what
we call Teutonic names; but those who write the almost entirely
hagiological records did not say, and apparently did not ask, whether
the populations were in this sense of unmixed blood. It is at least
possible that, as on the Continent, the kings and courts were almost the
only Teutonic element. The Christians found converts, they found
patrons, they found persecutors; but they did not find Ancient Britons
because they did not look for them; and if they moved among pure
Anglo-Saxons they had not the gratification of knowing it. There was,
indeed, what all history attests, a marked change of feeling towards the
marches of Wales. But all history also attests that this is always
found, apart from any difference in race, in the transition from the
lowlands to the mountain country. But of all the things they found the
thing that counts most in English history is this: that some of the
kingdoms at least did correspond to genuine human divisions, which not
only existed then but which exist now. Northumbria is still a truer
thing than Northumberland. Sussex is still Sussex; Essex is still Essex.
And that third Saxon kingdom whose name is not even to be found upon the
map, the kingdom of Wessex, is called the West Country and is to-day the
most real of them all.

The last of the heathen kingdoms to accept the cross was Mercia, which
corresponds very roughly to what we call the Midlands. The unbaptized
king, Penda, has even achieved a certain picturesqueness through this
fact, and through the forays and furious ambitions which constituted the
rest of his reputation; so much so that the other day one of those
mystics who will believe anything but Christianity proposed to "continue
the work of Penda" in Ealing: fortunately not on any large scale. What
that prince believed or disbelieved it is now impossible and perhaps
unnecessary to discover; but this last stand of his central kingdom is
not insignificant. The isolation of the Mercian was perhaps due to the
fact that Christianity grew from the eastern and western coasts. The
eastern growth was, of course, the Augustinian mission, which had
already made Canterbury the spiritual capital of the island. The western
grew from whatever was left of the British Christianity. The two
clashed, not in creed but in customs; and the Augustinians ultimately
prevailed. But the work from the west had already been enormous. It is
possible that some prestige went with the possession of Glastonbury,
which was like a piece of the Holy Land; but behind Glastonbury there
was an even grander and more impressive power. There irradiated to all
Europe at that time the glory of the golden age of Ireland. There the
Celts were the classics of Christian art, opened in the Book of Kels
four hundred years before its time. There the baptism of the whole
people had been a spontaneous popular festival which reads almost like a
picnic; and thence came crowds of enthusiasts for the Gospel almost
literally like men running with good news. This must be remembered
through the development of that dark dual destiny that has bound us to
Ireland: for doubts have been thrown on a national unity which was not
from the first a political unity. But if Ireland was not one kingdom it
was in reality one bishopric. Ireland was not converted but created by
Christianity, as a stone church is created; and all its elements were
gathered as under a garment, under the genius of St. Patrick. It was the
more individual because the religion was mere religion, without the
secular conveniences. Ireland was never Roman, and it was always

But indeed this is, in a lesser degree, true of our more immediate
subject. It is the paradox of this time that only the unworldly things
had any worldly success. The politics are a nightmare; the kings are
unstable and the kingdoms shifting; and we are really never on solid
ground except on consecrated ground. The material ambitions are not only
always unfruitful but nearly always unfulfilled. The castles are all
castles in the air; it is only the churches that are built on the
ground. The visionaries are the only practical men, as in that
extraordinary thing, the monastery, which was, in many ways, to be the
key of our history. The time was to come when it was to be rooted out of
our country with a curious and careful violence; and the modern English
reader has therefore a very feeble idea of it and hence of the ages in
which it worked. Even in these pages a word or two about its primary
nature is therefore quite indispensable.

In the tremendous testament of our religion there are present certain
ideals that seem wilder than impieties, which have in later times
produced wild sects professing an almost inhuman perfection on certain
points; as in the Quakers who renounce the right of self-defence, or the
Communists who refuse any personal possessions. Rightly or wrongly, the
Christian Church had from the first dealt with these visions as being
special spiritual adventures which were to the adventurous. She
reconciled them with natural human life by calling them specially good,
without admitting that the neglect of them was necessarily bad. She took
the view that it takes all sorts to make a world, even the religious
world; and used the man who chose to go without arms, family, or
property as a sort of exception that proved the rule. Now the
interesting fact is that he really did prove it. This madman who would
not mind his own business becomes the business man of the age. The very
word "monk" is a revolution, for it means solitude and came to mean
community--one might call it sociability. What happened was that this
communal life became a sort of reserve and refuge behind the individual
life; a hospital for every kind of hospitality. We shall see later how
this same function of the common life was given to the common land. It
is hard to find an image for it in individualist times; but in private
life we most of us know the friend of the family who helps it by being
outside, like a fairy godmother. It is not merely flippant to say that
monks and nuns stood to mankind as a sort of sanctified league of aunts
and uncles. It is a commonplace that they did everything that nobody
else would do; that the abbeys kept the world's diary, faced the plagues
of all flesh, taught the first technical arts, preserved the pagan
literature, and above all, by a perpetual patchwork of charity, kept the
poor from the most distant sight of their modern despair. We still find
it necessary to have a reserve of philanthropists, but we trust it to
men who have made themselves rich, not to men who have made themselves
poor. Finally, the abbots and abbesses were elective. They introduced
representative government, unknown to ancient democracy, and in itself a
semi-sacramental idea. If we could look from the outside at our own
institutions, we should see that the very notion of turning a thousand
men into one large man walking to Westminster is not only an act or
faith, but a fairy tale. The fruitful and effective history of
Anglo-Saxon England would be almost entirely a history of its
monasteries. Mile by mile, and almost man by man, they taught and
enriched the land. And then, about the beginning of the ninth century,
there came a turn, as of the twinkling of an eye, and it seemed that all
their work was in vain.

That outer world of universal anarchy that lay beyond Christendom heaved
another of its colossal and almost cosmic waves and swept everything
away. Through all the eastern gates, left open, as it were, by the first
barbarian auxiliaries, burst a plague of seafaring savages from Denmark
and Scandinavia; and the recently baptized barbarians were again flooded
by the unbaptized. All this time, it must be remembered, the actual
central mechanism of Roman government had been running down like a
clock. It was really a race between the driving energy of the
missionaries on the edges of the Empire and the galloping paralysis of
the city at the centre. In the ninth century the heart had stopped
before the hands could bring help to it. All the monastic civilization
which had grown up in Britain under a vague Roman protection perished
unprotected. The toy kingdoms of the quarrelling Saxons were smashed
like sticks; Guthrum, the pirate chief, slew St. Edmund, assumed the
crown of East England, took tribute from the panic of Mercia, and
towered in menace over Wessex, the last of the Christian lands. The
story that follows, page after page, is only the story of its despair
and its destruction. The story is a string of Christian defeats
alternated with victories so vain as to be more desolate than defeats.
It is only in one of these, the fine but fruitless victory at Ashdown,
that we first see in the dim struggle, in a desperate and secondary
part, the figure who has given his title to the ultimate turning of the
tide. For the victor was not then the king, but only the king's younger
brother. There is, from the first, something humble and even accidental
about Alfred. He was a great understudy. The interest of his early life
lies in this: that he combined an almost commonplace coolness, and
readiness for the ceaseless small bargains and shifting combinations of
all that period, with the flaming patience of saints in times of
persecution. While he would dare anything for the faith, he would
bargain in anything except the faith. He was a conqueror, with no
ambition; an author only too glad to be a translator; a simple,
concentrated, wary man, watching the fortunes of one thing, which he
piloted both boldly and cautiously, and which he saved at last.

He had disappeared after what appeared to be the final heathen triumph
and settlement, and is supposed to have lurked like an outlaw in a
lonely islet in the impenetrable marshlands of the Parret; towards those
wild western lands to which aboriginal races are held to have been
driven by fate itself. But Alfred, as he himself wrote in words that are
his challenge to the period, held that a Christian man was unconcerned
with fate. He began once more to draw to him the bows and spears of the
broken levies of the western shires, especially the men of Somerset; and
in the spring of 878 he flung them at the lines before the fenced camp
of the victorious Danes at Ethandune. His sudden assault was as
successful as that at Ashdown, and it was followed by a siege which was
successful in a different and very definite sense. Guthrum, the
conqueror of England, and all his important supports, were here penned
behind their palisades, and when at last they surrendered the Danish
conquest had come to an end. Guthrum was baptized, and the Treaty of
Wedmore secured the clearance of Wessex. The modern reader will smile at
the baptism, and turn with greater interest to the terms of the treaty.
In this acute attitude the modern reader will be vitally and hopelessly
wrong. He must support the tedium of frequent references to the
religious element in this part of English history, for without it there
would never have been any English history at all. And nothing could
clinch this truth more than the case of the Danes. In all the facts that
followed, the baptism of Guthrum is really much more important than the
Treaty of Wedmore. The treaty itself was a compromise, and even as such
did not endure; a century afterwards a Danish king like Canute was
really ruling in England. But though the Dane got the crown, he did not
get rid of the cross. It was precisely Alfred's religious exaction that
remained unalterable. And Canute himself is actually now only remembered
by men as a witness to the futility of merely pagan power; as the king
who put his own crown upon the image of Christ, and solemnly surrendered
to heaven the Scandinavian empire of the sea.



The reader may be surprised at the disproportionate importance given to
the name which stands first in the title of this chapter. I put it there
as the best way of emphasizing, at the beginning of what we may call the
practical part of our history, an elusive and rather strange thing. It
can only be described as the strength of the weak kings.

It is sometimes valuable to have enough imagination to unlearn as well
as to learn. I would ask the reader to forget his reading and everything
that he learnt at school, and consider the English monarchy as it would
then appear to him. Let him suppose that his acquaintance with the
ancient kings has only come to him as it came to most men in simpler
times, from nursery tales, from the names of places, from the
dedications of churches and charities, from the tales in the tavern, and
the tombs in the churchyard. Let us suppose such a person going upon
some open and ordinary English way, such as the Thames valley to
Windsor, or visiting some old seats of culture, such as Oxford or
Cambridge. One of the first things, for instance, he would find would
be Eton, a place transformed, indeed, by modern aristocracy, but still
enjoying its mediæval wealth and remembering its mediæval origin. If he
asked about that origin, it is probable that even a public schoolboy
would know enough history to tell him that it was founded by Henry VI.
If he went to Cambridge and looked with his own eyes for the college
chapel which artistically towers above all others like a cathedral, he
would probably ask about it, and be told it was King's College. If he
asked which king, he would again be told Henry VI. If he then went into
the library and looked up Henry VI. in an encyclopædia, he would find
that the legendary giant, who had left these gigantic works behind him,
was in history an almost invisible pigmy. Amid the varying and
contending numbers of a great national quarrel, he is the only cipher.
The contending factions carry him about like a bale of goods. His
desires do not seem to be even ascertained, far less satisfied. And yet
his real desires are satisfied in stone and marble, in oak and gold, and
remain through all the maddest revolutions of modern England, while all
the ambitions of those who dictated to him have gone away like dust upon
the wind.

Edward the Confessor, like Henry VI., was not only an invalid but almost
an idiot. It is said that he was wan like an albino, and that the awe
men had of him was partly that which is felt for a monster of mental
deficiency. His Christian charity was of the kind that borders on
anarchism, and the stories about him recall the Christian fools in the
great anarchic novels of Russia. Thus he is reported to have covered the
retreat of a common thief upon the naked plea that the thief needed
things more than he did. Such a story is in strange contrast to the
claims made for other kings, that theft was impossible in their
dominions. Yet the two types of king are afterwards praised by the same
people; and the really arresting fact is that the incompetent king is
praised the more highly of the two. And exactly as in the case of the
last Lancastrian, we find that the praise has really a very practical
meaning in the long run. When we turn from the destructive to the
constructive side of the Middle Ages we find that the village idiot is
the inspiration of cities and civic systems. We find his seal upon the
sacred foundations of Westminster Abbey. We find the Norman victors in
the hour of victory bowing before his very ghost. In the Tapestry of
Bayeux, woven by Norman hands to justify the Norman cause and glorify
the Norman triumph, nothing is claimed for the Conqueror beyond his
conquest and the plain personal tale that excuses it, and the story
abruptly ends with the breaking of the Saxon line at Battle. But over
the bier of the decrepit zany, who died without striking a blow, over
this and this alone, is shown a hand coming out of heaven, and declaring
the true approval of the power that rules the world.

The Confessor, therefore, is a paradox in many ways, and in none more
than in the false reputation of the "English" of that day. As I have
indicated, there is some unreality in talking about the Anglo-Saxon at
all. The Anglo-Saxon is a mythical and straddling giant, who has
presumably left one footprint in England and the other in Saxony. But
there was a community, or rather group of communities, living in Britain
before the Conquest under what we call Saxon names, and of a blood
probably more Germanic and certainly less French than the same
communities after the Conquest. And they have a modern reputation which
is exactly the reverse of their real one. The value of the Anglo-Saxon
is exaggerated, and yet his virtues are ignored. Our Anglo-Saxon blood
is supposed to be the practical part of us; but as a fact the
Anglo-Saxons were more hopelessly unpractical than any Celt. Their
racial influence is supposed to be healthy, or, what many think the same
thing, heathen. But as a fact these "Teutons" were the mystics. The
Anglo-Saxons did one thing, and one thing only, thoroughly well, as they
were fitted to do it thoroughly well. They christened England. Indeed,
they christened it before it was born. The one thing the Angles
obviously and certainly could not manage to do was to become English.
But they did become Christians, and indeed showed a particular
disposition to become monks. Moderns who talk vaguely of them as our
hardy ancestors never do justice to the real good they did us, by thus
opening our history, as it were, with the fable of an age of innocence,
and beginning all our chronicles, as so many chronicles began, with the
golden initial of a saint. By becoming monks they served us in many very
valuable and special capacities, but not notably, perhaps, in the
capacity of ancestors.

Along the northern coast of France, where the Confessor had passed his
early life, lay the lands of one of the most powerful of the French
king's vassals, the Duke of Normandy. He and his people, who constitute
one of the most picturesque and curious elements in European history,
are confused for most of us by irrelevant controversies which would have
been entirely unintelligible to them. The worst of these is the inane
fiction which gives the name of Norman to the English aristocracy during
its great period of the last three hundred years. Tennyson informed a
lady of the name of Vere de Vere that simple faith was more valuable
than Norman blood. But the historical student who can believe in Lady
Clara as the possessor of the Norman blood must be himself a large
possessor of the simple faith. As a matter of fact, as we shall see also
when we come to the political scheme of the Normans, the notion is the
negation of their real importance in history. The fashionable fancy
misses what was best in the Normans, exactly as we have found it missing
what was best in the Saxons. One does not know whether to thank the
Normans more for appearing or for disappearing. Few philanthropists
ever became so rapidly anonymous. It is the great glory of the Norman
adventurer that he threw himself heartily into his chance position; and
had faith not only in his comrades, but in his subjects, and even in his
enemies. He was loyal to the kingdom he had not yet made. Thus the
Norman Bruce becomes a Scot; thus the descendant of the Norman Strongbow
becomes an Irishman. No men less than Normans can be conceived as
remaining as a superior caste until the present time. But this alien and
adventurous loyalty in the Norman, which appears in these other national
histories, appears most strongly of all in the history we have here to
follow. The Duke of Normandy does become a real King of England; his
claim through the Confessor, his election by the Council, even his
symbolic handfuls of the soil of Sussex, these are not altogether empty
forms. And though both phrases would be inaccurate, it is very much
nearer the truth to call William the first of the English than to call
Harold the last of them.

An indeterminate debate touching the dim races that mixed without record
in that dim epoch, has made much of the fact that the Norman edges of
France, like the East Anglian edges of England, were deeply penetrated
by the Norse invasions of the ninth century; and that the ducal house of
Normandy, with what other families we know not, can be traced back to a
Scandinavian seed. The unquestionable power of captaincy and creative
legislation which belonged to the Normans, whoever they were, may be
connected reasonably enough with some infusion of fresh blood. But if
the racial theorists press the point to a comparison of races, it can
obviously only be answered by a study of the two types in separation.
And it must surely be manifest that more civilizing power has since been
shown by the French when untouched by Scandinavian blood than by the
Scandinavians when untouched by French blood. As much fighting (and more
ruling) was done by the Crusaders who were never Vikings as by the
Vikings who were never Crusaders. But in truth there is no need of such
invidious analysis; we may willingly allow a real value to the
Scandinavian contribution to the French as to the English nationality,
so long as we firmly understand the ultimate historic fact that the
duchy of Normandy was about as Scandinavian as the town of Norwich. But
the debate has another danger, in that it tends to exaggerate even the
personal importance of the Norman. Many as were his talents as a master,
he is in history the servant of other and wider things. The landing of
Lanfranc is perhaps more of a date than the landing of William. And
Lanfranc was an Italian--like Julius Cæsar. The Norman is not in history
a mere wall, the rather brutal boundary of a mere empire. The Norman is
a gate. He is like one of those gates which still remain as he made
them, with round arch and rude pattern and stout supporting columns; and
what entered by that gate was civilization. William of Falaise has in
history a title much higher than that of Duke of Normandy or King of
England. He was what Julius Cæsar was, and what St. Augustine was: he
was the ambassador of Europe to Britain.

William asserted that the Confessor, in the course of that connection
which followed naturally from his Norman education, had promised the
English crown to the holder of the Norman dukedom. Whether he did or not
we shall probably never know: it is not intrinsically impossible or even
improbable. To blame the promise as unpatriotic, even if it was given,
is to read duties defined at a much later date into the first feudal
chaos; to make such blame positive and personal is like expecting the
Ancient Britons to sing "Rule Britannia." William further clinched his
case by declaring that Harold, the principal Saxon noble and the most
probable Saxon claimant, had, while enjoying the Duke's hospitality
after a shipwreck, sworn upon sacred relics not to dispute the Duke's
claim. About this episode also we must agree that we do not know; yet we
shall be quite out of touch with the time if we say that we do not care.
The element of sacrilege in the alleged perjury of Harold probably
affected the Pope when he blessed a banner for William's army; but it
did not affect the Pope much more than it would have affected the
people; and Harold's people quite as much as William's. Harold's people
presumably denied the fact; and their denial is probably the motive of
the very marked and almost eager emphasis with which the Bayeux Tapestry
asserts and reasserts the reality of the personal betrayal. There is
here a rather arresting fact to be noted. A great part of this
celebrated pictorial record is not concerned at all with the well-known
historical events which we have only to note rapidly here. It does,
indeed, dwell a little on the death of Edward; it depicts the
difficulties of William's enterprise in the felling of forests for
shipbuilding, in the crossing of the Channel, and especially in the
charge up the hill at Hastings, in which full justice is done to the
destructive resistance of Harold's army. But it was really after Duke
William had disembarked and defeated Harold on the Sussex coast, that he
did what is historically worthy to be called the Conquest. It is not
until these later operations that we have the note of the new and
scientific militarism from the Continent. Instead of marching upon
London he marched round it; and crossing the Thames at Wallingford cut
off the city from the rest of the country and compelled its surrender.
He had himself elected king with all the forms that would have
accompanied a peaceful succession to the Confessor, and after a brief
return to Normandy took up the work of war again to bring all England
under his crown. Marching through the snow, he laid waste the northern
counties, seized Chester, and made rather than won a kingdom. These
things are the foundations of historical England; but of these things
the pictures woven in honour of his house tell us nothing. The Bayeux
Tapestry may almost be said to stop before the Norman Conquest. But it
tells in great detail the tale of some trivial raid into Brittany solely
that Harold and William may appear as brothers in arms; and especially
that William may be depicted in the very act of giving arms to Harold.
And here again there is much more significance than a modern reader may
fancy, in its bearing upon the new birth of that time and the ancient
symbolism of arms. I have said that Duke William was a vassal of the
King of France; and that phrase in its use and abuse is the key to the
secular side of this epoch. William was indeed a most mutinous vassal,
and a vein of such mutiny runs through his family fortunes: his sons
Rufus and Henry I. disturbed him with internal ambitions antagonistic to
his own. But it would be a blunder to allow such personal broils to
obscure the system, which had indeed existed here before the Conquest,
which clarified and confirmed it. That system we call Feudalism.

That Feudalism was the main mark of the Middle Ages is a commonplace of
fashionable information; but it is of the sort that seeks the past
rather in Wardour Street than Watling Street. For that matter, the very
term "mediæval" is used for almost anything from Early English to Early
Victorian. An eminent Socialist applied it to our armaments, which is
like applying it to our aeroplanes. Similarly the just description of
Feudalism, and of how far it was a part and how far rather an impediment
in the main mediæval movement, is confused by current debates about
quite modern things--especially that modern thing, the English
squirearchy. Feudalism was very nearly the opposite of squirearchy. For
it is the whole point of the squire that his ownership is absolute and
is pacific. And it is the very definition of Feudalism that it was a
tenure, and a tenure by military service. Men paid their rent in steel
instead of gold, in spears and arrows against the enemies of their
landlord. But even these landlords were not landlords in the modern
sense; every one was practically as well as theoretically a tenant of
the King; and even he often fell into a feudal inferiority to a Pope or
an Emperor. To call it mere tenure by soldiering may seem a
simplification; but indeed it is precisely here that it was not so
simple as it seems. It is precisely a certain knot or enigma in the
nature of Feudalism which makes half the struggle of European history,
but especially English history.

There was a certain unique type of state and culture which we call
mediæval, for want of a better word, which we see in the Gothic or the
great Schoolmen. This thing in itself was above all things logical. Its
very cult of authority was a thing of reason, as all men who can reason
themselves instantly recognize, even if, like Huxley, they deny its
premises or dislike its fruits. Being logical, it was very exact about
who had the authority. Now Feudalism was not quite logical, and was
never quite exact about who had the authority. Feudalism already
flourished before the mediæval renascence began. It was, if not the
forest the mediævals had to clear, at least the rude timber with which
they had to build. Feudalism was a fighting growth of the Dark Ages
before the Middle Ages; the age of barbarians resisted by
semi-barbarians. I do not say this in disparagement of it. Feudalism was
mostly a very human thing; the nearest contemporary name for it was
homage, a word which almost means humanity. On the other hand, mediæval
logic, never quite reconciled to it, could become in its extremes
inhuman. It was often mere prejudice that protected men, and pure reason
that burned them. The feudal units grew through the lively localism of
the Dark Ages, when hills without roads shut in a valley like a
garrison. Patriotism had to be parochial; for men had no country, but
only a countryside. In such cases the lord grew larger than the king;
but it bred not only a local lordship but a kind of local liberty. And
it would be very inadvisable to ignore the freer element in Feudalism in
English history. For it is the one kind of freedom that the English have
had and held.

The knot in the system was something like this. In theory the King owned
everything, like an earthly providence; and that made for despotism and
"divine right," which meant in substance a natural authority. In one
aspect the King was simply the one lord anointed by the Church, that is
recognized by the ethics of the age. But while there was more royalty in
theory, there could be more rebellion in practice. Fighting was much
more equal than in our age of munitions, and the various groups could
arm almost instantly with bows from the forest or spears from the smith.
Where men are military there is no militarism. But it is more vital that
while the kingdom was in this sense one territorial army, the regiments
of it were also kingdoms. The sub-units were also sub-loyalties. Hence
the loyalist to his lord might be a rebel to his king; or the king be a
demagogue delivering him from the lord. This tangle is responsible for
the tragic passions about betrayal, as in the case of William and
Harold; the alleged traitor who is always found to be recurrent, yet
always felt to be exceptional. To break the tie was at once easy and
terrible. Treason in the sense of rebellion was then really felt as
treason in the sense of treachery, since it was desertion on a perpetual
battlefield. Now, there was even more of this civil war in English than
in other history, and the more local and less logical energy on the
whole prevailed. Whether there was something in those island
idiosyncracies, shapeless as sea-mists, with which this story began, or
whether the Roman imprint had really been lighter than in Gaul, the
feudal undergrowth prevented even a full attempt to build the _Civitas
Dei_, or ideal mediæval state. What emerged was a compromise, which men
long afterwards amused themselves by calling a constitution.

There are paradoxes permissible for the redressing of a bad balance in
criticism, and which may safely even be emphasized so long as they are
not isolated. One of these I have called at the beginning of this
chapter the strength of the weak kings. And there is a complement of it,
even in this crisis of the Norman mastery, which might well be called
the weakness of the strong kings. William of Normandy succeeded
immediately, he did not quite succeed ultimately; there was in his huge
success a secret of failure that only bore fruit long after his death.
It was certainly his single aim to simplify England into a popular
autocracy, like that growing up in France; with that aim he scattered
the feudal holdings in scraps, demanded a direct vow from the
sub-vassals to himself, and used any tool against the barony, from the
highest culture of the foreign ecclesiastics to the rudest relics of
Saxon custom. But the very parallel of France makes the paradox
startlingly apparent. It is a proverb that the first French kings were
puppets; that the mayor of the palace was quite insolently the king of
the king. Yet it is certain that the puppet became an idol; a popular
idol of unparalleled power, before which all mayors and nobles bent or
were broken. In France arose absolute government, the more because it
was not precisely personal government. The King was already a
thing--like the Republic. Indeed the mediæval Republics were rigid with
divine right. In Norman England, perhaps, the government was too
personal to be absolute. Anyhow, there is a real though recondite sense
in which William the Conqueror was William the Conquered. When his two
sons were dead, the whole country fell into a feudal chaos almost like
that before the Conquest. In France the princes who had been slaves
became something exceptional like priests; and one of them became a
saint. But somehow our greatest kings were still barons; and by that
very energy our barons became our kings.



The last chapter began, in an apparent irrelevance, with the name of St.
Edward; and this one might very well begin with the name of St. George.
His first appearance, it is said, as a patron of our people, occurred at
the instance of Richard Coeur de Lion during his campaign in
Palestine; and this, as we shall see, really stands for a new England
which might well have a new saint. But the Confessor is a character in
English history; whereas St. George, apart from his place in martyrology
as a Roman soldier, can hardly be said to be a character in any history.
And if we wish to understand the noblest and most neglected of human
revolutions, we can hardly get closer to it than by considering this
paradox, of how much progress and enlightenment was represented by thus
passing from a chronicle to a romance.

In any intellectual corner of modernity can be found such a phrase as I
have just read in a newspaper controversy: "Salvation, like other good
things, must not come from outside." To call a spiritual thing external
and not internal is the chief mode of modernist excommunication. But if
our subject of study is mediæval and not modern, we must pit against
this apparent platitude the very opposite idea. We must put ourselves in
the posture of men who thought that almost every good thing came from
outside--like good news. I confess that I am not impartial in my
sympathies here; and that the newspaper phrase I quoted strikes me as a
blunder about the very nature of life. I do not, in my private capacity,
believe that a baby gets his best physical food by sucking his thumb;
nor that a man gets his best moral food by sucking his soul, and denying
its dependence on God or other good things. I would maintain that thanks
are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled
by wonder. But this faith in receptiveness, and in respect for things
outside oneself, need here do no more than help me in explaining what
any version of this epoch ought in any case to explain. In nothing is
the modern German more modern, or more mad, than in his dream of finding
a German name for everything; eating his language, or in other words
biting his tongue. And in nothing were the mediævals more free and sane
than in their acceptance of names and emblems from outside their most
beloved limits. The monastery would often not only take in the stranger
but almost canonize him. A mere adventurer like Bruce was enthroned and
thanked as if he had really come as a knight errant. And a passionately
patriotic community more often than not had a foreigner for a patron
saint. Thus crowds of saints were Irishmen, but St. Patrick was not an
Irishman. Thus as the English gradually became a nation, they left the
numberless Saxon saints in a sense behind them, passed over by
comparison not only the sanctity of Edward but the solid fame of Alfred,
and invoked a half mythical hero, striving in an eastern desert against
an impossible monster.

That transition and that symbol stand for the Crusades. In their romance
and reality they were the first English experience of learning, not only
from the external, but the remote. England, like every Christian thing,
had thriven on outer things without shame. From the roads of Cæsar to
the churches of Lanfranc, it had sought its meat from God. But now the
eagles were on the wing, scenting a more distant slaughter; they were
seeking the strange things instead of receiving them. The English had
stepped from acceptance to adventure, and the epic of their ships had
begun. The scope of the great religious movement which swept England
along with all the West would distend a book like this into huge
disproportion, yet it would be much better to do so than to dismiss it
in the distant and frigid fashion common in such short summaries. The
inadequacy of our insular method in popular history is perfectly shown
in the treatment of Richard Coeur de Lion. His tale is told with the
implication that his departure for the Crusade was something like the
escapade of a schoolboy running away to sea. It was, in this view, a
pardonable or lovable prank; whereas in truth it was more like a
responsible Englishman now going to the Front. Christendom was nearly
one nation, and the Front was the Holy Land. That Richard himself was of
an adventurous and even romantic temper is true, though it is not
unreasonably romantic for a born soldier to do the work he does best.
But the point of the argument against insular history is particularly
illustrated here by the absence of a continental comparison. In this
case we have only to step across the Straits of Dover to find the
fallacy. Philip Augustus, Richard's contemporary in France, had the name
of a particularly cautious and coldly public-spirited statesman; yet
Philip Augustus went on the same Crusade. The reason was, of course,
that the Crusades were, for all thoughtful Europeans, things of the
highest statesmanship and the purest public spirit.

Some six hundred years after Christianity sprang up in the East and
swept westwards, another great faith arose in almost the same eastern
lands and followed it like its gigantic shadow. Like a shadow, it was at
once a copy and a contrary. We call it Islam, or the creed of the
Moslems; and perhaps its most explanatory description is that it was the
final flaming up of the accumulated Orientalisms, perhaps of the
accumulated Hebraisms, gradually rejected as the Church grew more
European, or as Christianity turned into Christendom. Its highest
motive was a hatred of idols, and in its view Incarnation was itself an
idolatry. The two things it persecuted were the idea of God being made
flesh and of His being afterwards made wood or stone. A study of the
questions smouldering in the track of the prairie fire of the Christian
conversion favours the suggestion that this fanaticism against art or
mythology was at once a development and a reaction from that conversion,
a sort of minority report of the Hebraists. In this sense Islam was
something like a Christian heresy. The early heresies had been full of
mad reversals and evasions of the Incarnation, rescuing their Jesus from
the reality of his body even at the expense of the sincerity of his
soul. And the Greek Iconoclasts had poured into Italy, breaking the
popular statues and denouncing the idolatry of the Pope, until routed,
in a style sufficiently symbolic, by the sword of the father of
Charlemagne. It was all these disappointed negations that took fire from
the genius of Mahomet, and launched out of the burning lands a cavalry
charge that nearly conquered the world. And if it be suggested that a
note on such Oriental origins is rather remote from a history of
England, the answer is that this book may, alas! contain many
digressions, but that this is not a digression. It is quite peculiarly
necessary to keep in mind that this Semite god haunted Christianity like
a ghost; to remember it in every European corner, but especially in our
corner. If any one doubts the necessity, let him take a walk to all the
parish churches in England within a radius of thirty miles, and ask why
this stone virgin is headless or that coloured glass is gone. He will
soon learn that it was lately, and in his own lanes and homesteads, that
the ecstasy of the deserts returned, and his bleak northern island was
filled with the fury of the Iconoclasts.

It was an element in this sublime and yet sinister simplicity of Islam
that it knew no boundaries. Its very home was homeless. For it was born
in a sandy waste among nomads, and it went everywhere because it came
from nowhere. But in the Saracens of the early Middle Ages this nomadic
quality in Islam was masked by a high civilization, more scientific if
less creatively artistic than that of contemporary Christendom. The
Moslem monotheism was, or appeared to be, the more rationalist religion
of the two. This rootless refinement was characteristically advanced in
abstract things, of which a memory remains in the very name of algebra.
In comparison the Christian civilization was still largely instinctive,
but its instincts were very strong and very much the other way. It was
full of local affections, which found form in that system of _fences_
which runs like a pattern through everything mediæval, from heraldry to
the holding of land. There was a shape and colour in all their customs
and statutes which can be seen in all their tabards and escutcheons;
something at once strict and gay. This is not a departure from the
interest in external things, but rather a part of it. The very welcome
they would often give to a stranger from beyond the wall was a
recognition of the wall. Those who think their own life all-sufficient
do not see its limit as a wall, but as the end of the world. The Chinese
called the white man "a sky-breaker." The mediæval spirit loved its part
in life as a part, not a whole; its charter for it came from something
else. There is a joke about a Benedictine monk who used the common grace
of _Benedictus benedicat_, whereupon the unlettered Franciscan
triumphantly retorted _Franciscus Franciscat_. It is something of a
parable of mediæval history; for if there were a verb Franciscare it
would be an approximate description of what St. Francis afterwards did.
But that more individual mysticism was only approaching its birth, and
_Benedictus benedicat_ is very precisely the motto of the earliest
mediævalism. I mean that everything is blessed from beyond, by something
which has in its turn been blessed from beyond again; only the blessed
bless. But the point which is the clue to the Crusades is this: that for
them the beyond was not the infinite, as in a modern religion. Every
beyond was a place. The mystery of locality, with all its hold on the
human heart, was as much present in the most ethereal things of
Christendom as it was absent from the most practical things of Islam.
England would derive a thing from France, France from Italy, Italy from
Greece, Greece from Palestine, Palestine from Paradise. It was not
merely that a yeoman of Kent would have his house hallowed by the
priest of the parish church, which was confirmed by Canterbury, which
was confirmed by Rome. Rome herself did not worship herself, as in the
pagan age. Rome herself looked eastward to the mysterious cradle of her
creed, to a land of which the very earth was called holy. And when she
looked eastward for it she saw the face of Mahound. She saw standing in
the place that was her earthly heaven a devouring giant out of the
deserts, to whom all places were the same.

It has been necessary thus to pause upon the inner emotions of the
Crusade, because the modern English reader is widely cut off from these
particular feelings of his fathers; and the real quarrel of Christendom
and Islam, the fire-baptism of the young nations, could not otherwise be
seized in its unique character. It was nothing so simple as a quarrel
between two men who both wanted Jerusalem. It was the much deadlier
quarrel between one man who wanted it and another man who could not see
why it was wanted. The Moslem, of course, had his own holy places; but
he has never felt about them as Westerns can feel about a field or a
roof-tree; he thought of the holiness as holy, not of the places as
places. The austerity which forbade him imagery, the wandering war that
forbade him rest, shut him off from all that was breaking out and
blossoming in our local patriotisms; just as it has given the Turks an
empire without ever giving them a nation.

Now, the effect of this adventure against a mighty and mysterious enemy
was simply enormous in the transformation of England, as of all the
nations that were developing side by side with England. Firstly, we
learnt enormously from what the Saracen did. Secondly, we learnt yet
more enormously from what the Saracen did not do. Touching some of the
good things which we lacked, we were fortunately able to follow him. But
in all the good things which he lacked, we were confirmed like adamant
to defy him. It may be said that Christians never knew how right they
were till they went to war with Moslems. At once the most obvious and
the most representative reaction was the reaction which produced the
best of what we call Christian Art; and especially those grotesques of
Gothic architecture, which are not only alive but kicking. The East as
an environment, as an impersonal glamour, certainly stimulated the
Western mind, but stimulated it rather to break the Moslem commandment
than to keep it. It was as if the Christian were impelled, like a
caricaturist, to cover all that faceless ornament with faces; to give
heads to all those headless serpents and birds to all these lifeless
trees. Statuary quickened and came to life under the veto of the enemy
as under a benediction. The image, merely because it was called an idol,
became not only an ensign but a weapon. A hundredfold host of stone
sprang up all over the shrines and streets of Europe. The Iconoclasts
made more statues than they destroyed.

The place of Coeur de Lion in popular fable and gossip is far more
like his place in true history than the place of the mere denationalized
ne'er-do-weel given him in our utilitarian school books. Indeed the
vulgar rumour is nearly always much nearer the historical truth than the
"educated" opinion of to-day; for tradition is truer than fashion. King
Richard, as the typical Crusader, did make a momentous difference to
England by gaining glory in the East, instead of devoting himself
conscientiously to domestic politics in the exemplary manner of King
John. The accident of his military genius and prestige gave England
something which it kept for four hundred years, and without which it is
incomprehensible throughout that period--the reputation of being in the
very vanguard of chivalry. The great romances of the Round Table, the
attachment of knighthood to the name of a British king, belong to this
period. Richard was not only a knight but a troubadour; and culture and
courtesy were linked up with the idea of English valour. The mediæval
Englishman was even proud of being polite; which is at least no worse
than being proud of money and bad manners, which is what many Englishmen
in our later centuries have meant by their common sense.

Chivalry might be called the baptism of Feudalism. It was an attempt to
bring the justice and even the logic of the Catholic creed into a
military system which already existed; to turn its discipline into an
initiation and its inequalities into a hierarchy. To the comparative
grace of the new period belongs, of course, that considerable cultus of
the dignity of woman, to which the word "chivalry" is often narrowed, or
perhaps exalted. This also was a revolt against one of the worst gaps in
the more polished civilization of the Saracens. Moslems denied even
souls to women; perhaps from the same instinct which recoiled from the
sacred birth, with its inevitable glorification of the mother; perhaps
merely because, having originally had tents rather than houses, they had
slaves rather than housewives. It is false to say that the chivalric
view of women was merely an affectation, except in the sense in which
there must always be an affectation where there is an ideal. It is the
worst sort of superficiality not to see the pressure of a general
sentiment merely because it is always broken up by events; the Crusade
itself, for example, is more present and potent as a dream even than as
a reality. From the first Plantagenet to the last Lancastrian it haunts
the minds of English kings, giving as a background to their battles a
mirage of Palestine. So a devotion like that of Edward I. to his queen
was quite a real motive in the lives of multitudes of his
contemporaries. When crowds of enlightened tourists, setting forth to
sneer at the superstitions of the continent, are taking tickets and
labelling luggage at the large railway station at the west end of the
Strand, I do not know whether they all speak to their wives with a more
flowing courtesy than their fathers in Edward's time, or whether they
pause to meditate on the legend of a husband's sorrow, to be found in
the very name of Charing Cross.

But it is a huge historical error to suppose that the Crusades concerned
only that crust of society for which heraldry was an art and chivalry an
etiquette. The direct contrary is the fact. The First Crusade especially
was much more an unanimous popular rising than most that are called
riots and revolutions. The Guilds, the great democratic systems of the
time, often owed their increasing power to corporate fighting for the
Cross; but I shall deal with such things later. Often it was not so much
a levy of men as a trek of whole families, like new gipsies moving
eastwards. And it has passed into a proverb that children by themselves
often organized a crusade as they now organize a charade. But we shall
best realize the fact by fancying every Crusade as a Children's Crusade.
They were full of all that the modern world worships in children,
because it has crushed it out of men. Their lives were full, as the
rudest remains of their vulgarest arts are full, of something that we
all saw out of the nursery window. It can best be seen later, for
instance, in the lanced and latticed interiors of Memling, but it is
ubiquitous in the older and more unconscious contemporary art; something
that domesticated distant lands and made the horizon at home. They
fitted into the corners of small houses the ends of the earth and the
edges of the sky. Their perspective is rude and crazy, but it is
perspective; it is not the decorative flatness of orientalism. In a
word, their world, like a child's, is full of foreshortening, as of a
short cut to fairyland. Their maps are more provocative than pictures.
Their half-fabulous animals are monsters, and yet are pets. It is
impossible to state verbally this very vivid atmosphere; but it was an
atmosphere as well as an adventure. It was precisely these outlandish
visions that truly came home to everybody; it was the royal councils and
feudal quarrels that were comparatively remote. The Holy Land was much
nearer to a plain man's house than Westminster, and immeasurably nearer
than Runymede. To give a list of English kings and parliaments, without
pausing for a moment upon this prodigious presence of a religious
transfiguration in common life, is something the folly of which can but
faintly be conveyed by a more modern parallel, with secularity and
religion reversed. It is as if some Clericalist or Royalist writer
should give a list of the Archbishops of Paris from 1750 to 1850, noting
how one died of small-pox, another of old age, another by a curious
accident of decapitation, and throughout all his record should never
once mention the nature, or even the name, of the French Revolution.



It is a point of prestige with what is called the Higher Criticism in
all branches to proclaim that certain popular texts and authorities are
"late," and therefore apparently worthless. Two similar events are
always the same event, and the later alone is even credible. This
fanaticism is often in mere fact mistaken; it ignores the most common
coincidences of human life: and some future critic will probably say
that the tale of the Tower of Babel cannot be older than the Eiffel
Tower, because there was certainly a confusion of tongues at the Paris
Exhibition. Most of the mediæval remains familiar to the modern reader
are necessarily "late," such as Chaucer or the Robin Hood ballads; but
they are none the less, to a wiser criticism, worthy of attention and
even trust. That which lingers after an epoch is generally that which
lived most luxuriantly in it. It is an excellent habit to read history
backwards. It is far wiser for a modern man to read the Middle Ages
backwards from Shakespeare, whom he can judge for himself, and who yet
is crammed with the Middle Ages, than to attempt to read them forwards
from Cædmon, of whom he can know nothing, and of whom even the
authorities he must trust know very little. If this be true of
Shakespeare, it is even truer, of course, of Chaucer. If we really want
to know what was strongest in the twelfth century, it is no bad way to
ask what remained of it in the fourteenth. When the average reader turns
to the "Canterbury Tales," which are still as amusing as Dickens yet as
mediæval as Durham Cathedral, what is the very first question to be
asked? Why, for instance, are they called Canterbury Tales; and what
were the pilgrims doing on the road to Canterbury? They were, of course,
taking part in a popular festival like a modern public holiday, though
much more genial and leisurely. Nor are we, perhaps, prepared to accept
it as a self-evident step in progress that their holidays were derived
from saints, while ours are dictated by bankers.

It is almost necessary to say nowadays that a saint means a very good
man. The notion of an eminence merely moral, consistent with complete
stupidity or unsuccess, is a revolutionary image grown unfamiliar by its
very familiarity, and needing, as do so many things of this older
society, some almost preposterous modern parallel to give its original
freshness and point. If we entered a foreign town and found a pillar
like the Nelson Column, we should be surprised to learn that the hero on
the top of it had been famous for his politeness and hilarity during a
chronic toothache. If a procession came down the street with a brass
band and a hero on a white horse, we should think it odd to be told that
he had been very patient with a half-witted maiden aunt. Yet some such
pantomime impossibility is the only measure of the innovation of the
Christian idea of a popular and recognized saint. It must especially be
realized that while this kind of glory was the highest, it was also in a
sense the lowest. The materials of it were almost the same as those of
labour and domesticity: it did not need the sword or sceptre, but rather
the staff or spade. It was the ambition of poverty. All this must be
approximately visualized before we catch a glimpse of the great effects
of the story which lay behind the Canterbury Pilgrimage.

The first few lines of Chaucer's poem, to say nothing of thousands in
the course of it, make it instantly plain that it was no case of secular
revels still linked by a slight ritual to the name of some forgotten
god, as may have happened in the pagan decline. Chaucer and his friends
did think about St. Thomas, at least more frequently than a clerk at
Margate thinks about St. Lubbock. They did definitely believe in the
bodily cures wrought for them through St. Thomas, at least as firmly as
the most enlightened and progressive modern can believe in those of Mrs.
Eddy. Who was St. Thomas, to whose shrine the whole of that society is
thus seen in the act of moving; and why was he so important? If there be
a streak of sincerity in the claim to teach social and democratic
history, instead of a string of kings and battles, this is the obvious
and open gate by which to approach the figure which disputed England
with the first Plantagenet. A real popular history should think more of
his popularity even than his policy. And unquestionably thousands of
ploughmen, carpenters, cooks, and yeomen, as in the motley crowd of
Chaucer, knew a great deal about St. Thomas when they had never even
heard of Becket.

It would be easy to detail what followed the Conquest as the feudal
tangle that it was, till a prince from Anjou repeated the unifying
effort of the Conqueror. It is found equally easy to write of the Red
King's hunting instead of his building, which has lasted longer, and
which he probably loved much more. It is easy to catalogue the questions
he disputed with Anselm--leaving out the question Anselm cared most
about, and which he asked with explosive simplicity, as, "Why was God a
man?" All this is as simple as saying that a king died of eating
lampreys, from which, however, there is little to learn nowadays, unless
it be that when a modern monarch perishes of gluttony the newspapers
seldom say so. But if we want to know what really happened to England in
this dim epoch, I think it can be dimly but truly traced in the story of
St. Thomas of Canterbury.

Henry of Anjou, who brought fresh French blood into the monarchy,
brought also a refreshment of the idea for which the French have always
stood: the idea in the Roman Law of something impersonal and
omnipresent. It is the thing we smile at even in a small French
detective story; when Justice opens a handbag or Justice runs after a
cab. Henry II. really produced this impression of being a police force
in person; a contemporary priest compared his restless vigilance to the
bird and the fish of scripture whose way no man knoweth. Kinghood,
however, meant law and not caprice; its ideal at least was a justice
cheap and obvious as daylight, an atmosphere which lingers only in
popular phrases about the King's English or the King's highway. But
though it tended to be egalitarian it did not, of itself, tend to be
humanitarian. In modern France, as in ancient Rome, the other name of
Justice has sometimes been Terror. The Frenchman especially is always a
Revolutionist--and never an Anarchist. Now this effort of kings like
Henry II. to rebuild on a plan like that of the Roman Law was not only,
of course, crossed and entangled by countless feudal fancies and
feelings in themselves as well as others, it was also conditioned by
what was the corner-stone of the whole civilization. It had to happen
not only with but within the Church. For a Church was to these men
rather a world they lived in than a building to which they went. Without
the Church the Middle Ages would have had no law, as without the Church
the Reformation would have had no Bible. Many priests expounded and
embellished the Roman Law, and many priests supported Henry II. And yet
there was another element in the Church, stored in its first foundations
like dynamite, and destined in every age to destroy and renew the world.
An idealism akin to impossibilism ran down the ages parallel to all its
political compromises. Monasticism itself was the throwing off of
innumerable Utopias, without posterity yet with perpetuity. It had, as
was proved recurrently after corrupt epochs, a strange secret of getting
poor quickly; a mushroom magnificence of destitution. This wind of
revolution in the crusading time caught Francis in Assissi and stripped
him of his rich garments in the street. The same wind of revolution
suddenly smote Thomas Becket, King Henry's brilliant and luxurious
Chancellor, and drove him on to an unearthly glory and a bloody end.

Becket was a type of those historic times in which it is really very
practical to be impracticable. The quarrel which tore him from his
friend's side cannot be appreciated in the light of those legal and
constitutional debates which the misfortunes of the seventeenth century
have made so much of in more recent history. To convict St. Thomas of
illegality and clerical intrigue, when he set the law of the Church
against that of the State, is about as adequate as to convict St.
Francis of bad heraldry when he said he was the brother of the sun and
moon. There may have been heralds stupid enough to say so even in that
much more logical age, but it is no sufficient way of dealing with
visions or with revolutions. St. Thomas of Canterbury was a great
visionary and a great revolutionist, but so far as England was concerned
his revolution failed and his vision was not fulfilled. We are therefore
told in the text-books little more than that he wrangled with the King
about certain regulations; the most crucial being whether "criminous
clerks" should be punished by the State or the Church. And this was
indeed the chief text of the dispute; but to realise it we must
reiterate what is hardest for modern England to understand--the nature
of the Catholic Church when it was itself a government, and the
permanent sense in which it was itself a revolution.

It is always the first fact that escapes notice; and the first fact
about the Church was that it created a machinery of pardon, where the
State could only work with a machinery of punishment. It claimed to be a
divine detective who helped the criminal to escape by a plea of guilty.
It was, therefore, in the very nature of the institution, that when it
did punish materially it punished more lightly. If any modern man were
put back in the Becket quarrel, his sympathies would certainly be torn
in two; for if the King's scheme was the more rational, the Archbishop's
was the more humane. And despite the horrors that darkened religious
disputes long afterwards, this character was certainly in the bulk the
historic character of Church government. It is admitted, for instance,
that things like eviction, or the harsh treatment of tenants, was
practically unknown wherever the Church was landlord. The principle
lingered into more evil days in the form by which the Church authorities
handed over culprits to the secular arm to be killed, even for religious
offences. In modern romances this is treated as a mere hypocrisy; but
the man who treats every human inconsistency as a hypocrisy is himself a
hypocrite about his own inconsistencies.

Our world, then, cannot understand St. Thomas, any more than St.
Francis, without accepting very simply a flaming and even fantastic
charity, by which the great Archbishop undoubtedly stands for the
victims of this world, where the wheel of fortune grinds the faces of
the poor. He may well have been too idealistic; he wished to protect the
Church as a sort of earthly paradise, of which the rules might seem to
him as paternal as those of heaven, but might well seem to the King as
capricious as those of fairyland. But if the priest was too idealistic,
the King was really too practical; it is intrinsically true to say he
was too practical to succeed in practice. There re-enters here, and
runs, I think, through all English history, the rather indescribable
truth I have suggested about the Conqueror; that perhaps he was hardly
impersonal enough for a pure despot. The real moral of our mediæval
story is, I think, subtly contrary to Carlyle's vision of a stormy
strong man to hammer and weld the state like a smith. Our strong men
were too strong for us, and too strong for themselves. They were too
strong for their own aim of a just and equal monarchy. The smith broke
upon the anvil the sword of state that he was hammering for himself.
Whether or no this will serve as a key to the very complicated story of
our kings and barons, it is the exact posture of Henry II. to his rival.
He became lawless out of sheer love of law. He also stood, though in a
colder and more remote manner, for the whole people against feudal
oppression; and if his policy had succeeded in its purity, it would at
least have made impossible the privilege and capitalism of later times.
But that bodily restlessness which stamped and spurned the furniture was
a symbol of him; it was some such thing that prevented him and his heirs
from sitting as quietly on their throne as the heirs of St. Louis. He
thrust again and again at the tough intangibility of the priests'
Utopianism like a man fighting a ghost; he answered transcendental
defiances with baser material persecutions; and at last, on a dark and,
I think, decisive day in English history, his word sent four feudal
murderers into the cloisters of Canterbury, who went there to destroy a
traitor and who created a saint.

At the grave of the dead man broke forth what can only be called an
epidemic of healing. For miracles so narrated there is the same evidence
as for half the facts of history; and any one denying them must deny
them upon a dogma. But something followed which would seem to modern
civilization even more monstrous than a miracle. If the reader can
imagine Mr. Cecil Rhodes submitting to be horsewhipped by a Boer in St.
Paul's Cathedral, as an apology for some indefensible death incidental
to the Jameson Raid, he will form but a faint idea of what was meant
when Henry II. was beaten by monks at the tomb of his vassal and enemy.
The modern parallel called up is comic, but the truth is that mediæval
actualities have a violence that does seem comic to our conventions. The
Catholics of that age were driven by two dominant thoughts: the
all-importance of penitence as an answer to sin, and the all-importance
of vivid and evident external acts as a proof of penitence. Extravagant
humiliation after extravagant pride for them restored the balance of
sanity. The point is worth stressing, because without it moderns make
neither head nor tail of the period. Green gravely suggests, for
instance, of Henry's ancestor Fulk of Anjou, that his tyrannies and
frauds were further blackened by "low superstition," which led him to be
dragged in a halter round a shrine, scourged and screaming for the mercy
of God. Mediævals would simply have said that such a man might well
scream for it, but his scream was the only logical comment he could
make. But they would have quite refused to see why the scream should be
added to the sins and not subtracted from them. They would have thought
it simply muddle-headed to have the same horror at a man for being
horribly sinful and for being horribly sorry.

But it may be suggested, I think, though with the doubt proper to
ignorance, that the Angevin ideal of the King's justice lost more by the
death of St. Thomas than was instantly apparent in the horror of
Christendom, the canonization of the victim and the public penance of
the tyrant. These things indeed were in a sense temporary; the King
recovered the power to judge clerics, and many later kings and
justiciars continued the monarchical plan. But I would suggest, as a
possible clue to puzzling after events, that here and by this murderous
stroke the crown lost what should have been the silent and massive
support of its whole policy. I mean that it lost the people.

It need not be repeated that the case for despotism is democratic. As a
rule its cruelty to the strong is kindness to the weak. An autocrat
cannot be judged as a historical character by his relations with other
historical characters. His true applause comes not from the few actors
on the lighted stage of aristocracy, but from that enormous audience
which must always sit in darkness throughout the drama. The king who
helps numberless helps nameless men, and when he flings his widest
largesse he is a Christian doing good by stealth. This sort of monarchy
was certainly a mediæval ideal, nor need it necessarily fail as a
reality. French kings were never so merciful to the people as when they
were merciless to the peers; and it is probably true that a Czar who was
a great lord to his intimates was often a little father in innumerable
little homes. It is overwhelmingly probable that such a central power,
though it might at last have deserved destruction in England as in
France, would in England as in France have prevented the few from
seizing and holding all the wealth and power to this day. But in England
it broke off short, through something of which the slaying of St. Thomas
may well have been the supreme example. It was something overstrained
and startling and against the instincts of the people. And of what was
meant in the Middle Ages by that very powerful and rather peculiar
thing, the people, I shall speak in the next chapter.

In any case this conjecture finds support in the ensuing events. It is
not merely that, just as the great but personal plan of the Conqueror
collapsed after all into the chaos of the Stephen transition, so the
great but personal plan of the first Plantagenet collapsed into the
chaos of the Barons' Wars. When all allowance is made for constitutional
fictions and afterthoughts, it does seem likely that here for the first
time some moral strength deserted the monarchy. The character of Henry's
second son John (for Richard belongs rather to the last chapter) stamped
it with something accidental and yet symbolic. It was not that John was
a mere black blot on the pure gold of the Plantagenets, the texture was
much more mixed and continuous; but he really was a discredited
Plantagenet, and as it were a damaged Plantagenet. It was not that he
was much more of a bad man than many opposed to him, but he was the
kind of bad man whom bad men and good do combine to oppose. In a sense
subtler than that of the legal and parliamentary logic-chopping invented
long afterwards, he certainly managed to put the Crown in the wrong.
Nobody suggested that the barons of Stephen's time starved men in
dungeons to promote political liberty, or hung them up by the heels as a
symbolic request for a free parliament. In the reign of John and his son
it was still the barons, and not in the least the people, who seized the
power; but there did begin to appear a _case_ for their seizing it, for
contemporaries as well as constitutional historians afterwards. John, in
one of his diplomatic doublings, had put England into the papal care, as
an estate is put in Chancery. And unluckily the Pope, whose counsels had
generally been mild and liberal, was then in his death-grapple with the
Germanic Emperor and wanted every penny he could get to win. His winning
was a blessing to Europe, but a curse to England, for he used the island
as a mere treasury for this foreign war. In this and other matters the
baronial party began to have something like a principle, which is the
backbone of a policy. Much conventional history that connects their
councils with a thing like our House of Commons is as far-fetched as it
would be to say that the Speaker wields a Mace like those which the
barons brandished in battle. Simon de Montfort was not an enthusiast for
the Whig theory of the British Constitution, but he was an enthusiast
for something. He founded a parliament in a fit of considerable absence
of mind; but it was with true presence of mind, in the responsible and
even religious sense which had made his father so savage a Crusader
against heretics, that he laid about him with his great sword before he
fell at Evesham.

Magna Carta was not a step towards democracy, but it was a step away
from despotism. If we hold that double truth firmly, we have something
like a key to the rest of English history. A rather loose aristocracy
not only gained but often deserved the name of liberty. And the history
of the English can be most briefly summarized by taking the French motto
of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity," and noting that the English have
sincerely loved the first and lost the other two.

In the contemporary complication much could be urged both for the Crown
and the new and more national rally of the nobility. But it was a
complication, whereas a miracle is a plain matter that any man can
understand. The possibilities or impossibilities of St. Thomas Becket
were left a riddle for history; the white flame of his audacious
theocracy was frustrated, and his work cut short like a fairy tale left
untold. But his memory passed into the care of the common people, and
with them he was more active dead than alive--yes, even more busy. In
the next chapter we shall consider what was meant in the Middle Ages by
the common people, and how uncommon we should think it to-day. And in
the last chapter we have already seen how in the Crusading age the
strangest things grew homely, and men fed on travellers' tales when
there were no national newspapers. A many-coloured pageant of
martyrology on numberless walls and windows had familiarized the most
ignorant with alien cruelties in many climes; with a bishop flayed by
Danes or a virgin burned by Saracens, with one saint stoned by Jews and
another hewn in pieces by negroes. I cannot think it was a small matter
that among these images one of the most magnificent had met his death
but lately at the hands of an English monarch. There was at least
something akin to the primitive and epical romances of that period in
the tale of those two mighty friends, one of whom struck too hard and
slew the other. It may even have been so early as this that something
was judged in silence; and for the multitude rested on the Crown a
mysterious seal of insecurity like that of Cain, and of exile on the
English kings.



The mental trick by which the first half of English history has been
wholly dwarfed and dehumanized is a very simple one. It consists in
telling only the story of the professional destroyers and then
complaining that the whole story is one of destruction. A king is at the
best a sort of crowned executioner; all government is an ugly necessity;
and if it was then uglier it was for the most part merely because it was
more difficult. What we call the Judges' circuits were first rather the
King's raids. For a time the criminal class was so strong that ordinary
civil government was conducted by a sort of civil war. When the social
enemy was caught at all he was killed or savagely maimed. The King could
not take Pentonville Prison about with him on wheels. I am far from
denying that there was a real element of cruelty in the Middle Ages; but
the point here is that it was concerned with one side of life, which is
cruel at the best; and that this involved more cruelty for the same
reason that it involved more courage. When we think of our ancestors as
the men who inflicted tortures, we ought sometimes to think of them as
the men who defied them. But the modern critic of mediævalism commonly
looks only at these crooked shadows and not at the common daylight of
the Middle Ages. When he has got over his indignant astonishment at the
fact that fighters fought and that hangmen hanged, he assumes that any
other ideas there may have been were ineffectual and fruitless. He
despises the monk for avoiding the very same activities which he
despises the warrior for cultivating. And he insists that the arts of
war were sterile, without even admitting the possibility that the arts
of peace were productive. But the truth is that it is precisely in the
arts of peace, and in the type of production, that the Middle Ages stand
singular and unique. This is not eulogy but history; an informed man
must recognize this productive peculiarity even if he happens to hate
it. The melodramatic things currently called mediæval are much older and
more universal; such as the sport of tournament or the use of torture.
The tournament was indeed a Christian and liberal advance on the
gladiatorial show, since the lords risked themselves and not merely
their slaves. Torture, so far from being peculiarly mediæval, was copied
from pagan Rome and its most rationalist political science; and its
application to others besides slaves was really part of the slow
mediæval extinction of slavery. Torture, indeed, is a logical thing
common in states innocent of fanaticism, as in the great agnostic empire
of China. What was really arresting and remarkable about the Middle
Ages, as the Spartan discipline was peculiar to Sparta, or the Russian
communes typical of Russia, was precisely its positive social scheme of
production, of the making, building and growing of all the good things
of life.

For the tale told in a book like this cannot really touch on mediæval
England at all. The dynasties and the parliaments passed like a changing
cloud and across a stable and fruitful landscape. The institutions which
affected the masses can be compared to corn or fruit trees in one
practical sense at least, that they grew upwards from below. There may
have been better societies, and assuredly we have not to look far for
worse; but it is doubtful if there was ever so spontaneous a society. We
cannot do justice, for instance, to the local government of that epoch,
even where it was very faulty and fragmentary, by any comparisons with
the plans of local government laid down to-day. Modern local government
always comes from above; it is at best granted; it is more often merely
imposed. The modern English oligarchy, the modern German Empire, are
necessarily more efficient in making municipalities upon a plan, or
rather a pattern. The mediævals not only had self-government, but their
self-government was self-made. They did indeed, as the central powers of
the national monarchies grew stronger, seek and procure the stamp of
state approval; but it was approval of a popular fact already in
existence. Men banded together in guilds and parishes long before Local
Government Acts were dreamed of. Like charity, which was worked in the
same way, their Home Rule began at home. The reactions of recent
centuries have left most educated men bankrupt of the corporate
imagination required even to imagine this. They only think of a mob as a
thing that breaks things--even if they admit it is right to break them.
But the mob made these things. An artist mocked as many-headed, an
artist with many eyes and hands, created these masterpieces. And if the
modern sceptic, in his detestation of the democratic ideal, complains of
my calling them masterpieces, a simple answer will for the moment serve.
It is enough to reply that the very word "masterpiece" is borrowed from
the terminology of the mediæval craftsmen. But such points in the Guild
System can be considered a little later; here we are only concerned with
the quite spontaneous springing upwards of all these social
institutions, such as they were. They rose in the streets like a silent
rebellion; like a still and statuesque riot. In modern constitutional
countries there are practically no political institutions thus given by
the people; all are received by the people. There is only one thing that
stands in our midst, attenuated and threatened, but enthroned in some
power like a ghost of the Middle Ages: the Trades Unions.

In agriculture, what had happened to the land was like a universal
landslide. But by a prodigy beyond the catastrophes of geology it may be
said that the land had slid uphill. Rural civilization was on a wholly
new and much higher level; yet there was no great social convulsions or
apparently even great social campaigns to explain it. It is possibly a
solitary instance in history of men thus falling upwards; at least of
outcasts falling on their feet or vagrants straying into the promised
land. Such a thing could not be and was not a mere accident; yet, if we
go by conscious political plans, it was something like a miracle. There
had appeared, like a subterranean race cast up to the sun, something
unknown to the august civilization of the Roman Empire--a peasantry. At
the beginning of the Dark Ages the great pagan cosmopolitan society now
grown Christian was as much a slave state as old South Carolina. By the
fourteenth century it was almost as much a state of peasant proprietors
as modern France. No laws had been passed against slavery; no dogmas
even had condemned it by definition; no war had been waged against it,
no new race or ruling caste had repudiated it; but it was gone. This
startling and silent transformation is perhaps the best measure of the
pressure of popular life in the Middle Ages, of how fast it was making
new things in its spiritual factory. Like everything else in the
mediæval revolution, from its cathedrals to its ballads, it was as
anonymous as it was enormous. It is admitted that the conscious and
active emancipators everywhere were the parish priests and the
religious brotherhoods; but no name among them has survived and no man
of them has reaped his reward in this world. Countless Clarksons and
innumerable Wilberforces, without political machinery or public fame,
worked at death-beds and confessionals in all the villages of Europe;
and the vast system of slavery vanished. It was probably the widest work
ever done which was voluntary on both sides; and the Middle Ages was in
this and other things the age of volunteers. It is possible enough to
state roughly the stages through which the thing passed; but such a
statement does not explain the loosening of the grip of the great
slave-owners; and it cannot be explained except psychologically. The
Catholic type of Christianity was not merely an element, it was a
climate; and in that climate the slave would not grow. I have already
suggested, touching that transformation of the Roman Empire which was
the background of all these centuries, how a mystical view of man's
dignity must have this effect. A table that walked and talked, or a
stool that flew with wings out of window, would be about as workable a
thing as an immortal chattel. But though here as everywhere the spirit
explains the processes, and the processes cannot even plausibly explain
the spirit, these processes involve two very practical points, without
which we cannot understand how this great popular civilization was
created--or how it was destroyed.

What we call the manors were originally the _villae_ of the pagan
lords, each with its population of slaves. Under this process, however
it be explained, what had occurred was the diminishment of the lords'
claim to the whole profit of a slave estate, by which it became a claim
to the profit of part of it, and dwindled at last to certain dues or
customary payments to the lord, having paid which the slave could enjoy
not only the use of the land but the profit of it. It must be remembered
that over a great part, and especially very important parts, of the
whole territory, the lords were abbots, magistrates elected by a
mystical communism and themselves often of peasant birth. Men not only
obtained a fair amount of justice under their care, but a fair amount of
freedom even from their carelessness. But two details of the development
are very vital. First, as has been hinted elsewhere, the slave was long
in the intermediate status of a serf. This meant that while the land was
entitled to the services of the man, he was equally entitled to the
support of the land. He could not be evicted; he could not even, in the
modern fashion, have his rent raised. At the beginning it was merely
that the slave was owned, but at least he could not be disowned. At the
end he had really become a small landlord, merely because it was not the
lord that owned him, but the land. It is hardly unsafe to suggest that
in this (by one of the paradoxes of this extraordinary period) the very
fixity of serfdom was a service to freedom. The new peasant inherited
something of the stability of the slave. He did not come to life in a
competitive scramble where everybody was trying to snatch his freedom
from him. He found himself among neighbours who already regarded his
presence as normal and his frontiers as natural frontiers, and among
whom all-powerful customs crushed all experiments in competition. By a
trick or overturn no romancer has dared to put in a tale, this prisoner
had become the governor of his own prison. For a little time it was
almost true that an Englishman's house was his castle, because it had
been built strong enough to be his dungeon.

The other notable element was this: that when the produce of the land
began by custom to be cut up and only partially transmitted to the lord,
the remainder was generally subdivided into two types of property. One
the serfs enjoyed severally, in private patches, while the other they
enjoyed in common, and generally in common with the lord. Thus arose the
momentously important mediæval institutions of the Common Land, owned
side by side with private land. It was an alternative and a refuge. The
mediævals, except when they were monks, were none of them Communists;
but they were all, as it were, potential Communists. It is typical of
the dark and dehumanized picture now drawn of the period that our
romances constantly describe a broken man as falling back on the forests
and the outlaw's den, but never describe him as falling back on the
common land, which was a much more common incident. Mediævalism
believed in mending its broken men; and as the idea existed in the
communal life for monks, it existed in the communal land for peasants.
It was their great green hospital, their free and airy workhouse. A
Common was not a naked and negative thing like the scrub or heath we
call a Common on the edges of the suburbs. It was a reserve of wealth
like a reserve of grain in a barn; it was deliberately kept back as a
balance, as we talk of a balance at the bank. Now these provisions for a
healthier distribution of property would by themselves show any man of
imagination that a real moral effort had been made towards social
justice; that it could not have been mere evolutionary accident that
slowly turned the slave into a serf, and the serf into a peasant
proprietor. But if anybody still thinks that mere blind luck, without
any groping for the light, had somehow brought about the peasant
condition in place of the agrarian slave estate, he has only to turn to
what was happening in all the other callings and affairs of humanity.
Then he will cease to doubt. For he will find the same mediæval men busy
upon a social scheme which points as plainly in effect to pity and a
craving for equality. And it is a system which could no more be produced
by accident than one of their cathedrals could be built by an

Most work beyond the primary work of agriculture was guarded by the
egalitarian vigilance of the Guilds. It is hard to find any term to
measure the distance between this system and modern society; one can
only approach it first by the faint traces it has left. Our daily life
is littered with a debris of the Middle Ages, especially of dead words
which no longer carry their meaning. I have already suggested one
example. We hardly call up the picture of a return to Christian
Communism whenever we mention Wimbledon Common. This truth descends to
such trifles as the titles which we write on letters and postcards. The
puzzling and truncated monosyllable "Esq." is a pathetic relic of a
remote evolution from chivalry to snobbery. No two historic things could
well be more different than an esquire and a squire. The first was above
all things an incomplete and probationary position--the tadpole of
knighthood; the second is above all things a complete and assured
position--the status of the owners and rulers of rural England
throughout recent centuries. Our esquires did not win their estates till
they had given up any particular fancy for winning their spurs. Esquire
does not mean squire, and esq. does not mean anything. But it remains on
our letters a little wriggle in pen and ink and an indecipherable
hieroglyph twisted by the strange turns of our history, which have
turned a military discipline into a pacific oligarchy, and that into a
mere plutocracy at last. And there are similar historic riddles to be
unpicked in the similar forms of social address. There is something
singularly forlorn about the modern word "Mister." Even in sound it has
a simpering feebleness which marks the shrivelling of the strong word
from which it came. Nor, indeed, is the symbol of the mere sound
inaccurate. I remember seeing a German story of Samson in which he bore
the unassuming name of Simson, which surely shows Samson very much
shorn. There is something of the same dismal _diminuendo_ in the
evolution of a Master into a Mister.

The very vital importance of the word "Master" is this. A Guild was,
very broadly speaking, a Trade Union in which every man was his own
employer. That is, a man could not work at any trade unless he would
join the league and accept the laws of that trade; but he worked in his
own shop with his own tools, and the whole profit went to himself. But
the word "employer" marks a modern deficiency which makes the modern use
of the word "master" quite inexact. A master meant something quite other
and greater than a "boss." It meant a master of the work, where it now
means only a master of the workmen. It is an elementary character of
Capitalism that a shipowner need not know the right end of a ship, or a
landowner have even seen the landscape, that the owner of a goldmine may
be interested in nothing but old pewter, or the owner of a railway
travel exclusively in balloons. He may be a more successful capitalist
if he has a hobby of his own business; he is often a more successful
capitalist if he has the sense to leave it to a manager; but
economically he can control the business because he is a capitalist,
not because he has any kind of hobby or any kind of sense. The highest
grade in the Guild system was a Master, and it meant a mastery of the
business. To take the term created by the colleges in the same epoch,
all the mediæval bosses were Masters of Arts. The other grades were the
journeyman and the apprentice; but like the corresponding degrees at the
universities, they were grades through which every common man could
pass. They were not social classes; they were degrees and not castes.
This is the whole point of the recurrent romance about the apprentice
marrying his master's daughter. The master would not be surprised at
such a thing, any more than an M.A. would swell with aristocratic
indignation when his daughter married a B.A.

When we pass from the strictly educational hierarchy to the strictly
egalitarian ideal, we find again that the remains of the thing to-day
are so distorted and disconnected as to be comic. There are City
Companies which inherit the coats of arms and the immense relative
wealth of the old Guilds, and inherit nothing else. Even what is good
about them is not what was good about the Guilds. In one case we shall
find something like a Worshipful Company of Bricklayers, in which, it is
unnecessary to say, there is not a single bricklayer or anybody who has
ever known a bricklayer, but in which the senior partners of a few big
businesses in the City, with a few faded military men with a taste in
cookery, tell each other in after-dinner speeches that it has been the
glory of their lives to make allegorical bricks without straw. In
another case we shall find a Worshipful Company of Whitewashers who do
deserve their name, in the sense that many of them employ a large number
of other people to whitewash. These Companies support large charities
and often doubtless very valuable charities; but their object is quite
different from that of the old charities of the Guilds. The aim of the
Guild charities was the same as the aim of the Common Land. It was to
resist inequality--or, as some earnest old gentlemen of the last
generation would probably put it, to resist evolution. It was to ensure,
not only that bricklaying should survive and succeed, but that every
bricklayer should survive and succeed. It sought to rebuild the ruins of
any bricklayer, and to give any faded whitewasher a new white coat. It
was the whole aim of the Guilds to cobble their cobblers like their
shoes and clout their clothiers with their clothes; to strengthen the
weakest link, or go after the hundredth sheep; in short, to keep the row
of little shops unbroken like a line of battle. It resisted the growth
of a big shop like the growth of a dragon. Now even the whitewashers of
the Whitewashers Company will not pretend that it exists to prevent a
small shop being swallowed by a big shop, or that it has done anything
whatever to prevent it. At the best the kindness it would show to a
bankrupt whitewasher would be a kind of compensation; it would not be
reinstatement; it would not be the restoration of status in an
industrial system. So careful of the type it seems, so careless of the
single life; and by that very modern evolutionary philosophy the type
itself has been destroyed. The old Guilds, with the same object of
equality, of course, insisted peremptorily upon the same level system of
payment and treatment which is a point of complaint against the modern
Trades Unions. But they insisted also, as the Trades Unions cannot do,
upon a high standard of craftsmanship, which still astonishes the world
in the corners of perishing buildings or the colours of broken glass.
There is no artist or art critic who will not concede, however distant
his own style from the Gothic school, that there was in this time a
nameless but universal artistic touch in the moulding of the very tools
of life. Accident has preserved the rudest sticks and stools and pots
and pans which have suggestive shapes as if they were possessed not by
devils but by elves. For they were, indeed, as compared with subsequent
systems, produced in the incredible fairyland of a free country.

That the most mediæval of modern institutions, the Trades Unions, do not
fight for the same ideal of æsthetic finish is true and certainly
tragic; but to make it a matter of blame is wholly to misunderstand the
tragedy. The Trades Unions are confederations of men without property,
seeking to balance its absence by numbers and the necessary character
of their labour. The Guilds were confederations of men with property,
seeking to ensure each man in the possession of that property. This is,
of course, the only condition of affairs in which property can properly
be said to exist at all. We should not speak of a negro community in
which most men were white, but the rare negroes were giants. We should
not conceive a married community in which most men were bachelors, and
three men had harems. A married community means a community where most
people are married; not a community where one or two people are very
much married. A propertied community means a community where most people
have property; not a community where there are a few capitalists. But in
fact the Guildsmen (as also, for that matter, the serfs, semi-serfs and
peasants) were much richer than can be realized even from the fact that
the Guilds protected the possession of houses, tools, and just payment.
The surplus is self-evident upon any just study of the prices of the
period, when all deductions have been made, of course, for the different
value of the actual coinage. When a man could get a goose or a gallon of
ale for one or two of the smallest and commonest coins, the matter is in
no way affected by the name of those coins. Even where the individual
wealth was severely limited, the collective wealth was very large--the
wealth of the Guilds, of the parishes, and especially of the monastic
estates. It is important to remember this fact in the subsequent
history of England.

The next fact to note is that the local government grew out of things
like the Guild system, and not the system from the government. In
sketching the sound principles of this lost society, I shall not, of
course, be supposed by any sane person to be describing a moral
paradise, or to be implying that it was free from the faults and fights
and sorrows that harass human life in all times, and certainly not least
in our own time. There was a fair amount of rioting and fighting in
connection with the Guilds; and there was especially for some time a
combative rivalry between the guilds of merchants who sold things and
those of craftsmen who made them, a conflict in which the craftsmen on
the whole prevailed. But whichever party may have been predominant, it
was the heads of the Guild who became the heads of the town, and not
vice versâ. The stiff survivals of this once very spontaneous uprising
can again be seen in the now anomalous constitution of the Lord Mayor
and the Livery of the City of London. We are told so monotonously that
the government of our fathers reposed upon arms, that it is valid to
insist that this, their most intimate and everyday sort of government,
was wholly based upon tools; a government in which the workman's tool
became the sceptre. Blake, in one of his symbolic fantasies, suggests
that in the Golden Age the gold and gems should be taken from the hilt
of the sword and put upon the handle of the plough. But something very
like this did happen in the interlude of this mediæval democracy,
fermenting under the crust of mediæval monarchy and aristocracy; where
productive implements often took on the pomp of heraldry. The Guilds
often exhibited emblems and pageantry so compact of their most prosaic
uses, that we can only parallel them by imagining armorial tabards, or
even religious vestments, woven out of a navvy's corderoys or a coster's
pearl buttons.

Two more points must be briefly added; and the rough sketch of this now
foreign and even fantastic state will be as complete as it can be made
here. Both refer to the links between this popular life and the politics
which are conventially the whole of history. The first, and for that age
the most evident, is the Charter. To recur once more to the parallel of
Trades Unions, as convenient for the casual reader of to-day, the
Charter of a Guild roughly corresponded to that "recognition" for which
the railwaymen and other trades unionists asked some years ago, without
success. By this they had the authority of the King, the central or
national government; and this was of great moral weight with mediævals,
who always conceived of freedom as a positive status, not as a negative
escape: they had none of the modern romanticism which makes liberty akin
to loneliness. Their view remains in the phrase about giving a man the
freedom of a city: they had no desire to give him the freedom of a
wilderness. To say that they had also the authority of the Church is
something of an understatement; for religion ran like a rich thread
through the rude tapestry of these popular things while they were still
merely popular; and many a trade society must have had a patron saint
long before it had a royal seal. The other point is that it was from
these municipal groups already in existence that the first men were
chosen for the largest and perhaps the last of the great mediæval
experiments: the Parliament.

We have all read at school that Simon de Montfort and Edward I., when
they first summoned Commons to council, chiefly as advisers on local
taxation, called "two burgesses" from every town. If we had read a
little more closely, those simple words would have given away the whole
secret of the lost mediæval civilization. We had only to ask what
burgesses were, and whether they grew on trees. We should immediately
have discovered that England was full of little parliaments, out of
which the great parliament was made. And if it be a matter of wonder
that the great council (still called in quaint archaism by its old title
of the House of Commons) is the only one of these popular or elective
corporations of which we hear much in our books of history, the
explanation, I fear, is simple and a little sad. It is that the
Parliament was the one among these mediæval creations which ultimately
consented to betray and to destroy the rest.



If any one wishes to know what we mean when we say that Christendom was
and is one culture, or one civilization, there is a rough but plain way
of putting it. It is by asking what is the most common, or rather the
most commonplace, of all the uses of the word "Christian." There is, of
course, the highest use of all; but it has nowadays many other uses.
Sometimes a Christian means an Evangelical. Sometimes, and more
recently, a Christian means a Quaker. Sometimes a Christian means a
modest person who believes that he bears a resemblance to Christ. But it
has long had one meaning in casual speech among common people, and it
means a culture or a civilization. Ben Gunn on Treasure Island did not
actually say to Jim Hawkins, "I feel myself out of touch with a certain
type of civilization"; but he did say, "I haven't tasted Christian
food." The old wives in a village looking at a lady with short hair and
trousers do not indeed say, "We perceive a divergence between her
culture and our own"; but they do say, "Why can't she dress like a
Christian?" That the sentiment has thus soaked down to the simplest and
even stupidest daily talk is but one evidence that Christendom was a
very real thing. But it was also, as we have seen, a very localized
thing, especially in the Middle Ages. And that very lively localism the
Christian faith and affections encouraged led at last to an excessive
and exclusive parochialism. There were rival shrines of the same saint,
and a sort of duel between two statues of the same divinity. By a
process it is now our difficult duty to follow, a real estrangement
between European peoples began. Men began to feel that foreigners did
not eat or drink like Christians, and even, when the philosophic schism
came, to doubt if they were Christians.

There was, indeed, much more than this involved. While the internal
structure of mediævalism was thus parochial and largely popular, in the
greater affairs, and especially the external affairs, such as peace and
war, most (though by no means all) of what was mediæval was monarchical.
To see what the kings came to mean we must glance back at the great
background, as of darkness and daybreak, against which the first figures
of our history have already appeared. That background was the war with
the barbarians. While it lasted Christendom was not only one nation but
more like one city--and a besieged city. Wessex was but one wall or
Paris one tower of it; and in one tongue and spirit Bede might have
chronicled the siege of Paris or Abbo sung the song of Alfred. What
followed was a conquest and a conversion; all the end of the Dark Ages
and the dawn of mediævalism is full of the evangelizing of barbarism.
And it is the paradox of the Crusades that though the Saracen was
superficially more civilized than the Christian, it was a sound instinct
which saw him also to be in spirit a destroyer. In the simpler case of
northern heathenry the civilization spread with a simplier progress. But
it was not till the end of the Middle Ages, and close on the
Reformation, that the people of Prussia, the wild land lying beyond
Germany, were baptized at all. A flippant person, if he permitted
himself a profane confusion with vaccination, might almost be inclined
to suggest that for some reason it didn't "take" even then.

The barbarian peril was thus brought under bit by bit, and even in the
case of Islam the alien power which could not be crushed was evidently
curbed. The Crusades became hopeless, but they also became needless. As
these fears faded the princes of Europe, who had come together to face
them, were left facing each other. They had more leisure to find that
their own captaincies clashed; but this would easily have been
overruled, or would have produced a petty riot, had not the true
creative spontaneity, of which we have spoken in the local life, tended
to real variety. Royalties found they were representatives almost
without knowing it; and many a king insisting on a genealogical tree or
a title-deed found he spoke for the forests and the songs of a whole
country-side. In England especially the transition is typified in the
accident which raised to the throne one of the noblest men of the Middle

Edward I. came clad in all the splendours of his epoch. He had taken the
Cross and fought the Saracens; he had been the only worthy foe of Simon
de Montfort in those baronial wars which, as we have seen, were the
first sign (however faint) of a serious theory that England should be
ruled by its barons rather than its kings. He proceeded, like Simon de
Montfort, and more solidly, to develop the great mediæval institution of
a parliament. As has been said, it was superimposed on the existing
parish democracies, and was first merely the summoning of local
representatives to advise on local taxation. Indeed its rise was one
with the rise of what we now call taxation; and there is thus a thread
of theory leading to its latter claims to have the sole right of taxing.
But in the beginning it was an instrument of the most equitable kings,
and notably an instrument of Edward I. He often quarrelled with his
parliaments and may sometimes have displeased his people (which has
never been at all the same thing), but on the whole he was supremely the
representative sovereign. In this connection one curious and difficult
question may be considered here, though it marks the end of a story
that began with the Norman Conquest. It is pretty certain that he was
never more truly a representative king, one might say a republican king,
than in the fact that he expelled the Jews. The problem is so much
misunderstood and mixed with notions of a stupid spite against a gifted
and historic race as such, that we must pause for a paragraph upon it.

The Jews in the Middle Ages were as powerful as they were unpopular.
They were the capitalists of the age, the men with wealth banked ready
for use. It is very tenable that in this way they were useful; it is
certain that in this way they were used. It is also quite fair to say
that in this way they were ill-used. The ill-usage was not indeed that
suggested at random in romances, which mostly revolve on the one idea
that their teeth were pulled out. Those who know this as a story about
King John generally do not know the rather important fact that it was a
story against King John. It is probably doubtful; it was only insisted
on as exceptional; and it was, by that very insistence, obviously
regarded as disreputable. But the real unfairness of the Jews' position
was deeper and more distressing to a sensitive and highly civilized
people. They might reasonably say that Christian kings and nobles, and
even Christian popes and bishops, used for Christian purposes (such as
the Crusades and the cathedrals) the money that could only be
accumulated in such mountains by a usury they inconsistently denounced
as unchristian; and then, when worse times came, gave up the Jew to the
fury of the poor, whom that useful usury had ruined. That was the real
case for the Jew; and no doubt he really felt himself oppressed.
Unfortunately it was the case for the Christians that they, with at
least equal reason, felt him as the oppressor; and that _mutual_ charge
of tyranny is the Semitic trouble in all times. It is certain that in
popular sentiment, this Anti-Semitism was not excused as
uncharitableness, but simply regarded as charity. Chaucer puts his curse
on Hebrew cruelty into the mouth of the soft-hearted prioress, who wept
when she saw a mouse in a trap; and it was when Edward, breaking the
rule by which the rulers had hitherto fostered their bankers' wealth,
flung the alien financiers out of the land, that his people probably saw
him most plainly at once as a knight errant and a tender father of his

Whatever the merits of this question, such a portrait of Edward was far
from false. He was the most just and conscientious type of mediæval
monarch; and it is exactly this fact that brings into relief the new
force which was to cross his path and in strife with which he died.
While he was just, he was also eminently legal. And it must be
remembered, if we would not merely read back ourselves into the past,
that much of the dispute of the time was legal; the adjustment of
dynastic and feudal differences not yet felt to be anything else. In
this spirit Edward was asked to arbitrate by the rival claimants to the
Scottish crown; and in this sense he seems to have arbitrated quite
honestly. But his legal, or, as some would say, pedantic mind made the
proviso that the Scottish king as such was already under his suzerainty,
and he probably never understood the spirit he called up against him;
for that spirit had as yet no name. We call it to-day Nationalism.
Scotland resisted; and the adventures of an outlawed knight named
Wallace soon furnished it with one of those legends which are more
important than history. In a way that was then at least equally
practical, the Catholic priests of Scotland became especially the
patriotic and Anti-English party; as indeed they remained even
throughout the Reformation. Wallace was defeated and executed; but the
heather was already on fire; and the espousal of the new national cause
by one of Edward's own knights named Bruce, seemed to the old king a
mere betrayal of feudal equity. He died in a final fury at the head of a
new invasion upon the very border of Scotland. With his last words the
great king commanded that his bones should be borne in front of the
battle; and the bones, which were of gigantic size, were eventually
buried with the epitaph, "Here lies Edward the Tall, who was the hammer
of the Scots." It was a true epitaph, but in a sense exactly opposite to
its intention. He was their hammer, but he did not break but make them;
for he smote them on an anvil and he forged them into a sword.

That coincidence or course of events, which must often be remarked in
this story, by which (for whatever reason) our most powerful kings did
not somehow leave their power secure, showed itself in the next reign,
when the baronial quarrels were resumed and the northern kingdom, under
Bruce, cut itself finally free by the stroke of Bannockburn. Otherwise
the reign is a mere interlude, and it is with the succeeding one that we
find the new national tendency yet further developed. The great French
wars, in which England won so much glory, were opened by Edward III.,
and grew more and more nationalist. But even to feel the transition of
the time we must first realize that the third Edward made as strictly
legal and dynastic a claim to France as the first Edward had made to
Scotland; the claim was far weaker in substance, but it was equally
conventional in form. He thought, or said, he had a claim on a kingdom
as a squire might say he had a claim on an estate; superficially it was
an affair for the English and French lawyers. To read into this that the
people were sheep bought and sold is to misunderstand all mediæval
history; sheep have no trade union. The English arms owed much of their
force to the class of the free yeomen; and the success of the infantry,
especially of the archery, largely stood for that popular element which
had already unhorsed the high French chivalry at Courtrai. But the point
is this; that while the lawyers were talking about the Salic Law, the
soldiers, who would once have been talking about guild law or glebe
law, were already talking about English law and French law. The French
were first in this tendency to see something outside the township, the
trade brotherhood, the feudal dues, or the village common. The whole
history of the change can be seen in the fact that the French had early
begun to call the nation the Greater Land. France was the first of
nations and has remained the norm of nations, the only one which is a
nation and nothing else. But in the collision the English grew equally
corporate; and a true patriotic applause probably hailed the victories
of Crecy and Poitiers, as it certainly hailed the later victory of
Agincourt. The latter did not indeed occur until after an interval of
internal revolutions in England, which will be considered on a later
page; but as regards the growth of nationalism, the French wars were
continuous. And the English tradition that followed after Agincourt was
continuous also. It is embodied in rude and spirited ballads before the
great Elizabethans. The Henry V. of Shakespeare is not indeed the Henry
V. of history; yet he is more historic. He is not only a saner and more
genial but a more important person. For the tradition of the whole
adventure was not that of Henry, but of the populace who turned Henry
into Harry. There were a thousand Harries in the army at Agincourt, and
not one. For the figure that Shakespeare framed out of the legends of
the great victory is largely the figure that all men saw as the
Englishman of the Middle Ages. He did not really talk in poetry, like
Shakespeare's hero, but he would have liked to. Not being able to do so,
he sang; and the English people principally appear in contemporary
impressions as the singing people. They were evidently not only
expansive but exaggerative; and perhaps it was not only in battle that
they drew the long bow. That fine farcical imagery, which has descended
to the comic songs and common speech of the English poor even to-day,
had its happy infancy when England thus became a nation; though the
modern poor, under the pressure of economic progress, have partly lost
the gaiety and kept only the humour. But in that early April of
patriotism the new unity of the State still sat lightly upon them; and a
cobbler in Henry's army, who would at home have thought first that it
was the day of St. Crispin of the Cobblers, might truly as well as
sincerely have hailed the splintering of the French lances in a storm of
arrows, and cried, "St. George for Merry England."

Human things are uncomfortably complex, and while it was the April of
patriotism it was the Autumn of mediæval society. In the next chapter I
shall try to trace the forces that were disintegrating the civilization;
and even here, after the first victories, it is necessary to insist on
the bitterness and barren ambition that showed itself more and more in
the later stages, as the long French wars dragged on. France was at the
time far less happy than England--wasted by the treason of its nobles
and the weakness of its kings almost as much as by the invasion of the
islanders. And yet it was this very despair and humiliation that seemed
at last to rend the sky, and let in the light of what it is hard for the
coldest historian to call anything but a miracle.

It may be this apparent miracle that has apparently made Nationalism
eternal. It may be conjectured, though the question is too difficult to
be developed here, that there was something in the great moral change
which turned the Roman Empire into Christendom, by which each great
thing, to which it afterwards gave birth, was baptized into a promise,
or at least into a hope of permanence. It may be that each of its ideas
was, as it were, mixed with immortality. Certainly something of this
kind can be seen in the conception which turned marriage from a contract
into a sacrament. But whatever the cause, it is certain that even for
the most secular types of our own time their relation to their native
land has become not contractual but sacramental. We may say that flags
are rags, that frontiers are fictions, but the very men who have said it
for half their lives are dying for a rag, and being rent in pieces for a
fiction even as I write. When the battle-trumpet blew in 1914 modern
humanity had grouped itself into nations almost before it knew what it
had done. If the same sound is heard a thousand years hence, there is no
sign in the world to suggest to any rational man that humanity will not
do exactly the same thing. But even if this great and strange
development be not enduring, the point is that it is felt as enduring.
It is hard to give a definition of loyalty, but perhaps we come near it
if we call it the thing which operates where an obligation is felt to be
unlimited. And the minimum of duty or even decency asked of a patriot is
the maximum that is asked by the most miraculous view of marriage. The
recognized reality of patriotism is not mere citizenship. The recognized
reality of patriotism is for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in
sickness and in health, in national growth and glory and in national
disgrace and decline; it is not to travel in the ship of state as a
passenger, but if need be to go down with the ship.

It is needless to tell here again the tale of that earthquake episode in
which a clearance in the earth and sky, above the confusion and
abasement of the crowns, showed the commanding figure of a woman of the
people. She was, in her own living loneliness, a French Revolution. She
was the proof that a certain power was not in the French kings or in the
French knights, but in the French. But the fact that she saw something
above her that was other than the sky, the fact that she lived the life
of a saint and died the death of a martyr, probably stamped the new
national sentiment with a sacred seal. And the fact that she fought for
a defeated country, and, even though it was victorious, was herself
ultimately defeated, defines that darker element of devotion of which I
spoke above, which makes even pessimism consistent with patriotism. It
is more appropriate in this place to consider the ultimate reaction of
this sacrifice upon the romance and the realities of England.

I have never counted it a patriotic part to plaster my own country with
conventional and unconvincing compliments; but no one can understand
England who does not understand that such an episode as this, in which
she was so clearly in the wrong, has yet been ultimately linked up with
a curious quality in which she is rather unusually in the right. No one
candidly comparing us with other countries can say we have specially
failed to build the sepulchres of the prophets we stoned, or even the
prophets who stoned us. The English historical tradition has at least a
loose large-mindedness which always finally falls into the praise not
only of great foreigners but great foes. Often along with much injustice
it has an illogical generosity; and while it will dismiss a great people
with mere ignorance, it treats a great personality with hearty
hero-worship. There are more examples than one even in this chapter, for
our books may well make out Wallace a better man than he was, as they
afterwards assigned to Washington an even better cause than he had.
Thackeray smiled at Miss Jane Porter's picture of Wallace, going into
war weeping with a cambric pocket-handkerchief; but her attitude was
more English and not less accurate. For her idealization was, if
anything, nearer the truth than Thackeray's own notion of a mediævalism
of hypocritical hogs-in-armour. Edward, who figures as a tyrant, could
weep with compassion; and it is probable enough that Wallace wept, with
or without a pocket-handkerchief. Moreover, her romance was a reality,
the reality of nationalism; and she knew much more about the Scottish
patriots ages before her time than Thackeray did about the Irish
patriots immediately under his nose. Thackeray was a great man; but in
that matter he was a very small man, and indeed an invisible one. The
cases of Wallace and Washington and many others are here only mentioned,
however, to suggest an eccentric magnanimity which surely balances some
of our prejudices. We have done many foolish things, but we have at
least done one fine thing; we have whitewashed our worst enemies. If we
have done this for a bold Scottish raider and a vigorous Virginian
slave-holder, it may at least show that we are not likely to fail in our
final appreciation of the one white figure in the motley processions of
war. I believe there to be in modern England something like a universal
enthusiasm on this subject. We have seen a great English critic write a
book about this heroine, in opposition to a great French critic, solely
in order to blame him for not having praised her enough. And I do not
believe there lives an Englishman now, who if he had the offer of being
an Englishman then, would not discard his chance of riding as the
crowned conqueror at the head of all the spears of Agincourt, if he
could be that English common soldier of whom tradition tells that he
broke his spear asunder to bind it into a cross for Joan of Arc.



The poet Pope, though a friend of the greatest of Tory Democrats,
Bolingbroke, necessarily lived in a world in which even Toryism was
Whiggish. And the Whig as a wit never expressed his political point more
clearly than in Pope's line which ran: "The right divine of kings to
govern wrong." It will be apparent, when I deal with that period, that I
do not palliate the real unreason in divine right as Filmer and some of
the pedantic cavaliers construed it. They professed the impossible ideal
of "non-resistance" to any national and legitimate power; though I
cannot see that even that was so servile and superstitious as the more
modern ideal of "non-resistance" even to a foreign and lawless power.
But the seventeenth century was an age of sects, that is of fads; and
the Filmerites made a fad of divine right. Its roots were older, equally
religious but much more realistic; and though tangled with many other
and even opposite things of the Middle Ages, ramify through all the
changes we have now to consider. The connection can hardly be stated
better than by taking Pope's easy epigram and pointing out that it is,
after all, very weak in philosophy. "The right divine of kings to
govern wrong," considered as a sneer, really evades all that we mean by
"a right." To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be
right in doing it. What Pope says satirically about a divine right is
what we all say quite seriously about a human right. If a man has a
right to vote, has he not a right to vote wrong? If a man has a right to
choose his wife, has he not a right to choose wrong? I have a right to
express the opinion which I am now setting down; but I should hesitate
to make the controversial claim that this proves the opinion to be

Now mediæval monarchy, though only one aspect of mediæval rule, was
roughly represented in the idea that the ruler had a right to rule as a
voter has a right to vote. He might govern wrong, but unless he governed
horribly and extravagantly wrong, he retained his position of right; as
a private man retains his right to marriage and locomotion unless he
goes horribly and extravagantly off his head. It was not really even so
simple as this; for the Middle Ages were not, as it is often the fashion
to fancy, under a single and steely discipline. They were very
controversial and therefore very complex; and it is easy, by isolating
items whether about _jus divinum_ or _primus inter pares_, to maintain
that the mediævals were almost anything; it has been seriously
maintained that they were all Germans. But it is true that the influence
of the Church, though by no means of all the great churchmen,
encouraged the sense of a sort of sacrament of government, which was
meant to make the monarch terrible and therefore often made the man
tyrannical. The disadvantage of such despotism is obvious enough. The
precise nature of its advantage must be better understood than it is,
not for its own sake so much as for the story we have now to tell.

The advantage of "divine right," or irremovable legitimacy, is this;
that there is a limit to the ambitions of the rich. "_Roi ne puis_"; the
royal power, whether it was or was not the power of heaven, was in one
respect like the power of heaven. It was not for sale. Constitutional
moralists have often implied that a tyrant and a rabble have the same
vices. It has perhaps been less noticed that a tyrant and a rabble most
emphatically have the same virtues. And one virtue which they very
markedly share is that neither tyrants nor rabbles are snobs; they do
not care a button what they do to wealthy people. It is true that
tyranny was sometimes treated as coming from the heavens almost in the
lesser and more literal sense of coming from the sky; a man no more
expected to be the king than to be the west wind or the morning star.
But at least no wicked miller can chain the wind to turn only his own
mill; no pedantic scholar can trim the morning star to be his own
reading-lamp. Yet something very like this is what really happened to
England in the later Middle Ages; and the first sign of it, I fancy, was
the fall of Richard II.

Shakespeare's historical plays are something truer than historical;
they are traditional; the living memory of many things lingered, though
the memory of others was lost. He is right in making Richard II.
incarnate the claim to divine right; and Bolingbroke the baronial
ambition which ultimately broke up the old mediæval order. But divine
right had become at once drier and more fantastic by the time of the
Tudors. Shakespeare could not recover the fresh and popular part of the
thing; for he came at a later stage in a process of stiffening which is
the main thing to be studied in later mediævalism. Richard himself was
possibly a wayward and exasperating prince; it might well be the weak
link that snapped in the strong chain of the Plantagenets. There may
have been a real case against the _coup d'état_ which he effected in
1397, and his kinsman Henry of Bolingbroke may have had strong sections
of disappointed opinion on his side when he effected in 1399 the first
true usurpation in English history. But if we wish to understand that
larger tradition which even Shakespeare had lost, we must glance back at
something which befell Richard even in the first years of his reign. It
was certainly the greatest event of his reign; and it was possibly the
greatest event of all the reigns which are rapidly considered in this
book. The real English people, the men who work with their hands, lifted
their hands to strike their masters, probably for the first and
certainly for the last time in history.

Pagan slavery had slowly perished, not so much by decaying as by
developing into something better. In one sense it did not die, but
rather came to life. The slave-owner was like a man who should set up a
row of sticks for a fence, and then find they had struck root and were
budding into small trees. They would be at once more valuable and less
manageable, especially less portable; and such a difference between a
stick and a tree was precisely the difference between a slave and a
serf--or even the free peasant which the serf seemed rapidly tending to
become. It was, in the best sense of a battered phrase, a social
evolution, and it had the great evil of one. The evil was that while it
was essentially orderly, it was still literally lawless. That is, the
emancipation of the commons had already advanced very far, but it had
not yet advanced far enough to be embodied in a law. The custom was
"unwritten," like the British Constitution, and (like that evolutionary,
not to say evasive entity) could always be overridden by the rich, who
now drive their great coaches through Acts of Parliament. The new
peasant was still legally a slave, and was to learn it by one of those
turns of fortune which confound a foolish faith in the common sense of
unwritten constitutions. The French Wars gradually grew to be almost as
much of a scourge to England as they were to France. England was
despoiled by her own victories; luxury and poverty increased at the
extremes of society; and, by a process more proper to an ensuing
chapter, the balance of the better mediævalism was lost. Finally, a
furious plague, called the Black Death, burst like a blast on the land,
thinning the population and throwing the work of the world into ruin.
There was a shortage of labour; a difficulty of getting luxuries; and
the great lords did what one would expect them to do. They became
lawyers, and upholders of the letter of the law. They appealed to a rule
already nearly obsolete, to drive the serf back to the more direct
servitude of the Dark Ages. They announced their decision to the people,
and the people rose in arms.

The two dramatic stories which connect Wat Tyler, doubtfully with the
beginning, and definitely with the end of the revolt, are far from
unimportant, despite the desire of our present prosaic historians to
pretend that all dramatic stories are unimportant. The tale of Tyler's
first blow is significant in the sense that it is not only dramatic but
domestic. It avenged an insult to the family, and made the legend of the
whole riot, whatever its incidental indecencies, a sort of demonstration
on behalf of decency. This is important; for the dignity of the poor is
almost unmeaning in modern debates; and an inspector need only bring a
printed form and a few long words to do the same thing without having
his head broken. The occasion of the protest, and the form which the
feudal reaction had first taken, was a Poll Tax; but this was but a
part of a general process of pressing the population to servile labour,
which fully explains the ferocious language held by the government after
the rising had failed; the language in which it threatened to make the
state of the serf more servile than before. The facts attending the
failure in question are less in dispute. The mediæval populace showed
considerable military energy and co-operation, stormed its way to
London, and was met outside the city by a company containing the King
and the Lord Mayor, who were forced to consent to a parley. The
treacherous stabbing of Tyler by the Mayor gave the signal for battle
and massacre on the spot. The peasants closed in roaring, "They have
killed our leader"; when a strange thing happened; something which gives
us a fleeting and a final glimpse of the crowned sacramental man of the
Middle Ages. For one wild moment divine right was divine.

The King was no more than a boy; his very voice must have rung out to
that multitude almost like the voice of a child. But the power of his
fathers and the great Christendom from which he came fell in some
strange fashion upon him; and riding out alone before the people, he
cried out, "I am your leader"; and himself promised to grant them all
they asked. That promise was afterwards broken; but those who see in the
breach of it the mere fickleness of the young and frivolous king, are
not only shallow but utterly ignorant interpreters of the whole trend
of that time. The point that must be seized, if subsequent things are to
be seen as they are, is that Parliament certainly encouraged, and
Parliament almost certainly obliged, the King to repudiate the people.
For when, after the rejoicing revolutionists had disarmed and were
betrayed, the King urged a humane compromise on the Parliament, the
Parliament furiously refused it. Already Parliament is not merely a
governing body but a governing class. Parliament was as contemptuous of
the peasants in the fourteenth as of the Chartists in the nineteenth
century. This council, first summoned by the king like juries and many
other things, to get from plain men rather reluctant evidence about
taxation, has already become an object of ambition, and is, therefore,
an aristocracy. There is already war, in this case literally to the
knife, between the Commons with a large C and the commons with a small
one. Talking about the knife, it is notable that the murderer of Tyler
was not a mere noble but an elective magistrate of the mercantile
oligarchy of London; though there is probably no truth in the tale that
his blood-stained dagger figures on the arms of the City of London. The
mediæval Londoners were quite capable of assassinating a man, but not of
sticking so dirty a knife into the neighbourhood of the cross of their
Redeemer, in the place which is really occupied by the sword of St.

It is remarked above that Parliament was now an aristocracy, being an
object of ambition. The truth is, perhaps, more subtle than this; but if
ever men yearn to serve on juries we may probably guess that juries are
no longer popular. Anyhow, this must be kept in mind, as against the
opposite idea of the _jus divinum_ or fixed authority, if we would
appreciate the fall of Richard. If the thing which dethroned him was a
rebellion, it was a rebellion of the parliament, of the thing that had
just proved much more pitiless than he towards a rebellion of the
people. But this is not the main point. The point is that by the removal
of Richard, a step above the parliament became possible for the first
time. The transition was tremendous; the crown became an object of
ambition. That which one could snatch another could snatch from him;
that which the House of Lancaster held merely by force the House of York
could take from it by force. The spell of an undethronable thing seated
out of reach was broken, and for three unhappy generations adventurers
strove and stumbled on a stairway slippery with blood, above which was
something new in the mediæval imagination; an empty throne.

It is obvious that the insecurity of the Lancastrian usurper, largely
because he was a usurper, is the clue to many things, some of which we
should now call good, some bad, all of which we should probably call
good or bad with the excessive facility with which we dismiss distant
things. It led the Lancastrian House to lean on Parliament, which was
the mixed matter we have already seen. It may have been in some ways
good for the monarchy, to be checked and challenged by an institution
which at least kept something of the old freshness and freedom of
speech. It was almost certainly bad for the parliament, making it yet
more the ally of the mere ambitious noble, of which we shall see much
later. It also led the Lancastrian House to lean on patriotism, which
was perhaps more popular; to make English the tongue of the court for
the first time, and to reopen the French wars with the fine flag-waving
of Agincourt. It led it again to lean on the Church, or rather, perhaps,
on the higher clergy, and that in the least worthy aspect of
clericalism. A certain morbidity which more and more darkened the end of
mediævalism showed itself in new and more careful cruelties against the
last crop of heresies. A slight knowledge of the philosophy of these
heresies will lend little support to the notion that they were in
themselves prophetic of the Reformation. It is hard to see how anybody
can call Wycliffe a Protestant unless he calls Palagius or Arius a
Protestant; and if John Ball was a Reformer, Latimer was not a Reformer.
But though the new heresies did not even hint at the beginning of
English Protestantism, they did, perhaps, hint at the end of English
Catholicism. Cobham did not light a candle to be handed on to
Nonconformist chapels; but Arundel did light a torch, and put it to his
own church. Such real unpopularity as did in time attach to the old
religious system, and which afterwards became a true national tradition
against Mary, was doubtless started by the diseased energy of these
fifteenth-century bishops. Persecution can be a philosophy, and a
defensible philosophy, but with some of these men persecution was rather
a perversion. Across the channel, one of them was presiding at the trial
of Joan of Arc.

But this perversion, this diseased energy, is the power in all the epoch
that follows the fall of Richard II., and especially in those feuds that
found so ironic an imagery in English roses--and thorns. The
foreshortening of such a backward glance as this book can alone claim to
be, forbids any entrance into the military mazes of the wars of York and
Lancaster, or any attempt to follow the thrilling recoveries and
revenges which filled the lives of Warwick the Kingmaker and the warlike
widow of Henry V. The rivals were not, indeed, as is sometimes
exaggeratively implied, fighting for nothing, or even (like the lion and
the unicorn) merely fighting for the crown. The shadow of a moral
difference can still be traced even in that stormy twilight of a heroic
time. But when we have said that Lancaster stood, on the whole, for the
new notion of a king propped by parliaments and powerful bishops, and
York, on the whole, for the remains of the older idea of a king who
permits nothing to come between him and his people, we have said
everything of permanent political interest that could be traced by
counting all the bows of Barnet or all the lances of Tewkesbury. But
this truth, that there was something which can only vaguely be called
Tory about the Yorkists, has at least one interest, that it lends a
justifiable romance to the last and most remarkable figure of the
fighting House of York, with whose fall the Wars of the Roses ended.

If we desire at all to catch the strange colours of the sunset of the
Middle Ages, to see what had changed yet not wholly killed chivalry,
there is no better study than the riddle of Richard III. Of course,
scarcely a line of him was like the caricature with which his much
meaner successor placarded the world when he was dead. He was not even a
hunchback; he had one shoulder slightly higher than the other, probably
the effect of his furious swordsmanship on a naturally slender and
sensitive frame. Yet his soul, if not his body, haunts us somehow as the
crooked shadow of a straight knight of better days. He was not an ogre
shedding rivers of blood; some of the men he executed deserved it as
much as any men of that wicked time; and even the tale of his murdered
nephews is not certain, and is told by those who also tell us he was
born with tusks and was originally covered with hair. Yet a crimson
cloud cannot be dispelled from his memory, and, so tainted is the very
air of that time with carnage, that we cannot say he was incapable even
of the things of which he may have been innocent. Whether or no he was a
good man, he was apparently a good king and even a popular one; yet we
think of him vaguely, and not, I fancy, untruly, as on sufferance. He
anticipated the Renascence in an abnormal enthusiasm for art and music,
and he seems to have held to the old paths of religion and charity. He
did not pluck perpetually at his sword and dagger because his only
pleasure was in cutting throats; he probably did it because he was
nervous. It was the age of our first portrait-painting, and a fine
contemporary portrait of him throws a more plausible light on this
particular detail. For it shows him touching, and probably twisting, a
ring on his finger, the very act of a high-strung personality who would
also fidget with a dagger. And in his face, as there painted, we can
study all that has made it worth while to pause so long upon his name;
an atmosphere very different from everything before and after. The face
has a remarkable intellectual beauty; but there is something else on the
face that is hardly in itself either good or evil, and that thing is
death; the death of an epoch, the death of a great civilization, the
death of something which once sang to the sun in the canticle of St.
Francis and sailed to the ends of the earth in the ships of the First
Crusade, but which in peace wearied and turned its weapons inwards,
wounded its own brethren, broke its own loyalties, gambled for the
crown, and grew feverish even about the creed, and has this one grace
among its dying virtues, that its valour is the last to die.

But whatever else may have been bad or good about Richard of Gloucester,
there was a touch about him which makes him truly the last of the
mediæval kings. It is expressed in the one word which he cried aloud as
he struck down foe after foe in the last charge at Bosworth--treason.
For him, as for the first Norman kings, treason was the same as
treachery; and in this case at least it was the same as treachery. When
his nobles deserted him before the battle, he did not regard it as a new
political combination, but as the sin of false friends and faithless
servants. Using his own voice like the trumpet of a herald, he
challenged his rival to a fight as personal as that of two paladins of
Charlemagne. His rival did not reply, and was not likely to reply. The
modern world had begun. The call echoed unanswered down the ages; for
since that day no English king has fought after that fashion. Having
slain many, he was himself slain and his diminished force destroyed. So
ended the war of the usurpers; and the last and most doubtful of all the
usurpers, a wanderer from the Welsh marches, a knight from nowhere,
found the crown of England under a bush of thorn.



Sir Thomas More, apart from any arguments about the more mystical meshes
in which he was ultimately caught and killed, will be hailed by all as a
hero of the New Learning; that great dawn of a more rational daylight
which for so many made mediævalism seem a mere darkness. Whatever we
think of his appreciation of the Reformation, there will be no dispute
about his appreciation of the Renascence. He was above all things a
Humanist and a very human one. He was even in many ways very modern,
which some rather erroneously suppose to be the same as being human; he
was also humane, in the sense of humanitarian. He sketched an ideal, or
rather perhaps a fanciful social system, with something of the ingenuity
of Mr. H. G. Wells, but essentially with much more than the flippancy
attributed to Mr. Bernard Shaw. It is not fair to charge the Utopian
notions upon his morality; but their subjects and suggestions mark what
(for want of a better word) we can only call his modernism. Thus the
immortality of animals is the sort of transcendentalism which savours of
evolution; and the grosser jest about the preliminaries of marriage
might be taken quite seriously by the students of Eugenics. He suggested
a sort of pacifism--though the Utopians had a quaint way of achieving
it. In short, while he was, with his friend Erasmus, a satirist of
mediæval abuses, few would now deny that Protestantism would be too
narrow rather than too broad for him. If he was obviously not a
Protestant, there are few Protestants who would deny him the name of a
Reformer. But he was an innovator in things more alluring to modern
minds than theology; he was partly what we should call a Neo-Pagan. His
friend Colet summed up that escape from mediævalism which might be
called the passage from bad Latin to good Greek. In our loose modern
debates they are lumped together; but Greek learning was the growth of
this time; there had always been a popular Latin, if a dog-Latin. It
would be nearer the truth to call the mediævals bi-lingual than to call
their Latin a dead language. Greek never, of course, became so general a
possession; but for the man who got it, it is not too much to say that
he felt as if he were in the open air for the first time. Much of this
Greek spirit was reflected in More; its universality, its urbanity, its
balance of buoyant reason and cool curiosity. It is even probable that
he shared some of the excesses and errors of taste which inevitably
infected the splendid intellectualism of the reaction against the Middle
Ages; we can imagine him thinking gargoyles Gothic, in the sense of
barbaric, or even failing to be stirred, as Sydney was, by the trumpet
of "Chevy Chase." The wealth of the ancient heathen world, in wit,
loveliness, and civic heroism, had so recently been revealed to that
generation in its dazzling profusion and perfection, that it might seem
a trifle if they did here and there an injustice to the relics of the
Dark Ages. When, therefore, we look at the world with the eyes of More
we are looking from the widest windows of that time; looking over an
English landscape seen for the first time very equally, in the level
light of the sun at morning. For what he saw was England of the
Renascence; England passing from the mediæval to the modern. Thus he
looked forth, and saw many things and said many things; they were all
worthy and many witty; but he noted one thing which is at once a
horrible fancy and a homely and practical fact. He who looked over that
landscape said: "Sheep are eating men."

This singular summary of the great epoch of our emancipation and
enlightenment is not the fact usually put first in such very curt
historical accounts of it. It has nothing to do with the translation of
the Bible, or the character of Henry VIII., or the characters of Henry
VIII.'s wives, or the triangular debates between Henry and Luther and
the Pope. It was not Popish sheep who were eating Protestant men, or
_vice versa_; nor did Henry, at any period of his own brief and rather
bewildering papacy, have martyrs eaten by lambs as the heathen had them
eaten by lions. What was meant, of course, by this picturesque
expression, was that an intensive type of agriculture was giving way to
a very extensive type of pasture. Great spaces of England which had
hitherto been cut up into the commonwealth of a number of farmers were
being laid under the sovereignty of a solitary shepherd. The point has
been put, by a touch of epigram rather in the manner of More himself, by
Mr. J. Stephen, in a striking essay now, I think, only to be found in
the back files of _The New Witness_. He enunciated the paradox that the
very much admired individual, who made two blades of grass grow instead
of one, was a murderer. In the same article, Mr. Stephen traced the true
moral origins of this movement, which led to the growing of so much
grass and the murder, or at any rate the destruction, of so much
humanity. He traced it, and every true record of that transformation
traces it, to the growth of a new refinement, in a sense a more rational
refinement, in the governing class. The mediæval lord had been, by
comparison, a coarse fellow; he had merely lived in the largest kind of
farm-house after the fashion of the largest kind of farmer. He drank
wine when he could, but he was quite ready to drink ale; and science had
not yet smoothed his paths with petrol. At a time later than this, one
of the greatest ladies of England writes to her husband that she cannot
come to him because her carriage horses are pulling the plough. In the
true Middle Ages the greatest men were even more rudely hampered, but
in the time of Henry VIII. the transformation was beginning. In the next
generation a phrase was common which is one of the keys of the time, and
is very much the key to these more ambitious territorial schemes. This
or that great lord was said to be "Italianate." It meant subtler shapes
of beauty, delicate and ductile glass, gold and silver not treated as
barbaric stones but rather as stems and wreaths of molten metal,
mirrors, cards and such trinkets bearing a load of beauty; it meant the
perfection of trifles. It was not, as in popular Gothic craftsmanship,
the almost unconscious touch of art upon all necessary things: rather it
was the pouring of the whole soul of passionately conscious art
especially into unnecessary things. Luxury was made alive with a soul.
We must remember this real thirst for beauty; for it is an
explanation--and an excuse.

The old barony had indeed been thinned by the civil wars that closed at
Bosworth, and curtailed by the economical and crafty policy of that
unkingly king, Henry VII. He was himself a "new man," and we shall see
the barons largely give place to a whole nobility of new men. But even
the older families already had their faces set in the newer direction.
Some of them, the Howards, for instance, may be said to have figured
both as old and new families. In any case the spirit of the whole upper
class can be described as increasingly new. The English aristocracy,
which is the chief creation of the Reformation, is undeniably entitled
to a certain praise, which is now almost universally regarded as very
high praise. It was always progressive. Aristocrats are accused of being
proud of their ancestors; it can truly be said that English aristocrats
have rather been proud of their descendants. For their descendants they
planned huge foundations and piled mountains of wealth; for their
descendants they fought for a higher and higher place in the government
of the state; for their descendants, above all, they nourished every new
science or scheme of social philosophy. They seized the vast economic
chances of pasturage; but they also drained the fens. They swept away
the priests, but they condescended to the philosophers. As the new Tudor
house passes through its generations a new and more rationalist
civilization is being made; scholars are criticizing authentic texts;
sceptics are discrediting not only popish saints but pagan philosophers;
specialists are analyzing and rationalizing traditions, and sheep are
eating men.

We have seen that in the fourteenth century in England there was a real
revolution of the poor. It very nearly succeeded; and I need not conceal
the conviction that it would have been the best possible thing for all
of us if it had entirely succeeded. If Richard II. had really sprung
into the saddle of Wat Tyler, or rather if his parliament had not
unhorsed him when he had got there, if he had confirmed the fact of the
new peasant freedom by some form of royal authority, as it was already
common to confirm the fact of the Trade Unions by the form of a royal
charter, our country would probably have had as happy a history as is
possible to human nature. The Renascence, when it came, would have come
as popular education and not the culture of a club of æsthetics. The New
Learning might have been as democratic as the old learning in the old
days of mediæval Paris and Oxford. The exquisite artistry of the school
of Cellini might have been but the highest grade of the craft of a
guild. The Shakespearean drama might have been acted by workmen on
wooden stages set up in the street like Punch and Judy, the finer
fulfilment of the miracle play as it was acted by a guild. The players
need not have been "the king's servants," but their own masters. The
great Renascence might have been liberal with its liberal education. If
this be a fancy, it is at least one that cannot be disproved; the
mediæval revolution was too unsuccessful at the beginning for any one to
show that it need have been unsuccessful in the end. The feudal
parliament prevailed, and pushed back the peasants at least into their
dubious and half-developed status. More than this it would be
exaggerative to say, and a mere anticipation of the really decisive
events afterwards. When Henry VIII. came to the throne the guilds were
perhaps checked but apparently unchanged, and even the peasants had
probably regained ground; many were still theoretically serfs, but
largely under the easy landlordism of the abbots; the mediæval system
still stood. It might, for all we know, have begun to grow again; but
all such speculations are swamped in new and very strange things. The
failure of the revolution of the poor was ultimately followed by a
counter-revolution; a successful revolution of the rich.

The apparent pivot of it was in certain events, political and even
personal. They roughly resolve themselves into two: the marriages of
Henry VIII. and the affair of the monasteries. The marriages of Henry
VIII. have long been a popular and even a stale joke; and there is a
truth of tradition in the joke, as there is in almost any joke if it is
sufficiently popular, and indeed if it is sufficiently stale. A jocular
thing never lives to be stale unless it is also serious. Henry was
popular in his first days, and even foreign contemporaries give us quite
a glorious picture of a young prince of the Renascence, radiant with all
the new accomplishments. In his last days he was something very like a
maniac; he no longer inspired love, and even when he inspired fear, it
was rather the fear of a mad dog than of a watch-dog. In this change
doubtless the inconsistency and even ignominy of his Bluebeard weddings
played a great part. And it is but just to him to say that, perhaps with
the exception of the first and the last, he was almost as unlucky in his
wives as they were in their husband. But it was undoubtedly the affair
of the first divorce that broke the back of his honour, and
incidentally broke a very large number of other more valuable and
universal things. To feel the meaning of his fury we must realize that
he did not regard himself as the enemy but rather as the friend of the
Pope; there is a shadow of the old story of Becket. He had defended the
Pope in diplomacy and the Church in controversy; and when he wearied of
his queen and took a passionate fancy to one of her ladies, Anne Boleyn,
he vaguely felt that a rather cynical concession, in that age of cynical
concessions, might very well be made to him by a friend. But it is part
of that high inconsistency which is the fate of the Christian faith in
human hands, that no man knows when the higher side of it will really be
uppermost, if only for an instant; and that the worst ages of the Church
will not do or say something, as if by accident, that is worthy of the
best. Anyhow, for whatever reason, Henry sought to lean upon the
cushions of Leo and found he had struck his arm upon the rock of Peter.
The Pope denied the new marriage; and Henry, in a storm and darkness of
anger, dissolved all the old relations with the Papacy. It is probable
that he did not clearly know how much he was doing then; and it is very
tenable that we do not know it now. He certainly did not think he was
Anti-Catholic; and, in one rather ridiculous sense, we can hardly say
that he thought he was anti-papal, since he apparently thought he was a
pope. From this day really dates something that played a certain part in
history, the more modern doctrine of the divine right of kings, widely
different from the mediæval one. It is a matter which further
embarrasses the open question about the continuity of Catholic things in
Anglicanism, for it was a new note and yet one struck by the older
party. The supremacy of the King over the English national church was
not, unfortunately, merely a fad of the King, but became partly, and for
one period, a fad of the church. But apart from all controverted
questions, there is at least a human and historic sense in which the
continuity of our past is broken perilously at this point. Henry not
only cut off England from Europe, but what was even more important, he
cuts off England from England.

The great divorce brought down Wolsey, the mighty minister who had held
the scales between the Empire and the French Monarchy, and made the
modern balance of power in Europe. He is often described under the
dictum of _Ego et Rex Meus_; but he marks a stage in the English story
rather because he suffered for it than because he said it. _Ego et Rex
Meus_ might be the motto of any modern Prime Minister; for we have
forgotten the very fact that the word minister merely means servant.
Wolsey was the last great servant who could be, and was, simply
dismissed; the mark of a monarchy still absolute; the English were
amazed at it in modern Germany, when Bismarck was turned away like a
butler. A more awful act proved the new force was already inhuman; it
struck down the noblest of the Humanists. Thomas More, who seemed
sometimes like an Epicurean under Augustus, died the death of a saint
under Diocletian. He died gloriously jesting; and the death has
naturally drawn out for us rather the sacred savours of his soul; his
tenderness and his trust in the truth of God. But for Humanism it must
have seemed a monstrous sacrifice; it was somehow as if Montaigne were a
martyr. And that is indeed the note; something truly to be called
unnatural had already entered the naturalism of the Renascence; and the
soul of the great Christian rose against it. He pointed to the sun,
saying "I shall be above that fellow" with Franciscan familiarity, which
can love nature because it will not worship her. So he left to his king
the sun, which for so many weary days and years was to go down only on
his wrath.

But the more impersonal process which More himself had observed (as
noted at the beginning of this chapter) is more clearly defined, and
less clouded with controversies, in the second of the two parts of
Henry's policy. There is indeed a controversy about the monasteries; but
it is one that is clarifying and settling every day. Now it is true that
the Church, by the Renascence period, had reached a considerable
corruption; but the real proofs of it are utterly different both from
the contemporary despotic pretence and from the common Protestant story.
It is wildly unfair, for instance, to quote the letters of bishops and
such authorities denouncing the sins of monastic life, violent as they
often are. They cannot possibly be more violent than the letters of St.
Paul to the purest and most primitive churches; the apostle was there
writing to those Early Christians whom all churches idealize; and he
talks to them as to cut-throats and thieves. The explanation, for those
concerned for such subtleties, may possibly be found in the fact that
Christianity is not a creed for good men, but for men. Such letters had
been written in all centuries; and even in the sixteenth century they do
not prove so much that there were bad abbots as that there were good
bishops. Moreover, even those who profess that the monks were
profligates dare not profess that they were oppressors; there is truth
in Cobbett's point that where monks were landlords, they did not become
rack-renting landlords, and could not become absentee landlords.
Nevertheless, there was a weakness in the good institutions as well as a
mere strength in the bad ones; and that weakness partakes of the worst
element of the time. In the fall of good things there is almost always a
touch of betrayal from within; and the abbots were destroyed more easily
because they did not stand together. They did not stand together because
the spirit of the age (which is very often the worst enemy of the age)
was the increasing division between rich and poor; and it had partly
divided even the rich and poor clergy. And the betrayal came, as it
nearly always comes, from that servant of Christ who holds the bag.

To take a modern attack on liberty, on a much lower plane, we are
familiar with the picture of a politician going to the great brewers, or
even the great hotel proprietors, and pointing out the uselessness of a
litter of little public-houses. That is what the Tudor politicians did
first with the monasteries. They went to the heads of the great houses
and proposed the extinction of the small ones. The great monastic lords
did not resist, or, at any rate, did not resist enough; and the sack of
the religious houses began. But if the lord abbots acted for a moment as
lords, that could not excuse them, in the eyes of much greater lords,
for having frequently acted as abbots. A momentary rally to the cause of
the rich did not wipe out the disgrace of a thousand petty interferences
which had told only to the advantage of the poor; and they were soon to
learn that it was no epoch for their easy rule and their careless
hospitality. The great houses, now isolated, were themselves brought
down one by one; and the beggar, whom the monastery had served as a sort
of sacred tavern, came to it at evening and found it a ruin. For a new
and wide philosophy was in the world, which still rules our society. By
this creed most of the mystical virtues of the old monks have simply
been turned into great sins; and the greatest of these is charity.

But the populace which had risen under Richard II. was not yet
disarmed. It was trained in the rude discipline of bow and bill, and
organized into local groups of town and guild and manor. Over half the
counties of England the people rose, and fought one final battle for the
vision of the Middle Ages. The chief tool of the new tyranny, a dirty
fellow named Thomas Cromwell, was specially singled out as the tyrant,
and he was indeed rapidly turning all government into a nightmare. The
popular movement was put down partly by force; and there is the new note
of modern militarism in the fact that it was put down by cynical
professional troops, actually brought in from foreign countries, who
destroyed English religion for hire. But, like the old popular rising,
it was even more put down by fraud. Like the old rising, it was
sufficiently triumphant to force the government to a parley; and the
government had to resort to the simple expedient of calming the people
with promises, and then proceeding to break first the promises and then
the people, after the fashion made familiar to us by the modern
politicians in their attitude towards the great strikes. The revolt bore
the name of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and its programme was practically
the restoration of the old religion. In connection with the fancy about
the fate of England if Tyler had triumphed, it proves, I think, one
thing; that his triumph, while it might or might not have led to
something that could be called a reform, would have rendered quite
impossible everything that we now know as the Reformation.

The reign of terror established by Thomas Cromwell became an Inquisition
of the blackest and most unbearable sort. Historians, who have no shadow
of sympathy with the old religion, are agreed that it was uprooted by
means more horrible than have ever, perhaps, been employed in England
before or since. It was a government by torturers rendered ubiquitous by
spies. The spoliation of the monasteries especially was carried out, not
only with a violence which recalled barbarism, but with a minuteness for
which there is no other word but meanness. It was as if the Dane had
returned in the character of a detective. The inconsistency of the
King's personal attitude to Catholicism did indeed complicate the
conspiracy with new brutalities towards Protestants; but such reaction
as there was in this was wholly theological. Cromwell lost that fitful
favour and was executed, but the terrorism went on the more terribly for
being simplified to the single vision of the wrath of the King. It
culminated in a strange act which rounds off symbolically the story told
on an earlier page. For the despot revenged himself on a rebel whose
defiance seemed to him to ring down three centuries. He laid waste the
most popular shrine of the English, the shrine to which Chaucer had once
ridden singing, because it was also the shrine where King Henry had
knelt to repent. For three centuries the Church and the people had
called Becket a saint, when Henry Tudor arose and called him a traitor.
This might well be thought the topmost point of autocracy; and yet it
was not really so.

For then rose to its supreme height of self-revelation that still
stranger something of which we have, perhaps fancifully, found hints
before in this history. The strong king was weak. He was immeasurably
weaker than the strong kings of the Middle Ages; and whether or no his
failure had been foreshadowed, he failed. The breach he had made in the
dyke of the ancient doctrines let in a flood that may almost be said to
have washed him away. In a sense he disappeared before he died; for the
drama that filled his last days is no longer the drama of his own
character. We may put the matter most practically by saying that it is
unpractical to discuss whether Froude finds any justification for
Henry's crimes in the desire to create a strong national monarchy. For
whether or no it was desired, it was not created. Least of all our
princes did the Tudors leave behind them a secure central government,
and the time when monarchy was at its worst comes only one or two
generations before the time when it was weakest. But a few years
afterwards, as history goes, the relations of the Crown and its new
servants were to be reversed on a high stage so as to horrify the world;
and the axe which had been sanctified with the blood of More and soiled
with the blood of Cromwell was, at the signal of one of that slave's own
descendants, to fall and to kill an English king.

The tide which thus burst through the breach and overwhelmed the King
as well as the Church was the revolt of the rich, and especially of the
new rich. They used the King's name, and could not have prevailed
without his power, but the ultimate effect was rather as if they had
plundered the King after he had plundered the monasteries. Amazingly
little of the wealth, considering the name and theory of the thing,
actually remained in royal hands. The chaos was increased, no doubt, by
the fact that Edward VI. succeeded to the throne as a mere boy, but the
deeper truth can be seen in the difficulty of drawing any real line
between the two reigns. By marrying into the Seymour family, and thus
providing himself with a son, Henry had also provided the country with
the very type of powerful family which was to rule merely by pillage. An
enormous and unnatural tragedy, the execution of one of the Seymours by
his own brother, was enacted during the impotence of the childish king,
and the successful Seymour figured as Lord Protector, though even he
would have found it hard to say what he was protecting, since it was not
even his own family. Anyhow, it is hardly too much to say that every
human thing was left unprotected from the greed of such cannibal
protectors. We talk of the dissolution of the monasteries, but what
occurred was the dissolution of the whole of the old civilization.
Lawyers and lackeys and money-lenders, the meanest of lucky men, looted
the art and economics of the Middle Ages like thieves robbing a church.
Their names (when they did not change them) became the names of the
great dukes and marquises of our own day. But if we look back and forth
in our history, perhaps the most fundamental act of destruction occurred
when the armed men of the Seymours and their sort passed from the
sacking of the Monasteries to the sacking of the Guilds. The mediæval
Trade Unions were struck down, their buildings broken into by the
soldiery, and their funds seized by the new nobility. And this simple
incident takes all its common meaning out of the assertion (in itself
plausible enough) that the Guilds, like everything else at that time,
were probably not at their best. Proportion is the only practical thing;
and it may be true that Cæsar was not feeling well on the morning of the
Ides of March. But simply to say that the Guilds declined, is about as
true as saying that Cæsar quietly decayed from purely natural causes at
the foot of the statue of Pompey.



The revolution that arose out of what is called the Renascence, and
ended in some countries in what is called the Reformation, did in the
internal politics of England one drastic and definite thing. That thing
was destroying the institutions of the poor. It was not the only thing
it did, but it was much the most practical. It was the basis of all the
problems now connected with Capital and Labour. How much the theological
theories of the time had to do with it is a perfectly fair matter for
difference of opinion. But neither party, if educated about the facts,
will deny that the same time and temper which produced the religious
schism also produced this new lawlessness in the rich. The most extreme
Protestant will probably be content to say that Protestantism was not
the motive, but the mask. The most extreme Catholic will probably be
content to admit that Protestantism was not the sin, but rather the
punishment. The most sweeping and shameless part of the process was not
complete, indeed, until the end of the eighteenth century, when
Protestantism was already passing into scepticism. Indeed a very decent
case could be made out for the paradox that Puritanism was first and
last a veneer on Paganism; that the thing began in the inordinate thirst
for new things in the _noblesse_ of the Renascence and ended in the
Hell-Fire Club. Anyhow, what was first founded at the Reformation was a
new and abnormally powerful aristocracy, and what was destroyed, in an
ever-increasing degree, was everything that could be held, directly or
indirectly, by the people _in spite of_ such an aristocracy. This fact
has filled all the subsequent history of our country; but the next
particular point in that history concerns the position of the Crown. The
King, in reality, had already been elbowed aside by the courtiers who
had crowded behind him just before the bursting of the door. The King is
left behind in the rush for wealth, and already can do nothing alone.
And of this fact the next reign, after the chaos of Edward VI.'s,
affords a very arresting proof.

Mary Tudor, daughter of the divorced Queen Katherine, has a bad name
even in popular history; and popular prejudice is generally more worthy
of study than scholarly sophistry. Her enemies were indeed largely wrong
about her character, but they were not wrong about her effect. She was,
in the limited sense, a good woman, convinced, conscientious, rather
morbid. But it is true that she was a bad queen; bad for many things,
but especially bad for her own most beloved cause. It is true, when all
is said, that she set herself to burn out "No Popery" and managed to
burn it in. The concentration of her fanaticism into cruelty, especially
its concentration in particular places and in a short time, did remain
like something red-hot in the public memory. It was the first of the
series of great historical accidents that separated a real, if not
universal, public opinion from the old _régime_. It has been summarized
in the death by fire of the three famous martyrs at Oxford; for one of
them at least, Latimer, was a reformer of the more robust and human
type, though another of them, Cranmer, had been so smooth a snob and
coward in the councils of Henry VIII. as to make Thomas Cromwell seem by
comparison a man. But of what may be called the Latimer tradition, the
saner and more genuine Protestantism, I shall speak later. At the time
even the Oxford Martyrs probably produced less pity and revulsion than
the massacre in the flames of many more obscure enthusiasts, whose very
ignorance and poverty made their cause seem more popular than it really
was. But this last ugly feature was brought into sharper relief, and
produced more conscious or unconscious bitterness, because of that other
great fact of which I spoke above, which is the determining test of this
time of transition.

What made all the difference was this: that even in this Catholic reign
the property of the Catholic Church could not be restored. The very fact
that Mary was a fanatic, and yet this act of justice was beyond the
wildest dreams of fanaticism--that is the point. The very fact that she
was angry enough to commit wrongs for the Church, and yet not bold
enough to ask for the rights of the Church--that is the test of the
time. She was allowed to deprive small men of their lives, she was not
allowed to deprive great men of their property--or rather of other
people's property. She could punish heresy, she could not punish
sacrilege. She was forced into the false position of killing men who had
not gone to church, and sparing men who had gone there to steal the
church ornaments. What forced her into it? Not certainly her own
religious attitude, which was almost maniacally sincere; not public
opinion, which had naturally much more sympathy for the religious
humanities which she did not restore than for the religious inhumanities
which she did. The force came, of course, from the new nobility and the
new wealth they refused to surrender; and the success of this early
pressure proves that the nobility was already stronger than the Crown.
The sceptre had only been used as a crowbar to break open the door of a
treasure-house, and was itself broken, or at least bent, with the blow.

There is a truth also in the popular insistence on the story of Mary
having "Calais" written on her heart, when the last relic of the
mediæval conquests reverted to France. Mary had the solitary and heroic
half-virtue of the Tudors: she was a patriot. But patriots are often
pathetically behind the times; for the very fact that they dwell on old
enemies often blinds them to new ones. In a later generation Cromwell
exhibited the same error reversed, and continued to keep a hostile eye
on Spain when he should have kept it on France. In our own time the
Jingoes of Fashoda kept it on France when they ought already to have had
it on Germany. With no particular anti-national intention, Mary
nevertheless got herself into an anti-national position towards the most
tremendous international problem of her people. It is the second of the
coincidences that confirmed the sixteenth-century change, and the name
of it was Spain. The daughter of a Spanish queen, she married a Spanish
prince, and probably saw no more in such an alliance than her father had
done. But by the time she was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth, who was
more cut off from the old religion (though very tenuously attached to
the new one), and by the time the project of a similar Spanish marriage
for Elizabeth herself had fallen through, something had matured which
was wider and mightier than the plots of princes. The Englishman,
standing on his little island as on a lonely boat, had already felt
falling across him the shadow of a tall ship.

Wooden _clichés_ about the birth of the British Empire and the spacious
days of Queen Elizabeth have not merely obscured but contradicted the
crucial truth. From such phrases one would fancy that England, in some
imperial fashion, now first realized that she was great. It would be far
truer to say that she now first realized that she was small. The great
poet of the spacious days does not praise her as spacious, but only as
small, like a jewel. The vision of universal expansion was wholly veiled
until the eighteenth century; and even when it came it was far less
vivid and vital than what came in the sixteenth. What came then was not
Imperialism; it was Anti-Imperialism. England achieved, at the beginning
of her modern history, that one thing human imagination will always find
heroic--the story of a small nationality. The business of the Armada was
to her what Bannockburn was to the Scots, or Majuba to the Boers--a
victory that astonished even the victors. What was opposed to them was
Imperialism in its complete and colossal sense, a thing unthinkable
since Rome. It was, in no overstrained sense, civilization itself. It
was the greatness of Spain that was the glory of England. It is only
when we realize that the English were, by comparison, as dingy, as
undeveloped, as petty and provincial as Boers, that we can appreciate
the height of their defiance or the splendour of their escape. We can
only grasp it by grasping that for a great part of Europe the cause of
the Armada had almost the cosmopolitan common sense of a crusade. The
Pope had declared Elizabeth illegitimate--logically, it is hard to see
what else he could say, having declared her mother's marriage invalid;
but the fact was another and perhaps a final stroke sundering England
from the elder world. Meanwhile those picturesque English privateers who
had plagued the Spanish Empire of the New World were spoken of in the
South simply as pirates, and technically the description was true; only
technical assaults by the weaker party are in retrospect rightly judged
with some generous weakness. Then, as if to stamp the contrast in an
imperishable image, Spain, or rather the empire with Spain for its
centre, put forth all its strength, and seemed to cover the sea with a
navy like the legendary navy of Xerxes. It bore down on the doomed
island with the weight and solemnity of a day of judgment; sailors or
pirates struck at it with small ships staggering under large cannon,
fought it with mere masses of flaming rubbish, and in that last hour of
grapple a great storm arose out of the sea and swept round the island,
and the gigantic fleet was seen no more. The uncanny completeness and
abrupt silence that swallowed this prodigy touched a nerve that has
never ceased to vibrate. The hope of England dates from that hopeless
hour, for there is no real hope that has not once been a forlorn hope.
The breaking of that vast naval net remained like a sign that the small
thing which escaped would survive the greatness. And yet there is truly
a sense in which we may never be so small or so great again.

For the splendour of the Elizabethan age, which is always spoken of as a
sunrise, was in many ways a sunset. Whether we regard it as the end of
the Renascence or the end of the old mediæval civilization, no candid
critic can deny that its chief glories ended with it. Let the reader
ask himself what strikes him specially in the Elizabethan magnificence,
and he will generally find it is something of which there were at least
traces in mediæval times, and far fewer traces in modern times. The
Elizabethan drama is like one of its own tragedies--its tempestuous
torch was soon to be trodden out by the Puritans. It is needless to say
that the chief tragedy was the cutting short of the comedy; for the
comedy that came to England after the Restoration was by comparison both
foreign and frigid. At the best it is comedy in the sense of being
humorous, but not in the sense of being happy. It may be noted that the
givers of good news and good luck in the Shakespearian love-stories
nearly all belong to a world which was passing, whether they are friars
or fairies. It is the same with the chief Elizabethan ideals, often
embodied in the Elizabethan drama. The national devotion to the Virgin
Queen must not be wholly discredited by its incongruity with the coarse
and crafty character of the historical Elizabeth. Her critics might
indeed reasonably say that in replacing the Virgin Mary by the Virgin
Queen, the English reformers merely exchanged a true virgin for a false
one. But this truth does not dispose of a true, though limited,
contemporary cult. Whatever we think of that particular Virgin Queen,
the tragic heroines of the time offer us a whole procession of virgin
queens. And it is certain that the mediævals would have understood much
better than the moderns the martyrdom of _Measure for Measure_. And as
with the title of Virgin, so with the title of Queen. The mystical
monarchy glorified in _Richard II._ was soon to be dethroned much more
ruinously than in _Richard II._ The same Puritans who tore off the
pasteboard crowns of the stage players were also to tear off the real
crowns of the kings whose parts they played. All mummery was to be
forbidden, and all monarchy to be called mummery.

Shakespeare died upon St. George's Day, and much of what St. George had
meant died with him. I do not mean that the patriotism of Shakespeare or
of England died; that remained and even rose steadily, to be the noblest
pride of the coming times. But much more than patriotism had been
involved in that image of St. George to whom the Lion Heart had
dedicated England long ago in the deserts of Palestine. The conception
of a patron saint had carried from the Middle Ages one very unique and
as yet unreplaced idea. It was the idea of variation without antagonism.
The Seven Champions of Christendom were multiplied by seventy times
seven in the patrons of towns, trades and social types; but the very
idea that they were all saints excluded the possibility of ultimate
rivalry in the fact that they were all patrons. The Guild of the
Shoemakers and the Guild of the Skinners, carrying the badges of St.
Crispin and St. Bartholomew, might fight each other in the streets; but
they did not believe that St. Crispin and St. Bartholomew were fighting
each other in the skies. Similarly the English would cry in battle on
St. George and the French on St. Denis; but they did not seriously
believe that St. George hated St. Denis or even those who cried upon St.
Denis. Joan of Arc, who was on the point of patriotism what many modern
people would call very fanatical, was yet upon this point what most
modern people would call very enlightened. Now, with the religious
schism, it cannot be denied, a deeper and more inhuman division
appeared. It was no longer a scrap between the followers of saints who
were themselves at peace, but a war between the followers of gods who
were themselves at war. That the great Spanish ships were named after
St. Francis or St. Philip was already beginning to mean little to the
new England; soon it was to mean something almost cosmically
conflicting, as if they were named after Baal or Thor. These are indeed
mere symbols; but the process of which they are symbols was very
practical and must be seriously followed. There entered with the
religious wars the idea which modern science applies to racial wars; the
idea of _natural_ wars, not arising from a special quarrel but from the
nature of the people quarrelling. The shadow of racial fatalism first
fell across our path, and far away in distance and darkness something
moved that men had almost forgotten.

Beyond the frontiers of the fading Empire lay that outer land, as loose
and drifting as a sea, which had boiled over in the barbarian wars.
Most of it was now formally Christian, but barely civilized; a faint awe
of the culture of the south and west lay on its wild forces like a light
frost. This semi-civilized world had long been asleep; but it had begun
to dream. In the generation before Elizabeth a great man who, with all
his violence, was vitally a dreamer, Martin Luther, had cried out in his
sleep in a voice like thunder, partly against the place of bad customs,
but largely also against the place of good works in the Christian
scheme. In the generation after Elizabeth the spread of the new wild
doctrines in the old wild lands had sucked Central Europe into a cyclic
war of creeds. In this the house which stood for the legend of the Holy
Roman Empire, Austria, the Germanic partner of Spain, fought for the old
religion against a league of other Germans fighting for the new. The
continental conditions were indeed complicated, and grew more and more
complicated as the dream of restoring religious unity receded. They were
complicated by the firm determination of France to be a nation in the
full modern sense; to stand free and foursquare from all combinations; a
purpose which led her, while hating her own Protestants at home, to give
diplomatic support to many Protestants abroad, simply because it
preserved the balance of power against the gigantic confederation of
Spaniards and Austrians. It is complicated by the rise of a Calvinistic
and commercial power in the Netherlands, logical, defiant, defending its
own independence valiantly against Spain. But on the whole we shall be
right if we see the first throes of the modern international problems in
what is called the Thirty Years' War; whether we call it the revolt of
half-heathens against the Holy Roman Empire, or whether we call it the
coming of new sciences, new philosophies, and new ethics from the north.
Sweden took a hand in the struggle, and sent a military hero to the help
of the newer Germany. But the sort of military heroism everywhere
exhibited offered a strange combination of more and more complex
strategic science with the most naked and cannibal cruelty. Other forces
besides Sweden found a career in the carnage. Far away to the
north-east, in a sterile land of fens, a small ambitious family of
money-lenders who had become squires, vigilant, thrifty, thoroughly
selfish, rather thinly adopted the theories of Luther, and began to lend
their almost savage hinds as soldiers on the Protestant side. They were
well paid for it by step after step of promotion; but at this time their
principality was only the old Mark of Brandenburg. Their own name was



We should be very much bored if we had to read an account of the most
exciting argument or string of adventures in which unmeaning words such
as "snark" or "boojum" were systematically substituted for the names of
the chief characters or objects in dispute; if we were told that a king
was given the alternative of becoming a snark or finally surrendering
the boojum, or that a mob was roused to fury by the public exhibition of
a boojum, which was inevitably regarded as a gross reflection on the
snark. Yet something very like this situation is created by most modern
attempts to tell the tale of the theological troubles of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, while deferring to the fashionable distaste
for theology in this generation--or rather in the last generation. Thus
the Puritans, as their name implies, were primarily enthusiastic for
what they thought was pure religion; frequently they wanted to impose it
on others; sometimes they only wanted to be free to practise it
themselves; but in no case can justice be done to what was finest in
their characters, as well as first in their thoughts, if we never by
any chance ask what "it" was that they wanted to impose or to practise.
Now, there was a great deal that was very fine about many of the
Puritans, which is almost entirely missed by the modern admirers of the
Puritans. They are praised for things which they either regarded with
indifference or more often detested with frenzy--such as religious
liberty. And yet they are quite insufficiently understood, and are even
undervalued, in their logical case for the things they really did care
about--such as Calvinism. We make the Puritans picturesque in a way they
would violently repudiate, in novels and plays they would have publicly
burnt. We are interested in everything about them, except the only thing
in which they were interested at all.

We have seen that in the first instance the new doctrines in England
were simply an excuse for a plutocratic pillage, and that is the only
truth to be told about the matter. But it was far otherwise with the
individuals a generation or two after, to whom the wreck of the Armada
was already a legend of national deliverance from Popery, as miraculous
and almost as remote as the deliverances of which they read so
realistically in the Hebrew Books now laid open to them. The august
accident of that Spanish defeat may perhaps have coincided only too well
with their concentration on the non-Christian parts of Scripture. It may
have satisfied a certain Old Testament sentiment of the election of the
English being announced in the stormy oracles of air and sea, which was
easily turned into that heresy of a tribal pride that took even heavier
hold upon the Germans. It is by such things that a civilized state may
fall from being a Christian nation to being a Chosen People. But even if
their nationalism was of a kind that has ultimately proved perilous to
the comity of nations, it still was nationalism. From first to last the
Puritans were patriots, a point in which they had a marked superiority
over the French Huguenots. Politically, they were indeed at first but
one wing of the new wealthy class which had despoiled the Church and
were proceeding to despoil the Crown. But while they were all merely the
creatures of the great spoliation, many of them were the unconscious
creatures of it. They were strongly represented in the aristocracy, but
a great number were of the middle classes, though almost wholly the
middle classes of the towns. By the poor agricultural population, which
was still by far the largest part of the population, they were simply
derided and detested. It may be noted, for instance, that, while they
led the nation in many of its higher departments, they could produce
nothing having the atmosphere of what is rather priggishly called
folklore. All the popular tradition there is, as in songs, toasts,
rhymes, or proverbs, is all Royalist. About the Puritans we can find no
great legend. We must put up as best we can with great literature.

All these things, however, are simply things that other people might
have noticed about them; they are not the most important things, and
certainly not the things they thought about themselves. The soul of the
movement was in two conceptions, or rather in two steps, the first being
the moral process by which they arrived at their chief conclusion, and
the second the chief conclusion they arrived at. We will begin with the
first, especially as it was this which determined all that external
social attitude which struck the eye of contemporaries. The honest
Puritan, growing up in youth in a world swept bare by the great pillage,
possessed himself of a first principle which is one of the three or four
alternative first principles which are possible to the mind of man. It
was the principle that the mind of man can alone directly deal with the
mind of God. It may shortly be called the anti-sacramental principle;
but it really applies, and he really applied it, to many things besides
the sacraments of the Church. It equally applies, and he equally applied
it, to art, to letters, to the love of locality, to music, and even to
good manners. The phrase about no priest coming between a man and his
Creator is but an impoverished fragment of the full philosophic
doctrine; the true Puritan was equally clear that no singer or
story-teller or fiddler must translate the voice of God to him into the
tongues of terrestrial beauty. It is notable that the one Puritan man of
genius in modern times, Tolstoy, did accept this full conclusion;
denounced all music as a mere drug, and forbade his own admirers to read
his own admirable novels. Now, the English Puritans were not only
Puritans but Englishmen, and therefore did not always shine in clearness
of head; as we shall see, true Puritanism was rather a Scotch than an
English thing. But this was the driving power and the direction; and the
doctrine is quite tenable if a trifle insane. Intellectual truth was the
only tribute fit for the highest truth of the universe; and the next
step in such a study is to observe what the Puritan thought was the
truth about that truth. His individual reason, cut loose from instinct
as well as tradition, taught him a concept of the omnipotence of God
which meant simply the impotence of man. In Luther, the earlier and
milder form of the Protestant process only went so far as to say that
nothing a man did could help him except his confession of Christ; with
Calvin it took the last logical step and said that even this could not
help him, since Omnipotence must have disposed of all his destiny
beforehand; that men must be created to be lost and saved. In the purer
types of whom I speak this logic was white-hot, and we must read the
formula into all their parliamentary and legal formulæ. When we read,
"The Puritan party demanded reforms in the church," we must understand,
"The Puritan party demanded fuller and clearer affirmation that men are
created to be lost and saved." When we read, "The Army selected persons
for their godliness," we must understand, "The Army selected those
persons who seemed most convinced that men are created to be lost and
saved." It should be added that this terrible trend was not confined
even to Protestant countries; some great Romanists doubtfully followed
it until stopped by Rome. It was the spirit of the age, and should be a
permanent warning against mistaking the spirit of the age for the
immortal spirit of man. For there are now few Christians or
non-Christians who can look back at the Calvinism which nearly captured
Canterbury and even Rome by the genius and heroism of Pascal or Milton,
without crying out, like the lady in Mr. Bernard Shaw's play, "How
splendid! How glorious!... and oh what an escape!"

The next thing to note is that their conception of church-government was
in a true sense self-government; and yet, for a particular reason,
turned out to be a rather selfish self-government. It was equal and yet
it was exclusive. Internally the synod or conventicle tended to be a
small republic, but unfortunately to be a very small republic. In
relation to the street outside the conventicle was not a republic but an
aristocracy. It was the most awful of all aristocracies, that of the
elect; for it was not a right of birth but a right before birth, and
alone of all nobilities it was not laid level in the dust. Hence we
have, on the one hand, in the simpler Puritans a ring of real republican
virtue; a defiance of tyrants, an assertion of human dignity, but above
all an appeal to that first of all republican virtues--publicity. One of
the Regicides, on trial for his life, struck the note which all the
unnaturalness of his school cannot deprive of nobility: "This thing was
not done in a corner." But their most drastic idealism did nothing to
recover a ray of the light that at once lightened every man that came
into the world, the assumption of a brotherhood in all baptized people.
They were, indeed, very like that dreadful scaffold at which the
Regicide was not afraid to point. They were certainly public, they may
have been public-spirited, they were never popular; and it seems never
to have crossed their minds that there was any need to be popular.
England was never so little of a democracy as during the short time when
she was a republic.

The struggle with the Stuarts, which is the next passage in our history,
arose from an alliance, which some may think an accidental alliance,
between two things. The first was this intellectual fashion of Calvinism
which affected the cultured world as did our recent intellectual fashion
of Collectivism. The second was the older thing which had made that
creed and perhaps that cultured world possible--the aristocratic revolt
under the last Tudors. It was, we might say, the story of a father and a
son dragging down the same golden image, but the younger really from
hatred of idolatry, and the older solely from love of gold. It is at
once the tragedy and the paradox of England that it was the eternal
passion that passed, and the transient or terrestrial passion that
remained. This was true of England; it was far less true of Scotland;
and that is the meaning of the Scotch and English war that ended at
Worcester. The first change had indeed been much the same materialist
matter in both countries--a mere brigandage of barons; and even John
Knox, though he has become a national hero, was an extremely
anti-national politician. The patriot party in Scotland was that of
Cardinal Beaton and Mary Stuart. Nevertheless, the new creed did become
popular in the Lowlands in a positive sense, not even yet known in our
own land. Hence in Scotland Puritanism was the main thing, and was mixed
with Parliamentary and other oligarchies. In England Parliamentary
oligarchy was the main thing, and was mixed with Puritanism. When the
storm began to rise against Charles I., after the more or less
transitional time of his father, the Scotch successor of Elizabeth, the
instances commonly cited mark all the difference between democratic
religion and aristocratic politics. The Scotch legend is that of Jenny
Geddes, the poor woman who threw a stool at the priest. The English
legend is that of John Hampden, the great squire who raised a county
against the King. The Parliamentary movement in England was, indeed,
almost wholly a thing of squires, with their new allies the merchants.
They were squires who may well have regarded themselves as the real and
natural leaders of the English; but they were leaders who allowed no
mutiny among their followers. There was certainly no Village Hampden in
Hampden Village.

The Stuarts, it may be suspected, brought from Scotland a more mediæval
and therefore more logical view of their own function; for the note of
their nation was logic. It is a proverb that James I. was a Scot and a
pedant; it is hardly sufficiently noted that Charles I. also was not a
little of a pedant, being very much of a Scot. He had also the virtues
of a Scot, courage, and a quite natural dignity and an appetite for the
things of the mind. Being somewhat Scottish, he was very un-English, and
could not manage a compromise: he tried instead to split hairs, and
seemed merely to break promises. Yet he might safely have been far more
inconsistent if he had been a little hearty and hazy; but he was of the
sort that sees everything in black and white; and it is therefore
remembered--especially the black. From the first he fenced with his
Parliament as with a mere foe; perhaps he almost felt it as a foreigner.
The issue is familiar, and we need not be so careful as the gentleman
who wished to finish the chapter in order to find out what happened to
Charles I. His minister, the great Strafford, was foiled in an attempt
to make him strong in the fashion of a French king, and perished on the
scaffold, a frustrated Richelieu. The Parliament claiming the power of
the purse, Charles appealed to the power of the sword, and at first
carried all before him; but success passed to the wealth of the
Parliamentary class, the discipline of the new army, and the patience
and genius of Cromwell; and Charles died the same death as his great

Historically, the quarrel resolved itself, through ramifications
generally followed perhaps in more detail than they deserve, into the
great modern query of whether a King can raise taxes without the consent
of his Parliament. The test case was that of Hampden, the great
Buckinghamshire magnate, who challenged the legality of a tax which
Charles imposed, professedly for a national navy. As even innovators
always of necessity seek for sanctity in the past, the Puritan squires
made a legend of the mediæval Magna Carta; and they were so far in a
true tradition that the concession of John had really been, as we have
already noted, anti-despotic without being democratic. These two truths
cover two parts of the problem of the Stuart fall, which are of very
different certainty, and should be considered separately.

For the first point about democracy, no candid person, in face of the
facts, can really consider it at all. It is quite possible to hold that
the seventeenth-century Parliament was fighting for the truth; it is not
possible to hold that it was fighting for the populace. After the autumn
of the Middle Ages Parliament was always actively aristocratic and
actively anti-popular. The institution which forbade Charles I. to raise
Ship Money was the same institution which previously forbade Richard II.
to free the serfs. The group which claimed coal and minerals from
Charles I. was the same which afterward claimed the common lands from
the village communities. It was the same institution which only two
generations before had eagerly helped to destroy, not merely things of
popular sentiment like the monasteries, but all the things of popular
utility like the guilds and parishes, the local governments of towns and
trades. The work of the great lords may have had, indeed it certainly
had, another more patriotic and creative side; but it was exclusively
the work of the great lords that was done by Parliament. The House of
Commons has itself been a House of Lords.

But when we turn to the other or anti-despotic aspect of the campaign
against the Stuarts, we come to something much more difficult to dismiss
and much more easy to justify. While the stupidest things are said
against the Stuarts, the real contemporary case for their enemies is
little realized; for it is connected with what our insular history most
neglects, the condition of the Continent. It should be remembered that
though the Stuarts failed in England they fought for things that
succeeded in Europe. These were roughly, first, the effects of the
Counter-Reformation, which made the sincere Protestant see Stuart
Catholicism not at all as the last flicker of an old flame, but as the
spread of a conflagration. Charles II., for instance, was a man of
strong, sceptical, and almost irritably humorous intellect, and he was
quite certainly, and even reluctantly, convinced of Catholicism as a
philosophy. The other and more important matter here was the almost
awful autocracy that was being built up in France like a Bastille. It
was more logical, and in many ways more equal and even equitable than
the English oligarchy, but it really became a tyranny in case of
rebellion or even resistance. There were none of the rough English
safeguards of juries and good customs of the old common law; there was
_lettre de cachet_ as unanswerable as magic. The English who defied the
law were better off than the French; a French satirist would probably
have retorted that it was the English who obeyed the law who were worse
off than the French. The ordering of men's normal lives was with the
squire; but he was, if anything, more limited when he was the
magistrate. He was stronger as master of the village, but actually
weaker as agent of the King. In defending this state of things, in
short, the Whigs were certainly not defending democracy, but they were
in a real sense defending liberty. They were even defending some remains
of mediæval liberty, though not the best; the jury though not the guild.
Even feudalism had involved a localism not without liberal elements,
which lingered in the aristocratic system. Those who loved such things
might well be alarmed at the Leviathan of the State, which for Hobbes
was a single monster and for France a single man.

As to the mere facts, it must be said again that in so far as Puritanism
was pure, it was unfortunately passing. And the very type of the
transition by which it passed can be found in that extraordinary man who
is popularly credited with making it predominate. Oliver Cromwell is in
history much less the leader of Puritanism than the tamer of Puritanism.
He was undoubtedly possessed, certainly in his youth, possibly all his
life, by the rather sombre religious passions of his period; but as he
emerges into importance, he stands more and more for the Positivism of
the English as compared with the Puritanism of the Scotch. He is one of
the Puritan squires; but he is steadily more of the squire and less of
the Puritan; and he points to the process by which the squirearchy
became at last merely pagan. This is the key to most of what is praised
and most of what is blamed in him; the key to the comparative sanity,
toleration and modern efficiency of many of his departures; the key to
the comparative coarseness, earthiness, cynicism, and lack of sympathy
in many others. He was the reverse of an idealist; and he cannot without
absurdity be held up as an ideal; but he was, like most of the squires,
a type genuinely English; not without public spirit, certainly not
without patriotism. His seizure of personal power, which destroyed an
impersonal and ideal government, had something English in its very
unreason. The act of killing the King, I fancy, was not primarily his,
and certainly not characteristically his. It was a concession to the
high inhuman ideals of the tiny group of true Puritans, with whom he had
to compromise but with whom he afterwards collided. It was logic rather
than cruelty in the act that was not Cromwellian; for he treated with
bestial cruelty the native Irish, whom the new spiritual exclusiveness
regarded as beasts--or as the modern euphemism would put it, as
aborigines. But his practical temper was more akin to such human
slaughter on what seemed to him the edges of civilization, than to a
sort of human sacrifice in the very centre and forum of it; he is not a
representative regicide. In a sense that piece of headsmanship was
rather above his head. The real regicides did it in a sort of trance or
vision; and he was not troubled with visions. But the true collision
between the religious and rational sides of the seventeenth-century
movement came symbolically on that day of driving storm at Dunbar, when
the raving Scotch preachers overruled Leslie and forced him down into
the valley to be the victim of the Cromwellian common sense. Cromwell
said that God had delivered them into his hand; but it was their own God
who delivered them, the dark unnatural God of the Calvinist dreams, as
overpowering as a nightmare--and as passing.

It was the Whig rather than the Puritan that triumphed on that day; it
was the Englishman with his aristocratic compromise; and even what
followed Cromwell's death, the Restoration, was an aristocratic
compromise, and even a Whig compromise. The mob might cheer as for a
mediæval king; but the Protectorate and the Restoration were more of a
piece than the mob understood. Even in the superficial things where
there seemed to be a rescue it was ultimately a respite. Thus the
Puritan régime had risen chiefly by one thing unknown to
mediævalism--militarism. Picked professional troops, harshly drilled but
highly paid, were the new and alien instrument by which the Puritans
became masters. These were disbanded and their return resisted by Tories
and Whigs; but their return seemed always imminent, because it was in
the spirit of the new stern world of the Thirty Years' War. A discovery
is an incurable disease; and it had been discovered that a crowd could
be turned into an iron centipede, crushing larger and looser crowds.
Similarly the remains of Christmas were rescued from the Puritans; but
they had eventually to be rescued again by Dickens from the
Utilitarians, and may yet have to be rescued by somebody from the
vegetarians and teetotallers. The strange army passed and vanished
almost like a Moslem invasion; but it had made the difference that armed
valour and victory always make, if it was but a negative difference. It
was the final break in our history; it was a breaker of many things, and
perhaps of popular rebellion in our land. It is something of a verbal
symbol that these men founded New England in America, for indeed they
tried to found it here. By a paradox, there was something prehistoric in
the very nakedness of their novelty. Even the old and savage things they
invoked became more savage in becoming more new. In observing what is
called their Jewish Sabbath, they would have had to stone the strictest
Jew. And they (and indeed their age generally) turned witch-burning from
an episode to an epidemic. The destroyers and the things destroyed
disappeared together; but they remain as something nobler than the
nibbling legalism of some of the Whig cynics who continued their work.
They were above all things anti-historic, like the Futurists in Italy;
and there was this unconscious greatness about them, that their very
sacrilege was public and solemn like a sacrament; and they were
ritualists even as iconoclasts. It was, properly considered, but a very
secondary example of their strange and violent simplicity that one of
them, before a mighty mob at Whitehall, cut off the anointed head of the
sacramental man of the Middle Ages. For another, far away in the western
shires, cut down the thorn of Glastonbury, from which had grown the
whole story of Britain.



Whether or no we believe that the Reformation really reformed, there can
be little doubt that the Restoration did not really restore. Charles II.
was never in the old sense a King; he was a Leader of the Opposition to
his own Ministers. Because he was a clever politician he kept his
official post, and because his brother and successor was an incredibly
stupid politician, he lost it; but the throne was already only one of
the official posts. In some ways, indeed, Charles II. was fitted for the
more modern world then beginning; he was rather an eighteenth-century
than a seventeenth-century man. He was as witty as a character in a
comedy; and it was already the comedy of Sheridan and not of
Shakespeare. He was more modern yet when he enjoyed the pure
experimentalism of the Royal Society, and bent eagerly over the toys
that were to grow into the terrible engines of science. He and his
brother, however, had two links with what was in England the losing
side; and by the strain on these their dynastic cause was lost. The
first, which lessened in its practical pressure as time passed, was, of
course, the hatred felt for their religion. The second, which grew as it
neared the next century, was their tie with the French Monarchy. We will
deal with the religious quarrel before passing on to a much more
irreligious age; but the truth about it is tangled and far from easy to

The Tudors had begun to persecute the old religion before they had
ceased to belong to it. That is one of the transitional complexities
that can only be conveyed by such contradictions. A person of the type
and time of Elizabeth would feel fundamentally, and even fiercely, that
priests should be celibate, while racking and rending anybody caught
talking to the only celibate priests. This mystery, which may be very
variously explained, covered the Church of England, and in a great
degree the people of England. Whether it be called the Catholic
continuity of Anglicanism or merely the slow extirpation of Catholicism,
there can be no doubt that a parson like Herrick, for instance, as late
as the Civil War, was stuffed with "superstitions" which were Catholic
in the extreme sense we should now call Continental. Yet many similar
parsons had already a parallel and opposite passion, and thought of
Continental Catholicism not even as the errant Church of Christ, but as
the consistent Church of Antichrist. It is, therefore, very hard now to
guess the proportion of Protestantism; but there is no doubt about its
presence, especially its presence in centres of importance like London.
By the time of Charles II., after the purge of the Puritan Terror, it
had become something at least more inherent and human than the mere
exclusiveness of Calvinist creeds or the craft of Tudor nobles. The
Monmouth rebellion showed that it had a popular, though an
insufficiently popular, backing. The "No Popery" force became the crowd
if it never became the people. It was, perhaps, increasingly an urban
crowd, and was subject to those epidemics of detailed delusion with
which sensational journalism plays on the urban crowds of to-day. One of
these scares and scoops (not to add the less technical name of lies) was
the Popish Plot, a storm weathered warily by Charles II. Another was the
Tale of the Warming Pan, or the bogus heir to the throne, a storm that
finally swept away James II.

The last blow, however, could hardly have fallen but for one of those
illogical but almost lovable localisms to which the English temperament
is prone. The debate about the Church of England, then and now, differs
from most debates in one vital point. It is not a debate about what an
institution ought to do, or whether that institution ought to alter, but
about what that institution actually is. One party, then as now, only
cared for it because it was Catholic, and the other only cared for it
because it was Protestant. Now, something had certainly happened to the
English quite inconceivable to the Scotch or the Irish. Masses of
common people loved the Church of England without having even decided
what it was. It had a hold different indeed from that of the mediæval
Church, but also very different from the barren prestige of gentility
which clung to it in the succeeding century. Macaulay, with a widely
different purpose in mind, devotes some pages to proving that an
Anglican clergyman was socially a mere upper servant in the seventeenth
century. He is probably right; but he does not guess that this was but
the degenerate continuity of the more democratic priesthood of the
Middle Ages. A priest was not treated as a gentleman; but a peasant was
treated as a priest. And in England then, as in Europe now, many
entertained the fancy that priesthood was a higher thing than gentility.
In short, the national church was then at least really national, in a
fashion that was emotionally vivid though intellectually vague. When,
therefore, James II. seemed to menace this practising communion, he
aroused something at least more popular than the mere priggishness of
the Whig lords. To this must be added a fact generally forgotten. I mean
the fact that the influence then called Popish was then in a real sense
regarded as revolutionary. The Jesuit seemed to the English not merely a
conspirator but a sort of anarchist. There is something appalling about
abstract speculations to many Englishmen; and the abstract speculations
of Jesuits like Suarez dealt with extreme democracy and things
undreamed of here. The last Stuart proposals for toleration seemed thus
to many as vast and empty as atheism. The only seventeenth-century
Englishmen who had something of this transcendental abstraction were the
Quakers; and the cosy English compromise shuddered when the two things
shook hands. For it was something much more than a Stuart intrigue which
made these philosophical extremes meet, merely because they were
philosophical; and which brought the weary but humorous mind of Charles
II. into alliance with the subtle and detached spirit of William Penn.

Much of England, then, was really alarmed at the Stuart scheme of
toleration, sincere or insincere, because it seemed theoretical and
therefore fanciful. It was in advance of its age or (to use a more
intelligent language) too thin and ethereal for its atmosphere. And to
this affection for the actual in the English moderates must be added (in
what proportion we know not) a persecuting hatred of Popery almost
maniacal but quite sincere. The State had long, as we have seen, been
turned to an engine of torture against priests and the friends of
priests. Men talk of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; but the
English persecutors never had so tolerant an edict to revoke. But at
least by this time the English, like the French, persecutors were
oppressing a minority. Unfortunately there was another province of
government in which they were still more madly persecuting the
majority. For it was here that came to its climax and took on its
terrific character that lingering crime that was called the government
of Ireland. It would take too long to detail the close network of
unnatural laws by which that country was covered till towards the end of
the eighteenth century; it is enough to say here that the whole attitude
to the Irish was tragically typified, and tied up with our expulsion of
the Stuarts, in one of those acts that are remembered for ever. James
II., fleeing from the opinion of London, perhaps of England, eventually
found refuge in Ireland, which took arms in his favour. The Prince of
Orange, whom the aristocracy had summoned to the throne, landed in that
country with an English and Dutch army, won the Battle of the Boyne, but
saw his army successfully arrested before Limerick by the military
genius of Patrick Sarsfield. The check was so complete that peace could
only be restored by promising complete religious liberty to the Irish,
in return for the surrender of Limerick. The new English Government
occupied the town and immediately broke the promise. It is not a matter
on which there is much more to be said. It was a tragic necessity that
the Irish should remember it; but it was far more tragic that the
English forgot it. For he who has forgotten his sin is repeating it
incessantly for ever.

But here again the Stuart position was much more vulnerable on the side
of secular policy, and especially of foreign policy. The aristocrats to
whom power passed finally at the Revolution were already ceasing to have
any supernatural faith in Protestantism as against Catholicism; but they
had a very natural faith in England as against France; and even, in a
certain sense, in English institutions as against French institutions.
And just as these men, the most unmediæval of mankind, could yet boast
about some mediæval liberties, Magna Carta, the Parliament and the Jury,
so they could appeal to a true mediæval legend in the matter of a war
with France. A typical eighteenth-century oligarch like Horace Walpole
could complain that the cicerone in an old church troubled him with
traces of an irrelevant person named St. Somebody, when he was looking
for the remains of John of Gaunt. He could say it with all the _naïveté_
of scepticism, and never dream how far away from John of Gaunt he was
really wandering in saying so. But though their notion of mediæval
history was a mere masquerade ball, it was one in which men fighting the
French could still, in an ornamental way, put on the armour of the Black
Prince or the crown of Henry of Monmouth. In this matter, in short, it
is probable enough that the aristocrats were popular as patriots will
always be popular. It is true that the last Stuarts were themselves far
from unpatriotic; and James II. in particular may well be called the
founder of the British Navy. But their sympathies were with France,
among other foreign countries; they took refuge in France, the elder
before and the younger after his period of rule; and France aided the
later Jacobite efforts to restore their line. And for the new England,
especially the new English nobility, France was the enemy.

The transformation through which the external relations of England
passed at the end of the seventeenth century is symbolized by two very
separate and definite steps; the first the accession of a Dutch king and
the second the accession of a German king. In the first were present all
the features that can partially make an unnatural thing natural. In the
second we have the condition in which even those effecting it can hardly
call it natural, but only call it necessary. William of Orange was like
a gun dragged into the breach of a wall; a foreign gun indeed, and one
fired in a quarrel more foreign than English, but still a quarrel in
which the English, and especially the English aristocrats, could play a
great part. George of Hanover was simply something stuffed into a hole
in the wall by English aristocrats, who practically admitted that they
were simply stopping it with rubbish. In many ways William, cynical as
he was, carried on the legend of the greater and grimmer Puritanism. He
was in private conviction a Calvinist; and nobody knew or cared what
George was except that he was not a Catholic. He was at home the partly
republican magistrate of what had once been a purely republican
experiment, and among the cleaner if colder ideals of the seventeenth
century. George was when he was at home pretty much what the King of
the Cannibal Islands was when he was at home--a savage personal ruler
scarcely logical enough to be called a despot. William was a man of
acute if narrow intelligence; George was a man of no intelligence. Above
all, touching the immediate effect produced, William was married to a
Stuart, and ascended the throne hand-in-hand with a Stuart; he was a
familiar figure, and already a part of our royal family. With George
there entered England something that had scarcely been seen there
before; something hardly mentioned in mediæval or Renascence writing,
except as one mentions a Hottentot--the barbarian from beyond the Rhine.

The reign of Queen Anne, which covers the period between these two
foreign kings, is therefore the true time of transition. It is the
bridge between the time when the aristocrats were at least weak enough
to call in a strong man to help them, and the time when they were strong
enough deliberately to call in a weak man who would allow them to help
themselves. To symbolize is always to simplify, and to simplify too
much; but the whole may be well symbolized as the struggle of two great
figures, both gentlemen and men of genius, both courageous and clear
about their own aims, and in everything else a violent contrast at every
point. One of them was Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke; the other was
John Churchill, the famous and infamous Duke of Marlborough. The story
of Churchill is primarily the story of the Revolution and how it
succeeded; the story of Bolingbroke is the story of the
Counter-Revolution and how it failed.

Churchill is a type of the extraordinary time in this, that he combines
the presence of glory with the absence of honour. When the new
aristocracy had become normal to the nation, in the next few
generations, it produced personal types not only of aristocracy but of
chivalry. The Revolution reduced us to a country wholly governed by
gentlemen; the popular universities and schools of the Middle Ages, like
their guilds and abbeys, had been seized and turned into what they
are--factories of gentlemen, when they are not merely factories of
snobs. It is hard now to realize that what we call the Public Schools
were once undoubtedly public. By the Revolution they were already
becoming as private as they are now. But at least in the eighteenth
century there were great gentlemen in the generous, perhaps too
generous, sense now given to the title. Types not merely honest, but
rash and romantic in their honesty, remain in the record with the names
of Nelson or of Fox. We have already seen that the later reformers
defaced from fanaticism the churches which the first reformers had
defaced simply from avarice. Rather in the same way the
eighteenth-century Whigs often praised, in a spirit of pure magnanimity,
what the seventeenth-century Whigs had done in a spirit of pure
meanness. How mean was that meanness can only be estimated by realizing
that a great military hero had not even the ordinary military virtues
of loyalty to his flag or obedience to his superior officers, that he
picked his way through campaigns that have made him immortal with the
watchful spirit of a thieving camp-follower. When William landed at
Torbay on the invitation of the other Whig nobles, Churchill, as if to
add something ideal to his imitation of Iscariot, went to James with
wanton professions of love and loyalty, went forth in arms as if to
defend the country from invasion, and then calmly handed the army over
to the invader. To the finish of this work of art but few could aspire,
but in their degree all the politicians of the Revolution were upon this
ethical pattern. While they surrounded the throne of James, there was
scarcely one of them who was not in correspondence with William. When
they afterwards surrounded the throne of William, there was not one of
them who was not still in correspondence with James. It was such men who
defeated Irish Jacobitism by the treason of Limerick; it was such men
who defeated Scotch Jacobitism by the treason of Glencoe.

Thus the strange yet splendid story of eighteenth-century England is one
of greatness founded on smallness, a pyramid standing on a point. Or, to
vary the metaphor, the new mercantile oligarchy might be symbolized even
in the externals of its great sister, the mercantile oligarchy of
Venice. The solidity was all in the superstructure; the fluctuation had
been all in the foundations. The great temple of Chatham and Warren
Hastings was reared in its origins on things as unstable as water and as
fugitive as foam. It is only a fancy, of course, to connect the unstable
element with something restless and even shifty in the lords of the sea.
But there was certainly in the genesis, if not in the later generations
of our mercantile aristocracy, a thing only too mercantile; something
which had also been urged against a yet older example of that polity,
something called _Punica fides_. The great Royalist Strafford, going
disillusioned to death, had said, "Put not your trust in princes." The
great Royalist Bolingbroke may well be said to have retorted, "And least
of all in merchant princes."

Bolingbroke stands for a whole body of conviction which bulked very big
in English history, but which with the recent winding of the course of
history has gone out of sight. Yet without grasping it we cannot
understand our past, nor, I will add, our future. Curiously enough, the
best English books of the eighteenth century are crammed with it, yet
modern culture cannot see it when it is there. Dr. Johnson is full of
it; it is what he meant when he denounced minority rule in Ireland, as
well as when he said that the devil was the first Whig. Goldsmith is
full of it; it is the whole point of that fine poem "The Deserted
Village," and is set out theoretically with great lucidity and spirit in
"The Vicar of Wakefield." Swift is full of it; and found in it an
intellectual brotherhood-in-arms with Bolingbroke himself. In the time
of Queen Anne it was probably the opinion of the majority of people in
England. But it was not only in Ireland that the minority had begun to

This conviction, as brilliantly expounded by Bolingbroke, had many
aspects; perhaps the most practical was the point that one of the
virtues of a despot is distance. It is "the little tyrant of the fields"
that poisons human life. The thesis involved the truism that a good king
is not only a good thing, but perhaps the best thing. But it also
involved the paradox that even a bad king is a good king, for his
oppression weakens the nobility and relieves the pressure on the
populace. If he is a tyrant he chiefly tortures the torturers; and
though Nero's murder of his own mother was hardly perhaps a gain to his
soul, it was no great loss to his empire. Bolingbroke had thus a wholly
rationalistic theory of Jacobitism. He was, in other respects, a fine
and typical eighteenth-century intellect, a free-thinking Deist, a clear
and classic writer of English. But he was also a man of adventurous
spirit and splendid political courage, and he made one last throw for
the Stuarts. It was defeated by the great Whig nobles who formed the
committee of the new régime of the gentry. And considering who it was
who defeated it, it is almost unnecessary to say that it was defeated by
a trick.

The small German prince ascended the throne, or rather was hoisted into
it like a dummy, and the great English Royalist went into exile. Twenty
years afterwards he reappears and reasserts his living and logical faith
in a popular monarchy. But it is typical of the whole detachment and
distinction of his mind that for this abstract ideal he was willing to
strengthen the heir of the king whom he had tried to exclude. He was
always a Royalist, but never a Jacobite. What he cared for was not a
royal family, but a royal office. He celebrated it in his great book
"The Patriot King," written in exile; and when he thought that George's
great-grandson was enough of a patriot, he only wished that he might be
more of a king. He made in his old age yet another attempt, with such
unpromising instruments as George III. and Lord Bute; and when these
broke in his hand he died with all the dignity of the _sed victa
Catoni_. The great commercial aristocracy grew on to its full stature.
But if we wish to realize the good and ill of its growth, there is no
better summary than this section from the first to the last of the
foiled _coups d'état_ of Bolingbroke. In the first his policy made peace
with France, and broke the connection with Austria. In the second his
policy again made peace with France, and broke the connection with
Prussia. For in that interval the seed of the money-lending squires of
Brandenburg had waxed mighty, and had already become that prodigy which
has become so enormous a problem in Europe. By the end of this epoch
Chatham, who incarnated and even created, at least in a representative
sense, all that we call the British Empire, was at the height of his
own and his country's glory. He summarized the new England of the
Revolution in everything, especially in everything in which that
movement seems to many to be intrinsically contradictory and yet was
most corporately consistent. Thus he was a Whig, and even in some ways
what we should call a Liberal, like his son after him; but he was also
an Imperialist and what we should call a Jingo; and the Whig party was
consistently the Jingo party. He was an aristocrat, in the sense that
all our public men were then aristocrats; but he was very emphatically
what may be called a commercialist--one might almost say Carthaginian.
In this connection he has the characteristic which perhaps humanized but
was not allowed to hamper the aristocratic plan; I mean that he could
use the middle classes. It was a young soldier of middle rank, James
Wolfe, who fell gloriously driving the French out of Quebec; it was a
young clerk of the East India Company, Robert Clive, who threw open to
the English the golden gates of India. But it was precisely one of the
strong points of this eighteenth-century aristocracy that it wielded
without friction the wealthier _bourgeoisie_; it was not there that the
social cleavage was to come. He was an eloquent parliamentary orator,
and though Parliament was as narrow as a senate, it was one of great
senators. The very word recalls the roll of those noble Roman phrases
they often used, which we are right in calling classic, but wrong in
calling cold. In some ways nothing could be further from all this fine
if florid scholarship, all this princely and patrician geniality, all
this air of freedom and adventure on the sea, than the little inland
state of the stingy drill-sergeants of Potsdam, hammering mere savages
into mere soldiers. And yet the great chief of these was in some ways
like a shadow of Chatham flung across the world--the sort of shadow that
is at once an enlargement and a caricature. The English lords, whose
paganism was ennobled by patriotism, saw here something drawn out long
and thin out of their own theories. What was paganism in Chatham was
atheism in Frederick the Great. And what was in the first patriotism was
in the second something with no name but Prussianism. The cannibal
theory of a commonwealth, that it can of its nature eat other
commonwealths, had entered Christendom. Its autocracy and our own
aristocracy drew indirectly nearer together, and seemed for a time to be
wedded; but not before the great Bolingbroke had made a dying gesture,
as if to forbid the banns.



We cannot understand the eighteenth century so long as we suppose that
rhetoric is artificial because it is artistic. We do not fall into this
folly about any of the other arts. We talk of a man picking out notes
arranged in ivory on a wooden piano "with much feeling," or of his
pouring out his soul by scraping on cat-gut after a training as careful
as an acrobat's. But we are still haunted with a prejudice that verbal
form and verbal effect must somehow be hypocritical when they are the
link between things so living as a man and a mob. We doubt the feeling
of the old-fashioned orator, because his periods are so rounded and
pointed as to convey his feeling. Now before any criticism of the
eighteenth-century worthies must be put the proviso of their perfect
artistic sincerity. Their oratory was unrhymed poetry, and it had the
humanity of poetry. It was not even unmetrical poetry; that century is
full of great phrases, often spoken on the spur of great moments, which
have in them the throb and recurrence of song, as of a man thinking to
a tune. Nelson's "In honour I gained them, in honour I will die with
them," has more rhythm than much that is called _vers libres_. Patrick
Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" might be a great line in Walt

It is one of the many quaint perversities of the English to pretend to
be bad speakers; but in fact the most English eighteenth-century epoch
blazed with brilliant speakers. There may have been finer writing in
France; there was no such fine speaking as in England. The Parliament
had faults enough, but it was sincere enough to be rhetorical. The
Parliament was corrupt, as it is now; though the examples of corruption
were then often really made examples, in the sense of warnings, where
they are now examples only in the sense of patterns. The Parliament was
indifferent to the constituencies, as it is now; though perhaps the
constituencies were less indifferent to the Parliament. The Parliament
was snobbish, as it is now, though perhaps more respectful to mere rank
and less to mere wealth. But the Parliament was a Parliament; it did
fulfil its name and duty by talking, and trying to talk well. It did not
merely do things because they do not bear talking about--as it does now.
It was then, to the eternal glory of our country, a great
"talking-shop," not a mere buying and selling shop for financial tips
and official places. And as with any other artist, the care the
eighteenth-century man expended on oratory is a proof of his sincerity,
not a disproof of it. An enthusiastic eulogium by Burke is as rich and
elaborate as a lover's sonnet; but it is because Burke is really
enthusiastic, like the lover. An angry sentence by Junius is as
carefully compounded as a Renascence poison; but it is because Junius is
really angry--like the poisoner. Now, nobody who has realized this
psychological truth can doubt for a moment that many of the English
aristocrats of the eighteenth century had a real enthusiasm for liberty;
their voices lift like trumpets upon the very word. Whatever their
immediate forbears may have meant, these men meant what they said when
they talked of the high memory of Hampden or the majesty of Magna Carta.
Those Patriots whom Walpole called the Boys included many who really
were patriots--or better still, who really were boys. If we prefer to
put it so, among the Whig aristocrats were many who really were Whigs;
Whigs by all the ideal definitions which identified the party with a
defence of law against tyrants and courtiers. But if anybody deduces,
from the fact that the Whig aristocrats were Whigs, any doubt about
whether the Whig aristocrats were aristocrats, there is one practical
test and reply. It might be tested in many ways: by the game laws and
enclosure laws they passed, or by the strict code of the duel and the
definition of honour on which they all insisted. But if it be really
questioned whether I am right in calling their whole world an
aristocracy, and the very reverse of it a democracy, the true historical
test is this: that when republicanism really entered the world, they
instantly waged two great wars with it--or (if the view be preferred) it
instantly waged two great wars with them. America and France revealed
the real nature of the English Parliament. Ice may sparkle, but a real
spark will show it is only ice. So when the red fire of the Revolution
touched the frosty splendours of the Whigs, there was instantly a
hissing and a strife; a strife of the flame to melt the ice, of the
water to quench the flame.

It has been noted that one of the virtues of the aristocrats was
liberty, especially liberty among themselves. It might even be said that
one of the virtues of the aristocrats was cynicism. They were not
stuffed with our fashionable fiction, with its stiff and wooden figures
of a good man named Washington and a bad man named Boney. They at least
were aware that Washington's cause was not so obviously white nor
Napoleon's so obviously black as most books in general circulation would
indicate. They had a natural admiration for the military genius of
Washington and Napoleon; they had the most unmixed contempt for the
German Royal Family. But they were, as a class, not only against both
Washington and Napoleon, but against them both for the same reason. And
it was that they both stood for democracy.

Great injustice is done to the English aristocratic government of the
time through a failure to realize this fundamental difference,
especially in the case of America. There is a wrong-headed humour about
the English which appears especially in this, that while they often (as
in the case of Ireland) make themselves out right where they were
entirely wrong, they are easily persuaded (as in the case of America) to
make themselves out entirely wrong where there is at least a case for
their having been more or less right. George III.'s Government laid
certain taxes on the colonial community on the eastern seaboard of
America. It was certainly not self-evident, in the sense of law and
precedent, that the imperial government could not lay taxes on such
colonists. Nor were the taxes themselves of that practically oppressive
sort which rightly raise everywhere the common casuistry of revolution.
The Whig oligarchs had their faults, but utter lack of sympathy with
liberty, especially local liberty, and with their adventurous kindred
beyond the seas, was by no means one of their faults. Chatham, the great
chief of the new and very national _noblesse_, was typical of them in
being free from the faintest illiberality and irritation against the
colonies as such. He would have made them free and even favoured
colonies, if only he could have kept them as colonies. Burke, who was
then the eloquent voice of Whiggism, and was destined later to show how
wholly it was a voice of aristocracy, went of course even further. Even
North compromised; and though George III., being a fool, might himself
have refused to compromise, he had already failed to effect the
Bolingbroke scheme of the restitution of the royal power. The case for
the Americans, the real reason for calling them right in the quarrel,
was something much deeper than the quarrel. They were at issue, not with
a dead monarchy, but with a living aristocracy; they declared war on
something much finer and more formidable than poor old George.
Nevertheless, the popular tradition, especially in America, has pictured
it primarily as a duel of George III. and George Washington; and, as we
have noticed more than once, such pictures though figurative are seldom
false. King George's head was not much more useful on the throne than it
was on the sign-board of a tavern; nevertheless, the sign-board was
really a sign, and a sign of the times. It stood for a tavern that sold
not English but German beer. It stood for that side of the Whig policy
which Chatham showed when he was tolerant to America alone, but
intolerant of America when allied with France. That very wooden sign
stood, in short, for the same thing as the juncture with Frederick the
Great; it stood for that Anglo-German alliance which, at a very much
later time in history, was to turn into the world-old Teutonic Race.

Roughly and frankly speaking, we may say that America forced the
quarrel. She wished to be separate, which was to her but another phrase
for wishing to be free. She was not thinking of her wrongs as a colony,
but already of her rights as a republic. The negative effect of so small
a difference could never have changed the world, without the positive
effect of a great ideal, one may say of a great new religion. The real
case for the colonists is that they felt they could be something, which
they also felt, and justly, that England would not help them to be.
England would probably have allowed the colonists all sorts of
concessions and constitutional privileges; but England could not allow
the colonists equality: I do not mean equality with her, but even with
each other. Chatham might have compromised with Washington, because
Washington was a gentleman; but Chatham could hardly have conceived a
country not governed by gentlemen. Burke was apparently ready to grant
everything to America; but he would not have been ready to grant what
America eventually gained. If he had seen American democracy, he would
have been as much appalled by it as he was by French democracy, and
would always have been by any democracy. In a word, the Whigs were
liberal and even generous aristocrats, but they were aristocrats; that
is why their concessions were as vain as their conquests. We talk, with
a humiliation too rare with us, about our dubious part in the secession
of America. Whether it increase or decrease the humiliation I do not
know; but I strongly suspect that we had very little to do with it. I
believe we counted for uncommonly little in the case. We did not really
drive away the American colonists, nor were they driven. They were led
on by a light that went before.

That light came from France, like the armies of Lafayette that came to
the help of Washington. France was already in travail with the
tremendous spiritual revolution which was soon to reshape the world. Her
doctrine, disruptive and creative, was widely misunderstood at the time,
and is much misunderstood still, despite the splendid clarity of style
in which it was stated by Rousseau in the "Contrat Social," and by
Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence. Say the very word
"equality" in many modern countries, and four hundred fools will leap to
their feet at once to explain that some men can be found, on careful
examination, to be taller or handsomer than others. As if Danton had not
noticed that he was taller than Robespierre, or as if Washington was not
well aware that he was handsomer than Franklin. This is no place to
expound a philosophy; it will be enough to say in passing, by way of a
parable, that when we say that all pennies are equal, we do not mean
that they all look exactly the same. We mean that they are absolutely
equal in their one absolute character, in the most important thing about
them. It may be put practically by saying that they are coins of a
certain value, twelve of which go to a shilling. It may be put
symbolically, and even mystically, by saying that they all bear the
image of the King. And, though the most mystical, it is also the most
practical summary of equality that all men bear the image of the King of
Kings. Indeed, it is of course true that this idea had long underlain
all Christianity, even in institutions less popular in form than were,
for instance, the mob of mediæval republics in Italy. A dogma of equal
duties implies that of equal rights. I know of no Christian authority
that would not admit that it is as wicked to murder a poor man as a rich
man, or as bad to burgle an inelegantly furnished house as a tastefully
furnished one. But the world had wandered further and further from these
truisms, and nobody in the world was further from them than the group of
the great English aristocrats. The idea of the equality of men is in
substance simply the idea of the importance of man. But it was precisely
the notion of the importance of a mere man which seemed startling and
indecent to a society whose whole romance and religion now consisted of
the importance of a gentleman. It was as if a man had walked naked into
Parliament. There is not space here to develop the moral issue in full,
but this will suffice to show that the critics concerned about the
difference in human types or talents are considerably wasting their
time. If they can understand how two coins can count the same though one
is bright and the other brown, they might perhaps understand how two men
can vote the same though one is bright and the other dull. If, however,
they are still satisfied with their solid objection that some men are
dull, I can only gravely agree with them, that some men are very dull.

But a few years after Lafayette had returned from helping to found a
republic in America he was flung over his own frontiers for resisting
the foundation of a republic in France. So furious was the onward stride
of this new spirit that the republican of the new world lived to be the
reactionary of the old. For when France passed from theory to practice,
the question was put to the world in a way not thinkable in connection
with the prefatory experiment of a thin population on a colonial coast.
The mightiest of human monarchies, like some monstrous immeasurable idol
of iron, was melted down in a furnace barely bigger than itself, and
recast in a size equally colossal, but in a shape men could not
understand. Many, at least, could not understand it, and least of all
the liberal aristocracy of England. There were, of course, practical
reasons for a continuous foreign policy against France, whether royal or
republican. There was primarily the desire to keep any foreigner from
menacing us from the Flemish coast; there was, to a much lesser extent,
the colonial rivalry in which so much English glory had been gained by
the statesmanship of Chatham and the arms of Wolfe and of Clive. The
former reason has returned on us with a singular irony; for in order to
keep the French out of Flanders we flung ourselves with increasing
enthusiasm into a fraternity with the Germans. We purposely fed and
pampered the power which was destined in the future to devour Belgium as
France would never have devoured it, and threaten us across the sea
with terrors of which no Frenchman would ever dream. But indeed much
deeper things unified our attitude towards France before and after the
Revolution. It is but one stride from despotism to democracy, in logic
as well as in history; and oligarchy is equally remote from both. The
Bastille fell, and it seemed to an Englishman merely that a despot had
turned into a demos. The young Bonaparte rose, and it seemed to an
Englishman merely that a demos had once more turned into a despot. He
was not wrong in thinking these allotropic forms of the same alien
thing; and that thing was equality. For when millions are equally
subject to one law, it makes little difference if they are also subject
to one lawgiver; the general social life is a level. The one thing that
the English have never understood about Napoleon, in all their myriad
studies of his mysterious personality, is how impersonal he was. I had
almost said how unimportant he was. He said himself, "I shall go down to
history with my code in my hand;" but in practical effects, as distinct
from mere name and renown, it would be even truer to say that his code
will go down to history with his hand set to it in signature--somewhat
illegibly. Thus his testamentary law has broken up big estates and
encouraged contented peasants in places where his name is cursed, in
places where his name is almost unknown. In his lifetime, of course, it
was natural that the annihilating splendour of his military strokes
should rivet the eye like flashes of lightning; but his rain fell more
silently, and its refreshment remained. It is needless to repeat here
that after bursting one world-coalition after another by battles that
are the masterpieces of the military art, he was finally worn down by
two comparatively popular causes, the resistance of Russia and the
resistance of Spain. The former was largely, like so much that is
Russian, religious; but in the latter appeared most conspicuously that
which concerns us here, the valour, vigilance and high national spirit
of England in the eighteenth century. The long Spanish campaign tried
and made triumphant the great Irish soldier, afterwards known as
Wellington; who has become all the more symbolic since he was finally
confronted with Napoleon in the last defeat of the latter at Waterloo.
Wellington, though too logical to be at all English, was in many ways
typical of the aristocracy; he had irony and independence of mind. But
if we wish to realize how rigidly such men remained limited by their
class, how little they really knew what was happening in their time, it
is enough to note that Wellington seems to have thought he had dismissed
Napoleon by saying he was not really a gentleman. If an acute and
experienced Chinaman were to say of Chinese Gordon, "He is not actually
a Mandarin," we should think that the Chinese system deserved its
reputation for being both rigid and remote.

But the very name of Wellington is enough to suggest another, and with
it the reminder that this, though true, is inadequate. There was some
truth in the idea that the Englishman was never so English as when he
was outside England, and never smacked so much of the soil as when he
was on the sea. There has run through the national psychology something
that has never had a name except the eccentric and indeed extraordinary
name of Robinson Crusoe; which is all the more English for being quite
undiscoverable in England. It may be doubted if a French or German boy
especially wishes that his cornland or vineland were a desert; but many
an English boy has wished that his island were a desert island. But we
might even say that the Englishman was too insular for an island. He
awoke most to life when his island was sundered from the foundations of
the world, when it hung like a planet and flew like a bird. And, by a
contradiction, the real British army was in the navy; the boldest of the
islanders were scattered over the moving archipelago of a great fleet.
There still lay on it, like an increasing light, the legend of the
Armada; it was a great fleet full of the glory of having once been a
small one. Long before Wellington ever saw Waterloo the ships had done
their work, and shattered the French navy in the Spanish seas, leaving
like a light upon the sea the life and death of Nelson, who died with
his stars on his bosom and his heart upon his sleeve. There is no word
for the memory of Nelson except to call him mythical. The very hour of
his death, the very name of his ship, are touched with that epic
completeness which critics call the long arm of coincidence and prophets
the hand of God. His very faults and failures were heroic, not in a
loose but in a classic sense; in that he fell only like the legendary
heroes, weakened by a woman, not foiled by any foe among men. And he
remains the incarnation of a spirit in the English that is purely
poetic; so poetic that it fancies itself a thousand things, and
sometimes even fancies itself prosaic. At a recent date, in an age of
reason, in a country already calling itself dull and business-like, with
top-hats and factory chimneys already beginning to rise like towers of
funereal efficiency, this country clergyman's son moved to the last in a
luminous cloud, and acted a fairy tale. He shall remain as a lesson to
those who do not understand England, and a mystery to those who think
they do. In outward action he led his ships to victory and died upon a
foreign sea; but symbolically he established something indescribable and
intimate, something that sounds like a native proverb; he was the man
who burnt his ships, and who for ever set the Thames on fire.



It is the pathos of many hackneyed things that they are intrinsically
delicate and are only mechanically made dull. Any one who has seen the
first white light, when it comes in by a window, knows that daylight is
not only as beautiful but as mysterious as moonlight. It is the subtlety
of the colour of sunshine that seems to be colourless. So patriotism,
and especially English patriotism, which is vulgarized with volumes of
verbal fog and gas, is still in itself something as tenuous and tender
as a climate. The name of Nelson, with which the last chapter ended,
might very well summarize the matter; for his name is banged and beaten
about like an old tin can, while his soul had something in it of a fine
and fragile eighteenth-century vase. And it will be found that the most
threadbare things contemporary and connected with him have a real truth
to the tone and meaning of his life and time, though for us they have
too often degenerated into dead jokes. The expression "hearts of oak,"
for instance, is no unhappy phrase for the finer side of that England
of which he was the best expression. Even as a material metaphor it
covers much of what I mean; oak was by no means only made into
bludgeons, nor even only into battle-ships; and the English gentry did
not think it business-like to pretend to be mere brutes. The mere name
of oak calls back like a dream those dark but genial interiors of
colleges and country houses, in which great gentlemen, not degenerate,
almost made Latin an English language and port an English wine. Some
part of that world at least will not perish; for its autumnal glow
passed into the brush of the great English portrait-painters, who, more
than any other men, were given the power to commemorate the large
humanity of their own land; immortalizing a mood as broad and soft as
their own brush-work. Come naturally, at the right emotional angle, upon
a canvass of Gainsborough, who painted ladies like landscapes, as great
and as unconscious with repose, and you will note how subtly the artist
gives to a dress flowing in the foreground something of the divine
quality of distance. Then you will understand another faded phrase and
words spoken far away upon the sea; there will rise up quite fresh
before you and be borne upon a bar of music, like words you have never
heard before: "For England, home, and beauty."

When I think of these things, I have no temptation to mere grumbling at
the great gentry that waged the great war of our fathers. But indeed the
difficulty about it was something much deeper than could be dealt with
by any grumbling. It was an exclusive class, but not an exclusive life;
it was interested in all things, though not for all men. Or rather those
things it failed to include, through the limitations of this rationalist
interval between mediæval and modern mysticism, were at least not of the
sort to shock us with superficial inhumanity. The greatest gap in their
souls, for those who think it a gap, was their complete and complacent
paganism. All their very decencies assumed that the old faith was dead;
those who held it still, like the great Johnson, were considered
eccentrics. The French Revolution was a riot that broke up the very
formal funeral of Christianity; and was followed by various other
complications, including the corpse coming to life. But the scepticism
was no mere oligarchic orgy; it was not confined to the Hell-Fire Club;
which might in virtue of its vivid name be regarded as relatively
orthodox. It is present in the mildest middle-class atmosphere; as in
the middle-class masterpiece about "Northanger Abbey," where we actually
remember it is an antiquity, without ever remembering it is an abbey.
Indeed there is no clearer case of it than what can only be called the
atheism of Jane Austen.

Unfortunately it could truly be said of the English gentleman, as of
another gallant and gracious individual, that his honour stood rooted in
dishonour. He was, indeed, somewhat in the position of such an
aristocrat in a romance, whose splendour has the dark spot of a secret
and a sort of blackmail. There was, to begin with, an uncomfortable
paradox in the tale of his pedigree. Many heroes have claimed to be
descended from the gods, from beings greater than themselves; but he
himself was far more heroic than his ancestors. His glory did not come
from the Crusades but from the Great Pillage. His fathers had not come
over with William the Conqueror, but only assisted, in a somewhat
shuffling manner, at the coming over of William of Orange. His own
exploits were often really romantic, in the cities of the Indian sultans
or the war of the wooden ships; it was the exploits of the far-off
founders of his family that were painfully realistic. In this the great
gentry were more in the position of Napoleonic marshals than of Norman
knights, but their position was worse; for the marshals might be
descended from peasants and shopkeepers; but the oligarchs were
descended from usurers and thieves. That, for good or evil, was the
paradox of England; the typical aristocrat was the typical upstart.

But the secret was worse; not only was such a family founded on
stealing, but the family was stealing still. It is a grim truth that all
through the eighteenth century, all through the great Whig speeches
about liberty, all through the great Tory speeches about patriotism,
through the period of Wandewash and Plassy, through the period of
Trafalgar and Waterloo, one process was steadily going on in the central
senate of the nation. Parliament was passing bill after bill for the
enclosure, by the great landlords, of such of the common lands as had
survived out of the great communal system of the Middle Ages. It is much
more than a pun, it is the prime political irony of our history, that
the Commons were destroying the commons. The very word "common," as we
have before noted, lost its great moral meaning, and became a mere
topographical term for some remaining scrap of scrub or heath that was
not worth stealing. In the eighteenth century these last and lingering
commons were connected only with stories about highwaymen, which still
linger in our literature. The romance of them was a romance of robbers;
but not of the real robbers.

This was the mysterious sin of the English squires, that they remained
human, and yet ruined humanity all around them. Their own ideal, nay
their own reality of life, was really more generous and genial than the
stiff savagery of Puritan captains and Prussian nobles; but the land
withered under their smile as under an alien frown. Being still at least
English, they were still in their way good-natured; but their position
was false, and a false position forces the good-natured into brutality.
The French Revolution was the challenge that really revealed to the
Whigs that they must make up their minds to be really democrats or admit
that they were really aristocrats. They decided, as in the case of their
philosophic exponent Burke, to be really aristocrats; and the result
was the White Terror, the period of Anti-Jacobin repression which
revealed the real side of their sympathies more than any stricken fields
in foreign lands. Cobbett, the last and greatest of the yeomen, of the
small farming class which the great estates were devouring daily, was
thrown into prison merely for protesting against the flogging of English
soldiers by German mercenaries. In that savage dispersal of a peaceful
meeting which was called the Massacre of Peterloo, English soldiers were
indeed employed, though much more in the spirit of German ones. And it
is one of the bitter satires that cling to the very continuity of our
history, that such suppression of the old yeoman spirit was the work of
soldiers who still bore the title of the Yeomanry.

The name of Cobbett is very important here; indeed it is generally
ignored because it is important. Cobbett was the one man who saw the
tendency of the time as a whole, and challenged it as a whole;
consequently he went without support. It is a mark of our whole modern
history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. They are kept quiet
by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this
time that the Party System has been popular only in the same sense that
a football match is popular. The division in Cobbett's time was slightly
more sincere, but almost as superficial; it was a difference of
sentiment about externals which divided the old agricultural gentry of
the eighteenth century from the new mercantile gentry of the
nineteenth. Through the first half of the nineteenth century there were
some real disputes between the squire and the merchant. The merchant
became converted to the important economic thesis of Free Trade, and
accused the squire of starving the poor by dear bread to keep up his
agrarian privilege. Later the squire retorted not ineffectively by
accusing the merchant of brutalizing the poor by overworking them in his
factories to keep up his commercial success. The passing of the Factory
Acts was a confession of the cruelty that underlay the new industrial
experiments, just as the Repeal of the Corn Laws was a confession of the
comparative weakness and unpopularity of the squires, who had destroyed
the last remnants of any peasantry that might have defended the field
against the factory. These relatively real disputes would bring us to
the middle of the Victorian era. But long before the beginning of the
Victorian era, Cobbett had seen and said that the disputes were only
relatively real. Or rather he would have said, in his more robust
fashion, that they were not real at all. He would have said that the
agricultural pot and the industrial kettle were calling each other
black, when they had both been blackened in the same kitchen. And he
would have been substantially right; for the great industrial disciple
of the kettle, James Watt (who learnt from it the lesson of the steam
engine), was typical of the age in this, that he found the old Trade
Guilds too fallen, unfashionable and out of touch with the times to help
his discovery, so that he had recourse to the rich minority which had
warred on and weakened those Guilds since the Reformation. There was no
prosperous peasant's pot, such as Henry of Navarre invoked, to enter
into alliance with the kettle. In other words, there was in the strict
sense of the word no commonwealth, because wealth, though more and more
wealthy, was less and less common. Whether it be a credit or discredit,
industrial science and enterprise were in bulk a new experiment of the
old oligarchy; and the old oligarchy had always been ready for new
experiments--beginning with the Reformation. And it is characteristic of
the clear mind which was hidden from many by the hot temper of Cobbett,
that he did see the Reformation as the root of both squirearchy and
industrialism, and called on the people to break away from both. The
people made more effort to do so than is commonly realized. There are
many silences in our somewhat snobbish history; and when the educated
class can easily suppress a revolt, they can still more easily suppress
the record of it. It was so with some of the chief features of that
great mediæval revolution the failure of which, or rather the betrayal
of which, was the real turning-point of our history. It was so with the
revolts against the religious policy of Henry VIII.; and it was so with
the rick-burning and frame-breaking riots of Cobbett's epoch. The real
mob reappeared for a moment in our history, for just long enough to show
one of the immortal marks of the real mob--ritualism. There is nothing
that strikes the undemocratic doctrinaire so sharply about direct
democratic action as the vanity or mummery of the things done seriously
in the daylight; they astonish him by being as unpractical as a poem or
a prayer. The French Revolutionists stormed an empty prison merely
because it was large and solid and difficult to storm, and therefore
symbolic of the mighty monarchical machinery of which it had been but
the shed. The English rioters laboriously broke in pieces a parish
grindstone, merely because it was large and solid and difficult to
break, and therefore symbolic of the mighty oligarchical machinery which
perpetually ground the faces of the poor. They also put the oppressive
agent of some landlord in a cart and escorted him round the county,
merely to exhibit his horrible personality to heaven and earth.
Afterwards they let him go, which marks perhaps, for good or evil, a
certain national modification of the movement. There is something very
typical of an English revolution in having the tumbril without the

Anyhow, these embers of the revolutionary epoch were trodden out very
brutally; the grindstone continued (and continues) to grind in the
scriptural fashion above referred to, and, in most political crises
since, it is the crowd that has found itself in the cart. But, of
course, both the riot and repression in England were but shadows of the
awful revolt and vengeance which crowned the parallel process in
Ireland. Here the terrorism, which was but a temporary and desperate
tool of the aristocrats in England (not being, to do them justice, at
all consonant to their temperament, which had neither the cruelty and
morbidity nor the logic and fixity of terrorism), became in a more
spiritual atmosphere a flaming sword of religious and racial insanity.
Pitt, the son of Chatham, was quite unfit to fill his father's place,
unfit indeed (I cannot but think) to fill the place commonly given him
in history. But if he was wholly worthy of his immortality, his Irish
expedients, even if considered as immediately defensible, have not been
worthy of _their_ immortality. He was sincerely convinced of the
national need to raise coalition after coalition against Napoleon, by
pouring the commercial wealth then rather peculiar to England upon her
poorer Allies, and he did this with indubitable talent and pertinacity.
He was at the same time faced with a hostile Irish rebellion and a
partly or potentially hostile Irish Parliament. He broke the latter by
the most indecent bribery and the former by the most indecent brutality,
but he may well have thought himself entitled to the tyrant's plea. But
not only were his expedients those of panic, or at any rate of peril,
but (what is less clearly realized) it is the only real defence of them
that they were those of panic and peril. He was ready to emancipate
Catholics as such, for religious bigotry was not the vice of the
oligarchy; but he was not ready to emancipate Irishmen as such. He did
not really want to enlist Ireland like a recruit, but simply to disarm
Ireland like an enemy. Hence his settlement was from the first in a
false position for settling anything. The Union may have been a
necessity, but the Union was not a Union. It was not intended to be one,
and nobody has ever treated it as one. We have not only never succeeded
in making Ireland English, as Burgundy has been made French, but we have
never tried. Burgundy could boast of Corneille, though Corneille was a
Norman, but we should smile if Ireland boasted of Shakespeare. Our
vanity has involved us in a mere contradiction; we have tried to combine
identification with superiority. It is simply weak-minded to sneer at an
Irishman if he figures as an Englishman, and rail at him if he figures
as an Irishman. So the Union has never even applied English laws to
Ireland, but only coercions and concessions both specially designed for
Ireland. From Pitt's time to our own this tottering alternation has
continued; from the time when the great O'Connell, with his monster
meetings, forced our government to listen to Catholic Emancipation to
the time when the great Parnell, with his obstruction, forced it to
listen to Home Rule, our staggering equilibrium has been maintained by
blows from without. In the later nineteenth century the better sort of
special treatment began on the whole to increase. Gladstone, an
idealistic though inconsistent Liberal, rather belatedly realized that
the freedom he loved in Greece and Italy had its rights nearer home, and
may be said to have found a second youth in the gateway of the grave,
in the eloquence and emphasis of his conversion. And a statesman wearing
the opposite label (for what that is worth) had the spiritual insight to
see that Ireland, if resolved to be a nation, was even more resolved to
be a peasantry. George Wyndham, generous, imaginative, a man among
politicians, insisted that the agrarian agony of evictions, shootings,
and rack-rentings should end with the individual Irish getting, as
Parnell had put it, a grip on their farms. In more ways than one his
work rounds off almost romantically the tragedy of the rebellion against
Pitt, for Wyndham himself was of the blood of the leader of the rebels,
and he wrought the only reparation yet made for all the blood,
shamefully shed, that flowed around the fall of FitzGerald.

The effect on England was less tragic; indeed, in a sense it was comic.
Wellington, himself an Irishman though of the narrower party, was
preeminently a realist, and, like many Irishmen, was especially a
realist about Englishmen. He said the army he commanded was the scum of
the earth; and the remark is none the less valuable because that army
proved itself useful enough to be called the salt of the earth. But in
truth it was in this something of a national symbol and the guardian, as
it were, of a national secret. There is a paradox about the English,
even as distinct from the Irish or the Scotch, which makes any formal
version of their plans and principles inevitably unjust to them. England
not only makes her ramparts out of rubbish, but she finds ramparts in
what she has herself cast away as rubbish. If it be a tribute to a thing
to say that even its failures have been successes, there is truth in
that tribute. Some of the best colonies were convict settlements, and
might be called abandoned convict settlements. The army was largely an
army of gaol-birds, raised by gaol-delivery; but it was a good army of
bad men; nay, it was a gay army of unfortunate men. This is the colour
and the character that has run through the realities of English history,
and it can hardly be put in a book, least of all a historical book. It
has its flashes in our fantastic fiction and in the songs of the street,
but its true medium is conversation. It has no name but incongruity. An
illogical laughter survives everything in the English soul. It survived,
perhaps, with only too much patience, the time of terrorism in which the
more serious Irish rose in revolt. That time was full of a quite
topsy-turvey tyranny, and the English humorist stood on his head to suit
it. Indeed, he often receives a quite irrational sentence in a police
court by saying he will do it on his head. So, under Pitt's coercionist
régime, a man was sent to prison for saying that George IV. was fat; but
we feel he must have been partly sustained in prison by the artistic
contemplation of how fat he was. That sort of liberty, that sort of
humanity, and it is no mean sort, did indeed survive all the drift and
downward eddy of an evil economic system, as well as the dragooning of a
reactionary epoch and the drearier menace of materialistic social
science, as embodied in the new Puritans, who have purified themselves
even of religion. Under this long process, the worst that can be said is
that the English humorist has been slowly driven downwards in the social
scale. Falstaff was a knight, Sam Weller was a gentleman's servant, and
some of our recent restrictions seem designed to drive Sam Weller to the
status of the Artful Dodger. But well it was for us that some such
trampled tradition and dark memory of Merry England survived; well for
us, as we shall see, that all our social science failed and all our
statesmanship broke down before it. For there was to come the noise of a
trumpet and a dreadful day of visitation, in which all the daily workers
of a dull civilization were to be called out of their houses and their
holes like a resurrection of the dead, and left naked under a strange
sun with no religion but a sense of humour. And men might know of what
nation Shakespeare was, who broke into puns and practical jokes in the
darkest passion of his tragedies, if they had only heard those boys in
France and Flanders who called out "Early Doors!" themselves in a
theatrical memory, as they went so early in their youth to break down
the doors of death.



The only way to write a popular history, as we have already remarked,
would be to write it backwards. It would be to take common objects of
our own street and tell the tale of how each of them came to be in the
street at all. And for my immediate purpose it is really convenient to
take two objects we have known all our lives, as features of fashion or
respectability. One, which has grown rarer recently, is what we call a
top-hat; the other, which is still a customary formality, is a pair of
trousers. The history of these humorous objects really does give a clue
to what has happened in England for the last hundred years. It is not
necessary to be an æsthete in order to regard both objects as the
reverse of beautiful, as tested by what may be called the rational side
of beauty. The lines of human limbs can be beautiful, and so can the
lines of loose drapery, but not cylinders too loose to be the first and
too tight to be the second. Nor is a subtle sense of harmony needed to
see that while there are hundreds of differently proportioned hats, a
hat that actually grows larger towards the top is somewhat top-heavy.
But what is largely forgotten is this, that these two fantastic objects,
which now strike the eye as unconscious freaks, were originally
conscious freaks. Our ancestors, to do them justice, did not think them
casual or commonplace; they thought them, if not ridiculous, at least
rococo. The top-hat was the topmost point of a riot of Regency dandyism,
and bucks wore trousers while business men were still wearing
knee-breeches. It will not be fanciful to see a certain oriental touch
in trousers, which the later Romans also regarded as effeminately
oriental; it was an oriental touch found in many florid things of the
time--in Byron's poems or Brighton Pavilion. Now, the interesting point
is that for a whole serious century these instantaneous fantasies have
remained like fossils. In the carnival of the Regency a few fools got
into fancy dress, and we have all remained in fancy dress. At least, we
have remained in the dress, though we have lost the fancy.

I say this is typical of the most important thing that happened in the
Victorian time. For the most important thing was that nothing happened.
The very fuss that was made about minor modifications brings into relief
the rigidity with which the main lines of social life were left as they
were at the French Revolution. We talk of the French Revolution as
something that changed the world; but its most important relation to
England is that it did not change England. A student of our history is
concerned rather with the effect it did not have than the effect it
did. If it be a splendid fate to have survived the Flood, the English
oligarchy had that added splendour. But even for the countries in which
the Revolution was a convulsion, it was the last convulsion--until that
which shakes the world to-day. It gave their character to all the
commonwealths, which all talked about progress, and were occupied in
marking time. Frenchmen, under all superficial reactions, remained
republican in spirit, as they had been when they first wore top-hats.
Englishmen, under all superficial reforms, remained oligarchical in
spirit, as they had been when they first wore trousers. Only one power
might be said to be growing, and that in a plodding and prosaic
fashion--the power in the North-East whose name was Prussia. And the
English were more and more learning that this growth need cause them no
alarm, since the North Germans were their cousins in blood and their
brothers in spirit.

The first thing to note, then, about the nineteenth century is that
Europe remained herself as compared with the Europe of the great war,
and that England especially remained herself as compared even with the
rest of Europe. Granted this, we may give their proper importance to the
cautious internal changes in this country, the small conscious and the
large unconscious changes. Most of the conscious ones were much upon the
model of an early one, the great Reform Bill of 1832, and can be
considered in the light of it. First, from the standpoint of most real
reformers, the chief thing about the Reform Bill was that it did not
reform. It had a huge tide of popular enthusiasm behind it, which wholly
disappeared when the people found themselves in front of it. It
enfranchised large masses of the middle classes; it disfranchised very
definite bodies of the working classes; and it so struck the balance
between the conservative and the dangerous elements in the commonwealth
that the governing class was rather stronger than before. The date,
however, is important, not at all because it was the beginning of
democracy, but because it was the beginning of the best way ever
discovered of evading and postponing democracy. Here enters the
homoeopathic treatment of revolution, since so often successful. Well
into the next generation Disraeli, the brilliant Jewish adventurer who
was the symbol of the English aristocracy being no longer genuine,
extended the franchise to the artisans, partly, indeed, as a party move
against his great rival, Gladstone, but more as the method by which the
old popular pressure was first tired out and then toned down. The
politicians said the working-class was now strong enough to be allowed
votes. It would be truer to say it was now weak enough to be allowed
votes. So in more recent times Payment of Members, which would once have
been regarded (and resisted) as an inrush of popular forces, was passed
quietly and without resistance, and regarded merely as an extension of
parliamentary privileges. The truth is that the old parliamentary
oligarchy abandoned their first line of trenches because they had by
that time constructed a second line of defence. It consisted in the
concentration of colossal political funds in the private and
irresponsible power of the politicians, collected by the sale of
peerages and more important things, and expended on the jerrymandering
of the enormously expensive elections. In the presence of this inner
obstacle a vote became about as valuable as a railway ticket when there
is a permanent block on the line. The façade and outward form of this
new secret government is the merely mechanical application of what is
called the Party System. The Party System does not consist, as some
suppose, of two parties, but of one. If there were two real parties,
there could be no system.

But if this was the evolution of parliamentary reform, as represented by
the first Reform Bill, we can see the other side of it in the social
reform attacked immediately after the first Reform Bill. It is a truth
that should be a tower and a landmark, that one of the first things done
by the Reform Parliament was to establish those harsh and dehumanised
workhouses which both honest Radicals and honest Tories branded with the
black title of the New Bastille. This bitter name lingers in our
literature, and can be found by the curious in the works of Carlyle and
Hood, but it is doubtless interesting rather as a note of contemporary
indignation than as a correct comparison. It is easy to imagine the
logicians and legal orators of the parliamentary school of progress
finding many points of differentiation and even of contrast. The
Bastille was one central institution; the workhouses have been many, and
have everywhere transformed local life with whatever they have to give
of social sympathy and inspiration. Men of high rank and great wealth
were frequently sent to the Bastille; but no such mistake has ever been
made by the more business administration of the workhouse. Over the most
capricious operations of the _lettres de cachet_ there still hovered
some hazy traditional idea that a man is put in prison to punish him for
something. It was the discovery of a later social science that men who
cannot be punished can still be imprisoned. But the deepest and most
decisive difference lies in the better fortune of the New Bastille; for
no mob has ever dared to storm it, and it never fell.

The New Poor Law was indeed not wholly new in the sense that it was the
culmination and clear enunciation of a principle foreshadowed in the
earlier Poor Law of Elizabeth, which was one of the many anti-popular
effects of the Great Pillage. When the monasteries were swept away and
the mediæval system of hospitality destroyed, tramps and beggars became
a problem, the solution of which has always tended towards slavery, even
when the question of slavery has been cleared of the irrelevant question
of cruelty. It is obvious that a desperate man might find Mr. Bumble and
the Board of Guardians less cruel than cold weather and the bare
ground--even if he were allowed to sleep on the ground, which (by a
veritable nightmare of nonsense and injustice) he is not. He is actually
punished for sleeping under a bush on the specific and stated ground
that he cannot afford a bed. It is obvious, however, that he may find
his best physical good by going into the workhouse, as he often found it
in pagan times by selling himself into slavery. The point is that the
solution remains servile, even when Mr. Bumble and the Board of
Guardians ceased to be in a common sense cruel. The pagan might have the
luck to sell himself to a kind master. The principle of the New Poor
Law, which has so far proved permanent in our society, is that the man
lost all his civic rights and lost them solely through poverty. There is
a touch of irony, though hardly of mere hypocrisy, in the fact that the
Parliament which effected this reform had just been abolishing black
slavery by buying out the slave-owners in the British colonies. The
slave-owners were bought out at a price big enough to be called
blackmail; but it would be misunderstanding the national mentality to
deny the sincerity of the sentiment. Wilberforce represented in this the
real wave of Wesleyan religion which had made a humane reaction against
Calvinism, and was in no mean sense philanthropic. But there is
something romantic in the English mind which can always see what is
remote. It is the strongest example of what men lose by being
long-sighted. It is fair to say that they gain many things also, the
poems that are like adventures and the adventures that are like poems.
It is a national savour, and therefore in itself neither good nor evil;
and it depends on the application whether we find a scriptural text for
it in the wish to take the wings of the morning and abide in the
uttermost parts of the sea, or merely in the saying that the eyes of a
fool are in the ends of the earth.

Anyhow, the unconscious nineteenth-century movement, so slow that it
seems stationary, was altogether in this direction, of which workhouse
philanthropy is the type. Nevertheless, it had one national institution
to combat and overcome; one institution all the more intensely national
because it was not official, and in a sense not even political. The
modern Trade Union was the inspiration and creation of the English; it
is still largely known throughout Europe by its English name. It was the
English expression of the European effort to resist the tendency of
Capitalism to reach its natural culmination in slavery. In this it has
an almost weird psychological interest, for it is a return to the past
by men ignorant of the past, like the subconscious action of some man
who has lost his memory. We say that history repeats itself, and it is
even more interesting when it unconsciously repeats itself. No man on
earth is kept so ignorant of the Middle Ages as the British workman,
except perhaps the British business man who employs him. Yet all who
know even a little of the Middle Ages can see that the modern Trade
Union is a groping for the ancient Guild. It is true that those who
look to the Trade Union, and even those clear-sighted enough to call it
the Guild, are often without the faintest tinge of mediæval mysticism,
or even of mediæval morality. But this fact is itself the most striking
and even staggering tribute to mediæval morality. It has all the
clinching logic of coincidence. If large numbers of the most hard-headed
atheists had evolved, out of their own inner consciousness, the notion
that a number of bachelors or spinsters ought to live together in
celibate groups for the good of the poor, or the observation of certain
hours and offices, it would be a very strong point in favour of the
monasteries. It would be all the stronger if the atheists had never
heard of monasteries; it would be strongest of all if they hated the
very name of monasteries. And it is all the stronger because the man who
puts his trust in Trades Unions does not call himself a Catholic or even
a Christian, if he does call himself a Guild Socialist.

The Trade Union movement passed through many perils, including a
ludicrous attempt of certain lawyers to condemn as a criminal conspiracy
that Trade Union solidarity, of which their own profession is the
strongest and most startling example in the world. The struggle
culminated in gigantic strikes which split the country in every
direction in the earlier part of the twentieth century. But another
process, with much more power at its back, was also in operation. The
principle represented by the New Poor Law proceeded on its course, and
in one important respect altered its course, though it can hardly be
said to have altered its object. It can most correctly be stated by
saying that the employers themselves, who already organized business,
began to organize social reform. It was more picturesquely expressed by
a cynical aristocrat in Parliament who said, "We are all Socialists
now." The Socialists, a body of completely sincere men led by several
conspicuously brilliant men, had long hammered into men's heads the
hopeless sterility of mere non-interference in exchange. The Socialists
proposed that the State should not merely interfere in business but
should take over the business, and pay all men as equal wage-earners, or
at any rate as wage-earners. The employers were not willing to surrender
their own position to the State, and this project has largely faded from
politics. But the wiser of them were willing to pay better wages, and
they were specially willing to bestow various other benefits so long as
they were bestowed after the manner of wages. Thus we had a series of
social reforms which, for good or evil, all tended in the same
direction; the permission to employees to claim certain advantages as
employees, and as something permanently different from employers. Of
these the obvious examples were Employers' Liability, Old Age Pensions,
and, as marking another and more decisive stride in the process, the
Insurance Act.

The latter in particular, and the whole plan of the social reform in
general, were modelled upon Germany. Indeed the whole English life of
this period was overshadowed by Germany. We had now reached, for good or
evil, the final fulfilment of that gathering influence which began to
grow on us in the seventeenth century, which was solidified by the
military alliances of the eighteenth century, and which in the
nineteenth century had been turned into a philosophy--not to say a
mythology. German metaphysics had thinned our theology, so that many a
man's most solemn conviction about Good Friday was that Friday was named
after Freya. German history had simply annexed English history, so that
it was almost counted the duty of any patriotic Englishman to be proud
of being a German. The genius of Carlyle, the culture preached by
Matthew Arnold, would not, persuasive as they were, have alone produced
this effect but for an external phenomenon of great force. Our internal
policy was transformed by our foreign policy; and foreign policy was
dominated by the more and more drastic steps which the Prussian, now
clearly the prince of all the German tribes, was taking to extend the
German influence in the world. Denmark was robbed of two provinces;
France was robbed of two provinces; and though the fall of Paris was
felt almost everywhere as the fall of the capital of civilization, a
thing like the sacking of Rome by the Goths, many of the most
influential people in England still saw nothing in it but the solid
success of our kinsmen and old allies of Waterloo. The moral methods
which achieved it, the juggling with the Augustenburg claim, the forgery
of the Ems telegram, were either successfully concealed or were but
cloudily appreciated. The Higher Criticism had entered into our ethics
as well as our theology. Our view of Europe was also distorted and made
disproportionate by the accident of a natural concern for Constantinople
and our route to India, which led Palmerston and later Premiers to
support the Turk and see Russia as the only enemy. This somewhat cynical
reaction was summed up in the strange figure of Disraeli, who made a
pro-Turkish settlement full of his native indifference to the Christian
subjects of Turkey, and sealed it at Berlin in the presence of Bismarck.
Disraeli was not without insight into the inconsistencies and illusions
of the English; he said many sagacious things about them, and one
especially when he told the Manchester School that their motto was
"Peace and Plenty, amid a starving people, and with the world in arms."
But what he said about Peace and Plenty might well be parodied as a
comment on what he himself said about Peace with Honour. Returning from
that Berlin Conference he should have said, "I bring you Peace with
Honour; peace with the seeds of the most horrible war of history; and
honour as the dupes and victims of the old bully in Berlin."

But it was, as we have seen, especially in social reform that Germany
was believed to be leading the way, and to have found the secret of
dealing with the economic evil. In the case of Insurance, which was the
test case, she was applauded for obliging all her workmen to set apart a
portion of their wages for any time of sickness; and numerous other
provisions, both in Germany and England, pursued the same ideal, which
was that of protecting the poor against themselves. It everywhere
involved an external power having a finger in the family pie; but little
attention was paid to any friction thus caused, for all prejudices
against the process were supposed to be the growth of ignorance. And
that ignorance was already being attacked by what was called
education--an enterprise also inspired largely by the example, and
partly by the commercial competition of Germany. It was pointed out that
in Germany governments and great employers thought it well worth their
while to apply the grandest scale of organization and the minutest
inquisition of detail to the instruction of the whole German race. The
government was the stronger for training its scholars as it trained its
soldiers; the big businesses were the stronger for manufacturing mind as
they manufactured material. English education was made compulsory; it
was made free; many good, earnest, and enthusiastic men laboured to
create a ladder of standards and examinations, which would connect the
cleverest of the poor with the culture of the English universities and
the current teaching in history or philosophy. But it cannot be said
that the connection was very complete, or the achievement so thorough as
the German achievement. For whatever reason, the poor Englishman
remained in many things much as his fathers had been, and seemed to
think the Higher Criticism too high for him even to criticize.

And then a day came, and if we were wise, we thanked God that we had
failed. Education, if it had ever really been in question, would
doubtless have been a noble gift; education in the sense of the central
tradition of history, with its freedom, its family honour, its chivalry
which is the flower of Christendom. But what would our populace, in our
epoch, have actually learned if they had learned all that our schools
and universities had to teach? That England was but a little branch on a
large Teutonic tree; that an unfathomable spiritual sympathy,
all-encircling like the sea, had always made us the natural allies of
the great folk by the flowing Rhine; that all light came from Luther and
Lutheran Germany, whose science was still purging Christianity of its
Greek and Roman accretions; that Germany was a forest fated to grow;
that France was a dung-heap fated to decay--a dung-heap with a crowing
cock on it. What would the ladder of education have led to, except a
platform on which a posturing professor proved that a cousin german was
the same as a German cousin? What would the guttersnipe have learnt as a
graduate, except to embrace a Saxon because he was the other half of an
Anglo-Saxon? The day came, and the ignorant fellow found he had other
things to learn. And he was quicker than his educated countrymen, for
he had nothing to unlearn.

He in whose honour all had been said and sung stirred, and stepped
across the border of Belgium. Then were spread out before men's eyes all
the beauties of his culture and all the benefits of his organization;
then we beheld under a lifting daybreak what light we had followed and
after what image we had laboured to refashion ourselves. Nor in any
story of mankind has the irony of God chosen the foolish things so
catastrophically to confound the wise. For the common crowd of poor and
ignorant Englishmen, because they only knew that they were Englishmen,
burst through the filthy cobwebs of four hundred years and stood where
their fathers stood when they knew that they were Christian men. The
English poor, broken in every revolt, bullied by every fashion, long
despoiled of property, and now being despoiled of liberty, entered
history with a noise of trumpets, and turned themselves in two years
into one of the iron armies of the world. And when the critic of
politics and literature, feeling that this war is after all heroic,
looks around him to find the hero, he can point to nothing but a mob.



In so small a book on so large a matter, finished hastily enough amid
the necessities of an enormous national crisis, it would be absurd to
pretend to have achieved proportion; but I will confess to some attempt
to correct a disproportion. We talk of historical perspective, but I
rather fancy there is too much perspective in history; for perspective
makes a giant a pigmy and a pigmy a giant. The past is a giant
foreshortened with his feet towards us; and sometimes the feet are of
clay. We see too much merely the sunset of the Middle Ages, even when we
admire its colours; and the study of a man like Napoleon is too often
that of "The Last Phase." So there is a spirit that thinks it reasonable
to deal in detail with Old Sarum, and would think it ridiculous to deal
in detail with the Use of Sarum; or which erects in Kensington Gardens a
golden monument to Albert larger than anybody has ever erected to
Alfred. English history is misread especially, I think, because the
crisis is missed. It is usually put about the period of the Stuarts; and
many of the memorials of our past seem to suffer from the same
visitation as the memorial of Mr. Dick. But though the story of the
Stuarts was a tragedy, I think it was also an epilogue.

I make the guess, for it can be no more, that the change really came
with the fall of Richard II., following on his failure to use mediæval
despotism in the interests of mediæval democracy. England, like the
other nations of Christendom, had been created not so much by the death
of the ancient civilization as by its escape from death, or by its
refusal to die. Mediæval civilization had arisen out of the resistance
to the barbarians, to the naked barbarism from the North and the more
subtle barbarism from the East. It increased in liberties and local
government under kings who controlled the wider things of war and
taxation; and in the peasant war of the fourteenth century in England,
the king and the populace came for a moment into conscious alliance.
They both found that a third thing was already too strong for them. That
third thing was the aristocracy; and it captured and called itself the
Parliament. The House of Commons, as its name implies, had primarily
consisted of plain men summoned by the King like jurymen; but it soon
became a very special jury. It became, for good or evil, a great organ
of government, surviving the Church, the monarchy and the mob; it did
many great and not a few good things. It created what we call the
British Empire; it created something which was really far more
valuable, a new and natural sort of aristocracy, more humane and even
humanitarian than most of the aristocracies of the world. It had
sufficient sense of the instincts of the people, at least until lately,
to respect the liberty and especially the laughter that had become
almost the religion of the race. But in doing all this, it deliberately
did two other things, which it thought a natural part of its policy; it
took the side of the Protestants, and then (partly as a consequence) it
took the side of the Germans. Until very lately most intelligent
Englishmen were quite honestly convinced that in both it was taking the
side of progress against decay. The question which many of them are now
inevitably asking themselves, and would ask whether I asked it or no, is
whether it did not rather take the side of barbarism against

At least, if there be anything valid in my own vision of these things,
we have returned to an origin and we are back in the war with the
barbarians. It falls as naturally for me that the Englishman and the
Frenchman should be on the same side as that Alfred and Abbo should be
on the same side, in that black century when the barbarians wasted
Wessex and besieged Paris. But there are now, perhaps, less certain
tests of the spiritual as distinct from the material victory of
civilization. Ideas are more mixed, are complicated by fine shades or
covered by fine names. And whether the retreating savage leaves behind
him the soul of savagery, like a sickness in the air, I myself should
judge primarily by one political and moral test. The soul of savagery is
slavery. Under all its mask of machinery and instruction, the German
regimentation of the poor was the relapse of barbarians into slavery. I
can see no escape from it for ourselves in the ruts of our present
reforms, but only by doing what the mediævals did after the other
barbarian defeat: beginning, by guilds and small independent groups,
gradually to restore the personal property of the poor and the personal
freedom of the family. If the English really attempt that, the English
have at least shown in the war, to any one who doubted it, that they
have not lost the courage and capacity of their fathers, and can carry
it through if they will. If they do not do so, if they continue to move
only with the dead momentum of the social discipline which we learnt
from Germany, there is nothing before us but what Mr. Belloc, the
discoverer of this great sociological drift, has called the Servile
State. And there are moods in which a man, considering that conclusion
of our story, is half inclined to wish that the wave of Teutonic
barbarism had washed out us and our armies together; and that the world
should never know anything more of the last of the English, except that
they died for liberty.



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