Front Page Titles (by Subject) FIRST AGE - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 8
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FIRST AGE - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 8 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 8.
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One fine summer day, about three hundred and ten years ago, all Whitehall was astir with the throngs who were hastening to see my Lord Cardinal set forth from the episcopal palace for the Parliament House. The attendants of the great man had been collected for some time,— if bearers of the silver crosses, of the glittering pillars, and of the gilt mace, those who shouldered the pole=axes, the running footmen, and the grooms who held the well-clothed mules. The servants of the palace stood round, and there came among them a troop of gentlemen in foreign costume, whose country could not be divined from their complexions, since each wore a mask, rarely painted wherever left uncovered by a beard made of gold or silver wire. When my Lord Cardinal came forth, glowing in scarlet damask, and towering above everybody else by the height of the pillion and black velvet noble which he carried on his head, these strangers hastened to range themselves round the mule, (little less disguised than they,) and to offer a homage which savoured of mockery nearly as strongly as that of casual passengers, who had good reason for beholding with impatience the ostentatious triumphs of the “butcher's dog,” as an angry man had been heard to call my Lord Cardinal. “Wolsey made a sudden halt, and his goodly shoe, blazing with gems, met the ground less tenderly than was its wont, as its wearer stopped to cast a keen glance upon the strangers. He removed from beneath his nose the orange peel filled with confections which might defy the taint of the common people, and handed it to a page, with a motion which signified that he perceived how an atmosphere awaited him which he need not fear to breathe. There was then a general pause.
“Pleaseth it your Grace,” said one of the strangers, “there are certain in Blackfriars that await your Grace's passage and arrival, to prosper a light affair, in which your Grace's countenance will be comfortable to them. Will it please you to spare them further perplexity of delay?”
The Cardinal bowed low to the speaker, mounted his mule in all solemnity, and in a low voice asked for the honour of the stranger's latest commands to his obedient parliament.
“Commend us heartily to them, and see that they be readily obedient. We commend them to your Grace's tuition and governance. We will be advertised of their answer at a certain fair house at Chelsea, where we shall divert ourselves till sunset. Pray heaven your Grace may meet as good diversion in Blackfriars!”
The strangers renewed their obeisances, and drew back to allow the Cardinal's stately retinue to form and proceed. The crowd of gazers moved on with the procession, and left but few to observe the motions of the strangers when the last scarlet drapery had fluttered, and the last gold mace had gleamed on the sight. He who seemed the leader of the foreigners then turned from the gate of the episcopal palace, followed by his companions. All mounted mules which awaited them at some distance, and proceeded in the direction of Chelsea.
They saw many things on the way with which they might make merry. Pale, half-naked men were employed along the whole length of road in heaping up wood for bonfires, as the people had been told that it pleased the King's Highness that they should rejoice for a mighty success over the French. There was something very diverting, it was found, in the economy of one who reserved a clean bit of board to be sawn into dust to eke out the substance of his children's bread; and nothing could be more amusing than the coolness with which another pulled up the fence of his little field, that the wood might go to the bonfire, and the scanty produce of the soil to any wandering beggar who chose to take it, the owner having spent his all in supporting this war, and being now about to become a wandering beggar himself. He was complimented on his good cheer, when he said that the king's asses were welcome to the thistles of his field, and the king's pages to adorn themselves with the roses of his garden, since the king himself had levied as tribute the corn of the one and the fruits of the other. There was also much jesting with a damsel who seemed nothing loth to part with her child, when they offered playfully to steal it to be brought up for the wars. She thought the boy might thus perchance find his father, since he owed his birth to one who had promised the woman to get her father released from the prison where he pined because he was unable to pay his share of the Benevolence by which the King's wars were to be carried on. She would give her son in exchange for her father, in hopes of forgetting her anger and her shame. The child was cast back into her arms with the assurance that when he was strong enough to wield his weapon, the King's Highness would call for him. The next diverting passage was the meeting with a company of nuns, on their way from their despoiled convent to find a hiding-place in London. There was some exercise of wit in divining, while the maidens kept their veils before their faces, which of them were under four-and-twenty, and might therefore be toyed with, according to the royal proclamation, that all below that age were released from their vows. When the veils were pulled aside, there was loud laughter at the trembling of some of the women, and the useless rage of others, and at the solemn gravity of the youngest and prettiest of them all, who was reproved by her superior for putting on a bold, undismayed face when so many older and wiser sisters were brought to their wits' end. Nothing could be made of her, and she was therefore the first to be forgotten when new matter of sport appeared. A friar, fatter than he seemed likely to be in future, was seen toiling along the road under a loaded basket, which the frolickers were certain must contain something good, from its being in the custody of a man of God. They got round him, so enclosing him with their beasts that he could not escape, and requested to be favoured with the sight and scent of the savoury matters which his basket doubtless contained, and for which they hungered and thirsted, since they had seen none but meagre fare in the houses they had passed:—little better than coarse bread had met their eyes since their own morning meal. The friar was not unwilling to display his treasures, (although unsavoury.) in the hope of a parting gift: so the eyes of the stranger were regaled with the parings of St. Edmund's toes,—the most fastidious of saints in respect of his feet, to judge from the quantity of such parings as one and another of the present company had seen since there had been a stir among the monasteries. There were two of the coals which had roasted St. Lawrence—now cool enough to be safely handled. A head of St. Ursula,—very like a whale,—but undoubtedly a head of St. Ursula, because it was a perfect preventive of weeds in corn. The friar was recommended to bestow it upon the poor man who had been seen pulling up the fence of his barren field; but the leader of the party could not spare the friar at present. The holy man did not know his own age, for certain. He must,—all the party would take their oath of it,—be under four-and-twenty, and his merriment would match admirably with the gravity of the young nun who had just passed. Two of the revellers were sent back to catch, and bring her with all speed to Chelsea, where she should be married to the friar before the day was over; the King's Highness being pleased to give her a dower. The friar affected to enjoy this as a jest, and sent a message to the damsel while inwardly planning how to escape from the party before they should reach Chelsea.
His planning was in vain. He was ordered to ride behind one of the revellers, and his precious burden of relics was committed to the charge of another, and some of the mocking eyes of the party were for ever fixed on the holy man, insomuch that he did not dare to slip down and attempt to escape; and far too soon for him appeared the low, rambling house, its expanse of roof alive with pert pigeons, its garden alleys stretching down to the Thames, and its porch and gates guarded with rare, grim-looking stuffed quadrupeds placed in attitudes,—very unlike the living animals which might be seen moving at their pleasure in the meadow beyond.
On the approach of the party, one female face after another appeared at the porch, vanished and reappeared, till an elderly lady came forth, laden with fruit, from a close alley, and served as a centre, round which rallied three or four comely young women, a middle-aged gentleman who was the husband of one of them, and not a few children. The elder dame smoothed a blow which was evidently too apt to be ruffled, put into her manner such little courtesy as she could attain, and having seen that servants enough were in attendance to relieve her guests of their mules, offered the King's Majesty the choice of the garden or the cooler house, while a humble repast was in course of preparation.
The attendant gentlemen liked the look of the garden, and the thought of straying through its green walks, or sitting by the water's edge in company with the graceful and lively daughters of Sir Thomas More; but Henry chose to rest in the house, and it was necessary for some of his followers to remain beside him. While some, therefore, made their escape, and amused themselves with finding simihtudes for one young lady in the swan which floated in a square pond, and in sprinkling another with drops from the fountain which rained coolness over the circular grass-plat, others were called upon to follow the King from the vestibule, which looked like the antechamber to Noah's ark, and the gallery where the promising young artist, Holbein, had hung two or three portraits, to the study,—the large and airy study,—strewed with fresh rushes and ornamented with books, manuscripts, maps, viols, virginals, and other musical instruments, and sundry specimens of ladies' works.
“Marry,” said the King, looking round him, “there are no needs here of the lackery of my Lord Cardinal's and other palaces. These maps and perspectives are as goodly as any cloth of gold at Hampton, or any cloth of bodkin at York House. Right fair ladies, this holy friar shall discourse to us, if you are so minded, of the things here figured forth.”
The ladies had been accustomed to hear a holy man (though not a friar) discourse of things which were, not dreamed of in every one's philosophy; but they respectfully waited for further light from the friar, who now stepped forward to explain how no map could be made complete, because the end of the land and sea, where there was a precipice at its edge, overhanging hell, was shrouded with a dark mist. He found, with astonishing readiness, the country of the infidels, ant the very place of the sepulchre, and the land where recent travellers had met with the breed of asses derived from the beast which carried Christ into Jerusalem. These were known from the common ass from having, not only Christ's common mark,—the cross,—but the marks of his stripes; and from the race suffering no one to ride them but a stray saint whom they might meet wayfaring. Many more such treasures of natural science did he lay open to his hearers with much fluency, as long as uninterrupted; but when the young ladies, as was their wont when discoursing on matters of science with their father or their tutor, made their inquiries in the Latin tongue, the friar lost his eloquence, and speedily substituted topics of theology; the only matter of which he could treat in Latin. This was not much to Henry's taste. He could at any time hear all the theology he chose treated of by the first masters in his kingdom; but it was not every day that graceful young creatures, as witty as they were wise were at hand to amuse his leisure with true tales,—not “of men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders,” but of things quite as unknown to his experience, and far more beautiful to his fancy. It was a pity that Mr. Roper, the husband of the eldest of these young ladies, was present, as it prevented the guests putting all the perplexing questions which might otherwise have occurred to them.
By the time the house had resounded with music, and the King had found his way up to the roof of the house,—where he had more than once amused himself with star=gazing, in the company of his trusty and well-beloved, the honourable Speaker, his host,—dinner was announced.
The dame had bustled about to so much purpose, that the service of pewter made a grand display, the board was amply spread, and the King's Highness was not called upon to content himself with the homely fare of a farm-house, as he had been assured he must. There was a pudding which marvellously pleased the royal palate; and Henry would know whose ingenuity had devised the rare mixture of ingredients.
“If it like your Grace,” replied the lady, “the honour must be parted between me and Margaret, now sitting at your Grace's right hand. The matter was put in a good train by me, in every material point; but as touching the more cunning and delicate—”
“Mine own good mistress Margaret,” interrupted Henry, “we are minded to distinguish the great pain and discretion that you have towardly exercised on this matter; and for a recompense, we appoint you the monies of the next monastery that we shall require to surrender. The only grace we ask is that we may appoint the marriage of the monks who shall owe their liberty to us. Please it you, holy father, to advertise us of a sumptuous monastery that may be most easily discharged?”
“I beseech your Grace to remember that what the regal power may overthrow, the papal power will rectify. Any damageable proceedings may bring on the head of your Highness's servants a grievous punishment.”
“From Servus Servorum?” said the King, laughing. “Let him come to the succour of the monks of Beggam, when they ring their abbey bell, and carry away the sums in their treasury from the hands of Mistress Margaret, to whom we appoint them. Nay, Mistress Margaret, I desire you as lovingly to take this largesse as I do mean it; and ensure yourself that was ill-gotten which is now well-bestowed.”
The friar probably wished to be dismissed from the King's presence before his destined bride should arrive; for he muttered that dogs and base poisoners, who have their chiefest hope in this world, were ever ready to speak unfitting and slanderous words against those whom the holy Trinity held fast in his preservation. The naughty friar received, not an order to go about his business for supposing that Henry was deceived, but a box on the ear from the dignified hands of the monarch, and a promise that he should try the Little Ease in the Tower, if he did not constrain his contumacious tongue in the King's presence. A dead silence followed this rebuff,—partly caused by dismay at the King's levity about popish matters, and partly by sorrow that he should wantonly increase the enmity which was known to be borne to him by the monks and friars in his dominions. The only way of restoring the banished mirth was to call in one who stood without,—the facetious natural who was wont to season Henry's repasts with his jests.
As the jester entered, a royal messenger was seen standing outside, as if anxious to deliver the letter he had in charge; and, unfitting as seemed the time, it was presently in the hands of Henry. Its contents seemed to leave him in no humour for feast or jest; and he had given no further signal for mirth when his entirely beloved counsellor, the Cardinal, and his trusty and honourable Speaker arrived,—the one to glow and glitter in his costly apparel, and feast off “plump fesaunts,” and the other to resume the homely guise he loved best, and refresh himself with fruits and water.
“Marry, my Lords,” cried the King, when they were seated, one on each side of him, “if the Lower House be not mindful of our needs, our sister of Scotland may satisfy herself for her jewels as she may. She is ashamed therewith; and would God there had never been word of the legacy, as the jewels are worth less to her than our estimation.”
“Says the Queen of Scotland so much?” inquired the Cardinal.
“Satisfy yourself how much more,” replied the King, handing to Wolsey the angry letter in which Margaret of Scotland expressed her contempt for the withholding of her father's legacy of jewels.
“Please your Highness, there are matters of other necessity than a perplexed woman's letter,” observed the Cardinal, with a freedom of speech which was not now displeasing to his master.
“Another wager lost by the Princess's governante in her Highness' name? Let us divert ourself with the inventory, my Lord Cardinal, while you refresh yourself in a more hearty wise than our trusty host.”
Wolsey was impatient to consult upon the measures necessary to be taken to follow up the extorted resolution of the House to furnish supplies to the King's needs: but Henry was in a mood for trifling, and he would examine for himself the list of requests from the steward of the Princess's household; a list regularly addressed to the Cardinal, who chose to superintend the details of all the management that he could get into his own hands. Passing his arm round More's neck, the King jested upon the items in the letter,—the ship of silver for the alms dish, the spice plates, the disguisings for an interlude at a banquet, the trumpets for the minstrels, and a bow and quiver for his lady's Grace. There was an earnest beseeching for a Lord of Misrule for the honourable household, and for a rebeck to be added to the band. A fair steel glass from Venice was desired, and a pair of hose wrought in silk and gold from Flanders. There was an account of a little money paid for “Mr. John poticary” coming to see my lady sick, and a great deal for a pound and a half of gold for embroidering a night-gown. Something was paid for a frontlet lost in a wager with my little lady Jane; and something more for the shaving of her Grace's fool's head; and, again, for binding prentice the son of a servant, and for Christopher, the surgeon, letting her lady's Grace blood; and again for a wrought carnation satin for the favoured lady's maid.
“I marvel, my Lord Cardinal,” said the King, “that your Grace can take advice of the ordering of the Princess's spice plates, and leave your master to be sorely perplexed with the grooms and the yeomen and pages, and those that bring complaints from the buttery, and the wardrobe of beds, and the chaundery, and the stables, till my very life is worn with tales of the mighty wants and debts of the household.”
“If it like your Grace, my most curious inquisition hath of late been into the particulars of the royal household; and my latest enemies are divers grooms, yeomen, and pages, whom I have compelled to perform their bounden service to your Majesty, or to surrender it.”
The Speaker conceived that the charge of his own household would be enough for the Cardinal, if he were made as other men; but as the King's was added, that of the Princess might reasonably devolve upon some less occupied——
“Upon yourself?” inquired the King. “Marry, if you were to appoint your spare diet of fruit for the Princess, Mistress Margaret should add to it such a pudding as I have to-day tasted. What say you, Mistress Margaret?” he continued, calling back the ladies who were modestly retiring, on finding the conversation turning upon matters of state.
“My Margaret has no frontlets to lose in betting,” observed Sir Thomas More. “But your Grace knows that there are many who have more leisure for ordering the Princess's household than your poor councillor. There are divers in your good city of London who can tell whether the silver ship for the alms-dish will not carry away the alms; and we have passed some by the wayside to-day who would see somewhat miraculous in these Venetian mirrors, not knowing their own faces therein.”
“These are not mirrors whose quality it is to make faces seem long, or, certes, we ourself would use one,” said the King.
“Long faces might sometimes be seen without glasses,” Sir Thomas More quietly replied.
“As for shaven fools' heads,” observed the King, looking at the friar, “there is no need to go to the Princess's household to divert ourselves with that spectacle. We will beseech our released monks, who must needs lack occupation, to watch over their brethren of our household in this particular.”
Sir Thomas More requested the friar to pronounce the thanksgiving over the board, (as the Cardinal had at length finished his meal,) and to instruct the women in certain holy matters, while the King's Highness should receive account of the passages of the morning.
Henry looked from the one to the other to know what had been their success in raising money from his faithful Commons. The Cardinal opened to him his plans for securing assent to the levy of an enormous benevolence. Wolsey himself had never been more apt, more subtle, more busy, than in his devices on this occasion, He had found errands in remote parts for most whose obstinacy was to be feared. He had ordered down to the House all the King's servants who had a vote there : had discharged easily of their sins many who were wavering in the matter of the subsidy; and had made as imposing an appearance as possible on going to Blackfriars to “reason” with the members who believed that the people could not pay the money. And what was the result?
“Please it your Grace to understand that there hath been the greatest and sorest hold in the House that ever was seen, I think, in any Parliament. There was such a hold that the House was like to be dissevered, but that the Speaker did mediate graciously between your Highness and the greedy Jews that bearded me.”
“Mediate, I trow! And why not command, as beseems the Speaker?” cried the King, glancing angrily on More.
“In his bearing the Speaker is meek,” observed Wolsey, with some malice in his tone. “His words were dutiful, and the lowness of his obeisance an ensample to the whole Parliament.”
“And what were his acts?”
“He informed me that the Commons are not wont to be reasoned with by strangers, and that the splendour of my poor countenance must needs bewilder their deliberations.”
“So be it. We have deliberated too long and too deeply for our royal satisfaction on the matter of filling our coffers. We expect our Commons to fill them without deliberation. Wherefore this repining and delay?” asked Henry of More.
“Because your Grace's true servants would that this vast sum should be well and peaceably levied, without grudge——”
“We trouble not ourself about the grudge, if it be surely paid,” interrupted Henry.
“We would that your Grace should not lose the true hearts of your subjects, which we reckon a greater treasure than gold and silver,” replied the Speaker.
“And why lose their hearts? Do they think that no man is to fare well, and be well clothed but themselves?”
“That is the question they have this morning asked of the Lord Cardinal,” replied More, “when my Lord discoursed to them of the wealth of the nation, as if it were a reason why they should make such a grant as your Majesty's ancestors never heard of. One said that my lord had seen something of the wealth of the nation, in the form of a beautiful welcoming of your Majesty; but of the nation's poverty, it is like the Lord Cardinal has seen less than he may see, if the benevolence is finally extorted.”
“And who is this one that beards my Lord Cardinal?”
“The one who spoke of the nation's poverty is one who hath but too much cause to do so from what his own eyes have seen within his own household. He is one Richard Read, an honourable alderman of London, once wealthy, but now, as I said, entitled, through his service to your Majesty, to discourse of poverty.”
“Marry, I would that he would discourse of our poverty as soothly as of his own. Has he been bearded by France? Is he looking for an invasion from Scotland? Has he relations with his Holiness, and enterprizes of war to conduct?”
“Such were the questions of my Lord Cardinal. He seems to be fully possessed of your Grace's mind.”
“And what was the answer?”
“That neither had the late King left to him in legacy nearly two millions of pounds. Neither had he levied a benevolence last year, nor borrowed twenty thousand pounds of the city of London. If he had, there might not now perhaps have been occasion for alleging such high necessity on the King's part, nor for such high poverty expressed, not only by the commoners, citizens, and burgesses, but by knights, esquires, and gentlemen of every quarter.”
“And the Lord Cardinal did not allow such argument of poverty. How did he rebuke the traitor for his foul sayings?”
“If it like your Grace, this Richard Read was once this day ordered to be committed to prison, but he is still abroad. He regards himself and his family as despoiled by never having rest from payments; and he cares not greatly what he does. This is also the condition of so many that it would not be safe to offer vengeance till the cuckoo time and hot weather (at which time mad brains are most wont to be busy) shall be overpassed.”
The King rose in great disturbance, and demanded of Wolsey why he had not sent to a distance all who were likely to dispute the subsidy he desired. Wolsey coolly assured him that this was an easier thing to speak of than to do, as there were but too large a number who desired that no more conquests should be sought in France, urging that the winning thereof would be more chargeful than profitable, and the keeping more chargeful than the winning. Audacious dogs were these, the Cardinal declared; but it must be wary whipping till some could be prevented from flying at the throat, while another was under the lash. But the day should come when those who ought to think themselves only too much honoured in being allowed to supply the King's needs, should leave off impertinently speculating on the infinite sums which they said had been already expended in the invading of France, out of which nothing had prevailed in comparison with the costs. If his Majesty would but turn over his vengeance to his poor councillor, the pernicious knaves should be made to repent.
“Of the salt tears they have shed, only for doubt how to find money to content the King's Highness?” inquired More.
“Their tears shall hiss hot upon their cheeks in the fire of my vengeance,” cried the King. “Send this traitor Read to prison, that he may answer for his words. If he keeps his head, he shall come out with such a hole in his tongue as shall make him for ever glad to keep it within his teeth.”
The Cardinal endeavoured to divert the King's rage. He was as willing as his royal master that this honest alderman Read should suffer for his opposition to the exactions of the Government; but he knew that to send one murmurer to prison at this crisis would be to urge on to rebellion thousands of the higher orders, to head the insurrections which were already beginning in the eastern counties. He now hastened to assure Henry that there had not been wanting some few men besides himself to rebuke the stupidity of those who complained of the impoverishment of the nation, and to explain that which was given to the King for his needs was returned by the King in the very supplying of those needs.
“After there had been much discourse,” said he, “of what straits the nation would be in if every man had to pay away his money, and how the whole frame and intercourse of things would be altered if tenants paid their landlords in corn and cattle, so that the landlords would have but little coin left for traffic, so that the nation itself, for want of money, must grow in a sort barbarous and ignoble, it was answered that the money was only transferred into the hands of others of the same nation, as in a vast market where, though the coin never lies still, all are accommodated.”
“I will use despatch,” observed More, “to write this comforting news to a cousin-german of mine, who is in sore distress because some rogues have despoiled him of a store of angels that he had kept for his daughter's dower. I will assure him that there can be no impoverishment in his case.”
Wolsey had not finished his speech. He had something still to say about how much more precious was the wealth which descended from the throne in streams of royal bounty and custom than when it went up from the rude hands of his unworthy subjects. His Majesty only accepted for a time, in order to return what he had received, embalmed with his grace, and rendered meet to be handled with reverential ecstacy.
“Further good tidings for my cousin-german,” observed More. “If the money which has been taken from him be spent in purchasing his corn and cattle, he has nothing to complain of. His injury is repaired, and his daughters are dowered. O rare reparation,—when the gentleman is no worse, and the rogues are the better by the corn and cattle!”
“At this rate, O rare philosopher!” said Henry, “the way to make men rich is to rob them; and to tax a people is to give them wealth. We have wit, friend, to spy out jest from earnest. But who reports of these salt tears?”
“Does not every report from the eastern counties savour of them?” inquired More. “And in the west a like pernicious rheum distils in the cold wind of poverty. And so it is in the north and south, though this be the cuckoo time, and the season of hot weather.”
“It is the Parliament, your Grace may be assured,” interrupted the Cardinal,—“it is your right trusty Lower House that devises sad tales of salt tears to move such pitiful hearts as that of the Honourable Speaker. If your Grace had seen how enviously they looked upon my poor train, as we entered Blackfriars, and how they stood peevishly mute in the House, each one like your Highness's natural under disfavour, your Grace would marvel that the tales are not of tears of blood.”
“Patience!” said More. “The next east wind will bring such rumours as you speak of. They are already abroad.”
“The Parliament shall not puff them in our face,” cried Henry. “On our conscience, we have borne with our faithless Commons too long. They shall have another seven years to spy out the poverty that is above them, while we will not listen to their impertinent tales of that which is below. My Lord Cardinal, let them be dispersed for seven years.”
“And then,” observed More, “they will have time to learn what your Majesty's wisdom already discerns,—how much more fatal is poverty in high places than in low. The contemptible handicraftsman can, while consuming his scanty food of to-day, produce the scanty food of to-morrow; while the gallants of your Grate's court,—right noble gentlemen as they are,— must beg of the low artizan to repair to-morrow that. which they magnificently consume to-day.”
“My nobles are not beggars,” cried the King. “They pay for their pomp.”
“Most true. And their gold is right carefully cleansed from the rust of salt tears, which else might blister their delicate fingers. But were it not better for them to take their largess from the people in corn and meat and wine at once,—since the coin which they handle hath been already touched by the owner of land who has taken it as rent, or, worse still, by the merchant as his gains, or, worst of all, by the labourer as his hire?”
Wolsey assured the Speaker that his suggestion would soon be acted upon. The people were so shy of making payments from their rent, their profits, and their wages, that it would be necessary to take for the King's service the field of the landowner, the stock of the merchant, and——
“And what next? For then there will be left no hire for the labourer.”
The Cardinal grew suddenly oracular about the vicissitudes of human affairs, and the presumption of looking into futurity. The Speaker bowed low under the holy man's discourse, and the King was reassured.
“I marvel that your wit does not devise some pastimes that may disperse the ill-blood of the people,” said Henry. “Dull homes cloud men's minds with vapours: and your Grace is full strict with them in respect of shows and outward apparel. My gallants have not ceased their jests on the aged man from whom your Grace's own hands stripped the crimson jacket decked with gauds. And there is talk of many pillories being wanted for men who have worn shirts of a finer texture than suits your Grace's pleasure.”
“Is there not amusement enough for the people.” asked More, “in gazing at the Lord Cardinal's train? For my part, I know not elsewhere of so fine a pageant. If they must have more, the legate is coming, and who has measured the scarlet cloth which is sent over to Calais to clothe Campeggio's train? This will set to people agape for many days,—if they can so spy out my Lord Cardinal's will about their apparel as to dare to come forth into the highway.”
The King thought the pleasure of beholding a pageant did not last long enough effectually to quiet the popular discontents. He wished that fields could be opened for the sports of the young men, and that companies of strolling mummers could be supported at the royal expense. His miraculous bounty and benignity were extolled so that it was a pity the people themselves were not by to say Amen; but it was feared the said people must take the will for the deed, as, in the present condition of the exchequer, it was impossible to afford the appropriation of the ground, the outlay upon it to render it fit for the proposed objects, or the annual expense of keeping it up. The people must remain subject to blue devils, and liable to rebellion, till the Scots were beaten off, and the French vanquished; till the Pope had done with Henry, and the court had been gratified with a rare new masque, for which an extraordinary quantity of cloth of gold, and cloth of silver, and cloth of taffety, and cloth of bodkin, would be necessary; to say nothing of the forty-four varieties of jewelled copes of the richest materials which had been ordered for the chaplains and cunning singing-men of the royal chapel. The king's dignity must be maintained;—a truth in which More fully agreed. What kingly dignity is, he was wont to settle while pacing one of the pleached alleys of his garden as the sun was going down in state, presenting daily a gorgeous spectacle which neither Wolsey nor Campeggio could rival, and which would have been better worth the admiration of the populace if their eyes had not been dimmed by hunger, and their spirits jarred by tyranny into a dissonance with nature. More was wont to ridicule himself as a puppet when decked out with his official trappings; and he was apt to fancy that such holy men as the future Defender of the Faith and the anointed Cardinal must have somewhat of the same notions of dignity as himself.—There were also seasons when he remembered that there were other purposes of public expenditure besides the maintenance of the outward state of the sovereign. His daughters and he had strengthened one another in the notion that the public money ought to be laid out in the purchase of some public benefit; and that it would not be un-pardonable in the nation to look even beyond the Defence of their territory, and ask for an ample administration of Justice, a liberal provision for Public Works, and perhaps, in some wiser age, an extensive apparatus of National Education. He was wont to look cheerfully to the good Providence of God in matters where he could do nothing; but he was far from satisfied that the enormous sums squandered in damaging the French availed anything for the defence of the English : or that those who most needed justice were the most likely to obtain it, as long as it must be sought with a present in the hand which was not likely to be out-bid; or that the itinerant justice-mongers of his day were of much advantage to the people, as long as their profits and their credit in high quarters depended on the amount they delivered in as amercements of the guilty. He was not at all sure that the peasant who had done his best to satisfy the tax-gatherer was the more secure against the loss of what remained of his property, whenever a strong oppressor should choose to wrest it from him. He could see nothing done in the way of public works by which the bulk of the tax-payers might be benefited. Indeed, public possessions of this kind were deteriorating even faster, if possible, than private property; and the few rich commoners, here and there, who dreaded competition in their sales of produce, might lay aside their fears for the present. Competition was effectually checked, not only by the diminution of capital, but by the decay of roads and bridges which there were no funds to repair. As for education, the only chance was that the people might gain somewhat by the insults offered to the Church. The unroofed monks might carry some slight scent of the odour of learning from the dismantled shrines; but otherwise it seemed designed that the people's acquaintance with polite learning should be confined to two points which were indeed very strenuously taught,—the King's supremacy and the Cardinal's infallibility.
More was not much given to reverie. While others were discoursing, his ready wit seldom failed to interpose to illustrate and vivify what was said. His low, distinct utterance made itself heard amidst the laughter or the angry voices which would have drowned the words of almost any one else; and the aptness of his speech made him as eagerly sought in the royal circle as sighed for by his own family, when he was not at hand to direct and enlighten their studies in their modest book-chamber. He was much given to thought in his little journeys to and from town, and in his leisure hours of river-gazing, and star-exploring; but he seldom indulged his meditations in company. Now, however, while Henry and Wolsey laid their scheme for swearing every man of the King's subjects to his property, and taxing him accordingly,—not only without the assistance of Parliament, but while the Commons were dispersed for seven years,—More was speculating within himself on the subject of kingly dignity.
“One sort of dignity,” thought he, “consists with the purposes of him who regards his people as his servants, and another with the wishes of him who regards himself as the servant of his people. As for the monarchs who live in times when the struggle is which party shall be a slave, God's mercy be on them and their people! Their throne moves, like an idol's car, over the bones of those who have worshipped or defied their state; and they have fiends to act as mummers in their pageants, and defiled armour for their masques, and much dolorous howling in the place of a hand of minstrels. In such days the people pay no tax, because the monarch has only to stretch forth his hand and take. It is a better age when the mummers are really merry, and minstrels make music that gladdens the heart like wine; and gaudy shows make man's face to shine like the oil of the Hebrews: but it would be better if this gladdening of some made no heart heavy; and this partial heaviness must needs he where childish sports take place; and the gawds of a court like ours are but baby sports after all. When my little ones made a pageant in the meadow, there were ever some sulking, sooner or later, under the hedge or within the arbour, while there was unreasonable mirth among their fellows in the open sunshine,— however all might be of one accord in the study and at the board. And so is it ever with those who follow childish plays, be they august kings, or be they silly infants. But it is no April grief that clouds the faces of the people while their King is playing the master in order afterwards to enact the buffoon. They have spent more upon him than the handful of meadow-flowers that children fling into the lap to help the show; and they would do worse in their moods than pull these gay flowers to pieces, after the manner of a freakish babe. Remembering that it is the wont of honest masters to pay their servants, they are ill content to pay the very roofs from off their houses, and the seed from out of their furrows, to be lorded over, and for the greatest favour, laid at the gate to see Dives pass in and out in his purple and fine linen. It is ill sport for Dives to whistle up his dogs to lick the poor man's sores when so black a gulf is opening yonder to swallow up his pomp. May be, his brethren that shall come after him shall be wiser; as all are apt to become as time rolls on. The matin hour decks itself gorgeously with long bright trains, and flaunts before men's winking eyes, as if all this grandeur were not made of tears caught up for a little space into a bright region, but in their very nature made to dissolve and fall in gloom. But then there is an end of the folly, and out of the gloom step forth other hours, growing clearer, and more apt to man's steady uses; so that when noon is come, there is no more pranking and shifting of purple and crimson clouds, but the sun is content to light men perfectly to their business, without being worshipped as he was when gayer but less glorious. Perhaps a true sun-like king may come some day, when men have grown eagle-eyed to hail such an one; and he will not be for calling people from their business to be dazzled with him; nor for sucking up all that the earth will yield, so that there may be drought around and gloom overhead. Rather will he call out bubbling springs from the warm hill-side, and cast a glister over every useful stream, to draw men's eyes to it; and would rather thirst himself than that they should. Such an one will be content to leave it to God's hand to fill him with glory, and would rather kiss the sweat from off the poor man's brow, than that the labourer should waste the precious time in falling on his knees to him to mock him with idolatry. Though he be high enough above the husbandman's head, he is not the lord of the husbandman, but in some sort his servant; though it be a service of more glory than any domination.—If he should chance vainly to forget that there sitteth One above the firmament, he may find that the same Maker who once stayed the sun for the sake of one oppressed people may, at the prayer of another, wheel the golden throne hurriedly from its place, and call out constellations of lesser lights, under whose rule men may go to and fro, and refresh themselves in peace. The state of a king that domineers is one thing; and the dignity of a king that serves and blesses is another; and this last is so noble, that if any shall arise who shall not be content with the office's simplicity, but must needs deck it with trappings and beguile it with toys, let him be assured that he is as much less than man as he is more than ape; and it were wiser in him to rummage out a big nut to crack, and set himself to switch his own tail, than seek to handle the orb and stretch out the sceptre of kings.”
It was a day of disappointments to Henry. Not only were his Commons anything but benevolently disposed towards furnishing the benevolence required, but the young nun would not come to be married to the friar. The gallants who had been sent for her now appeared before the King with fear and trembling, bearing sad tidings of the sturdiness of female self-will. They had traced the maiden to the house of her father, one Richard Read, and had endeavoured to force her away with them, notwithstanding her own resistance, and her mother's and sister's prayers and tears. In the midst of the dispute, her father had returned from Blackfriars, surrounded by the friends who had joined him in declining the tribute which they were really unable to pay. Heated by the insolent words which had been thrown at them by the Cardinal, and now exasperated by the treatment his daughter had met with, Read had dropped a few words,—wonderfully fierce to be uttered in the presence of courtiers in those days,—which were now repeated in the form of a message to the King :—Read had given his daughter to be the spouse of Christ, and had dowered her accordingly; and it did not now suit his paternal ambition that she should be made the spouse of a houseless friar for the bribe of a dowry from the King; this dowry being actually taken from her father under the name of a benevolence to aid the King's necessities. He would neither sell his daughter nor buy the King's favour.
Henry was of course enraged, and ordered the arrest of the entire household of Richard Read; a proceeding which the Cardinal and the Speaker agreed in disliking as impolitic in the present crisis. Wolsey represented to the King that there could be no failure of the subsidy if every recusant were reasoned with apart, instead of being placed in a position where his malicious frowardness would pervert all the rest of the waverers. If good words and amiable behaviour did not avail to induce men to contribute, the obstinate might be brought before the privy council; or, better still, be favoured with a taste of military service. Henry seized upon the suggestion, knowing that such service as that of the Border war was not the pleasantest occupation in the world for a London alderman, at the very time when his impoverished and helpless family especially needed his protection. He lost sight, for the time, as Wolsey intended that he should, of the daughter, while planning fresh tyranny towards her father. The church would be spared the scandal of such a jesting marriage as had been proposed, if, as the Cardinal hoped, the damsel should so withdraw herself as not to be found in the morning. The religious More had aspirations to the same effect.
“It is a turning of nature from its course,” said he, “to make night-birds of these tender young swallows; but they are answerable who seared them from beneath their broad eaves when they were nestled and looked for no storm. Pray the Lord of Hosts that he may open a corner in some one of his altars for this ruffled fledgeling!”
Little did the gentle daughters of More suspect for what message they were summoned to produce writing materials, and desired to command the attendance of a king's messenger. Their father was not required to be aiding and abetting in this exercise of royal tyranny. Perceiving that his presence was not wished for, he stepped into his orchard, to refresh himself with speculations on his harvest of pippins, and to hear what his family had to say on his position with respect to the mighty personages within.
“I marvel,” said his wife to him, “that you should be so wedded to your own small fancies as to do more things that may mislike his Grace than prove your own honest breeding. What with your undue haste to stretch your limbs in your bedesman's apparel, and your simple desire to mere fruit and well-water, his Highness may right easily content himself that his bounty can add nothing to your state.”
“And so shall he best content me, dame. Worldly honour is the thing of which I have resigned the desire; and as for worldly profit, I trust experience proveth, and shall daily prove, that I never was very greedy therein.”
Mr. Roper saw no reason for the lady's rebuke or apprehensions. When did the King's Highness ever more lovingly pass his arm round any subject's neck than this day, when he caressed the honourable Speaker of his faithful Commons?
“There is full narrow space, Mr. Roper, between my shoulders and my head to serve as a long resting-place for a king's caress. Trust me, it he had been a Samson, and if it had suited the pleasure of his Grace, he would at that moment have plucked my head from my shoulders before you all. It may be well for plain men that a king's finger and thumb are not stronger than those of any other man.”
Henry and his poor councillor now appeared from beneath the porch, the one not the less gay, the other not the less complacent, for their having together made provision for the utter ruin of a family whose only fault was their poverty. A letter had been written to the general commanding on the Scotch border, to desire that Richard Read, now sent down to serve as a soldier at his own charge, should be made as miserable as possible, should be sent out on the most perilous duty in the field, and subjected to the most severe privations in garrison, and used in all things according to the sharp military discipline of the northern wars, in retribution for his refusing to pay money which he did not possess. The snare being thus fixed, the train of events laid by which the unhappy wife and daughters were to be compelled first to surrender their only guardian, then to give their all for his ransom from the enemy, and, lastly, to mourn him slain in the field,—this hellish work being carefully set on foot, the devisers thereof came forth boldly into God's day-light, to amuse themselves with innocence and flatter the ear of beauty till the sun went down, and then to mock the oppressed citizens of London with the tumult of their pomp and revelry. Perhaps some who turned from the false glare to look up into the pure sky might ask why the heavens were clear,—where slept the thunderbolt?