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drawn over the subject at the time to remain practically undisturbed. A consideration of the scope and purposes of English mediaeval guilds cannot but raise our opinion of the wisdom of our forefathers who fostered their growth, and convince us that many and useful ends were served by these voluntary societies. This opinion we can hold, wholly apart from any views we may entertain about the religious aspects of these societies generally. Socialistic they were, but their socialism, so far from being adverse to religion, as the socialism of to-day is generally considered to be, was transfused and directed by a deeply religious spirit, carried out into the duties of life, and manifesting itself in practical charities of every kind.
One or two points suggested by consideration of the working of mediaeval guilds may be emphasised. The system of these voluntary societies would be, of course, altogether impossible and out of place in this modern world of ours. They would not, and could not, meet the wants and needs of these days; and yet their working is quite worth studying by those who are interested in the social problems which nowadays are thrusting themselves upon the public notice and demanding a solution. The general lessons taught by these voluntary associations may be summed up under one or two heads suggested by Mr. Ashley's volume already referred to: (i) It is obvious that, unlike what we find to-day in the commercial enterprises of the world, capital played but a very small part in the handicrafts of those times; skill, perseverance, and connection were more important. (2) The middle ages had no knowledge of any class of what may be called permanent wage-labourers. There was no working-class in our modern sense; if by that is meant a class the greater portion of which never rises. In the fourteenth century, a few years of steady work as a journeyman meant, in most cases, that a workman was able to set up as a master craftsman. Every hard-working apprentice expected as a matter of course to be able to become in time a master. The collisions between capital and labour to which we are so much accustomed had no place in the middle ages. (3) There was no such gulf between master and man as exists in our days. The master and his journeyman worked together side by side, in the same shop, at the same work, and the man could earn fully half as much as his master. (4) If we desire to institute a comparison between the status of the working classes in the fourteenth century and to-day, the comparison must be between the workman we know and the old master craftsman. The shop-keeping class and the middleman were only just beginning to exist. The consumer and producer stood in close relation, and public control was exercised fully, as the craft guilds were subject to the supervision and direction of the municipal or central authority of the cities in which they existed.
CHAPTER XII MEDIAEVAL WILLS, CHANTRIES, AND OBITS.
The value of side-lights in an historical picture is frequently overlooked, or not duly appreciated. The main facts of a story may be presented with accuracy and detail, and yet the result may be as unlike the reality as the fleshless skeleton is to the living man. More especially are these side-lights requisite when the object of the inquirer is to ascertain the tone and temper of minds at some given time, and to discover what men, under given circumstances, were doing and thinking about. In trying, therefore, to gauge the mental attitude of Englishmen towards the ecclesiastical system existing on the eve of the Reformation, it is important not to neglect any faint glimmer of light which may be reflected from the records of the past, the brightness of which in its setting has been obscured only too well by the dark storm-clouds of controversy and prejudice.
Not the least valuable among what may be described as the minor sources of information about the real feeling of the people generally towards their religion on the eve of the Reformation are the wills, of which we have abundant examples in the period in question. It may, of course, appear to some that their spirit was in great measure dictated by what they now hold to be the erroneous opinions then in vogue as to Purgatory and the efficacy of prayer for the dead. That these doctrines of the Church had a firm hold on the minds and hearts of the
people at large is certain. The evidence that this was so is simply overwhelming, and it may be taken to prove, not merely the existence of the teaching, but the cordial and unhesitating way in which it was accepted as a necessary part of the Christian faith. But this, after all, is merely a minor point of interest in the wills of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. What clearly appears in these documents, however, is the Catholic tone which pervades them, and enables the reader to realise, perhaps more than he is able to do from any other class of document, the strong hold their religion must have had on the love and intelligence of the people of those days. The intelligences may not, indeed, have been of any very high order, but the souls were certainly penetrated by true Christian ideals. To those who penned those early wills, Faith was clearly no mere intellectual apprehension of speculative truth. Religion, and religious observance, was to them a practical reality which entered into their daily lives. The kindly Spirit that led them brought them strength to bear their own and others' burdens, in sickness and health, in adversity and prosperity, from childhood till their eyes closed in their last sleep. If we may judge from these last aspirations of the Christian soul as displayed in mediaeval wills, we must allow that religion was very real indeed to our English forefathers in the sixteenth century, and that in reality the whole social order was founded upon a true appreciation of the Christian brotherhood in man, and upon the doctrine of the efficacy of good works for salvation. These truths of the social order were not indeed taught perhaps scientifically, and we might look in vain for any technical expression of them in the books of religious instruction most used during this period, but they formed none the less part of the traditional Christian teaching of the Middle Ages founded on the great principles of the Bible which then dominated popular thought.1
1 See the remarks in regard to France of M. Charles de Ribbe, La Socilti Provtnfale a la Jin du moyen age, 1898, p. 60. Speaking of the
Those who would understand what this Christian spirit meant and the many ways in which it manifested itself need only compare the wills of the late fifteenth and the early sixteenth centuries with those, say, of the later years of Queen Elizabeth, when the religious revolution had been accomplished, and note the obvious difference in tone and purpose. The comparison need not be searching or entail much study; the change is patent and striking, and lies on the very surface.
Some examples of notes taken from pre-Reformation wills may be here given from the collection of Northern wills published by the Surtees Society under the title Testamenta Eboracensia, the fourth volume of which contains many wills made during the period in question. It may be useful to remark that one and all of these documents manifest the same spirit of practical Christianity, though of course in various degrees. Most of them contain bequests to churches with which the donors were chiefly connected; money is frequently left to the fabric, or to some special altar, or for the purchase of vestments, or to furnish some light to burn before the Blessed Sacrament, the rood, or some image, to which the deceased had a particular devotion. Specific gifts of silks, rich articles of clothing and embroidered hangings fitted to adorn the Church of God, to make chasubles and copes, or altar curtains and frontals, are common. Practical sympathy with the poor is manifested by provision for distributions of doles at funerals and at anniversaries, and by gifts of cloaks and other articles of clothing, to those
fifteenth-century wills, he says: "Nous en avons lu un grand nombre, et nous avons dte frappe1 de la haute inspiration, parfois mSme du talent, avec lesquels des notaires de village savaient traduire les £lans de foi et de pi£te' dont ils Itaient les interpretes chez leurs clients. . . . Cette foi et cette pilte; trouve' d'abord leur expression dans le venerable signe de la sainte croix (lequel est plus d'une fois figure1 graphiquement). Suit la recommandation de l'ame a Dieu Createur du ciel et de la terre, au Christ itdempteur, a la Vierge Marie," &c. (p. 91).