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IN the former volume, it was my aim to describe the state of parties during the first decade
Preliminary of this reign, and to make the minor detail of poli- remarks. tical history subservient to that object. The ascendancy of the Court being fully established, and the action of party reduced to occasional convulsive
PROGRESS OF MANNERS.
Ch. 14. struggles, I willingly turn, for a time, from the beat
en track of politics and war to explore a region less known, but far more interesting, and more worthy of illustration. I shall hope, therefore, to fill a few pages not altogether unprofitably, by a sketch, however slight and imperfect, of the state of society in England, and the development of modern
In making this attempt, I have not to apologise for any digression : for, in truth, there is no essential distinction between the social and political history of this country: nor, indeed, is such a distinction philosophically or practically just, when applied to any country. It is in the fact, that no such distinction can be established, that statesmen and politicians have found almost all their difficulties since the world began. If it were possible to frame constitutions and laws without reference to the manners of the people, the art of government might be referred to a few general principles of universal application; Russia and England, France and Spain, Italy and Holland, might be ruled by the same system of polity.
In proportion as a people are actuated by the spirit of freedom, intelligence, and enterprise, the correspondence between their institutions and their manners becomes more and more intimate. It is the province of the historian, therefore, not only to trace the progress of manners, but of those causes and agencies by which manners have been moulded and influenced.
CHARACTER OF THE COMMONS.
For many centuries the Commons were of little or no account in the political system of England. Their free and sturdy spirit often attempted to Former condirise, but was always put down by an overbearing Commons. aristocracy, which would neither brook the authority of a prince, nor tolerate any independence on the side of the people. For one hundred and twenty years, civil government was lost amidst wars, in which the fierce nobility contended among themselves for objects, in which the public interests were but accidentally concerned. The politic and far-sighted prince, in whose person was terminated the rival pretensions of York and Lancaster, took advantage of their exhaustion to depress still farther a body who were alike the foes of monarchy and of freedom. The Commons, encouraged and brought forward by the selfish policy of the Norman and Tudor princes merely for the purpose of counterbalancing the nobles, went on increasing, until they themselves, in the succeeding dynasty, waged successful war against the throne, which had been built upon the ruins of the feudal system. The Revolution restored the power of the oligarchy, and for eighty years they arrogated the government of the country, keeping the kings of England in as much subjection as they had ever done the weakest of the Edwards and the Henrys. They have never quite recovered the ascendancy which George the Third wrested from them after a struggle of twelve years. The people have since still further circumscribed their power; but the
RELIGION AND MORALS
Ch. 14. political influence of the higher orders has never
been subdued, and is to this day preponderant.
The progress of manners is but imperfectly traced through the obscurity of the Middle Ages ; nor do I intend to epitomise the learned and ingenious speculations of various writers on this subject. It is certain that the social and political condition of the mass of the people was one of extreme depression ; their dwellings were such as would now be hardly thought fit to shelter brutes ; and their food, though perhaps sufficient to sustain life, was of a quality which would not now be offered to the meanest vagrants. The insolence and oppression to which they were subjected frequently provoked even these miserable serfs to rise against their tyrants; and the aristocratic factions, on such occasions, suspended internecine war to turn their arms against the common enemy. Except the scanty inhabitants of a few chartered towns, there was no class between the degraded peasantry and the equestrian order; and as the manners of polished life at the present day are traced to the influence of that order, our sketch would be imperfect without some passing notice of a subject even so familiar as the chivalry of the
Middle Ages. Religion and The principles of action recognised by a member Middle Ages. of the order of Chivalry, as at once the rules of
his conduct in this life, and the foundation of his hopes for the next, were the love of God and of women. This association of duties, for as such
morals in the
IN THE MIDDLE AGES.
5 they were inculcated, is significant of the religion Ch. 14. and morality of the Middle Ages. But the doctrine of redemption, as taught in those times, was a superstition hardly less vile and trivial than any that has debased and deluded human nature. Instead of being enjoined to control their passions, and mortify their sinful affections, to live in the practice of truth, justice, and charity, men were taught an implicit reliance on the venal intercession of pretended saints for the expiation of their sins. The priesthood was a profession which existed by the crimes and vices of the people; and its evil influence is apparent in the wealth and splendour of the Church before the Reformation.
Nor was this religion redeemed by the grandeur or plausibility of its symbols or traditions. The mythology of the ancients was elegant, if not of a pure and elevated standard. The apotheosis of a hero, a statesman, or even a tyrant, had in it something flattering to the higher aspirations of the soul. The omens, the oracles, the mysteries, and sacrifices, of ancient Rome, kept alive the principle of Faith, without which the condition of mankind is to the last degree precarious and forlorn. But the machinery of modern Rome is coarse and rude. The canonization of a maniac or an impostor was a poor imitation of the sublime idea which placed the first of mortals, after he had run his earthly career, as an associate with the gods. The miracles wrought by these miserable saints in their lives, and by their dry bones after