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original Paston Letters at all; and an ingenious littérateur,' as Mr. Gairdner calls him, made the disappearance of all the MSS. a ground to question the authenticity of the published letters.
In this dreadful state of things a discovery was fortunately made, but not till the year 1865; on which Mr. Gairdner makes the just reflection that it is certainly a misfortune for - historical literature that the owners of ancient documents
commonly take so little pains to ascertain what it is they • have got.' It was ascertained in that year that though Mr. Sergeant Frere, when he edited the fifth volume, after Fenn's death, had declared that the originals of that volume were not to be found, they had actually been in his house at Dungate, in Cambridgeshire, all the while; and there they lay hidden till Mr. Philip Frere, his son, brought them to light in the year named. Under these circumstances, it is a comfort to think that those originals were shortly afterwards secured for the British Museum. When such doubt had been thrown on the authenticity of the letters, the discovery even of the originals of the fifth volume was very welcome; and Mr. Gairdner shortly afterwards undertcok the publication of all the volumes, adding to them such additional documents connected with the Paston family as had come to light since the first publication. The first volume of the new edition appeared in 1872, and the second in 1874, up to which time no portion of the originals of the third and fourth of Fenn's volumes had turned up, except two in the third volume, one of which was found in the British Museum and the other at Holland House ; showing, as was supposed, that the originals of those volumes had never been bound up by Fenn, and had been scattered and perhaps destroyed after his death. But before Mr. Gairdner had published his third volume, another discovery had been made, proving that the letters contained in the third and fourth volumes had not been dispersed, but were quietly lying hid in the eastern counties. And where does the reader suppose that they were found? Why, in another house of the Freres at Roydon, where the head of the family had long been the “un• conscious possessor' not only of all the originals of the old third and fourth volumes, except the two letters we have already named and another, but of a large number of additional letters belonging to the Paston family!
From what has been said it will easily be perceived under what difficulties Mr. Gairdner's edition has been produced ; but the promise made when it was undertaken, that it would contain more than four hundred additional letters derived from Magdalen College at Oxford and elsewhere, has been amply redeemed, for before the discovery at Roydon the number of new letters already exceeded four hundred. For those who are never satisfied except with a complete edition, it may be mortifying to think that the printing of Mr. Gairdner's third volume had proceeded so far that he was only able to treat the Roydon find in an appendix, and in most cases to summarise the contents of the letters. Those, however, of our readers who are reasonable enough to see that there is no such thing as completeness on earth, who may think that enough is as good as a feast, and that it is possible, to have more than enough of a series of medieval letters, will no doubt be satisfied when we tell them that they will have to read through more than a thousand letters in very crabbed English before they get to the end of this edition of the Paston Letters. As we are glad to think that all men are not gluttons, and fewer still literary gluttons, the ordinary reader will be content with the feast which Mr. Gairdner has provided for him, and not sigh for further correspondence when he has come to the end of his meal. As for Mr. Gairdner himself, he must console himself for this small disappointment by the expectation that a new edition of the letters may in due time be called for. On one thing, however, we must congratulate him. While the discovery of these originals has proved Fenn's general accuracy and faithfulness, it was not to be expected that he should not occasionally have fallen into mistakes and misreadings. It is very much to Mr. Gairdner's credit that in his criticism and correction of such errors he has almost invariably been borne out by the originals, and thus their tardy discovery has proved his critical insight, which in some cases almost amounts to intuition. Let us add that these volumes leave nothing to be desired by the way of introduction, chronology, and index. The · Paston Letters' are not thrown on the world as inarticulate babes; for Mr. Gairdner is ever at hand to speak for them, and to explain their utterances, which to the general reader are often very incoherent.
And now, who were the Pastons that their correspondence is so valuable? They were a Norfolk family, who from small beginnings won their way in the fifteenth century to position and wealth. In the present time, even after East Anglia has been opened up by railways, Norfolk is to many an out-of-theway place. Before railways its inaccessibility was summed up in the exclamation of the fine lady when invited to stay in the county, Ask me to Norfolk! You might as well ask
me to the moon, and besides, it leads to nowhere.' Since
then everything has been done to render Norfolk socially attractive; but we doubt whether even the residence of the Prince of Wales at Sandringham has been so successful as might have been expected in this respect. Norfolk still remains to the million rather a dreary county, famed for dull houses and large battues ; its chief productions being barley, fat cattle, yeast dumplings, pheasants, and turkeys. A little farther back it was famed for horrid murders and for the litigiousness of its population; but we rather question whether in these doubtful honours it has not had to bow to other counties in England. But the Norfolk of the fifteenth century and of the Pastons was very different. It was then by far the wealthiest of England's counties, and Middlesex had to yield to it in this respect, even though in Middlesex was reckoned London, the heart of the kingdom. If we turn to Mr. Rogers' book on · Prices and Labour in Medieval
England,' we shall see at once the position of Norfolk in respect of wealth, compared with other English counties, and the reason of its affluence. So far from leading to nowhere, by the great ports of Lynn and Yarmouth it was the direct road by which the wool of East Anglia and the bordering counties found its way to the Low Countries. Those ports owned half the shipping of the nation, and as to Norfolk being unvisited by travellers, the great shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham vied in its crowds of pilgrims with those who streamed to that of Becket at Canterbury. Norwich, the capital of the county, was in those days really a capital, thronged with a busy and thriving population, mostly of weavers, which made it an English Ghent, and even to this day attests its ancient wealth by the number of churches within the circuit of the medieval walls. In it was the palace of one of the few dukes not of the actual blood-royal to be found in the realm, a provincial prince of whose power for ill or good we find ample evidence in these very letters. Everything was to be settled when the Duke came down to Norfolk, and if he stretched out his hand to do wrong it was hard to get redress. The Pastons, then, might well boast that they belonged to the landed gentry of no mean county, and we may be sure that when they rode to London it was rather an honour than otherwise to be able to call themselves Norfolk men.
We have said that the family rose from small beginnings, but this does not at all mean that they were ever proved to have been of low or servile birth; though when they grew to be powerful even this charge was laid at their door by those who envied them for their rise in position and possessions. Their home when we first hear of them was the little village of Paston, not far from the sea, near Cromer, about twenty miles north of Norwich, a district still thoroughly rural, and almost unvisited by strangers, for it is intersected by no railways to bring down herds of tourists. Bloomfield, not the most accurate of county historians, claims for them a Norman descent on the . evidence of certain documents,' which Mr. Gairdner tells us
have been since dispersed.' But whether Norman or Saxon, or, as is more likely, Dane, there they had been at Paston for a long time when we first hear of them at the beginning of the fifteenth century, in the position of small gentry. To our mind what a man is is much more worth knowing than what he was, or what his ancestors were. We begin our account, therefore, of the Pastons with William, the son of Clement, who, having been sent to school by his father and well taught, practised the law and rose to be a Justice of the Common Pleas in the reign of Henry VI.--a man whose uprightness caused him to be commonly called the good judge. Of the date of his birth we are ignorant; but as he died well stricken in years in 1444, it is probable that he was born about 1380. Besides being a good judge, he was a prudent thrifty man and acquired much property in land, besides the original inheritance of the family at Paston. Thus he acquired part of the adjacent manor of Bacton and the manor of Oxnead, which in later times became the principal seat of the family. Besides these, he bought the manor of Gresham from Thomas Chaucer, the son of the poet, all of which descended to his son John. So far all seems fair enough with the fortunes of the family; the good judge' had much increased the family estates, and his son enjoyed them after his death. In all probability the reader already knows it, but if not we must tell him, that law, which we so much abuse in these days, was very different in the fifteenth century, and as for estates, though they might be held by law, they were often lost by the lawlessness of neighbours and the insecure state of society. No doubt as a good lawyer, William Paston took care that the titles to the estates which he had purchased were perfectly good; but this precaution, as we shall see, was often of little avail to himself and still less to his descendants. In his lifetime, in spite of his legal powers, he was much tormented by suits about rights of way, by threatenings against his life from adversaries of the clients whom he had defended, and by the machinations of Sir Thomas Erpingham, whom we are sorry to find so prominent as a persecutor, but who deprived the Judge of the favour of the Duke of Norfolk, got bills introduced in Parliament to
his prejudice, and made it unsafe for him to stir abroad. A state of things quite incredible to our modern minds that a counsel and a judge should be persecuted for doing their duty to clients and for administering equal justice between man and man! But that was a lawless age; quarrels were rife even in the Council of the infant king, who as he grew older became weak and imbecile, between the Duke of Gloucester and Bishop Beaufort, and afterwards between Suffolk, Somerset, York, and Warwick. Nothing,' as Mr. Gairdner well says, 'was so
firmly established by authority but that hopes might be en' tertained of setting it aside by favour.'
In such an age we wish we could say that the character of the good judge' comes out quite pure; but we are sorry to remark that No. 19 in this correspondence contains a petition to the House of Commons in 1433 complaining that William Paston, one of the Justices of our Sovereign Lord • the King, takyth diverse fees and rewardes of diverse per
sones in the shir of Norfolk and Suffolk, ayeins (against] the • King for to be of hir [i.e. their] councell to destroy the right
of the King.' This, which is endorsed falsa billa, contains the names of certain corporate bodies, beginning with the town of Yarmouth, and looks at first ugly; but while fully agreeing with Mr. Gairdner in his assertion that it proves the good
judge' had enemies as well as friends, we further excuse him by supposing that the charge which is endorsed ' falsa billa, was trumped up out of the old annual retainers, which those corporate bodies had been in the habit of paying him before his elevation to the Bench. That William Paston was much worried by his enemies, appears from the following extracts from one of his letters: “I pray the Holy Trinity to deliver * me of my three adversaries, this cursed Bishop for Brom· holm, Aslak for Sprouston, and Julian Herberd for Thorn: ham. Of the last nothing is known, though his conduct, to judge by that of the others, no doubt deserved the curse. Aslak was the adversary who had already threatened Paston's life for defending his client, while • this cursed bishop' was a monk of Bromholm Priory, famous for its Rood, against whom William Paston had been counsel in an action brought by the Prior for apostasy. It is a curious illustration of the conflict of laws in that age that the apostate, though found guilty, escaped beyond the seas to Rome, where he brought an action in the Papal Court against Paston and the Prior, getting the former condemned in a penalty of 2051., a large sum in those days. Paston's friends at Rome advised him to compromise the matter, but he contested the validity of the sentence,