« НазадПродовжити »
might feel in learning that a fine estate was entailed upon your family at the expiration of a lease of ninety-nine years from the present time. But I had forgotten to whom I am talking. A poet always looks onward to some such distant inheritance. His hopes are usually in nubibus, and his expectations in the paulo post futurum tense.
MONTESINOS. His state is the more gracious then, because his enjoyment is always to come. It is however a real satisfaction to me, that there is some sunshine in your prospect.
SIR THOMAS MORE. More in mine than in yours, because I command a wider horizon; but I see also the storms which are blackening, and may close over the sky. Our discourse began concerning that portion of the community who form the base of the pyramid; we have unawares taken a more general view, but it has not led us out of the way. Returning to the most numerous class of society, it is apparent that in the particular point of which we have been conversing, their condition is greatly worsened: they remain liable to the same indigenous diseases as their forefathers, and are exposed moreover to all which have been imported. Nor will the esti
mate of their condition be improved upon farther inquiry. They are worse fed than when they were hunters, fishers, and herdsmen; their clothing and habitations are little better, and, in comparison with those of the higher classes, immeasurably worse. Except in the immediate vicinity of the collieries, they suffer more from cold than when the woods and turbaries were open. They are less religious than in the days of the Romish faith; and if we consider them in relation to their immediate superiors, we shall find reason to confess that the independence which has been gained since the total decay of the feudal system, has been dearly purchased by the loss of kindly feelings and ennobling attachments. They are less contented, and in no respect more happy. .. That look implies hesitation of judgement, and an unwillingness to be convinced. Consider the point; go to your books and your thoughts; and when next we meet, you will feel little inclination to dispute the irrefragable statement.
FEUDAL SLAVERY.-GROWTH OF PAUPERISM.
The last conversation had left a weight upon me, which was not lessened when I contemplated the question in solitude. I called to mind the melancholy view which Young has taken of the world in his unhappy poem:
A part how small of the terraqueous globe · Is tenanted by man! the rest a waste,
Rocks, deserts, frozen seas and burning sands,
Sad as this representation is, I could not but acknowledge that the moral and intellectual view is not more consolatory than the poet felt it to be; and it was a less sorrowful consideration to think how large a portion of the habitable earth is possessed by savages, or by nations whom inhuman despotisms and monstrous superstitions have degraded in some respects below the savage state, than to observe how small a part of what is called the civilized world is truly civilized; and in the most civilized parts to how small a portion of the inhabitants the real blessings of civilization are confined. In this mood how heartily should I have accorded with Owen of Lanark, if I could have agreed with that happiest and most beneficent and most practical of all enthusiasts, as well concerning the remedy as the disease!
Well, Montesinos, said the Spirit, when he visited me next, have you recollected or found any solid arguments for maintaining that the labouring classes, who form the great bulk of the population, are in a happier condition, physical, moral, or intellectual, in these times, than they were in mine?
MONTESINOS. Perhaps, Sir Thomas, their condition was better precisely during your age, than it ever has been either before or since. The feudal system had well nigh lost all its inhuman parts, and the worse inhumanity of the commercial system had not yet shown itself.
SIR THOMAS MORE. It was, indeed, a most important age in English history, and till the Reformation so
fearfully disturbed it, in many respects a happy and an enviable one. But the process was then beginning, which is not yet completed. As the feudal system relaxed and tended to dissolution, the condition of the multitude was changed. Let us trace it from earlier times! In what state do you suppose the people of this island to have been, when they were invaded by the Romans?
MONTESINOS. Something worse than the Greeks of the Homeric age: something better than the Sandwich or Tonga islanders when they were visited by Captain Cook. Inferior to the former in arts, in polity, and, above all, in their domestic institutions: superior to the latter as having the use of cattle and being under a superstition in which, amid many abominations, some patriarchal truths were preserved. Less fortunate in physical circumstances than either, because of the climate.
SIR THOMAS MORE. A viler state of morals than their polyandrian system must have produced, can scarcely be imagined ; and the ferocity of their manners, little as is otherwise known of them, is sufficiently shown by their scythed war-chariots, and the fact that in the open country the path