Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

the poor and miserable of their best and surest friends. There would have been no insurrections in behalf of the old religion, if the zeal of the peasantry had not been inflamed by a sore feeling of the injury which they suffered in the change. A great increase of the vagabond population was the direct and immediate consequence. They who were ejected from their tenements, or deprived of their accustomed employment, were turned loose upon society; and the greater number, of course and of necessity, ran wild.

MONTESINOS.

Wild, indeed! The *old chroniclers give a

hands no kind of ware can be had, except we give for it too much. You landlords, you rent-raisers—I may say you step lords, you unnatural lords, you have for your possessions yearly too much! For that here before went for 20 or 60 pound by year, which is an honest portion to be had gratis in one lordship, of another man's sweat and labour, now is let for 50 or 100 pound by year. Of this too much cometh this monstrous and portentous dearth made by man, notwithstanding God doth send us plentifully the fruits of the earth, mercifully, contrary unto our deserts. Notwithstanding, too much which these rich men have causeth such dearth, that poor men which live of their labour cannot with the sweat of their face have a living, all kind of victuals is so dear; pigs, geese, capons, chickens, eggs, &c. these things, with others, are so unreasonably enbaunced. And I think verily that if it thus continue, we shall at length be constrained to pay for a pig a pound."

* See Harrison's Description of England, where they are dreadful picture of their numbers and of their wickedness, which called forth and deserved the utmost severity of the law. They lived like savages in the woods and wastes, committing the most atrocious actions, stealing children, and burning, breaking, or otherwise disfiguring their limbs for the purpose of exciting compassion, and obtaining alms by this most flagitious of all imaginable crimes. Surely we have nothing so bad as this.

SIR THOMAS MORE. The crime of stealing children for such purposes is rendered exceedingly difficult by the ease and rapidity with which a hue and cry can now be raised throughout the land, and the eagerness and detestation with which the criminal would be pursued; still, however, it is sometimes practised. In other

In other respects the professional beggars of the nineteenth century are not a whit better than their predecessors of the sixteenth : and your gipsies and travelling potters, who, gipsy-like, pitch their tents upon the common, or by the way side, retain with as much fidelity the manners and morals of the

described as “chiefly keeping the champaine soils in summer to avoid the scorching heat, and the woodland grounds in winter to eschew the blustering winds."

old vagabonds, as they do the cant, or pedlar's French, which this class of people are said to have * invented in the age whereof we are now speaking.

MONTESINOS. But the number of our vagabonds has greatly diminished. In your Henry's reign it is affirmed that no fewer than 72,000+ criminals were

* “ In counterfeiting the Egyptian rogues they have devised a language among themselves, which they name canting, but others Pedlar's French, a speech compact thirty years since of English and a great number of odd words of their own devising, without all order or reason : and yet such is it as none but themselves are able to understand. The first deviser thereof was banged by the neck, a just reward no doubt for his deserts, and a common end to all of that profession.”Harrison in Holinshed, vol. i. p. 309. Ed. 1807.

† “ There is not one year commonly wherein three bundred or four hundred of them are not devoured and eaten up by the gallows in one place or other. It appeareth by Cardan (who writeth it upon the report of the Bishop of Lexovia), in the geniture of King Edward the Sixth, how Henry the Eighth, executing his laws very severely against such idle persons, I mean great thieves, petty thieves and rogues, did hang up threescore and twelve thousand of them in his time. He seemed for a while greatly to have terrified the rest ; but since his death the number of them is so increased, yea although we have had no wars, which are a great occasion of their breed, (for it is the custom of the more idle sort, having once served, or but seen the other side of the sea under colour of service, to shake hand with labour for ever, thinking it a disgrace for himself to

hanged; you have yourself described them as strung up by scores upon a gibbet all over the country. Even in the golden days of good Queen Bess, the executions were from three to four hundred annually. A large allowance must be made for the increased humanity of the nation, and the humaner temper with which the laws are administered: but the new crimes which increased wealth and a system of credit on one hand, and increased ingenuity, and new means of mischief on the part of the depredators have produced, must also be taken into the account. And the result will show a diminution in the number of those who prey upon society either by open war or secret wiles.

SIR THOMAS MORE.

Add your paupers to the list; and you will then have added to it not less than an eighth of your whole population. But looking at the depredators alone, perhaps it will be found that the evil is at this time more widely extended, more intimately connected with the constitution of society, like a chronic and organic disease,

return unto his former trade), that, except some better order be taken, or the laws already made be better executed, such as dwell in uplandish towns and little villages shall live but in small safety and rest.”Harrison, ut supra, p. 315. Ed. 1807.

and therefore more difficult of cure. Like other vermin they are numerous in proportion as they find shelter; and for this species of noxious beast, large towns and manufacturing districts afford better cover than the forest or the waste. The fault lies in your institutions, which in the time of the Saxons were better adapted to maintain security and order, than they are now. No man in those days could prey upon society, unless he were at war with it as an outlaw, a proclaimed and open enemy. Rude as the laws were, the purposes of law had not then been perverted : it had not been made a craft; it served to deter men from committing crimes, or to punish them for the commission; never to shield notorious, acknowledged, impudent guilt from condign punishment. And in the fabric of society, imperfect as it was, the outline and rudiments of what it ought to be were distinctly marked in some main parts, where they are now well-nigh utterly effaced. Every person had his place. There was a system of superintendence every where, civil as well as religious. They who were born in villenage, were born to an inheritance of labour, but not of inevitable depravity and wretched

If one class were regarded in some respects as cattle, they were at least taken care

ness.

« НазадПродовжити »