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CHAP. stition might be made to excite. While such is
the character, which the pardoner is made to give of himself: and which the Sompnoure affirms of the mendicant: the friar in his turn asserts equal villanies to be the every-day practice of his ac
It was the office of the Sompnoure to cite all persons who were accused of irreligion or of immoral conduct before the spiritual courts, and to enforce the penalties awarded on the guilty by those tribunals. In the performance of these things, the most odious instances of injustice and oppression are said to arise ; and the jurisdiction of the prelates is described, as involving corruptions which fully warrant, the indignant . complaints of Wycliffe respecting it. It is certain that Chaucer would hardly have employed the whole strength of his genius in completing these and similar portraits, had he not known that with many of his contemporaries their truth would be speedily recognised. And if
26 See the Canterbury Tales. The poet who states in his prologue that,
In stede of weping and praieres,
Men mote give silver to the pour freres,
But of this craft fro Berwick onto Ware,
such tyranny and fraud were really prevalent, CHAP. was it not proper that the guilty, and even those who could descend to screen the guilty from punishment, should be held up to public execration ? But to do this, was to assail the foundations of the papal authority which had long been as the shield of Achilles to the whole. Nor was Chaucer alone, in employing the lan- Notice of
Longland guage of poetry to satirize the disorders of the church. It was about the year 1350, when he had but recently passed his minority, that the poem called the Visions of Peirce Plowman, was written. Robert Longland, a priest, and a native of Salop is regarded as its author; and with the allegorical character of the piece, the poet has contrived to interweave some bold censures of the prevalent vices, but especially of those allied to superstition, or observable in the ecclesiastical orders. Chaucer's best compositions of this class were subsequent to the decease of Wycliffe ; Longland, may be described as his precursor. Six years had passed since the publishing of the Visions of Peirce Plowman, when the reformer's first treatise, intitled, “ The Last Age of the Church,” was written. Men had previously arisen, who had opposed the same weapons to the same evils, but their intrepidity and genius were greatly surpassed by Longland. It is probable that he found an early grave, and similar as were many of his sentiments to those of Wycliffe, he would, perhaps, have shrunk from the daring measures recommended by him, as the only means of expelling the corruptions which they had agreed to deplore. It is certain that the
CHAP. veneration conferred on the poetry of Longland
by the lollards, was the principal cause of its preservation. He had foretold the approaching reformation with a distinctness which astonished and delighted the men of a later age; and while the patriot, the Lutheran, and the Calvinist, have since united to perpetuate his fame, the partisans of superstition and of despotism have not failed to honor him with their peculiar enmity. So popular were the Visions of the Plowman, that other compositions make their appearance at intervals under the same title. Hence, we have not only the Visions of the Plowman, but the Plowman's Creed and the Plowman's Tale. The authors of the latter productions are unknown; but from the age of Longland, the name of such pieces was sufficient to prepare the reader for an exposure of clerical delinquency, and a bold utterance of the language of reform.27
37 See Warton's History of Poetry, i. sect. 8. 9. and Godwin's Chaucer.
NUMBER OF WYCLIFFE'S DISCIPLES —THE LOLLARDS CONSISTED OF TWO
CLASSES-NOTICE OF JOHN OF NORTHAMPTON-PROSPECTS OF THE RE-
The existence of such literature as we have seen to be connected with the names of Longland and Chaucer, discloses an important feature in Number the state of society during their time. If we con- cliffe's sider the supply as at all regulated by the de- disciples. mand, it follows, that, among our ancestors of the fourteenth century, the friends to ecclesiastical reform constituted a formidable body, both in numbers and intelligence. These, however, as in the case of the writers above named, were not always to be viewed as receiving the entire doctrine of Wycliffe. If by the term lollard, be They conmeant, not only those who had embraced every siste important principle avowed by our reformer, but classes. those also, who without proceeding to such lengths, were known to echo many of his complaints, we may, perhaps, safely conclude with Knighton, that in the year 1382, every second man in the kingdom was of that sect. At such a crisis, to
1 De Eventibus Angliæ. ad ann.
CHAP. adopt any portion of the language distinguishing
the disciples of the rector of Lutterworth, would be in general to incur the reproach of having given equal credence to the most obnoxious of his doctrines. Hence, it sometimes happened, that the men who were loud in their censures of some branches of papal and prelatical encroachment, were equally signalised as the persecutors of such as were known to hold certain opinions of Wycliffe. To
persons who were anxious to obtain the praise of moderation and superior discernment, there remained scarcely any other mode of placing their general orthodoxy beyond suspicion, and in many cases even this was insufficient.
Among the more decided adherents, both to
the political and the religious creed of our reampton.
former, a place should be given to John of Northampton. This opulent citizen, while mayor of London in 1382, braved the displeasure of the clergy, by invading the province of their spiritual courts; and he is described by Walsingham, as a lollard. Those improved notions of government, which in every state had been found to keep pace with the progress of its cities and its commerce, were eagerly embraced by the inhabitants of the english metropolis. A new power, indeed, had arisen in the community, and one, the strength of which, the elder authorities were obliged to feel once and again, before they could learn to credit its existence. The baron was rapidly ceasing to be the only ruler, and every gradation of modern society was beginning to appear. This is strikingly obvious from the measures of John of Northampton, and from that popular feeling in