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pecially the poor longed for the comfort that the church should have given them; but the church paid little attention to their needs. Many of the clergy who received the income from English benefices lived in Italy, and had no further interest in England than to get as much from the land as possible. While the peasants were in such poverty, vast sums of money were being sent to these Italian priests, for fully half the land was in the hands of the church. The church did less and less for men, while the vision of what it might do was growing clearer. Thousands of these unhappy, discontented peasants marched up to London to demand of the The king their freedom and other rights and privi- Revolt. leges. This was the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. 1381. Their demands were not granted, and the revolters were severely punished.



In this century of unrest and change there were four authors whose writings are characteristic of Four the manner in which four classes of people re- prominent garded the state of matters. They were: I. 1. "Sir John Mandeville," who simply accepted things as they were; 2. William Langland, or Langley, who criticised and wished to reform; 3. Wyclif, who criticised and wished to overthrow; and 4. Chaucer, the good-humored aristocrat, who saw the faults of his times, but gently ridiculed them rather than preached against them.

25. The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Kt. This account of distant countries and strange peoples purports to have been written by Sir John himself. He claims to be an English knight who has often journeyed to Jerusalem, and who puts forth this volume to serve as a guide-book to those wishing to make the pilgrimage. The introduction seems so "real" that it is a pity to be obliged to admit that the work is prob

ably a combination of a few travellers' stories and a vast amount of imagination, and that, worse than all, there never was any "Sir John." It was first written in French, and then translated into English either in



the fourteenth century or the early part of the fifteenth. The traveller has most marvellous experiences. He finds that in the Dead Sea iron will float, while a feather will drop to the bottom. "And these be things against kind [nature]," says Sir John. He sees in Africa people who have but one foot. "They go so fast that it is marvel," he declares, "and the foot is so large that it shadoweth all the body against the sun when they will lie and rest themselves." Sometimes he brings in a bit of science. From his observations of the North Star he

reasons that" Men may go all round the world and return to their country; and always they would find men, lands, and isles, as well as in our part of the world." When he touches on religious customs, he becomes especially interesting, for in the midst of the unrest and discontent of his age he has no fault to find with the laws or the church; and with all his devotion to the church, he has no blame for those whose belief differs from his own. "They fail in some articles of our faith," is his only criticism of the Moslems.

William Lang

of Piers Plowman,

version. 1362

26. William Langland, 1332-1400. land wrote the Vision of Piers Plowman. Very little is known of Langland save that he was proba- The Vision bly a clerk of the church. He knew the lives of the poor so well that it is possible he was first the son of a peasant living on a manor, and became free on declaring his intention to enter 1363. the service of the church. His Vision comes to him one May morning when, as he says in the alliterative verse of Beowulf, but in words much more like modern English :

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I was wery forwandred and went me to reste
Under a brode banke bi a bornes 2 side,

And as I lay and lened and loked in the wateres,


I slombred in a slepyng; it sweyned 3 so merye.

In his dream he sees "a faire felde full of folke." There are plowmen, hermits, men who buy and sell, minstrels, jugglers, beggars, pilgrims, lords and ladies, a king, a jester, and many others. They are all absorbed in their own affairs, but Repentance preaches to them so earnestly about their sins that finally they all vow to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Truth. No one can tell them where to find the shrine. At last they ask Piers weary with wandering. 2 brook's. 3 sounded.

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the Plowman to go with them and show them the way. "If I had plowed and sowed my half-acre, I would go with you," he replied. The pilgrims agree to help him, and he sets them all to work. While they are working, God sends a pardon for them; but a priest who sees it declares that it is no pardon, for it says only that if men do well, they shall be saved.

This ends the vision, but Piers dreams again. "Do well, do better, do best," is the keynote of this dream. One does well who is moral and upright; he does better who is filled with love and kind

"Do well, do better, do best."

ness; he does best who follows most closely the life of the Christ. Finally, Piers is seen in a halo of light, for this leader who works and loves and strives to save others represents the Christ himself.

This work is the last important poem written in the old alliterative metre of Beowulf. It is an allegory, and there are in it such characters as Lady Meed (bribery), Holy Church, Conscience, Sir Work-well-with-thinehand, Sir Goodfaith Gowell, Guile, and Reason. Reason's two horses are Advise-thee-before and Suffer-tillI-see-my-time. The liking for allegories came from the French, but the puzzling over hard questions of life and destiny was one of the characteristics of the early Teutons. Langland saw the trouble and wrong around him ; he saw the hard lives of the poor and the laws that oppressed them; he saw just where the church failed to teach and to comfort them; yet this fourteenth-century Puritan never thought of revolt. Some few changes in the laws, more earnestness and sincerity in the church, and above all, an effort on the part of each to "do best," and the eager reformer believed that happiness would smile upon the world of England. In 1361, only one year before this poem was written, the Black Death

had for the second time swept over the land. For the second time a great wave of hopeless sorrow and helplessness had overwhelmed the hearts of the people. Langland had put into words what was in every one's thoughts. It is no wonder that his poem was read by thousands; that men saw more clearly than ever the

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evils of the times; that they began to look about them for strength to bear their lives, for help to make them better.


27. John Wyclif, 1324-1384. The strength and help were already on the way, for while Lang- Wyclif's land was planning some additions to his poem, of the Bible. a learned clergyman named John Wyclif was 1380. translating the Bible into the language of the people.

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