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tyranny; lawlessness spread in the track of the French wars, and the Black Death shook the foundations of all customary morality. Peace comes into Parliament in the Vision to make complaint against Wrong, who has taken away his wife against his will, drives off his geese and pigs, borrows his grey horse and omits to return it, murders his farm labourers, lies with his maid, brawls in his markets, breaks up his barn door, and bears away his wheat. The king knew he said sooth, adds Langland.
A number of incidental touches in the poem serve to make up a picture of the fourteenth-century manor-house, wholly built of shining stone, fortified with a moat and pierced battlements, and made proof against the weather by its leaded roofs and glazed gables. Langland complains bitterly of the way in which the upper classes held themselves apart in these great houses. The porter keeps the gate keyed and clicketted; the ball is no longer a gathering place and a centre of hospitality, for the lord and lady do not care to sit in it.
Now hath each rich a rule
Men to eaten in.
Where the old and simpler customs were kept up, the hall was filled at meal-times with strangers at the side table besides the guests at the high table, and even the floor was occupied by beggars, who sat boardless on the ground. England was famous all over the world for good eating and drinking, and the skill of its cooks. At table there are
Many sundry meats,
Of the Rhine and the Rochel. “Much mirth is among rich, as in meat and clothing,' Langland pathetically says. He mentions their silken hoods, their furred cloaks of fine cloth from South Italy, their silver girdles and silvergilt or gold buttons; and speaks of knights changing from silk robes into gilded armour.
And ye, lovely ladies,
The dress of one of the lovely ladies is described thus :
Her robe was full rich
For their delectation the rich have all sorts of minstrels and jugglers, apewards, gleemen, fiddlers, harpers, players on the pipe and ghittern. One passage gives a picture of a feast in such a house on a winter's night, towards the holy time of Christmas, by the light of great twisted wax tapers.
At meat in their mirth,
A tale other tway.
The careful may cry
Might go to bed. For it is with the life of the poor labouring men and women, to whom he himself belonged, that Langland is throughout in sympathy; and their life was hard and piteous. No modern Socialist could put the claims of labour more trenchantly than this fourteenth-century poet.
Some putten them to the plough,
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The ninety-six statutory holidays of the mediæval year m have shrunk at this time to very small compass. But the sta ment of the right of men to play, to have reasonable leisure, have joy in their lives, is something at once new and vital, a comes startlingly to the heart of the matter.
The poor dare plead
In its daring and simplicity this passage may well be se beside another, in which the latent republicanism of the Middl Ages is incisively expressed.
For all are we Christ's creatures
And gentlemen each one. And another of splendid invective against the rich, who think (ir a phrase familiar to modern ears) that a man may do as he like: with his own.
I rede you, rich,
The life of the agricultural labourer, as we see it in Piers Ploughman,' seems almost exactly like what it is at the present day in the southern counties.
Ere I have bread of meal
And again :
Poor people of thy prisoners,
Suppen to the full,
If his house be unhilled
As now, also, the labourer was hopelessly entangled by the petty usurer
. “Evermore needy, and seldom dieth he out of debt.' This was the lot of the common manorial labourer, practically a serf on the manor, but having, to set off against this, regular employment and certain customary relief.
An hind that had
Giveth him a coat above his covenant. Even worse off, though with a certain solace of freedom in his life
, was the beggar (of whom there were thousands), or the labourer who could only find casual employment,
To keep kine in the field,
And beggars about Midsummer
Athirst sore, and ahungered,
Between the rich and the poor, however, was the large body of handicraftsmen, skilled workers at some indoor or outdoor trade. These are represented as well off, and living in a coarse but effective comfort. There was, I should think, hardly a handicraft then practised in England which is not alluded to by Langland. Sometimes they come in great swarths—
Bakers and brewsters,
And many other crafts. Sometimes they are mentioned singly, ploughmen, carters, haywards, wattlers and whitewashers of walls, shoemakers, cooks, taverners, needlers (i.e. embroiderers), ratcatchers, ropespinners, and a score of other trades.
Even Langland's sympathy with the poor is not in the least tinged with sentimentalism. He touches off the whining beggar with as keen a satire as Dickens. When the order goes out for all men to work with Piers
Then were faitors afeared
• For we have no limbs to labour with,
Such sickness us aileth.' When Piers insists on a labour test for relief, these sturdy knaves change their whining for abuse and threats. At first he appeals to the knight, who represents the governing class, for help. He