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ONCE UPON A TIME.
I HAVE a great affection for the Pastons. They are the only people of the old time who have allowed me to know them thoroughly. I am intimate with all their domestic concerns-their wooings, their marriages, their household economies. I see them, as I see the people of my own day, fighting a never-ending battle for shillings and pence; spending lavishly at one time, and pinched painfully at another. I see them, too, carrying on their public relations after a fashion that is not wholly obsolete ;-intriguing at elections, bribing and feasting. I see them, as becomes constitutional Englishmen, ever quarrelling by action and writ; and, what is not quite so common in these less adventurous times, employing "the holy law of pike and gun" to support the other law, or to resist. I see them, in their pride of family, despising trade and yet resting upon its assistance. I see the young ladies leading a somewhat unquiet and constrained life till they have become conformable in the matter of marriage; VOL. I.
and I see the young gentlemen taking a strict inventory of the amount of ready cash that is to be paid down with a bride, and deciding upon eligibility by this simple rule of the scales. This is all very edifying; and I am truly obliged to this gracious family, who, four hundred years ago, communicated with each other and with their friends, in the most frank manner, upon every subject of their varied lives.
The Paston Letters* carry us through three generations who lived during the turbulent period of the Wars of the Roses. The first generation makes us acquainted with Sir William Paston, a judge of the Common Pleas, and his wife Agnes. This is a wonderful woman. We see her, at the very opening of the correspondence, scheming for the marriage of her sons, and holding her daughters in terrible durance. The judge passes on to that assize where no more shall “fur sit on the bench and latro stand at the bar." But then comes on the scene, John Paston, his elder son; and he, for a quarter of a century, dwelling now in the Inner Temple and now in Norwich, is carrying on a fight about disputed titles to broad lands in Norfolk and Suffolk, whilst his wife Margaret is writing him little tender remembrances of her affection, or warning him against his enemies, or opening to the worldly man in London quiet glimpses of boys
*Original Letters written during the Reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., and Richard III.; with Notes, by John Fenn, Esq. A new edition, by A. Ramsay, 2 vols., 1840.
wanting new clothes, and girls growing up to be troublesome in the fancy that a little love is necessary to their existence. The old grandmother Agnes is still busy amongst them. Then John Paston of the Inner Temple passes away, and his gallant son, Sir John Paston, comes upon the stage. He is of a gay and fearless nature, winning ladye's love at tournament or dance, but a very restless spirit who has some secret affection which interferes with his certain advancement if he would be prudent and marry after the court fashion. He has need of friends, but Sir John throws them away very recklessly; and so the great enemy of the House of Paston, the Duke of Norfolk, gets the upper hand, and beleaguers their castle of Caister with a thousand men, and takes hold of the fortress and its lands in a summary way, well known to the old barons and knights as "disseisin," and which the petty modern ages imperfectly copied when the landlord unroofed a cottage to eject his refractory tenant. This latter story of the Pastons is a great romance.
Margaret Paston, the mother, is the heroine of this "strange eventful history," after she became a widow in 1466. She is a person of prodigious energy, and she has need of it to cope with the difficulties by which she is surrounded. She is troubled by the course of politics as well as by that of law. Sir John, the gay soldier, however ready to better his fortune in the sunshine of court favour, is not very particular whether it be the