« PreviousContinue »
MR WALLAM, in his late History of the Middle Ages, adverting to the diffusion of legendary tales, especially those relating to the Virgin, of which says "it is difficult to conceive the stupid absurdity and the disgusting profaneness;" subjoins, in a note, two or three specimens from the Fabliaux, published by Le Grand d'Aussy; and adds, "these tales, it may be said, were the productions of ignorant men, and circulated among the populace. Certainly they would have excited contempt and indignation in the more enlightened clergy. Vol. II. p. 447, note. But whether the Fabliaux of the thirteenth century are at all more absurd or profane than the impudent invocations which have passed current among the people from the hands of the clergy in Catholic countries, through all ages, may admit of much question. A religious book, containing a voluminous collection of these legends, under various heads, and entitled "Prato fiorito di varii essempi," is now before me, which may be seen as a tolerable specimen of a multitude of works devoted to similar purposes. It was published at Como, con licenza de' superiori," in 1608; and to those who derive any gratification from contemplating the various modes in which the follies of mankind have, from time to time displayed themselves, and who are not well read in that description of lore which is here unfolded to them, it may be not unamusing, nor altogether uninstructive, to display a few of the flowers that are to be found together in this field of variegated allurement.
I will take, for the first of the classes from which I purpose to draw my instances, the 8th chapter of the first book, entitled "Del' Usura." Perhaps the fearful examples of the punishment of that crime here afforded, may induce some members of our British legislature to pause before they give their sanction to the sweeping indem nity to usurers, intended by Sergeant Onslow's bill. The governor and directors of the Bank of England might also do well to consider them, together with the admirable train of reasoning and reflection by which they are preceded. Moreover, for brevity's sake, I shall select only two or three for
translation, and give no more than the general heads or titles of the remainder.
CHAP. VIII." Of the vice of usury-how severely it is chastised by God, in them who practise it, contrary to his divine law."
"It is a thing manifest, that the putting out usury is not only prohibited and forbidden by the divine law, but also by the imperial laws, and by all principles of justice. For which reason, the most just God hath given us most terrible and tremendous signs of the severest punishments against usurers, as by many fearful examples, which we shall here commemorate, may be made evident. And, although it be ordinarily permitted by princes and by republics, that a man may receive one only in a hundred; that concession and permission, nevertheless, is not according to the laws, but expressly against every just law, and against conscience and charity. Wherefore princes permit these usuries to their people, not as an act of justice, but on account of the necessity of the poor, in order to put an end to the insatiable rapacity and unbridled avarice of the rich men and misers of this world; who being without sweet charity, and continually burning with desire of gain, fain would extract out of every crown which they lend, a hundred, and would not willingly bestow upon a poor man one morsel, without a return for it. And, therefore, princes, in order to put an end to their avarice and cruelty, grant them license to demand, so as it be only one in every hundred ; as if they said, "Inasmuch as you who are a miser, and one of the rich ones of the earth, will not lend your money for the sake of charity, as God wills and commands that you should do; therefore, we ordain that you shall not receive, by this accursed usury, more than so much per cent." Howbeit, according to the laws and ordinances of God, these persons ought not to take even a single farthing; according to what all doctors and canonists affirm, saying, it is impossible that those who are given to usury, against the divine law, cani ever be saved, if they do not restore all that they have taken in usury, and every such unjust gain; nor, how many jubilees soever
they may celebrate, or fasts observe, or alms give, will they ever be able to liberate themselves from the sentence of eternal damnation, without complete restitution of all such cursed gains, when they are able to make it. And here, indeed, we may discover the great blindness of those who are covetous, and rich in worldly possessions, in that they will not see nor under stand the imminent danger they are in, or the manifest peril of an everlasting death. But let us come to examples, by which will more plainly be seen the truth of such, the damnable and horrible condition of avaricious men, and dealers in accursed and excommunicated usuries.
EXAMPLE I-Of the Miserable Death
of an Usurer.
We read, in the Liber Apum, how, in the realm of France, there was once an usurer, so cruel and pitiless, that he despoiled poor widows and orphans, and others, without remorse, in the obtaining his cursed usury; nor had he any compassion for the most extreme poverty, or the greatest necessities, of many iniserable fathers of families who were burthened with children. Now this cruel and unjust usurer, in order to cloak his so great wickedness and impiety, dissembled so as externally to appear the very best sort of man in the world. He frequently visited religious persons, recommending himself to their prayers, with feigned tears, and sometimes sending them alms; and, more than once, being charitably admonished by such as were acquainted with him, to leave off his usurious practices, and exhorted to have compassion on the poor, he took little account of what was said to him, and went on his way, excusing himself with fair and glossing speeches, but persevering all the while in his former conduct, until that, at the last, the tremendous hand of God fell upon him. Forasmuch as he was at first assailed with a sudden grievous sickness, which, in short space, brought him to the end of his misspent life. And, whilst the miserable sinner was in the midst of the anguish of his approaching death, there appeared in his chamber two very great and very black dogs, who, with vast vehemence and fury, jumped upon the bed of the dying man, and, howling with rage, watched for the moment when they might devour that wretched soul;
and they thrust forth their devilish tongues to the mouth of the sick man ; who, in like manner, through his anguish, thrusting out his own tongue more than a palm's length, it was instantly seized upon by these infernal dogs, and torn out by the roots, and, together with his miserable soul, carried away to hell; and his dead body was cast to the beasts, as was justly deserved.
Example II. is of an usurer, who had caused his image, in marble, to be placed over the cathedral church, representing him with a bag of money in his hands. It happened, after the death of the usurer, that a brother usurer going to church one morning, this marble statue fell on his head and crushed him.
Example III-How a chest of money being deposited in a certain monastry, by the heirs of a deceased usurer, for safe custody, pending a law suit, the devil was seen one morning to sit astride upon it; who, being interrogated by a courageous monk as to the nature of his claim, replied, "The treasure is mine. I acquired it in fair traffic, with the soul of its owner into the bargain." The holy brotherhood instantly required the heirs of the usurer to take back their deposite; but it does not appear how they disposed of the devil's equitable lien.
Example IV. is of an usurer who directed his money to be buried with him; and how certain honest gentlemen coming by night to rob the grave, saw that possession had already been taken by two devils, who were amusing themselves by thrusting the loved wages of his indignity, piece by piece, red hot, into his bowels, exclaiming, with much scorn, "Ho! ho! friend, now you shall have enough of that gold which you have so anxiously sought and so hardly procured." We are not told, however, if this adventure cured them of robbing church-yards.
Example V. is of a lady usurer, who, on the point of death, saw an infinite number of devils in the forms of curs and ravens.
Example VI.-How an usurer, on the point of death, gave it in charge to his wife to have a care for the good of his soul; and how she married a second husband, and made a mock of him.
Vincentius, the Bishop, relates, in his Moral Looking-glass, how there was
once at Constantinople an usurer, who, arriving at the point of death, and being exhorted to make his will and settle the concerns of his soul, by making restitution of what he had unjustly acquired by usury, answered, "I can't take the trouble to do this at present, having other matters to think on; but, if it should turn out that I die of my present disease, my wife will have a care of this, to whom I bequeath all my substance; and she will so distribute as she shall think best for the good of my soul." As soon as this miserable usurer was dead, the good woman began to cast the eyes of affection on one of good favour and handsome presence, who had been the sworn enemy of her deceased husband; and, with promises of a handsome endowment out of the inheritance which had fallen to her, persuaded him to take her for his wife, a thing which he readily consented to, as knowing that he should enter into the possession of so great riches. At the which, a certain matron (her neighbour) being marvellously troubled and scandalized, seeing that this ungrateful woman had so soon forgotten her deceased husband, who had left her such an ample succession, one day said to her, "What a pretty business this is! Are you not ashamed to have done this? Your husband is still warm, as one may say, in his grave, and you are giving yourself a new one." At which words, the good woman being much offended, disdainfully, and in a scoffing manner, replied, "Oh, my lady-in good sooth, if you think that my husband is yet warm, I beseech you to blow upon him to cool him." Now, these were the almsgivings and the orisons which this dear and faithful wife bestowed for the good of the soul of her deceased husband. Therefore are they truly foolish, who, not providing, while they yet live, for the salvations of their own souls, promise themselves, and put their trust in the promise, that others will take that care of them after they are dead."
It is to be hoped, that the bare titles of the remaining examples, in this chapter of usurers, will prove sufficient to deter sinners from the commission of this damnable crime of " teaching money to procreate," and substitute the more effectual terrors of hell in the room of the weak and impotent sanction of legislative enactments,
which it is the object of our present political reformers to do away.
VII.-How a child exhorted its father to give up the practice of usury, and how he would not, and so died, and was damned.
VIII.-How an usurer, upon receiv◄ ing the sacrament, said to the priest, "I value this handsome cup more than all that is within it," and instantly dropped down dead, and was damned.
IX.-How a usurer was buried in a church, in a marble sepulchre; and how the next morning, both the sepulchre and its stinking contents, were found in a field far distant.
X.-How a priest, refusing to inter the body of a usurer in consecrated ground, made a composition with the relations of the deceased that they should place the usurer's body on the back of his horse, and, wherever the horse should carry it, there it should be interred. And how the relations, notwithstanding that, against the spirit and reasoning of the covenant, they endeavoured to drive the horse, by blows, towards the church, could not succeed in making the animal move an inch forward in that direction, until, being tired, they suffered it to go its own way, which led to the foot of the gallows, and there the usurer was interred at last.
XI. Of another usurer, who, being buried in a church, could not rest, but got out of his grave, and played divers pranks within the said church, until, being duly exorcised, he confessed that he never should be quiet till they removed him out of conse crated ground; which was done accordingly.
XII. How a usurer, being, at his death-bed, exhorted to make restitution of his ill-gotten wealth, by disposing of it in a christian-like manner, answered the parish priest who attended him, saying, " Imprimis, I give and bequeath you, who are my pastor, to the devil.-Item, I give to my wife and children all the estate, right, title, &c., which I have acquired in hell by my worldly dealings. Lastly, all the residue of my effects, together with myself, I absolutely give up and release to my good Lord, Satan, to whom, of right, the same do belong." Immediately at the close of which nuncupative will, the residiary legatee came into the apartment, and carried off the testator's soul, which (it seems) was
the only part of the benefits intended for him that he cared to possess.
A few other examples remain; but as I am apprehensive that they might rather tend to weaken the impressions
which must be made by some of the foregoing, than to strengthen or improve them, I shall here close the chapter.
ON THE STUDY OF LANGUAGE, AS ESSENTIAL TO THE SUCCESSFUL CULTIVATION OF LITERATURE.
GENIUS, among different nations, has found different means of giving expression to its inward power, and communicating itself to men. The great art of civilized Greece was sculpture. The power of the mind was, in that country, in no way so clearly, vividly, overpoweringly expressed, as in marble. Italy has given her soul to live in the colours of the pencil, and the modulation of sound. In our own country, the material which genius has been able to mould to its highest and most powerful expression, is Speech.
We do not intend to make any inquiry into the causes of this diversity of art among different nations, but would ground some observations on the fact of ats existence. For if this be acknowledged, as indeed it can hardly be disputed, that one people has excelled in one art, another in another, then we conceive it may, upon the simple fact, be safely argued, that there are among each people strong natural causes in action, determining the bent of their genius to the course it is found to take -causes of such prevailing and permanent force, that it can hardly be supposed within the power of the people themselves to control and change their operation.
If such a conclusion be admitted, it would seem to follow, that as far as the cultivation of arts can be conceived of as matter of deliberate purpose and design among a people, they should be guided by what they already find among themselves, and should attach themselves with peculiar and perhaps exclusive zeal to those arts, in which the excellence they have attained indicates that they are qualified to excel. For it must be supposed, that in the further prosecution of any such art, they are merely giving more complete developement to the principles of power which Nature has implanted in them in an especial manner; a purpose which may be important to the intellectual and even moral character of a nation.
And certainly, with respect to the probable success of any specific endeavours for advancing the genius of art among a people, it should seem rather to be found in pursuing them in concert with the work of nature, than in seeking a cultivation which may be foreign to nature.
If we ask in what part of her literature England has most excelled-among the great writers who have used her language-who they are who have shewn it in its power and beauty, we think at once of her poets. Of all the arts of imagination, that which England has carried to the highest pitch is unquestionably Poetry, as its annals will witness from the time of Chaucer to our own day. In the eloquence of prose, she has shewn no writers of such pre-eminent distinction. And if we take our impression from the past, we can hardly escape the conclusion, that either the language or the genius of the people is peculiarly fitted to poetry. It seems, indeed, as if to any mind working with strong emotion of its conceptions, poetry did indeed become amongst us the natural language of its expression, breaking out into a higher strain of words than the sobriety of prose will bear, and seeking both to indulge and to justify its transport by the numbers of verse. And accordingly it is remarkable how various the subjects of English poetry are, many topics having been treated of in that language, and forming the matter indeed of celebrated poems, which might not seem at first sight to come within the compass of poetical inspiration. Yet after we have separated the poets, if we look at the rest of English literature, so rich and various in its kinds, through so long a period of time, we shall not be disposed to deny, that the mind of the country has left a great monument of its power in the numerous excellent works we possess of its writers in prose. Nor can we fail to cite the names of many, to whom we
have each individually owed both permanent instruction and manifold delight.
The examination of the difference of character of our writers in verse and prose, the causes of what may seem the stronger determination of the genius of the country to poetry, would afford matter of very interesting inquiry, but is not our present object. We wish merely to propose, as a ground of farther observation, the fact of which, the review of our whole literature, compared with the history of the other arts amongst us, will easily establish, that the mind of this country has habitually resorted to language for the permanent expression of its power. Two considerations seem to result from this fact. The first, that as far as favour to any art in the minds of the whole people may be important to its cultivation, the native claims to such favour which literature holds in this country should not be disregarded or undervalued. The other respects those in whose hands the cultivation of our literature is placed, and calls upon them duly to weigh the importance of the art which they exercise, since they hold in their hands a power which the mind of the whole people acknowledges, and by which, therefore, they are able to sway the minds of a whole people. We wish to press a little farther this last consideration.
There are, in this country, at all times, young minds advancing in power, awaking to the sense of faculties within themselves, engaging, or preparing to engage, in the action of life, and trusting to hold their part in its great action, by speaking to their contemporaries, by giving the treasures of their thoughts, the power of their minds, to language. To all such, whose career is yet to be run, who feel, or trust to feel, that they have yet in their hands a great future, we think that something may be said not unprofitably of the character which our literature has sustained.
They might be urged with the example of those who have given to it its greatness, to look back, and consider who they were to whose place they succeed; to know the honour of the rank to which they aspire, and understand its responsibility.
There is no labour of self-cultivation too severe for him who would
write the language of a great people. With strenuous and patient endeavour he must prepare himself for his undertaking, and with vigilant jealousy of himself must he fulfil it.
The first great source of eloquence is in himself.
"Pectus id est quod facit disertum.”
In thoughtful solitude he must watch over and cherish the powers of his own spirit. He has knowledge to acquire; he must study the wisdom of others. He must owe to his patient and submissive observation of what has been thought and done by minds of highest authority, the authority with which he himself may speak to his own age. For the power of his own mind is not independent of the power which has preceded it. But rather there is a continual derivation of power from mind to mind, and from, age to age; and the youth of genius is marked much more by reverend and fond admiration of the excelling productions of past genius, than by the sense of its own independence. The independence of original thought, and the simplicity and truth of native feeling, are not defeated or disturbed by such admiration; but in it they become founded upon a strength greater than their own. The mind which has within itself the native springs of power, need not fear to acknowledge, to love, and to follow the steps of its masters. Its own strength will grow meanwhile: those principles of strength, whether in thought or feeling, which have been sowed in itself, will silently unfold by their own laws, if the courses of life itself bring nothing to enfeeble, oppress, or corrupt their energy.
The power of wisdom, thought, knowledge, and high passion, which the human mind, through continual ages, has embodied in its great productions, is the great heritage of every generation. It is in deep and thoughtful laborious study that genius itself takes its part in this commonwealth, its own peculiar and dearer part, out of which it finds the means to create new wealth, and to augment the great descending inheritance of mankind.
The preservation of its own distinctive character, of its own essential strength, is to be otherwise effected, than by ignorance or neglect of the surpassing works of preceding time.