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constituting what may be termed the great democratic movement of the fourteenth century.
It is impossible for us at present, to do more than indicate the most prominent of this important series of events. The first is the rebellion of the Swiss Cantons in 1315. Amid the rude recesses of their mountains; the hardy Swiss had learned but little of the luxury of their neighbors ; great wealth was rare, and the strong line of demarcation between the various orders of the community had not been drawn. Hence all united in the effort to drive out their foreign tyrants and establish republics retaining many aristocratic features.
In 1348 occurred the first of those terrible commotions of the French peasantry, who, wearied out with oppression and stung to the quick by the insolence and rapacity of their lords, broke out in mad fury, making portions of their fair land a wilderness. They were at first styled, in derision, Jacqueries, and that name became a sound, which might well make the haughtiest peer of France tremble in his stronghold. They were always put down by force, and led to no results, unless it were in promoting the tendency to centralization in the government, by destroying the power of the smaller barons.
Nearly contemporaneous with this was the insurrection of the people of Flanders, produced by an attempt on the part of their Count to tax free towns against their will. The revolution of the Ciompi at Florence occurred in 1378, and deserves notice, as being the first distinct demand for universal suffrage. The government of the city had previously been in the hands of twenty-one trading companies or arts, in which a large body of the people was not represented, the inferior trades being subservient to the greater, and those who worked for daily hire being a mere mob, without any voice. The rebels took possession of the city and created two new arts for the inferior mechanics and one for the populace, so that Florence, for a short time, enjoyed that political equality which we regard as our peculiar boast.
Three years later England presented a similar spectacle in the rebellion of Wat Tyler, which originated, like most of the others, in over-taxation. In this, one knows not which to regard with most wonder, the moderation of the people or the cowardly treachery of their rulers. Their demands were just and reasonable, — the entire abolition of villeinage and freedom of trade in market-towns; - and on obtaining charters, granting these, they, for the most part, quietly dispersed. But their charters were soon revoked, and the king carried out too fully his threat ; - "villeins, ye
. were, and are, and shall remain in bondage, not as heretofore, but incomparably more vile.” This insurrection cannot, however, be considered one of villeins; for the majority of those concerned were Kentish men, among whom this condition never generally obtained. It was probably excited by those secular priests, who were born among the poor, and had still their sympathies with them, and had moreover imbibed some of the doctrines of Wicliff.
These events show how early the peasantry of Europe learned to regard their condition as unjust and oppressive, and for centuries now have they been striving with various success to better it. It would be an interesting task to trace their progress and to ascertain what they have in reality gained, but so extensive a subject would require a volume to treat it adequately. As regards their present condition, it may be remarked, that in Europe the distinction into three classes still exists, a new slavery being created by the introduction of power-manufacturing, and the state of the poor is but little ameliorated. Hallam even doubts whether their physical condition is improved at all ; but admitting that they have lost in this respect, they have gained much more intellectually and morally, as well as by greater freedom for individual exertion and the means of escape from their caste.
Among ourselves, the middle and lower classes of Europe alone exist, capital and labor being placed here face to face, to see what their respective fate ultimately
shall be. Whether the grievances complained of by the laboring community are real or not, one fact is obvious; — that black, mutinous discontent prevails throughout it. The most pregnant sign of our times is perhaps the Chartist movement in England, a portion of another and older movement. Trades' Unions have taken the place of Guilds, journeymen combining against masters and masters against journeymen, instead of all uniting as formerly for the common welfare. Angry declamation is heard on all sides, and pamphlet after pamphlet is put forth with doctrines of all degrees of absurdity, showing us the mad confusion they foster. Bristol city in flames, factories blazing out at midnight, broken looms, torch meetings dispersed by armed soldiery, Glasgow operatives pronouncing their informal sentence of death upon the traitor to their cause, these are not the indications of a healthy state.
The condition and demands of the working classes are becoming the question of questions for the British statesman, one too requiring a speedy answer, for, as has been well observed, “if something is not done, something will do itself, one day, in a fashion that will please nobody.” As for ourselves, if the evil is in the bud, it yet exists and will grow. The wretchedness of Europe is gradually creeping over and will become our wretchedness. Every summer it is poured upon our shores in the shape of numerous immigrants, inferior in character to those we once received, and with diminished means of elevating themselves from their degradation. Social distinctions are annually growing wider, and it cannot be long before we hear thundering at our thresholds that all-important question, which now reaches us only across the wide Atlantic ; " What shall the people do ?” This was once asked in France, and Farmer-general Foulon was found ready with the reply dictated by the spirit of his olden time, of whose rapid passing away he was unconscious ; "Let the people eat grass!" - a saying which was
” brought to the minds of men too sternly, when the
hoary head of that first notable victim of the revolution was carried through the streets of Paris on a pike, a handful of grass thrust rudely into the mouth that had spoken that bitter taunt. Eating grass then plainly will not meet the case, for such scenes as then occurred are enough once in the history of a universe. Another answer must be found, and there can be no more fitting task for the man of clear head and courageous heart, than to tell us what it shall be. It never can be elicited by bitter complainings and threatenings on the one hand, nor by angry condemnation and reviling on the other.
In England, wide spread confusion prevails upon the subject, and every man who has been suddenly roused to its importance, like one who is awakened at midnight by the glare of conflagration, thinks he sees all with his little insight, and exclaims, Lo here! or Lo there ! and all point in different directions. One sees a panacea for all social evils in an extended right of suffrage, another asserts that nothing can be done without the ballot, while others clamor for emigration, education, abolition of titles, reduction of civil list, repeal of poor-law, repeal of corn-law, - measures, some good, some bad, but none approaching the case.
All this while too the danger is becoming more imminent, the excitement increasing, the burden growing heavier, the impatience fiercer and louder; so that the end seems drawing near in some undesirable crisis. Like the fabled Enceladus, this giant mass, trampled too heavily, must now make another blind effort for relief, and shake his island to the centre with convulsive struggles, breaking out into Ætna eruptions and desolating the plain with lavastreams. The same mad and maddening confusion is beginning to be heard among ourselves in the unions, combinations, strikes, and turn-outs, whereby our toilworn brethren tell us, would we but listen, that it is not well with them. May we, profiting by the records of the past and guided by wiser councils, learn to anticipate the evil day and guard against its consequences.
Meanwhile, amid all this ominous discord, one consolatory reflection remains. This is God's world and not Satan's, and a Providence rules over it. A lie and a wrong are, by the nature of them, perishable and cannot live forever. Through all the infinitely diversified history of mankind, we can perceive that its course is still onward and upward toward a clearer and higher state. All experience, confirmed by many great and precious promises, teaches us that this progress is not ended, but must proceed to its glorious consummation in the perfection of human civilization. If then the whole frame-work of society should fall with hideous clangor around us, we need not be dismayed, for we know that it shall be reconstructed, all the firmer and the fairer. Its immortality is that of the phenix, which requires to be consumed periodically in the flames, that it may arise to a new life, more bright and beauteous, from the smouldering ashes.
ART. III. — The Works of Charles Lamb, to which
are prefixed his Letters, and a Sketch of his Life, by Thomas Noon TALFOURD, one of his Executors. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1838. 2 vols. 8vo.
Hast thou ever read the works of Charles Lamb? If thou hast, how many tender recollections start up, on the mention of his name! How in imagination dost thou again sit in mental converse with him, as to thy mind's eye he shows visibly forth, the “ magnificent portals, ever gaping wide," of the South Sea House ! How dost thou indulge with him, in pleasant recollections of his youthful habitation in the temple, and how dost thou stand in awe of Thomas Coventry ! "whose person was a quadrate, his step massy and elephantine, his face square as the lion's, his gait peremptory and path-keeping.”