Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation

Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation

Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation

Medieval Panorama: The English Scene from Conquest to Reformation

Excerpt

"The true field of Historic Study is the history of those nations and institutions in which the real growth of humanity is to be traced: in which we can follow the developments, the retardations and perturbations, the ebb and flow of human progress, the education of the world, the leading on by the divine light from the simplicity of early forms and ideas where good and evil are distinctly marked, to the complications of modern life, in which light and darkness are mingled so intimately, and truth and falsehood are so hard to distinguish, but in which we believe and trust that the victory of light and truth is drawing nearer every day."

W. STUBBS, Lectures on Medieval and Modern History (1886), p. 83.

To many of us, and perhaps especially to those whose daily task is most modern and monotonous, the medieval scene brings all the charm of foreign travel. In both cases we find a change of sights and sounds, buildings and fashions of dress, work and play and gestures and accent, things commonplace to them, but holiday things for us. Thus the merest trivialities bewitch us away from the daily routine of home, revealing our own human nature in a fresh, and therefore refreshing, light.

To borrow an almost inevitable simile, the reader may thus stand upon Malvern Hills, in the heart of England, and look down with the medieval dreamer William Langland upon the Field Full of Folk. Looking eastward and westward by turns, he may get a clear and balanced vision of the whole, and mark how the level and populous east shades off into the mountains of the scattered Western folk. Not, of course, that the Westward view is entirely mountainous, or the Eastward unbrokenly flat. Bredon rises almost in the Eastern foreground, and Malvern can listen to those Sunday bells which Housman has immortalized. Next come the Cotswolds, with Edgehill in the far distance; and then, beyond our bodily vision, those Eastern counties which, with their Fenland, were once the wealthiest and most populous of the Kingdom. Westward, again, we know that Snowdonia rises in the background, far overtopping these Black Mountains which close our view. Thus, however East and West may shade off into each other, yet as we stand here facing the rising sun there is a real gulf between the forward and the hindward landscape; a wide difference, in the mass, between Eastern or Western land, Eastern or . . .

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