Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

a

stamp it out; that he would pay for the provisioning of a regiment of volunteers for a whole month ; that he would present her marriage trousseau to her-yea, and let her marry. “Sandra ! my dear! my —

! dear!” he cried, and stretched over the parapet speechless, like a puppet slain.

So strongly did she comprehend the sincerity of his passion for her voice that she could, or would, see nothing extravagant in this demonstration which excited unrestrained laughter in every key from her companions in the boat. When the boat was about a hundred yards from the shore, and in full moonlight, she sang the great “Addio" of Hagar. At the close of it, she had to feel for her lover's hand blindly. No one spoke, either at the Villa Ricciardi, or about her. Her voice possessed the mountain-shadowed lake.

The rowers pulled lustily home through chill air.

Luigi and Beppo were at the villa, both charged with news from Milan. Beppo claiming the right to speak first, which Luigi granted with a magnificent sweep of his hand, related that Captain Weisspriess, of the garrison, had wounded Count Medole in a duel severely. He brought a letter to Vittoria from Merthyr, in which Merthyr urged her to prevent Count Ammiani's visiting Milan for any purpose whatever, and said that he was coming to be present at her marriage. She was reading this while Luigi delivered his burden ; which was that in a subsequent duel the slaughtering captain had killed little Leone Rufo, the gay and gallant boy, Carlo's comrade, and her friend.

Luigi laughed scornfully at his rival, and had edged away out of sight before he could be asked who had sent him. Beppo ignominiously confessed that he had not heard of this second duel. At midnight he was on horseback, bound for Milan, with a challenge to the captain from Carlo, who had a jealous fear that Luciano at Vercelli might have outstripped him. Carlo requested the captain to guarantee him an hour's immunity in the city on a stated day, or to name any spot on the borders of Piedmont for the meeting. The challenge was sent with Countess Ammiani's approbation and Laura's. Vittoria submitted to it as a necessity.

That done, Carlo gave up his heart to his bride. A fight in prospect was the hope of wholesome work after his late indecision and double play. They laughed at themselves, accused hotly, and humbly excused themselves, praying for mutual pardon.

She had behaved badly in disobeying his mandate from Brescia. Yes, but had he not been over-imperious ?

True; still she should have remembered her promise in the Vicentino!

She did indeed; but how could she quit her wounded friend Merthyr ?

Perhaps not: then, why had she sent word to him from Milan that she would be at Pallanza?

This question knocked at a sealed chamber. She was silent, and Carlo had to brood over something as well. He gave her hints of his foolish pique, his wrath, and bitter baffled desire for her when, coming to Pallanza, he came to an empty house. But he could not help her to see, for he did not himself feel, that he had been spurred by the silly passions, pique, and wraths, to plunge instantly into new political intrigue; and that some of his worst faults had become mixed up with his devotion to his country. Had he taken Violetta for an ally in all purity of heart? The kiss he had laid on the woman's sweet lips had shaken his absolute belief in that. He tried to set his brain travelling backward, in order to contemplate accurately the point of his original weakness. It being almost too severe a task for any young head, Carlo deemed it sufficient that he should say—and this he felt—that he was unworthy of his beloved. Could Vittoria listen to such stuff? She might have kissed him to stop the flow of it, but kissings were rare between them; so rare that, when they had put mouth to mouth, a little quivering spire of flame, dim at the base, stood to mark the spot in their memories. She moved her hand, as to throw aside such talk. Unfretful in blood, chaste and keen, she at least knew the foolishness of the common form of lovers' trifling when there is a burning love to keep under, and Carlo saw that she did, and adored her for this highest proof of the passion of her love.

“In three days, you will be mine, if I do not hear from Milan ? within five if I do?” he said.

Vittoria gave him the whole beauty of her face, a divine minute, and bowed it assenting. Carlo then led her to his mother, before whom he embraced her for the comfort of his mother's heart. They decided that there should be no whisper of the marriage until the couple were one. Vittoria had seen Weisspriess fall in combat, and she had perfect faith in her lover's right hand. She obtained the countess's permission to write for Merthyr to attend her at the altar, and drew rest for the intervening hours.

GEORGE MEREDITH.

THE OXFORD REFORMERS OF 1498.

CHAPTER VII.

1. MORE IMMERSED IN PUBLIC BUSINESS. WRITES HIS "UTOPIA"

(1515, 1516). It does not often happen that two friends, engaged in fellow-work, publish in the same year two works, both of which take an independent and a permanent place in the literature of Europe. But this may be said of the “Novum Instrumentum” of Erasmus and the “Utopia” of More.

Still more remarkable is it that two such works, written by two such men, should be traceable to the influence and express the views of a more obscure but greater man than they. Yet, in truth, half the merit of both these works belongs fairly to Colet.

As the “Novum Instrumentum,” upon careful examination, proves to be the expression, on the part of Erasmus, not so much of his own isolated views as of the views held in common by the little band of Oxford Reformers, on the great subject of which it treats ; so the “Utopia” will be found to be in great measure the expression, on More’s part, of the views of the same little band of friends on social and political questions. On most of these questions Erasmus and More, in the main, thought alike; and they owed their common convictions chiefly to the influence of Colet.

While the work of Erasmus had for some years past lain chiefly in the direction of laborious literary study, it had been far otherwise with More. His lines had fallen among the busy scenes and cares of practical life. His capacity for public business, and the diligence and impartiality with which he had now for some years discharged his judicial duties as under-sheriff, had given him a position of great popularity and influence in the city. He had been appointed by the Parliament of 1515 a Commissioner of Sewers-a recognition at least of his practical ability. In his private practice at the bar he had risen to such eminence, that Roper tells us “there was at that time in none of the prince's courts of the laws of this realm any

matter of importance in controversy wherein he was not with the one party of counsel. Roper further reports that “ by his office and his learning (as I have heard him say) he gained without grief not so little as £400 by the year” (equal to £4,000 a year in present money). He had in the meantime married a second wife, Alice Middleton, and taken her daughter also into his household ; and thus tried, for the

(1) Roper, 9.

sake of his little orphans, to roll away the cloud of domestic sorrow from his home.

Becoming himself more and more of a public man, he had anxiously watched the course of political events.

The long continuance of war is almost sure to bring up to the surface social evils which in happier times smoulder on unobserved. It was so especially with these wars of Henry VIII. Each successive parliament, called for the purpose of supplying the king with the necessary ways and means, found itself obliged reluctantly to deal with domestic questions of increasing difficulty. In previous years it had been easy for the flattering courtiers of a popular king, by talking of victories, to charm the ear of the Commons so wisely, that subsidies and poll-taxes had been voted without much, if any, opposition. But the Parliament which had met in February, 1515, had no victories to talk about. Whether right or wrong in regarding “the realm of France his very true patrimony and inheritance," Henry VIII. had not yet been able “ to reduce the same to his obedience." Meanwhile the long continuance of war expenditure had drained the national exchequer. It is perfectly true that under Wolsey's able management the expenditure had already been cut down to an enormous extent, but during the three years of active warfare—1512, 1513, and 1514—the revenues of more than twelve ordinary years' had been spent, the immense hoards of wealth inherited by the young king from Henry VII. had been squandered away, and even the genius of Wolsey was unable to devise means to collect the taxes which former Parliaments had already voted. The temper of the Commons was in the meantime beginning to change. They now, in 1515, for the first time entered their complaint upon the rolls of Parliament, that whereas the king's noble progenitors had maintained their estate and the defences of the realm out of the ordinary revenues of the kingdom, he now by reason of the improvident grants made by him since he came to the throne, had not sufficient revenues left to meet his increasing expenses. The result was that all unusual grants of annuities, &c., were declared to be void.? The Commons then proceeded to deal with the large deficiency which previous subsidies had done little to remove. Of the £160,000 granted by the previous Parliament only £50,000 had been gathered, and all they now attempted to achieve was the collection, under new arrangements, of the remaining £110,000.3

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

It was evident that the temper of the people would not bear further trial; and no wonder, for the tax which in the previous year had raised a total of £50,000, was practically an income tax of sixpence in the pound descending even to the wages of the farm labourer. In the coming year this income tax of sixpence was to be twice repeated simply to recover arrears of taxation. What should we think of a government which should propose to exact from the day-labourer, by direct taxation, a tax equal to between two and three weeks' wages !

The selfishness of Tudor legislation—or, perhaps, it might be more just to say of Wolsey's legislation, for he was the presiding spirit of this Parliament—was shown no less clearly in its manner of dealing with the social evils which came under its notice.

Thus the Act of Apparel, with its pains and penalties, was obviously more likely to give a handle to unscrupulous ministers to be used for purposes of revenue, than to curb those tastes for grandeur in attire which nothing was so likely to foster as the example of Wolsey himself.

Thus too, not content with carrying their income-tax down to the earnings of the peasant, this and the previous Parliament attempted to interfere with the wages of the labouring classes solely for the benefit of employers of labour. The simple fact was that the drain upon the labour market to keep the army supplied with soldiers, had caused a temporary scarcity of labour, and a natural rise in wages. The last Parliament had thereupon attempted virtually to re-enact the old statutes of labourers, as against the labourers, whilst repealing all the clauses which might possibly prove inconvenient to employers. This Parliament of 1515 completed the work; re-enacted a rigid scale of wages; imposed pains and penalties upon “artificers who should leave their work except for the king's service.” Here again was oppression of the poor to spare the pockets of the rich.

Again : the scarcity of labour made itself felt in the increased propensity of landowners to throw arable land into pasture, and the enactment of statutary provisions to check this tendency was not to be wondered at, but the rumour that “divers by compounding secretly with the cardinal were able to exempt themselves,' leads one to suspect that Wolsey thought more of the wants of the exchequer than of the hardships and misery of ejected peasants.

It was natural that the result of these wholesale ejections, and the

3

(1) 6 Henry VIII. c. 1. The draft of this act in the final form in which it was adopted when Parliament met again in the autumn is in Wolsey's handwriting: Brewer.

(2) 4 Henry VIII. c. 5, and 6 Henry VIII. c. 3,
(3) 6 Henry VIII. c. 5.
(4) Lord Herbert's History.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »