Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

class seemed wanting, for the feudal laws compelled every man to take up arms; and between the common soldier and the knight, no intermediate station could be found. There were not hands enough to cultivate the land. The constant warfare in which the country was engaged, whether from the wars of succession, the eternal inroads of the Welsh, or the madness of the crusades, just then at its height, -nearly drained England of its peasantry, and its beautiful bosom was as a barren sand. From height to height, lordly castles frowned over desolate valley and plain ; the husbandman was idle, or else practising with cross-bow and

spear;

the women worked in the fields; the harvest was

every article of clothing or food excessively dear. There were scarcely any roads, and very few bridges. The forests, in their wild neglect, stretched for miles over hill and dale, giving shelter to outlaw and robber, and the only means of communication was by persons travelling on horseback or on foot; and even such intercourse was irregular, each town, whether large or small, seeming to be contented to

scanty, and

dwell within itself, happy if it might do so without molestation.

Such parts of the country as were remote from towns or villages, presented a lamentable picture of disorder and neglect: whole tracts of land were uncultivated, for the heart of the occupier often failed him; and while pillage and plunder were rife in the kingdom, toiling industry had little inducement to lay up what might in a moment be carried off to supply some castle, whose owner was a stranger to the soil. Farming was consequently at its lowest ebb, and the whole face of the country impressed the beholder with pity and apprehension.

In the midst of this desolation, one feature presented a most remarkable contrast to the rest; the abbey lands were as an oasis in the desert of England. Wherever the grey walls of a religious house showed themselves, the adjacent country gave tokens, not only of the hand of man, but of the respect which the church generally, though not always, contrived to exact from the lawless and turbulent characters around. The crops of the holy fathers were permitted to ripen in

their glad luxuriance; the fences were undestroyed, and cattle grazed quietly within their enclosures, unless in times of peculiar agitation, or when the superior of the convent happened to be at variance with his most powerful lay neighbour. Then, indeed, the monks found no better treatment than the peasants; and therefore it had long been a matter of policy that castle and abbey should be united in one common interest. The abbot and the lord were generally sworn friends, and too often boon companions; while by the small sacrifice of scruples on one side in return for protection granted on the other, the neighbours, spiritual and secular, contrived to dwell in admirable harmony.

At no period had the rage for building and endowing churches and convents been so great as in the early part of the reign of Henry the Second. The crusades had mingled a sort of piety with every feeling, and the sanction of the Church was craved for

many a rash and unholy enterprise which the crafty monks took care to represent as springing from the most sacred motives. The superstition of the age was

stani kra hr weich ter coctried to rere the peut pas med, and the hamar ur we are of the church was the precance from the found convenient to

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

conspicuous place. It was situated in a rich valley, through which the Severn flowed; and the beautiful hills of Gloucestershire, crowned with masses of wood, seemed to circle it like guards.

The abbey stood close to the river side ; the walls, extending to a considerable distance, enclosed many gardens and fishponds; while the buildings adjoining the body of the edifice were so low that the splendid arched windows of the chapel were distinctly seen from a distance. Beyond the walls, the fertility of the soil demonstrated the care of the owners; luxuriant crops were waving in the breeze, and rich meadows clothed the banks on either side of the river. These banks were shaded by fine old trees; and although the rules of the monastery strictly forbade the brothers from walking abroad, or even indulging in a moment of idleness, yet beyond the precincts of the convent walls, the well-worn sod, and, here and there, the huge stone or decayed trunk of a tree just peeping out from beneath the screening branch and serving the purpose of a rustic seat, showed that the monks of the neighbouring mas

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »