Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/528

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The people, too, were polished in their manners. English urbanity struck even a Venetian who visited the country about the year 1500. But Erasmus found in English social intercourse something more than mere urbanity. "Did you but know the endowments of Britain," he writes to his poetical friend Andrelinus, "you would run hither with winged feet, and if the gout stopped you, you would wish yourself a Daedalus. To mention one thing out of many. There are here nymphs of divine beauty, gentle and kind, whom you may well prefer to your Camoenae. Moreover there is a fashion never sufficiently commended. Wherever you go you are received by every one with kisses; when you take leave you are dismissed with kisses. You return, kisses again are renewed. People come to you and kisses are dffered; they take their leave and kisses are again distributed. Wherever you meet there are kisses in abundance; in short wherever you move all things are charged with kisses. And, Faustus, if you once tasted how sweet and fragrant they are, you would be glad to sojourn in England, not for ten years only like Solon, but to your dying day."

Such was English social life before the days of Puritanism; but it must be said, this pleasant freedom of manners was accompanied by much laxity with regard to social ties. Our Venetian visitor found, side by side with English courtesy, an absence of domestic affection which seemed to him altogether amazing: of licentiousness he saw instances in this country, but none of a man in love; and though Englishmen kept jealous guard over their wives, offences against married life could always among them in the end be condoned for money. For their children they seemed to have no affection, sending them out to service in other homes as soon as they reached the age of seven, or nine at the utmost, in order that they might learn manners. These observations are fully confirmed by the evidence of the Paston Letters, where, among other things, we read of a young lady of twenty in a respectable family being repeatedly beaten and having her head broken in two or three places at a time, so that she was inclined to marry an elderly and ill-favoured suitor to escape from her mother's tyranny.

This painful absence of natural feeling was largely owing to the feudal system of wardships, by which heirs under age were disposed of in marriage without their own consent, and that union which lays the foundation of all social life was commonly made a matter of bargain and sale. It was anything but an ideal condition of society; yet the nation was polite, well ordered, and, on the whole, very submissive to authority. The people loved their King, and even when their affection came to be sorely tried, honoured him with a respectful obedience which later generations found it impossible to pay to his successors.