Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Man Who Preached after He was Dead

Doctor John Wicklif has been dead these forty years, and his bones have been lying the while in Butterworth Church-yard; but it has been decreed by the great Council of Constance that they shall lie there no longer. A party of monks, with pick and spade, have dug them up, and now they kindle a fire, burn them to powder, and shovel the ashes into a brook which sweeps past the church-yard; and the brook bears them on to the Avon, which, after winding through Stratford meadows, falls into the Severn, and the Severn bears them to the sea. But why are the monks so intent upon annihilating the doctor's bones? Because the doctor, who was a preacher, though he has been dead so long, still continues to preach! The monks will have no more of it; and they think that by getting rid of his bones they will put an end to his preaching. They forget that there are some things winch the fire will not burn—such as liberty, truth, justice. Little do they think that the doctor will keep on preaching; that his parish will be the world, his followers citizens of every land; that his preaching, together with that parchment and the great piece of beeswax attached to it, which the barons obtained from John Lackland, will bring about a new order of things in human affairs; that thrones will be overturned; that sovereigns will become subjects, and subjects sovereigns.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


A century has passed since the Magna Charta was obtained, but not much liberty has come from that document as yet. The people are still villains. The Icing and the barons plunder them; the monks, friars, bishops, and archbishops—a swarm of men live upon them. They must pay taxes to the king, to the barons, and to the priests; and they have no voice in saying what or how much the taxes shall be. They are ignorant. They have no books. Not one man in a thousand can read. The priests and the parish clerks, the bishops, rich men, and their children are the only ones who have an opportunity of obtaining an education. There are no schools for the poor.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The priests look sharply after their dues. Be it a wedding, a funeral, the saying of mass for the dead, baptizing a child, granting absolution for sin, or any other service, the priest must have his fee. The country is overrun with monks and friars—Carmelites, who wear white gowns; Franciscans, dressed in gray; Augustinians and Dominicans, who wear black. They live in monasteries and abbeys, shave their crowns, and go barefoot. They have taken solemn vows to have nothing to do with the world, to spend their time in fasting and praying; but, notwithstanding their vows, none of the people—none but the rich men—can spread such bountiful tables as they, for the monasteries, abbeys, nunneries, convents, and bishoprics hold half the land in England, and their revenues are greater than the king's. In the monastery larders are shoulders of fat mutton, quarters of juicy beef, haunches of choice venison. In the cellars are casks of good old wine from the vineyards of Spain and the banks of the Rhine, and yet the friars are the greatest beggars in the country. They go from house to house, leading a donkey, with panniers lashed to the animal's sides, or else carry a sack on their backs, begging money, butter, eggs, cheeses, receiving anything which the people may give; and in return invoking the blessings of the saints upon their benefactors, and cursing those who refuse to give. They have relics for sale: shreds of clothing which they declare was worn by the Virgin Mary; pieces of the true cross; bones of saints—all very holy.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


They have a marvellous story to relate, of St. Dunstan, who was a blacksmith, and very wicked, but afterward became a good man, and was made Archbishop of Canterbury. One day the devil came and looked into the window where the saint was at work, trying to tempt him, whereupon St. Dunstan seized his red-hot tongs and clapped them upon the devil's nose, which made the fiend roar with pain; but the saint held him fast till he promised to tempt him no more.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The people are very ignorant. There are no schools; there are none to teach them except the priests, monks, and friars, who have no desire to see the people gaining knowledge, for knowledge is power, and ignorance weakness. The people are superstitious, as ignorant people generally are. They believe in hobgoblins and ghosts. They have startling stories to relate of battles between brave knights and dragons that spit fire, and are terrible to behold. St. George, the patron saint of England, had a fierce encounter with a dragon, and came off victorious. The peasants relate the stories by their kitchen fires; the nobles narrate them in their castles; the poets rehearse the exploits of the brave knights in verses, which the minstrels sing from door to door. Although no one ever has seen a dragon, yet everybody believes that such creatures exist, and may make their appearance at any moment.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The people believe in witches. Old women who are wrinkled and bent with age are supposed to sell themselves to the devil, and he gives them power to come and go through the air at will, riding a broomstick, at night, bent on mischief; with power to fly into people's houses through the keyholes, to bewitch men, women, children, horses, dogs, cattle, and everything. If a horse is contrary, the people say old Goody So-and-so has bewitched it; if the butter will not come in the churn, the cream is bewitched; if anything happens out of the usual course, the witches are the mischief.

"There is mischief in the air."

King, priest, nor people will not suffer witches to live, for the Bible commands their destruction, say the prelates of the Church, who alone have the Bible; and many a poor, innocent woman is put to death.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The monks and friars having been recognized by the Pope, and holding their authority directly from him, assert their right to preach in the churches, crowding out the parish priests.

Little good does their preaching do. It is mostly marvellous stories about the saints, and what happened to people who did not feed them; or about the wonderful miracles performed by relics. They sell pardons for sins committed or to be committed; and they have indulgences absolving men from all penalties in this life, as well as after death. The monks drive a thrifty trade in the sale of relies. The good people who believe all the stories of their wonderful power to care diseases, to preserve them from harm, bow down before the bits of bone, and pieces of wood, and rusty nails, and rags which they exhibit; but there are so many relics that some of the people begin to see the tricks which the monks are playing upon them, for it is discovered that John the Baptist had four shoulder-blades, eight arms, eleven fingers, besides twelve complete hands, thirteen skulls, and seven whole bodies—enough almost for a regiment! It is discovered that some of St. Andrew's bones once belonged to a cow; that St. Patrick had two heads—one small, preserved when he was a boy, and the other large, the one he wore when he became a man!

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Some of the monks spend their time in writing books—printing the letters with a pen; but many of them are lazy. The abbots and bishops are fond of hunting foxes, and ride with the country gentlemen after the hounds, and sit down to good dinners in the barons' halls. The parish priests, for the most part, are ignorant. Their sermons on Sunday are narratives of monkish traditions, stories of the saints, with commands to attend mass. They get up spectacles called "miracle plays," acting them as dramas. They ask the women and girls indecent questions when they come to confession, and their lives are very far from being pure. They are so debased that they drink themselves drunk in the village ale-house.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


If the monks, or priests, or bishops commit a crime, even though it be murder, the king cannot arrest them, for the bishops have their court, and a man who enters the priesthood is not amenable to civil law. They are let off with a light penance, and then may go on saying mass, and absolving the people from their sins. But if one of the people commits murder, he will have his head chopped off by one of the king's executioners.

The priests, however, are not all of them wicked. There are some who, instead of spending their time in the ale-houses, or in plundering their parishioners, look kindly after their welfare. Some are learned men, educated at Oxford or Cambridge, who exhort the people to lead honest lives. The man whose bones the monks are burning was a good priest, a learned man. We may think of him as attending school, when a boy, at Oxford, graduating from one of the colleges; and, after graduating, he studies theology, and becomes a priest, and preaches in the Oxford churches. He is so learned and eloquent that the people come in crowds to hear him. There are students at Oxford from all over Europe—from France, Rolland, Switzerland, Germany, and Bohemia—thirty thousand or more—who listen to his preaching. His fame reaches London; the king (Edward III.) sends for him, and he preaches to the court.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


A girl, who is as good as she is beautiful—Anne, the daughter of the King of Bohemia—comes to England to be the wife of the Prince of Wales, Richard II. She listens to Doctor Wicklif, and becomes his friend. With her come many of the nobles of Bohemia, and learned men. One of them is Professor Faulfash, who has been to the universities of Heidelberg, in Bavaria; Cologne, on the banks of the Rhine; and to Paris. He listens with great pleasure to the eloquent young preacher, and, when he goes back to Bohemia, carries with him some of the books which Doctor Wicklif has written.

Let us not forget Professor Faulfash, for we shall see him again by-and-by.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Doctor Wicklif is a good man, and preaches against the immoral practices of the monks and friars. He does not arraign them before the Bishops' Court for their extortion, drunkenness, or infamous living; but he arraigns them at the bar of public opinion, and that is a great offence in the eyes of the monks, who say that the people have no right to have an opinion. The Pope decrees that men must believe in religion as he believes. There is no appeal from his decree. If a man believes differently, he shall be thrown into prison, tortured till he makes confession, and then he is burned to death, and all his property confiscated. Who gave the popes this authority? No one; they took it, and, having taken it, they intend to authority? No one; keep it.

The Pope commissions a set of men to hunt for heretics. They are Inquisitors, or men who ask questions, and have power to put men to death, to torture, to confiscate property. We shall fall in with them farther along in the story.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Notwithstanding the Pope professes to be holy and incapable of doing wrong, Doctor Wicklif informs the people that the priests, the monks, the bishops, and the Pope himself, are sinful, like other men. He maintains that the king is superior to the Pope in his own realm, and that he has a right to put a stop to all the swindling and extortions of the monks, and to punish men who commit crime. They cannot tolerate such preaching, for it makes the king greater than the Pope. It is the exercise of an individual opinion, the beginning of individual liberty. "Doctor Wicklif is a heretic!" they cry. That is a terrible accusation. A heretic is a fellow who does not believe as they believe. A man who does not believe that the Pope can do no wrong, that he is not superior to kings, is worthy of death. He ought to be burned. It is the duty of the Pope, the bishops, and the priests to prevent the spread of such opinions. If a man is afflicted with a cancer, is it not the duty of the physicians to cut it out, to burn it with fire? The Pope and the bishops are God's physicians, and they must destroy all heretics: so they reason. But who gave them this authority over the beliefs of men? No one. They took it, and have exercised it so long that they honestly believe that they truly are God's agents, and that it is their duty to exercise it, and to exterminate all who do not believe as they do. So at this period the intellects and consciences of men are in slavery.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Doctor Wicklif is summoned to appear before the Bishops' Court, in the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a great building which stands on the bank of the Thames, in Lambeth Parish, London. On a day in January, 1375, the bishops, in their flowing robes, sit in the Connell Chambers to try the man who has preached such obnoxious doctrines. All London is astir. People come in boats and on foot, filling the streets. Nobles and great men are there; one is the powerful Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. Many of the people and the duke alike are determined that no harm shall come to the man who has preached so fearlessly, and whom they love. Anne of Bohemia sends word that he must be protected. The bishops do not dare to put him in prison; but they report him to the Pope, and the Pope sends a bull—not an animal with four legs and two horns, and ferocious, but a piece of parchment, with a ribbon and a round piece of lead attached to it, which is called a bulla. The Pope's seal is stamped upon the lead, ordering Wicklif to make his appearance in Rome to answer the charges preferred against him. The Pope cannot allow a parish priest to set up his opinions unchallenged, for to permit Doctor Wicklif to go on will be the subversion of all the authority and power of the Pope, bishops, and priests, and in time the whole fabric of ecclesiastical government will tumble to the ground.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Although the Pope sends his summons, Doctor Wicklif does not obey it, for he is getting to be an old man, and, besides, there are two popes just now—one in Rome, and one at Avignon, in France. There is a great division in the Church. The people compare the two popes to the dog Cerberus, which, according to the old Greeks, sat at the gate leading to the infernal regions. The popes are fighting each other. The King of Castile recognizes the French Pope, whereupon the Roman Pope sends word to the people of Castile that if they do not obey him they will be forever accursed. The Roman head, to obtain money, sells the offices of the Church. Anybody can be a bishop, archbishop, or cardinal by paying for it. He sells the offices over and over; and if those whom he has cheated complain, he can laugh in their faces: he has their money, and they may help themselves if they can. He suspects that some of the cardinals are corresponding with the other Pope: that is a terrible offence, in his eyes. He puts them to torture to wring a confession from them, and then puts them to death. He curses all who oppose him, swears fearful oaths, and takes his revenge upon some priests who offend him by sewing them up in sacks, taking them out to sea, and pitching them overboard!

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Doctor Wicklif reasons wisely that it will not do for him to make his appearance in Rome before such a Pope, and he is more than ever of the opinion that the Pope commits sin, as well as other men. He remains in England, preaching to the good people of Lutterworth. Sometimes he preaches in London, at the preaching-place erected in time streets. He has great crowds to hear him on Sunday, and works hard through the weeks, translating a book from the Latin into the English language—the Bible. The only Bibles in England are in the libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, abbeys and monasteries, and some of the churches. They are all in Latin or Hebrew, written on parchment. Scarcely one person in ten thousand has ever read a Bible. Doctor Wicklif believes that the people have a right to read it, although the Pope has forbidden its reading by any except the priests, monks, and bishops, and other prelates of the Church. But into what dialect shall he translate it? for there is no uniform language in England. In the Eastern counties—the East Midland section, as it is called, where the Saxons first landed and obtained a foothold—the language is almost wholly Saxon; in the Southern counties—all along the South shore, where the Normans landed—the language is largely Norman. In the Western and Northern counties are other dialects, so unlike that of the East or South that a man from the old town of Boston, on the East coast, or a man from Plymouth, on the South coast, would hardly be able to make himself understood by a countryman from York or Lancaster.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Doctor Wicklif selects the East Midland—his own native dialect—which is spoken by a majority of the people; besides, it is strong, vigorous, and expressive. Many other preachers believe that the people have a right to read the Bible, and clerks are set to work making copies of the translation, which are placed on desks in the churches, and chained, so that no one can take them away.

The people listen to the reading with wonder and delight. They begin to think; and when men begin to think, they take a step toward freedom. They see that the Bible gives them rights which hitherto have been denied them—the right to read, to acquire knowledge. Schools are started. Men and women, who till now have not known a letter of the alphabet, learn to read: children teach their parents. It is the beginning of a new life—a new order of things in the community—the beginning of liberty.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


One of Doctor Wicklif's friends is Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet, who helps on the cause of freedom mightily in another way. He is a learned man, and has been to Genoa and Florence on an embassy for the king, and has made the acquaintance of many renowned men. He is a short, thick-set man, with a pleasant countenance, and laughing eyes. He is witty and humorous. The king thinks so much of him that he directs his butler to send the poet a pipe of his best wine every year. The Princess of Wales (Anne, from Bohemia) is pleased to call him her friend, and the poet dedicates a poem to her, entitled "The Legend of a Good Woman." He sets himself also to write some stories in verse, which he calls "The Canterbury Tales;" but while he is writing them, let us see what is going on in England.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


In 1377, Richard II. is made king. The barons complain to him that the villains—the people who owe them service—do not give it; that they are banding themselves to throw off the service altogether, claiming that freedom is their right. Doctor Wicklif's books and preaching have set them to thinking, and preachers are going here and there telling the people that the barons have no claim upon them. One of the agitators is a fellow named John Bull, who sings sarcastic ballads. In one of them he rehearses this couplet:

"When Adam delved and Eve span,

Who was then the gentleman?"

The people ask the question over and over, and make up their minds that they, as well as the men who live in castles, have some natural rights.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


One day a baron arrests a burgher, and imprisons him in Rochester Castle, claiming that he is his slave, whereupon the people seize their arms, surround the castle, and set the prisoner at liberty.

Every individual in the kingdom is taxed—every child, every man and woman. A child must pay so much, a grown person more. A tax-collector comes to John Walter's house. Walter earns a living by laying tiles on the roofs of houses. The people call him the Tiler, or Tyler, and instead of pronouncing his full name—John Walter, the tiler—call him Wat Tyler. He has a daughter, just growing to womanhood.

"She must pay a full tax," says the collector.

"No; she is not a woman yet," the mother replies.

"I'll soon find out whether she is a woman or not," the tax-collector answers, and rudely insults the girl.

"Help! help!" The mother shouts the words, and her husband comes in with a club.

"What do you mean by insulting my daughter?"

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The collector is a ruffian; having insulted the daughter, he lifts his hand to give the father a blow, when down comes the cudgel upon the fellow's head, crashing the skull, and scattering his brains about the room. The news spreads. The people join the Tyler. They are ready for insurrection. They seize their swords, bows and arrows, and clubs.

"Let us march to London and see the king," they shout. From all the towns of Kent they come, one hundred thousand or more. They attack the houses of the knights, lords, and nobles. They swarm into Canterbury, and pillage the palace of the archbishop, who lives in great state, and to whom a large portion of the taxes are paid. There is great excitement in London. The young king, his mother, and many of the nobles take refuge in the Tower, for the news has reached them that the insurgents are arresting all the high-born men and women they can find. They seize Sir John Newton, threaten him with death if he will not do as they command, and send him to the king, desiring Richard to meet them at Blackheath, just out of London. The king is brave. He will go and see them. He leaves the Tower in his barge, with the barons. The boatmen pull at the oars, and in a short time they reach the multitude, who, upon seeing the barge, set up a great shout.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"I have come at your request. What do you desire?" the king asks.

There is a great outcry—all speaking at once; and the barons, fearing an archer may draw his bow and shoot the king, advise him to return to the Tower. This angers the crowd. "To London! to London!" they shout; and the multitude, barefooted, bareheaded, armed with clubs, surge on toward Southwark. They are on the south side of the river, while the largest part of the city is on the north side, and there is only one bridge. The citizens raise the draw, and the excited rabble cannot cross the Thames. The rich merchants of London own beautiful villas on the south side, and the hungry, ragged, excited multitudes ransack the houses, destroying property, and committing great havoc. The people of London sympathize with the people of Kent, for they, too, are groaning under the taxes.

"We will let down the drawbridge, and permit them to come into the city. We will show them that we are their friends, and then they will be quiet," the Londoners say to each other.

The drawbridge is lowered, and the great black crowd pones across the bridge. The people give bread and wine and liquor, which excite the insurrectionists all the more. They rush to the Palace of Savoy, owned by the Duke of Lancaster, bring out all the furniture—the tables, chairs, the silver plate—heap all in a pile, and set it on fire. They do not steal the silver. One man undertakes to secrete a silver cup, but the others pitch him upon the fire.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"We are here in the cause of truth and righteousness, not as thieves," they say.

What shall the king do? He cannot fight the insurgents, for he has only four thousand troops. This is what his councillors advise him:

"It is better to appease them by making a show of granting what they desire than to oppose them; for if you oppose them, all the common people of England will join them, and we shall be swept away."

The next morning the king meets Wat Tyler and some of the leaders at Mile End, in a meadow, and grants what they desire. He sets his clerks to making out, charters for the towns, abolishing taxes, and granting privileges never before enjoyed. Most of the people are satisfied, and return to their homes; but some, still thirsting for revenge against the Archbishop of Canterbury, make their way to the Tower, seize the archbishop and some of the priests, drag them into the Tower yard, and chop off their heads, which they place upon poles, and carry them, dripping with blood, through the streets.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Richard hears of what is going on, mounts his horse, and rides out to meet the rioters. He rides boldly up to Wat Tyler, who draws a knife; but before he can use it, the Mayor of London whips out his sword and runs it through Wat's body, and the rioter tumbles to the ground. Wat's followers rush up, but Richard looks them calmly in the face.

"Come, my friends, I will be your leader," he says.

It is a brave speech for a boy of fifteen to make; but the men of Kent like Richard's pluck, and lower their spears. The king's troops come galloping upon the field, ready to draw their swords.

"You must not harm them. Let them go peacefully to their homes," says Richard; and the people, feeling that the young king is their friend, return to their homes.

But the barons are determined that the people shall not have their freedom. The bishops are angry over the death of the archbishop, and demand that punishment shall be meted out, not to those who were instrumental in putting him to death, but upon all the people—in the revoking of the charters which Richard has just granted. What can the boy do? Are not the barons, lords, bishops, and great men wiser than himself? He cannot stand alone against them; he complies with their demands, but recommends Parliament to give the people their freedom.

"Give them their freedom!" the barons exclaim. "Never will we be deprived of the service which they owe us."

"Doctor Wicklif's pernicious doctrines are at the bottom of all this," the bishops, the monks, and friars exclaim.

The Lords pass a law, which the bishops think will put an end to the mischief, in which the sheriffs are ordered to put all heretics in prison until they justify themselves before the bishops. The only appeal from the Bishops' Court is to the Pope, who is sewing men up in sacks and casting them into the sea. The Commons will not consent to such a law, and so the Magna Charta begins to protect the people.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The Pope sells a fat office to an Italian. The office is an abbot's position in the bishopric of Wells; but the bishop of that diocese does not relish it, nor do the other bishops, for the next ship may bring other Italian vagabonds to plunder the people. They join in declaring that the right of appointment belongs to the king, and not to the Pope, whereupon the Pontiff, who pitches offending priests into the sea, excommunicates them; that is, he threatens to shut them out of heaven if they do not ask his pardon. Perhaps the bishops think that a man who tortures cardinals to death because he suspects that they are working against him, who sells offices in the Church to the highest bidder, even though he be Pope, may not, after all, hold the keys of heaven, for they persuade Parliament to pass this law:

"All persons who recognize the Pope at Rome as being in authority superior to the king shall forfeit their lands and all their property, and have no protection from the king."

The bishops are members of Parliament, and by obtaining the passage of such a law array the nation on their side. Little do they dream of what will come from this action of theirs. They do not mistrust that when a century has rolled away, a king, Henry VIII., will pick up this act, and use it as a sword against the Pope, and strike a blow which will split the Church in twain. We shall see by-and-by how it came about.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The people are fast becoming heretics, or Lollards, as the monks and friars call them—comparing them to tares, or lolium, in a field of wheat. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer is sowing tares very effectively in a quiet way. He has completed his story in verse, and the people are reading it. He has written it in the East Midland dialect, adding some Norman words to give it grace and beauty. It describes a party of pilgrims who meet at the Tabard Tavern, in London, on their way to the shrine of Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was a priest, arrogant, self-willed, who refused to acknowledge the superior authority of the king, Henry II., and who was put to death by some of the king's friends; but the Pope humbled the monarch, who was obliged to kneel naked before Becket's tomb, while the monks lashed his bare back with a bundle of sticks. He found that the Pope was more powerful than himself.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


To make a pilgrimage to somebody's tomb, to say Pater-nosters and Ave-Marias over the bones of a dead monk or nun, is supposed to be a meritorious act, and so all over England—over Europe—men and women are making pilgrimages. Among the pilgrims who travel from London to Canterbury are a priest, a monk, a friar, a pardoner, and a summoner. The pardoner has pardons for sale; the summoner is the sheriff, who brings offenders before the Bishops' Court. Although the monks and friars have vowed to wear coarse clothes and live on mean fare, none are better dressed than they, none live so luxuriously. The poet is one of the pilgrims, and describes his fellow-travellers:

"A monk there was of skill and mastery proud,

A manly man—to be an abbot able—

And many a noble horse had the in stable.

I saw his large sleeves trimmed above the hand

With fur—the finest in the land.

His head was bald, and shone like polished glass,

And so his face, as it had been anoint,

While he was very fat and in good point.

Shining his boots; his horse right proud to see,

A prelate proud, majestic, grand was he;

He was not pale, as a poor pining ghost;

A fat goose loved he best of any roast.

A friar there was, a wanton and a merry,

Licensed to beg, a wondrous solemn man,

His pockets large—he stuffed them full of knives,

And pins, or presents meant for handsome wives.

The biggest beggar he among the brothers.

He took a certain district as his grant,

Nor would he let another come within his haunt.

"A summoner there was, riding on apace,

Who had a fire-red cherubim's large face;

Pimpled and wrinkled were his flabby cheeks,

Garlic he much loved, onions too, and leeks.

Strong wine he loved to drink—as red as blood;

Then would he shout and jest as he were mad.

Oft down his throat large draughts he poured;

Then, save in Latin, he would not speak a word.

Some sentences he knew—some two or three

Which he had gathered out of some degree.

No wonder, for he heard it all the day;

And surely, as you know, a popinjay

Can call out 'War!' as well as any pope.

"You could not such another pardoner trace.

For in his pack he had a pillow-case,

Which, as he said, was once the Virgin's veil.

He also had a fragment of the sail

St. Peter had when, as his heart misgave him

Upon the sea, he sought the Lord to save him.

He had a golden cross—one set with precious stones;

And in a case—what carried he? Pig's bones!

He, in a single day, more money got

Than the poor parson in a year, I wot.

And thus with flattery, feints, and knavish japes

He made the parson and the people apes."

So the poet holds these pilgrims up to ridicule. The monks and friars are very angry, and lay a plan to kill Chaucer, who is obliged to flee to Holland, the land of the windmills; but, after a time, he returns to find that the people are fast becoming Lollards. The reading of the Bible in English has set the people to thinking about the monks, while the "Canterbury Tales" have set the community to laughing at them. From thinking and laughing the people begin to act, refusing to give to the beggars, who are so angry with the poet that he has to flee a second time; but he returns once more to London, where he dies a peaceful death in the year 1400, having done a great deal to advance human freedom.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


When Doctor Wicklif selected the Midland dialect for his translation of the Bible, and when Geoffrey Chaucer used it in writing his Canterbury stories, they little knew that they were laying the foundations, as it were, of the strongest and most vigorous language ever used by human beings for the expression of their thoughts; but it has become the English language of the nineteenth century—the one aggressive language of the world—the language of Liberty.

It was in 1365 that Doctor Wicklif died. The grass grows over his grave. Forty-one years pass, pilgrims come from afar to visit the spot where he is buried; they break off pieces of his tombstone, and carry them away as relics. The monks and friars will have no more of that. They will not have a man who has been dead nearly half, a century keep on preaching if they can prevent it, for the doctor has a great following; half of England, and nearly all of Bohemia, have accepted his teachings. The Great Council of Constance, which we shall read about in the next chapter, has ordered that the doctor's bones shall be dug up and burned; and the monks, as we have seen, execute the order. They east the ashes into the river, and the river bears them to the sea. They have got rid of Doctor Wicklif. Have they? Not quite.