An Old English Home and Its Dependencies/Chapter 2
AS every circle has its centre, so had every manor its hall, the centre of its organization, the heart whence throbbed the vital force through the district, and to which it returned. The hall was not merely the place where the lord lived, for he did not always occupy it, but it was the gathering place of the courts leet and baron.
It is the fashion to hold that land was originally held in common, and that private proprietorship in land is an encroachment on the public rights.
That was, no doubt, the case with the Celt, and it has been fatal to his ever taking a lead among the nations; it has so eaten into his habits of mind as to have rendered him incapable of being other than a subject under the control of another people, which had happily got beyond such infantile notions.
It is the case with individuals, starting on the battle of life, that they sometimes, by chance, take a wrong direction, and then, once involved therein, have not the power or will or chance to turn back and take another. That is how some men make a botch of their lives, whereas others, perhaps their inferiors in ability, by mere accident strike on a course which leads to power, prosperity, and a name.
It is so among nations, races—and among; these the highly-gifted Celt went wrong at the outstart, and that is it which has been his bane through centuries. Now the time for recovery is past. He is forced to take a lower room.The French, that is to say the Gauls under Frank domination, were forcibly put right. I do not deny that feudalism led to gross abuses, and that it was well to have these swept away, but that which I think was fatal to France at the Revolution was reversion to the Celtic principle of subdivision. This is inevitably
SOUTH WRAXALL, WILTSHIRE
Between 1831 and 1840 there were in France but three departments in which the mortality exceeded the natality, now there are between forty-five to sixty departments in this condition.
"If we traverse France rapidly in train from the Channel to the Pyrenees, there is one observation that may be made from the carriage windows. Between the Loire and the Garonne, in departments where the soil is poor, there the houses are smiling and well kept—there is evidence of comfort. But, on the contrary, in the departments formerly the richest, there are crumbling walls and empty houses. … The rich departments are being depopulated, and in the poor ones there the population remains stationary or only slowly decreases."
The population in the rich departments is dwindling at the rate of 50 per cent, in half a century.
Why is this? Because all property is subdivided. In the poor districts, too, land will not support all those born, and therefore some take up trades or go as labourers and artisans.
The increase in population in France per thousand in the year is 1.8, whereas in Prussia it is 13.
I was much amused last summer with the remark of a little fellow of twelve, who was showing me the way across some fields, as a short cut. I remarked on the beauty of the place, and the fertility of the soil. "Yes," said he, "but I think it is time for me to be moving, and look out for some place for myself."
Such a thought, springing up in an English child's mind, would not occur to a French child. But it is just this which has made us successful colonists, and it is the absence of this which makes French colonies dead failures. Whereas we and the Germans pour forth tens of thousands of emigrants, France sends to her North African Settlements just over six hundred persons per annum—and they are nearly all officials.
The maker of pottery, after having tempered his clay, puts into it particles of grit, of sand, and about these the clay crystallizes, and it is the making these centres of crystallization that gives to pottery its cohesion. Without these particles it goes to pieces in burning, it breaks up with the least pressure. And our manor houses are these particles of grit, centres of crystallization to our people, that make us so tough and so cohesive a race—at least, I think it is one very important element in the manufacture.
If we desire to study the organization of a manor as set about by one of the branches of the great Scandinavian-Teutonic stock, we cannot do better than observe the conduct of the settlers in Iceland at the end of the ninth century.
When the Norsemen came to Iceland they brought with them their thralls, and they proceeded to make their claims to land, till they had portioned out all the soil worth having among the great heads of families. The land thus fell into shares, such as we should call manors, and each share was under a chief, who planted on the soil his kinsmen, and any others who applied to him for allotments. No freeman, if he could help it, would accept the land as a gift, for the reception of a gift entailed responsibility to the giver, a sort of dependence that the free spirit of the race greatly disliked.
"The period during which the settlement of Iceland was going on lasted about sixty years. At the end of that time the island was as fully peopled as it has ever been since. During all that period each chief, and his children after him, had lived on his holding, which proved a little kingdom of itself, allotting his land to new comers, whose kinship, turn of mind, or inferiority in rank allowed them to accept the gift, marrying and inter-marrying with the families of neighbouring chiefs, setting up his children in abodes of their own, putting his freed men and thralls out in farms and holdings, fulfilling the duties of the priesthood in his temple, and otherwise exercising what we should call the legitimate influence on those around him, to which he was entitled by his strength of arm, or birth, or wealth."
This is just what took place in the conquest of Britain by the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles. They portioned out the land among them, and turned the original inhabitants into serfs; to some of these they gave tenements to hold subject to service: these are now represented by our tenant farmers; to others, kinsmen, they gave lands free of charge, but under their own lordship: such are the ancestors of our yeomen.
Now an Icelandic chief was magistrate and priest in one. He was called the Godi—the Good man. Hard by his hall was the sacred circular temple, and he offered sacrifice therein. In his hall were assembled the free householders, to consult relative to the affairs of the district. This was the husting, or house council. We had precisely the same condition of affairs in England. Where a manor is there is the hall, and in that hall were held the courts, which all free holders attended.
Very probably each Anglo-Saxon lord had his temple adjoining his hall, but when England became Christian, several manors, when small, combined to keep a priest between them; but when the church adjoins the manor house, then almost certainly it occupies the site of the old heathen Saxon temple; except in Wessex, which was subjugated by Christianised Saxons.
The hall was the social and political centre of each community. There the lord showed hospitality, administered justice, appointed his thralls their tasks, and received the dues of his tenants.
In the earliest period, in it he and his house-churls and family slept, as well as ate and worked. But the women had a separate apartment, which in time became the with-drawing room. Bedrooms, kitchens, parlours, were aftergrowths, as men sought more comfort or privacy, and these were grouped about the hall. Nevertheless, the custom of sleeping in the hall continued till Tudor times.
It is instructive to notice the difference between the residence of the feudal lord on the Continent and that occupied by him in England. In the former his place of abode is a castle, château, derived from castellum, schloss, from schliesen, a place into which the lord might lock himself in and from whence lock out all enemies. But the English terms—mansion, manor-house, hall, court, imply nothing military, give token of no exclusiveness, make no threat. The chronic warfare and petty disturbances that prevailed on the continent of Europe obliged the lords of the soil to perch their residences on inaccessible and barren rocks, whereas in England they are seated comfortably in valleys, in the midst of the richest land. In France, in Germany, in Italy, each feudal owner quarrelled with his neighbour, and made war on him when he listed. There was nothing of that kind in England. With the exception of the struggle between Stephen and Matilda, and the Wars of the Roses, we were spared serious internecine strife, and the hand of the king was strong enough to put down private feuds.
The castle was an importation into England, brought in by the Norman and Angevin kings, and it was only the foreign favourites to whom the king granted vast numbers of manors who had castles. But the castles never affected English domestic architecture; on the contrary, the English sense of comfort, peace, and goodwill prevailed over the fortress, broke holes in it for immense windows and for wide doorways; and nothing remained of menace and power except the towers and battlements.
On the Continent, however, till the eighteenth century, the type of fortress prevailed; the angle towers became turrets, but were indispensable wherever a gentleman had a château. As to the English noble or squire, his only tower was the dove-cot, and the holes in it not for muskets and crossbows, but for the peaceful pigeon to fly in and out.
The pedigree of a castle is this:The stronghold in France in Merovingian days consisted of an adaptation of the Roman camp. It was an earthwork with a stockade on top, enclosing a level tract on the top of a hill, if a suitable hill could be found; within was a mound, a motte; on this stood a great round tower of woodwork, in which lived the chief. The earthwork surrounding the camp had mounds at intervals, and in the space within the stockade were similar constructions, a hall and storehouses.
Now the mediæval castle was precisely this, with the one exception—that stone took the place of wood, and the tower on a mound became the keep.
When the Normans came to England they translated to our island the type of castle they had been accustomed to in France. They had to bring their architects, in some cases their material, from France. But, whereas this became the type of the château in France, it had nothing to do with the genesis of the manor-house in old England. Our manor-houses did not pass out of lordly castles, but out of halls. The very situation of our old manorial mansions shows that they were never thought of as fortresses.
The Anglo-Saxon did no building of domestic architecture save with wood. The English lord lived in his great wooden hall, with his tenants and bonders about him. If he squeezed them, it was gently, as a man milks his cow. Of the Norman it was said, Quot domini castellorum, tot tyranni.
In France the fortress of the peasant was the church, and the tower his keep, and in times of trouble he conveyed his goods to the church, and the entire building became to him a city of refuge. That is why wells, bake-houses, and other conveniences are found in connection with many foreign churches.
The battlements of our churches and their towers may perhaps point to these having been regarded in something the same light by the inhabitants of a parish in England, but more probably they came into use when the roofs were not steep, and instead of being slated or shingled, were covered with lead. To a lead roof, a parapet is necessary, or rather advisable; and the parapet not only finishes it off above the wall, but also serves to conceal the ugliness of a low-pitched roof. And the parapet was broken into battlements to enable the gutter to be readily cleaned, by throwing over accumulations of snow and leaves.
The battlement became a mere ornament—almost a joke to English architects; they even battlemented the transoms of windows, and the caps of pillars. It would seem as though, in the sense of security in which the English were, they took a pleasure in laughing at the grave precautions employed on the Continent,
where the battlement was something far too serious and important to be treated as an ornament.
The poor old hall has shrunk and been degraded into a mere lobby, in which to hang up great coats and hats and sticks and umbrellas. Originally it was the main feature of the manor-house, to which everything else was subsidiary; then it was ceiled over, a floor put across it, and it became a reception-room, and now a reception-room for overcoats only.
But let it be borne in mind where a real hall is in place and where it is not. It belongs to a manor and to a manor only; it is incongruous in a villa residence, and wholly out of place in a town dwelling. Many a modern gentleman's place in the country is designed to look very pretty and very mediæval or Tudor; but this is all so much ornament stuck on, and the organic structure agreeth not therewith.
The hall, so far from excluding people, was so open-doored as to invite not people only but all the winds of heaven to blow into and through it.
Very usually the front door of the house under the porch opened into it, and immediately opposite was the door out of the hall into the court. Naturally the wind marched through.
As a bit of shelter a screen was run up, but only of timber, and the passage boxed in. Above was the minstrels' gallery; and in the screen were, of course, doors into the hall, and a buttery hatch, as on the further side of the passage was either kitchen or cellar, or both.
To almost every hall was a slit or eye and earlet hole communicating with a lady's chamber. The tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse had a prison which was so constructed that every whisper in it from one prisoner to another was carried through a tube to his private apartment, where he sat and listened to what his captives said.
The slit above mentioned was the Dionysius's ear of that domestic tyrant, the lady of the house. She sat in her room, with her ear to this opening, when her good lord revelled and joked in the hall with his boon companions, and afterwards—behind the curtains—his words were commented on and his jokes submitted to searching criticism. Moreover, through this slit her eye raked the hall when the servants were there, and she could see if they attended to their work or romped with the men, or idled gossiping.
We have so far advanced that the ear is no longer employed—but the domestic tyrant is, I am credibly informed, still with us, advancing triumphant through ages, and like a snowball acquiring force, consistency, and hardness in progress.