Historical Lectures and Addresses/Elizabethan London
London is not a good field for the exercise of historical imagination. It has grown so rapidly in modern times that its ancient features are obliterated. There is no place from which it is possible to obtain a view of London that enables you to reproduce to your own mind its past appearance. Any one who has gazed on Rome from the Pincian Hill, or has looked down on Florence from the height of San Miniato, will understand how London is destitute of the imperishable charm which belongs to places whose distinctive characters cannot be affected greatly by the results of man's activity. More than this, the most ancient parts of London are still the scenes of its most abundant life, and leave little opportunity for archæological exploration. You can only meditate at your leisure on the dome of St. Paul's or on the top of the Monument; and it is more than doubtful if the condition of the atmosphere will allow you to find much external help for your meditations. They have to be founded on your own previous knowledge rather than inspired by any suggestions from the place itself. My object is to try and form some imperfect picture of London as it was at the period when modern England first came into conscious being "in the spacious days of great Elizabeth". It was a time when the old historic capital of England still retained its ancient features, and had carried them as far as they would go. The next century saw the beginning of that process of expansion, the end of which no one can forecast.
Now the distinctive feature of the site of London was that the original site lay on the lowest of a series of hills rolling down from the north to the banks of the Thames, while round it lay a region of marshes or lagoons, extending to the hills of Surrey. The estuary of the river Lea covered the Isle of Dogs. South London was a series of little islands. Westminster with difficulty emerged from the marshes. Pimlico and Fulham were swamps. London was built on two little hills, bounded on the west by the Hole Bourne or Fleet River, and divided from one another by the Wall Brook. I need not call your attention to the entire disappearance of these natural features. The Holborn Viaduct is the only thing that can remind you of the existence of a river valley. The parks contain the sole remaining grounds that give you any conception of the country on which London was built. So skilful has been the work of the engineer that some one remarked to me that he only learned that London was not quite level when he began to bicycle in its streets.
We must think then of the life of Elizabethan London as mostly lived within the limits of the old city walls. Its suburban district may be briefly described. East of the Tower was St. Katharine's Hospital, a college for charitable purposes, founded by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, and still belonging to the Queen of England, being, I think, her only possession. It is now removed to Regent's Park, but has left its name in St. Katharine's Docks. Beyond this a street of poor houses reached to Wapping, and was inhabited by watermen and fishermen. North of that a few houses had gathered round the White Chapel erected on the high road that led to the old gate which we know as Aldgate. From Aldgate, outside the wall, ran Houndsditch, and the name still suggests an unsavoury memory of the dead dogs which there accumulated. North of it lay Spitalfields, an open space around the dissolved Hospital of St Mary, described as "a pleasant place for the citizens to walk in, and for housewives to whiten their clothes". Beside it was the Artillery Ground, reserved for military training. Moor Fields had just been drained, and formed another open space. I can best describe to you North London by telling you that I heard, a year ago, of an old lady who was still alive at the age of a hundred and five, and remembered in her childhood that she went with her nurse to see the cows milked at a farm where now is Finsbury Square, and then walked through cornfields to the quiet village of Islington. Beyond Gray's Inn the open high road went through the country to Hampstead. North of Lincoln's Inn Fields a row of houses extended to the church of St Giles, which, with its neighbour St Martin's, still bears the title of "in the fields," to indicate that with them for a long period habitation ceased. St. James's Palace stood in its park, well stocked with deer. Westminster was merely the purlieus of the Royal Palace of Whitehall, the Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, which was the seat of Parliament and of the Law Courts. South London was represented by the little borough of Southwark, which was incorporated with the city of London in the reign of Edward VI. Its western promenade was open to the river, and was called Bankside. It was a natural centre of amusement to the citizens of London, and the Globe Theatre on the Bankside is famous through its connexion with Shakespeare.
Such, then, are roughly the boundaries of the district which your imagination has to recreate. It was a place from which it was easy to take a country walk through a lovely series of undulating hills, showing the glories of the city which lay stretched along the river below. There might sometimes be fogs to impede the view, but there was not much smoke, as the fuel used in the houses was mostly wood. The introduction of coal was forbidden as early as the reign of Edward I., "to avoid the sulphurous smell and savour of that firing". It was not till a little later that the increase of manufactures and the diminution of forests compelled the common use of coal.
Small as we may think Elizabethan London to be, its increase was viewed with apprehension, partly on sanitary and partly on political grounds. Royal proclamations were frequently issued forbidding new buildings. At the close of her reign Elizabeth ordered "the pulling down of late builded houses, and voyding of inmates in the cities of London and Westminster, and for the space of three miles distant of both cities". We are not surprised to find that in spite of royal proclamations and Acts of Parliament, "little was done, and these cities are still increasing in buildings of cottages and pestered with inmates. Alas! human affairs will never accommodate themselves to the convenience of organisation, and organisation is sorely pressed to cope with problems which it is perpetually trying to avert. Economic forces were at work which compelled the increase of London, though their full influence was only slowly felt. The troubles in the Netherlands caused a great transference of industry to England. This establishment of new industries quickly reacted on those which already existed. There was a very rapid heightening of the standard of comfort, which created much inventiveness. When once the manufacturing impulse was given to Englishmen, they began to compete with the foreign market. I need only instance a manufactory of Venetian glass which was set up by Crutched Friars. As trade increased, the advantages of London over other ports became more apparent. The Court was now permanently fixed in London, and was an abiding attraction for those bent alike on business and on pleasure. There is a very modern tone about the following: "The gentlemen of all shires do flee and flock to this city; the younger sorte of them to see and shew vanity, and the elder to save the cost and charge of hospitality and house keeping".
We may reckon Elizabethan London to have contained at the end of the Queen's reign a population of about 250,000. Its wealth had steadily grown and its merchants had largely prospered. London had good cause to be loyal to Elizabeth, and her constant care of the interests of commerce is one explanation of her tortuous policy. She knew that war on a great scale meant a check to industrial enterprise, whereas grave misunderstandings with foreign powers were a useful means of developing it.
But we must return to London itself and the life of its 250,000 inhabitants. The most striking difference from our own time was that villadom was unknown. The merchant lived over his place of business; the apprentices were lodged on part of the same premises. There was no great division of quarters. Noblemen, gentry, professional men, and men of business all lived in the same street, and shared a common life. The streets were not very wide, nor very commodious for traffic. The most important of them was Cheapside, renowned as "the beauty of London". It was broad enough to form a promenade, and was the fashionable resort. You must think of it as lined with shops which projected into the street and were open in front. Above them rose houses, built in the manner which we usually call Elizabethan, of timber and plaster. They were three, or at the most four storeys high, and each storey projected over the lower one. This mode of building was dangerous, as it was too clearly proved later, in case of fire; and proclamations were constantly made commanding that the fronts should be built of brick; but these wise counsels were of no avail.
In a street of some width, the effect was doubtless picturesque. But most of the streets were narrow lanes, and the projecting buildings from each side almost met at their top storeys, making the street itself gloomy and airless. Add to this that, in a time when reading was an accomplishment, a shop could not indicate its nature or its owner's name by printing it in the unobtrusive manner which now prevails. It hung out a huge signboard, bearing a suitable emblem, a structure which had to be supported by stout iron fastenings. I do not think that a walk in the average street can have afforded a very exhilarating view.
The streets were badly paved, and the middle of them was little better than an open sewer. The dirt and refuse from the houses were thrown out into the street, and this was one reason for the projection of the upper storeys. The pavement was raised at the two sides so as to make it possible to walk clear of too much mud. We have the trace of this state of things in a courteous habit, which I fear is now becoming old-fashioned, of always allowing a lady to walk next the wall. It was a matter of much consequence, in days when apparel was more splendid than it is now, to have the advantage of being exempted from stepping into the mire. Hence came a strict observance of precedence in giving the wall. The nature of a man's dress indicated his quality, and his quality had to be respected to preserve his clothes.
Riding was the only alternative to walking at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, and a lady never rode without six or seven serving-men to carry attire suitable to all contingencies, and the means to repair a toilette which might suffer on the journey. To diminish this cost coaches came into use. They were introduced in 1564 by a Dutch coachman of the Queen; but we are told "a coach was a strange monster in those days, and the sight of it put both man and horse into amazement; some said it was a great crabshell brought out of China, and some imagined it to be one of the pagan temples in which the cannibals worshipped the devil". But at length these doubts were cleared and coach-making became a substantial trade. So rapid was the increase of coaches that in 1601 an Act of Parliament was passed "to restrain the excessive and superfluous use of coaches within this realm". In spite of this innovation, no method could be devised which made locomotion pleasant through streets which were alternately torrents of dirty water finding their way to the Fleet ditch, and thick deposits of black mud, which furnished a ready weapon to any one who wished to express disapprobation. It is diflicult for us to picture London without either cabs or omnibuses.
The natural result of this state of things was that the Thames was the silent highway of London. One bridge only spanned it, and led to Southwark. Of this structure London was justly proud. It was sixty feet high, and thirty broad. It was built on twenty arches which were twenty feet distant from one another. The bridge was a continual street covered with houses on both sides, and consequently was so narrow that carts could scarcely pass one another. We may judge of the use made of the Thames as a thoroughfare by the fact that 2,000 wherries, plied by 3,000 watermen, were in constant employment for purposes of transit. Barges carried passengers and brought provisions from all the home counties. The Thames was the real railway, as well as the main street, of London. It was full of fish, and was peopled by swans; so that it was a great source of food supply. It is computed that 40,000 of the population of London gained their livelihood on the river in connexion with the work of transport and of fishing.
It was from the Thames that London could be seen to advantage. Westward there were no bridges to intercept the view, no streets and no embankment. The river flowed between its natural banks, from which flights of stairs led up at the chief landing-places. The Abbey and Palace of Westminster stood out against the sky, and Lambeth Palace opposite rose in solitary grandeur beside the marsh. Then came the palaces of Whitehall and the Savoy; then Somerset House, Leicester House, and other dwellings of the nobility, with their gardens extending to the river, and water-gates for easy access to the boats. The Temple was also open, and the adjoining houses of White Friars and Black Friars, though no longer in the hands of the religious, still wore something of their old aspect. Between them and London Bridge were wharves for merchandise. Over all towered the Gothic structure of St. Paul's Cathedral, a building rather longer than that which the genius of Wren erected upon its site. Round it, the towers and spires of some 120 churches rose in testimony to the devotion of the people. Beyond the bridge were the Custom House, the Tower, and St. Katharine's Hospital. On the Southwark side, the beautiful church of St. Mary Overies (now known as St. Saviour's) rose beside Winchester House, the town house of the Bishop of Winchester. Along the Bankside were bear-gardensy theatres, and places of amusement.
Thus the Thames was always full of life and bustle, and also of splendour. For the barges of great nobles were magnificent, with rowers and attendants wearing blue liveries, with silver badges on their arms. Our ancestors loved pomp and state, and we are beginning again to recognise that the dignity of public life needs adequate expression to the eyes of the people. The Lord Mayor's show is a survival of the life of those times very little altered. In Elizabeth's time the Lord Mayor was rowed in his barge to Westminster to take the customary oath of office, accompanied by the barges of all the city companies. On his return he went in procession from Paul's Wharf through Cheapside to the Guildhall. It cannot be said that civic hospitality has been able to increase in proportion to the growth of population, for in 1575 we are told that the Mayor and Sheriffs entertained a thousand persons who had accompanied them in their progress.
Let me turn to some details of municipal life. The water supply of London was of two kinds. Some houses were supplied from the Thames. Near the Bridge were erected water wheels which were moved by the tide, so that they raised water "by pipes and conduits so high that it serveth such citizens' houses in all parts of London as will bestow charge towards the conducting thereof". This water can only have been used for the purposes of washing, not for drinking or cooking. A foreign traveller complains that the water was noisome, so that after washing it was necessary to put some perfume on the towel and on the hands to be rid of the foul smell. The more common source of water supply were conduits, erected in the streets, which were fed by water collected in the northern hills. A trace of these still survives in Lamb's Conduit Street, built on the fields where a worthy citizen, William Lamb, in 1577 constructed a reservoir to supply Holborn conduit, which stood on Snow Hill. The conduits themselves were stone cisterns, whence water was drawn by a cock, and was carried to the various houses. This was done by a body of water-carriers, who formed an unruly class of the population. Once a year these conduits were visited by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen on horseback. In 1562 we find that the merry company in the discharge of this duty hunted the hare before dining at the conduit head, and after dinner raised a fox, which they killed at St. Giles's-in-the-Fields. In the reign of James I. the water supply of London was already a difficulty, as the population had definitely begun to increase. It has remained a difficulty ever since.
The subject of the lighting of London may rapidly be dismissed. There was none provided by public authority. Any one who wished to go out of doors after dark was attended by his own servants carrying torches or lanterns and armed with clubs and daggers. The streets were unsafe, as they were infested by thieves and vagabonds of every kind. They were guarded by a watch, and London possessed 240 constables who relieved one another. Shakespeare's representation of Dogberry and Verges is perhaps a satire on the watchmen; but they were not an efficient body, were easily susceptible of bribes, were not properly overlooked, and were not supported, even if they wished to be zealous, by the justices of the peace. A sober-minded man found it wisest to stay indoors after nightfall.
As regards the average houses in London they were built without foundations, and were cold and damp. The first sign of growing prosperity and the consequent desire for greater comfort was a rapid increase in chimneys and the provision of fireplaces. The rooms were low and ill-lighted, notwithstanding the fact that glass now replaced horn or lattice-work in the windows. An Italian visitor exclaims, "O wretched windows which cannot open by day nor shut by night!" The staircases were dark and narrow, the apartments "sorry and ill-connected". The ceilings were of plaster, often with a very beautiful design moulded upon it. The walls were either wainscotted, or more commonly were left rough, and masked with "tapestry, arras or painted cloth," which was hung a little distance from the wall to avoid the damp, and so formed a convenient hiding-place in case of necessity, and was always a receptacle for dust and dirt. The floors were strewn with sand, or more generally with rushes. Unless these were frequently removed they became another harbour for dirt, especially in the dining-room, where bones were thrown to the dogs beneath the table. There was no regsird for what we consider sanitary precautions; and it is no wonder that the plague in some form or other was endemic. Sensitive persons carried with them something fragrant, which they might smell when their noses were too powerfully attacked by unpleasant odours.
The great glory of London was St Paul's Cathedral, designed on a scale worthy of the dignity of the city, being 690 feet long by 130 broad. I will not attempt to describe it to you, as that would be tedious. It is enough to say that it was adorned with tombs and monuments, which gave an epitome of civic life. As only the choir was used for Divine service, the nave had become, in a manner which seems strange to our ideas, a place of fashionable resort, and was known as "Paul's Walk". There from ten to twelve in the morning and from three to six in the afternoon men met and chatted on business or on pleasure. Young fops came to study the fashions, masters came to engage servants; "I bought him," says Falstaff of Bardolph, "at Paul's". Gallants made appointments with their tailor and selected the colour and cut of their new suit. Grave elders discussed the political news. Debtors took sanctuary in certain parts and jested at their creditors to their face. Any one who especially wished to attract attention went up into the choir during service, wearing spurs. This was punishable with a fine, which the choir boys hastened to exact. All eyes were fixed upon the beau as in a studiously negligent attitude he drew out his purse and tossed the money into the boy's hand. Outside, St Paul's Churchyard was mainly occupied by booksellers, whose shops were places of resort to those who cared to look at and discuss new literature.
A different place of resort was the Royal Exchange, built by Sir Thomas Gresham and opened by Elizabeth, who gave it its name. Gresham was a merchant who had helped the Queen by negotiating loans in Antwerp on terms beneficial both to himself and to the royal finances. I rather incline to think that his great fortune was largely due to a system of illicit commissions, which were even more frequent then than they are now. But Gresham's residence in the Low Countries led him to see that commercial life was there conducted more comfortably than in England. There was no meeting-place for London merchants. They transacted their business in the street or in St Paul's, when their friends did not find them in their office. Gresham erected a building on the same plan as he had seen in the Netherlands—an open colonnade with shops around it, and a central hall. But though Gresham presented the Exchange to the city, he meant to reimburse himself by the rents of the shops. In this he had not reckoned on the conservative habits of English traders, and found that his shops remained untenanted. Nothing daunted, he devised a plan for leading men into new ways. He arranged for a royal opening, and then accosted the chief shopkeepers, pointing out to them that the place looked bare and all unfit for the Queen's eye; he asked them as a favour to put a few of their wares in the empty windows. When the ceremony was over he remarked that it was a pity to take the things away at once; they were at liberty to keep them there for a time. His scheme succeeded; he established shops of his own selection, and the neighbourhood soon became fashionable. In a year's time he demanded a substantial rent, and soon afterwards, when the shops were well frequented, required that each shopkeeper should also hire a vault at the same rental. I tell you this that you may not think that our mercantile shrewdness is entirely of modern growth. As a matter of fact, when we look below the surface, we see that the days of Elizabeth were the days of hard-headed men. The religious and social changes which the country had passed through necessarily produced restlessness and disquiet. The old thrifty habits passed away, and there was a new spirit of ambition and adventure. Everywhere the wise were taking advantage of the foolish, the strong of the weak. Amongst the nobles new families were quietly adding manor to manor, by marriages, by encouraging spendthrift habits in a neighbour whom they meant to pillage, by lawsuits in which they took care to win. The merchants likewise knew how to put out their money on good security; even tavern-keepers were usurers for young men with expectations who came to London to enjoy themselves for a few months. It was all done quietiy and decorously; but lands and money changed hands rapidly, and a process of natural selection was going on with merciless severity.
This is wandering from my subject, but it explains in many ways the development of London's trade. Abroad, the English were taking advantage of their less fortunate neighbours and rivals in commerce. At home, London was growing wealthy from the folly of adventurous country gentlemen, who were encouraged to ruin themselves and say nothing about it.
One sign of this restlessness was the extraordinary vogue of shows containing monstrosities or prodigies. A dancing horse, trained by a Scot called Banks, was long one of the great sights of London, and was celebrated by Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Bulls with five legs or two tails, hares that could play the drum, tight-rope dancing,
a strange outlandish fowl,
A quaint baboon, an ape, an owl,
were objects of universal interest. Those who would "not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar would lay out ten to see a dead Indian". With this was combined a delight in savage pastimes, bull-baiting and bear-baiting. The bulls or bears were fastened to a chain and worried by bulldogs, which were often killed. Still more brutal was the whipping of a blinded bear, which strove to seize its persecutors. To the same love of excitement and distaste for honest work is due the great amount of gambling which prevailed in every class of society.
This unwholesome state of feeling afforded ample opportunity to adventurers. The ruffian,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like a pard,
swaggered at the taverns and fed the credulity of his hearers with travellers' tales:
When we were boys
Who would believe that there were mountaineers
Dewlapped like bulls, whose throats had hanging at them
Wallets of flesh? or that there were such men
Whose heads stood in their breasts? which now we find
Each putter out on five for one will bring us
Good warrant of.
"Each putter out on five for one" is a phrase which illustrates the gambling spirit which was rife. Ben Jonson set forth the traveller's scheme: "I am determined to put forth some five thousand pounds, to be paid to me five for one upon the return of myself, my wife and my dog from the Turk's court in Constantinople. If all or either of us miscarry on the way, 'tis gone: if we be successful, why there will be five and twenty thousand pounds to entertain time withal." You will see that commercial speculation is no novelty.
Such a spirit of adventure and speculation craved for notoriety, and consequently created an informal society which had its seat in places of public resort The life of the tavern became varied and animated, and we can appreciate its extent and influence, as well as its attractiveness in the case of Falstaff. We know the Boar's Head in Eastcheap, near London Stone, and the Mermaid in Cornhill from the dramatists; and there was a host of others. There adventurers could float themselves without credentials, and sharpers could secure their victims. There travellers, soldiers and seamen could relate their wondrous adventures. There men of every class could mix and interchange opinions. "A tavern," says a contemporary, "is the common consumption of the afternoon, and the murderer or maker-away of a rainy day. . . . It is the busy man's recreation, the idle man's business, the melancholy man's sanctuary, the stranger's welcome, the inns-of-court man's entertainment, the scholar's kindness, and the citizen's curtesy. It is the study of sparkling wits, and a cup of canary their book." It has always seemed to me that the wide knowledge and accuracy of detail shown by Shakespeare are not so much due to study on his part as to his imaginative insight into his subject, which enabled him to secure readily from the expert, whom he met in the tavern, just so much information as he needed to give proper local colour to his outlined picture.
Such tendencies towards an adventurous life could not be confined to particular classes of society. They were general, and produced a large crop of rogues, vagabonds, thieves and beggars who infested London. The Elizabethan Poor Law is due to the necessity of differentiating these from the deserving poor. It had not much success in stopping their number, nor were the severe penalties inflicted upon them more successful. "The rude vast place of Smithfield" afforded space for harbouring them, and bore the name of Ruffians' Hall. The House of Correction at Bridewell was too small to contain the number of criminals. More than three hundred were hanged every year, but their fate struck no terror into their companions. Students of social questions, who existed then as they do now, classified these impostors, and recorded fourteen well-marked types of male villains, and nine of female. There were schools where they were taught their trade on scientific principles. All these things were made known, but to little purpose. For then, as now, every Englishman believed in his own capacity to detect an impostor for himself, and paid little heed to the warning of the expert.
In truth London was full of signs of judicial severity and precautions against riot. "There are pillories for the neck and hands," says a foreigner, "stocks for the feet, and chains for the streets themselves to stop them in case of need. In the suburbs are oak cages for nocturnal offenders." He saw a lad of fifteen led to execution for stealing a bag of currants, his first offence. There were gibbets along all the roads outside the gates. Nor was it only the poor malefactor who paid the penalty of detected crime. The headsman's axe was busy on Tower Hill, and the great were taught to walk warily in perilous times. The heads of traitors were impaled on London Bridge; and the first sign of growing humanity was their removal to the Southwark Gate.
A somewhat turbulent part of the community consisted of the London apprentices, who were at once recognisable in the streets. They wore blue cloaks, breeches and stockings of white broadcloth, with the stockings sewn on so that they were all one piece; they wore flat caps on their heads. They stood against the open fronts of the shops to guard their masters' wares, bareheaded, with their caps in their hands, "leaning against the wall like idols," says a French visitor. They were always ready for any mischief, and foreigners complained of their rudeness. They expressed only too clearly the prevailing sentiment about foreign affairs, and even the ambassadors of unpopular countries suffered at their hands. The mud of the street supplied a ready weapon. Festival days tended to become their Saturnalia, and sometimes they executed wild justice of their own. They wrecked taverns which they thought were ill-conducted, and spoiled a playhouse of which they did not approve. We even find that "they despitefully used the sheriffs of London and the constables and justices of Middlesex ". It is not surprising that James I. addressed the Lord Mayor:—
"You will see to two things—that is to say, to the great devils and the little devils. By the great ones I mean the waggons, which, when they meet the coaches of the gentry, refuse to give way and yield, as due. The little devils are the apprentices, who, on two days of the year which prove fatal to them—Shrove Tuesday and the first of May—are so riotous and outrageous that, in a body three or four score thousand strong, they go committing excesses in every direction, killing human beings and demolishing houses."
As regards apprentices, however, we find an economic cause coming into operation which slowly wrought a change. The increasing importance of commercial life was altering their position. Whereas ten pounds had been a sufficient premium for an apprentice, the payment steadily rose to twenty, forty, sixty, and even a hundred pounds. This meant that the boys came from a higher class of society, and ceased to be in part menials who carried water and performed domestic duties.
I have been endeavouring in a fragmentary and imperfect way to bring together a few illustrations of matters which either then or now had some relation to the problems connected with the government of London or with the economic laws which affected it. I have not tried to point any definite moral, but I would leave it to yourselves to judge what progress we have made, and how we have made it. Many questions have solved themselves quietly without any direct intervention. Of others the solution has made itself so obvious that there was no doubt about it. High-handed interference, however wise and foreseeing, has mostly been productive of evil. It is even possible to assert that the greatest boon to London was the Great Fire. But on such a point, or indeed on any point, I do not wish to dogmatise.
There is one matter, however, to which in conclusion I would call your attention. We ask ourselves, What sort of men were our forefathers? The question is worth trying to answer, and can best be answered by discovering the impression which they produced on men of other nations. I will collect some opinions on that point.
In 1497 a Venetian writes: "They have an antipathy to foreigners and imagine that they never come into their island but to make themselves masters of it, and to usurp their goods". A Roman in 1548 writes: "The English are destitute of good breeding, and are despisers of foreigners, since they consider him but half a man who may be born elsewhere than in Britain". Ten years later a Frenchman testifies: "This people are proud and seditious, with bad consciences, and faithless to their word; they hate all sorts of foreigners. There is no kind of order; the people are reprobates and thorough enemies to good manners and letters." In 1592 a German from Würtemberg says: "They are extremely proud and overbearing; and because the great part, especially the tradespeople, seldom go into other countries, but always remain in the city attending to their business, they care little for foreigners, but scoff and laugh at them". A Hollander bears record: "They are bold, courageous, ardent and cruel in war, fiery in attack, and having little fear of death; they are not vindictive, but very inconstant, rash, vainglorious, light, and deceiving, and very suspicious of foreigners, whom they despise. They are not so laborious as the Netherlanders or the French, as they lead for the most part an indolent life." Another German from Brandenburg says: "They are good sailors and better pirates, cunning, treacherous, and thievish; they are powerful in the field, successful against their enemies, impatient of anything like slavery". The Venetian Ambassador in 1497 says: "If they see a handsome foreigner, they will say, 'It is a pity he should not be an Englishman' ".
I will not go on multiplying quotations. Those which I have given show a remarkable consensus of opinion. They come from different sources, and in an age when newspapers were unknown they are independent testimonies. Perhaps we might be tempted to put them aside as prejudiced; but I hesitate to do so, because there is an agreement on a point which we would not readily surrender. All foreign observers are at one in the opinion that the English women were the most beautiful in the world. We must admit that this proves their power of discernment.
I am afraid that these testimonies show that, however much we may have improved in other things, we have not yet been successful in impressing on other countries a due appreciation of those excellent qualities which we are profoundly conscious that we possess. We have not amended our provoking insularity or our arrogant self-assertiveness—at all events in the opinion of outside critics. The men of Elizabeth's time had very little ground for their belief that the world was primarily intended for the use of Englishmen. Perhaps for that reason, they judged that it was true kindness to others to make that fact generally known. But I would point out that the unpopularity which we undoubtedly enjoy is of long standing and arose from the first expression given to the peculiarly English temper. I will only leave with you, as a subject deserving consideration, whether or no the advantages of the temper itself may not be retained with certain modifications in the form of its expression, which the experience of three centuries might allow us to make without any loss of the sense of national dignity.