Lewis. Alas! while each day blackens with fresh
Complaints of ague, fever, crumbling huts,
Of land thrown out to the forest, game and keepers,
Bailiffs and barons, plundering all alike;
Need, greed, stupidity: To clear such ruin
Would task the rich prime of some noble hero—
But can I nothing do?
Wal. Oh! plenty, Sir;
Which no man yet has done or e’er will do.
It rests with you, whether the priest be honoured;
It rests with you, whether the knight be knightly;
It rests with you, whether those fields grow corn;
It rests with you, whether those toiling peasants
Lift to their masters free and loyal eyes,
Or crawl, like jaded hacks, to welcome graves.
It rests with you—and will rest.
Lewis. I’ll crowd my court and dais with
men of God,
As doth my peerless namesake, King of France.
Wal. Priests, Sir? The Frenchman keeps
Worth any drove of priests.
Lewis. And who are they?
Wal. God and his lady-love, [aside] He’ll open at that—
Lewis. I could be that man’s squire.
Wal [aside] Again run riot—
Now for another cast, [aloud] If you’d sleep sound, Sir,
You’ll let priests pray for you, but school you never.
Lewis. Mass! who more fitted?
Wal. None, if you could trust them;
But they are the people’s creatures; poor men give them
Their power at the church, and take it back at the ale-house:
Then what’s the friar to the starving peasant?
Just what the abbot is to the greedy noble—
A scarecrow to lear wolves. Go ask the church plate,
Safe in knights’ cellars, how these priests are feared.
Bruised reeds when you most need them.—No, my Lord;
Copy them, trust them never.
Lewis. Copy? wherein?
Wal. In letting every man
Do what he likes, and only seeing he does it
As you do your work—well. That’s the Church secret
For breeding towns, as fast as you breed roe-deer;
Example, but not meddling. See that hollow—
I knew it once all heath, and deep peat-bog—
I drowned a black mare in that self-same spot
Hunting with your good father: Well, he gave
One jovial night, to six poor Erfurt monks—
Six picked-visaged, wan, bird-fingered wights—
All in their rough hair shirts, like hedgehogs starved—
I told them, six weeks’ work would break their hearts:
They answered, Christ would help, and Christ’s great mother,
And make them strong when weakest: So they settled:
And starved and froze.
Lewis. And dug and built, it seems.
Wal. Faith, that’s true. See—as
garden walls draw snails,
They have drawn a hamlet round; the slopes are blue,
Knee-deep with flax, the orchard boughs are breaking
With strange outlandish fruits. See those young rogues
Marching to school; no poachers here, Lord Landgrave,—
Too much to be done at home; there’s not a village
Of yours, now, thrives like this. By God’s good help
These men have made their ownership worth something.
Here comes one of them.