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of heretics. Although his work was to a certainty written upwards of thirty years after the “Vision,” the English is inferior, being crabbed and more uncouth, as if the author were writing in a provincial dialect. His literature, too, is inferior to that of the Monk of Malvern, although the greater part of Chaucer's works, if not the whole, were published before he wrote, and probably Gower's Confessio Amantis. From the limitation of the action of the dramatis persone in the “Creed” to the poor and to the friars, as well as from its inferiority in literary character, the author would seem to have occupied a lower social position than the Monk of Malvern, or to have enjoyed fewer advantages. This, however, is mere conjecture, for about him nothing whatever is known. In those essential qualities which must maintain the interest of a work,-namely, poetical spirit, perceptive faculty, and the power of presenting what is seen,--the “ Creed” is nearly equal to the “ Vision.” In structure it is far superior to its prototype. Not only does the writer drive directly to his object, scarcely ever leaving it, but the author's design is inextricably connected with the story. Whether in his own development, or reduced to the merest abridgment, the ignorance, avarice, jealousy, and odium theologicum of the four orders of the friars towards each other, cannot be eliminated.
The plot is very simple. A humble Christian has learned his Pater noster and his Ave Maria “ almoste to the end." But his great object is the Creed ; and having failed in other quarters, he sets forth in search of the friars, thinking that they, at all events, would be able to teach him. The first he encounters is a Minorite; and having asked the friar if he should apply to the Carmelites, receives such an account of that order as would prevent any prudent man from letting one of them into his house, much more trusting his salvation to them. The seeker then applies to the Dominicans (Black Friars, or preachers), to inquire touching the Austins. He wanders through their “house," describing minutely its palatial splendours, and learns from a burly over-feshed friar, capitally painted, that any brother of the Austins is worse than worthless.
“ He holdeth his ordynaunce
With hores and theves." The next application regards the Minorites, or Gray Friars. It is made to the Augustins (Austyns), the site of whose London house is still pointed out in Austin Friars. The brother the seeker addresses is
“ Almost madde in mynde, To see how these minours Many men bygyleth—"
How avaricious, how gluttonous, how hypocritical they are, and how they break the rules of their founder St. Francis ! As little edified by the Augustin's praises of his own order as by his attack upon others, the simple seeker after his Creed quits him, and peeping into a tavern spies a couple of Carmelites, or White Friars. Them he questions with the same success as attended his other queries. The Dominicans, whom he now inquires about, are described as “so dique (worthy) as the Devil, that dropped from heaven.” But though none of them can teach him his Creed, they offer to assoil him, and take his sins upon themselves, if he will pay them. Disgusted by all he has met with, the searcher departs. As he wanders on his way, he falls in with a poor ploughman and his family. The poverty is probably exaggerated; for the ploughman of those days was a small tenant-farmer, not a mere labourer, though called so in the statute. But be this as it may, it is a curious photograph of a rustic family at work, circa 1390.
" Thanne turnede I me forth,
* A coarse cloth.
With a long gode,
And seyde, Children, beth stille !"" pp. 475-477. This ploughman of course is Piers. Mistaking the cause of the wayfarer's sorrows, he proffers “such good as God has sent." When he learns the real cause of the weeper's grief, he confirms his opinion of the friars in a diatribe against the whole body, and then teaches the pilgrim the Apostles' Creed. The poem concludes with a brief hortative and prayer.
It seems probable that some exaggeration may exist in these pictures of the ignorance of the friars; for they are constantly painted as very active in their vocation of mendicants, and possessed of many popular arts. If true, the simplest resolution of the problem would seem to be, that Christianity was really so corrupted by the Romish Church that the Gospels, and even the Creed, were abandoned for legends, lives of saints, and matter even more superstitious. One thing, however, is clear: these representations must have chimed in with the popular belief, and been generally true, if erroneous or exaggerated in some particulars. Had the “Vision” and the “Creed,” the comic tales of Chaucer, and other works of those times, not been founded on fact, they would have dropped still-born from the penmen, without attaining popularity or permanence; for no genius can render palatable what is believed to be falsehood and slander. And if it be said that the works of Chaucer and of the Monk of Malvern contain a good deal besides attacks on the clergy, such is not the case with the Creed of Piers Ploughman, which is a fierce or mocking denunciation of the friars from beginning to end. Yet so effective was the poem in its own period, and so pertinaciously was it pursued by the churchmen, that no manuscript copy is known to exist of an earlier date than the first printed edition.
Art. III.—THE GREAT ARABIAN.
The Life of Mahomet. By W. Muir, B.C.S. London: Smith,
Elder, and Co.
With these two volumes Mr. Muir has worthily completed a great task. In a review of the former half of the work we commented slightly on its obvious defects, an occasional indifference to sound canons of evidence, and a tendency to overrate the undoubted value of unbroken tradition. But, reading his work as a whole, we are half disposed to retract even those gentle animadversions in our keen appreciation of the duty he has so successfully performed. His book is a distinct addition, if not to human at least to English learning; and the books of which that can be said are so few, that the inclination to criticise, however just, is almost forgotten in the rich pleasure of new and perfected knowledge. Our business in this Number is not with Mr. Muir, but with the great Arabian, whose life he has undertaken to narrate, and we may therefore state at once in what we conceive the special merit of this biography to consist. It is not a history of Mahometanism, or a diatribe against Mahomet, or even an analysis of the special influence Mahomet's opinions have exercised on the world. There are books of that sort enough and to spare, and the effect of them all has been to shroud the life of their hero in that dim cathedral gloom which covers as with a mist the lives of all great religious teachers, and through which their forms and acts are only fitfully apparent. The real life of the man, the successive steps by which he attained power, the influences which produced his opinions, and the circumstances which, if they did not produce him, at least allowed full scope for his grand and consecutive action, are lost in a cloud of opinions, till the bewildered Englishman falls back on Gibbon's imperfect but lucid narrative as a relief from the deluge of mere commentary. It is as difficult to extract any notion of Mahomet's actual life from the majority of books about him, as to compile a life of Kant from the libraries written on the Kantian philosophy. Mr. Muir bas avoided that gross mistake. His work is a real life, a life as minute, as reasonable, and, with an exception here and there, as impartial, as if Mahomet had been only a king, a great politician, or a successful leader of revolution. The development of the man is shown as much as his full maturity. The slow and painful efforts by which he rose to power in Medina, the almost as slow operations by which he first sub
e met was indes, and discennel, slaves ca the propha
dued and then amalgamated the clans of the desert into one mighty and aggressive dominion, are set forth with a patient accuracy, which rather increases than weakens their native dramatic force. The reader sees clearly, without being directly taught, how far Mahomet was indebted to existing circumstances, and how far to his own genius, and discerns for the first time the true influence of that strange personnel, slaves and chiefs of clans, relatives and hereditary foes, among whom the prophet had to pass kis daily and outer life. He comes to regard Mahomet at last in his true light, as a great man, instead of a mere abstraction, to predict his action in his own mind as a new obstacle reveals itself, to feel something of that glow of personal interest with which a clever boy traces the conquests of Alexander, or exults and desponds with the alternating fortunes of Cortez or Christopher Columbus.
To create such an impression about any man is no mean triumph; but to elicit it of Mahomet is a positive gain to the generation among whom it is produced. In the whole compass of knowledge, looking down all that stately line of figures whose mere names serve as the best landmarks of human history, there is not one whose life better deserves to be known, to become, as some of Shakespeare's characters have become, an integral part of thought rather than a subject for thought, than that of the great Arabian. That a man's opinions should circulate widely, survive himself, and help to modify human action for ages after he is forgotten, is, though a wonderful, not an infrequent phenomenon. That a man obscure in all but birth, brought up among an unlettered race, with no learning and no material resources, should by sheer force of genius extinguish idolatry through a hundred tribes, unite them into one vast aggressive movement, and, dying, leave to men who were not his children the mastery of the Oriental world,-even this career, however wondrous, is not absolutely unique. But that a man of this kind, living humbly among his equals, should stamp on their minds the conviction that he whom they saw eat, and drink, and sleep, and commit blunders, was the vice-gerent of the Almighty; that his system should survive himself for twelve centuries as a living missionary force;* that it should not merely influence but utterly remould one-fourth of the human race, and that fourth the unchangeable one; that it should after twelve centuries still be so vital that an Asiatic, base to a degree no
* Mahometanism is still widely propagated in India and Africa. In Africa it is marching south, and in India its gains are supposed to counterbalance its losses every where else. In Bengal alone the converts number thousands yearly, and one of the most serious dangers of the government arises from the frantic zeal of the new converts made by the Ferazee Mussulmans.