Part 2 out of 2
deem of thee that thou hast seen things which I have not seen, and
could not have seen." With that word he led me back into the chancel,
and we sat down side by side in the stalls at the west end of it,
facing the high altar and the great east window. By this time the
chancel was getting dimmer as the moon wound round the heavens; but
yet was there a twilight of the moon, so that I could still see the
things about me for all the brightness of the window that faced us;
and this moon twilight would last, I knew, until the short summer
night should wane, and the twilight of the dawn begin to show us the
colours of all things about us.
So we sat, and I gathered my thoughts to hear what he would say, and I
myself was trying to think what I should ask of him; for I thought of
him as he of me, that he had seen things which I could not have seen.
TWO TALK OF THE DAYS TO COME
"Brother," said John Ball, "how deemest thou of our adventure? I do
not ask thee if thou thinkest we are right to play the play like men,
but whether playing like men we shall fail like men."
"Why dost thou ask me?" said I; "how much further than beyond this
church can I see?" "Far further," quoth he, "for I wot that thou art a
scholar and hast read books; and withal, in some way that I cannot
name, thou knowest more than we; as though with thee the world had
lived longer than with us. Hide not, therefore, what thou hast in
thine heart, for I think after this night I shall see thee no more,
until we meet in the heavenly Fellowship."
"Friend," I said, "ask me what thou wilt; or rather ask thou the years
to come to tell thee some little of their tale; and yet methinks thou
thyself mayest have some deeming thereof."
He raised himself on the elbow of the stall and looked me full in the
face, and said to me: "Is it so after all that thou art no man in the
flesh, but art sent to me by the Master of the Fellowship, and the
King's Son of Heaven, to tell me what shall be? If that be so tell me
straight out, since I had some deeming hereof before; whereas thy
speech is like ours and yet unlike, and thy face hath something in it
which is not after the fashion of our day. And yet take heed, if thou
art such an one, I fear thee not, nay, nor him that sent thee; nor for
thy bidding, nor for his, will I turn back from London Bridge but will
press on, for I do what is meet and right."
"Nay," said I, "did I not tell thee e'en now that I knew life but not
death? I am not dead; and as to who hath sent me, I say not that I am
come by my own will; for I know not; yet also I know not the will that
hath sent me hither. And this I say to thee, moreover, that if I know
more than thou, I do far less; therefore thou art my captain and I thy
He sighed as one from whom a weight had been lifted, and said: "Well,
then, since thou art alive on the earth and a man like myself, tell me
how deemest thou of our adventure: shall we come to London, and how
shall we fare there?"
Said I, "What shall hinder you to come to London, and to fare there as
ye will? For be sure that the Fellowship in Essex shall not fail you;
nor shall the Londoners who hate the king's uncles withstand you; nor
hath the Court any great force to meet you in the field; ye shall cast
fear and trembling into their hearts."
"Even so, I thought," said he; "but afterwards what shall betide?"
Said I, "It grieves my heart to say that which I think. Yet hearken;
many a man's son shall die who is now alive and happy, and if the
soldiers be slain, and of them most not on the field, but by the
lawyers, how shall the captains escape? Surely thou goest to thy
He smiled very sweetly, yet proudly, as he said: "Yea, the road is
long, but the end cometh at last. Friend, many a day have I been
dying; for my sister, with whom I have played and been merry in the
autumn tide about the edges of the stubble-fields; and we gathered the
nuts and bramble-berries there, and started thence the missel-thrush,
and wondered at his voice and thought him big; and the sparrow-hawk
wheeled and turned over the hedges and the weasel ran across the path,
and the sound of the sheep-bells came to us from the downs as we sat
happy on the grass; and she is dead and gone from the earth, for she
pined from famine after the years of the great sickness; and my
brother was slain in the French wars, and none thanked him for dying
save he that stripped him of his gear; and my unwedded wife with whom
I dwelt in love after I had taken the tonsure, and all men said she
was good and fair, and true she was and lovely; she also is dead and
gone from the earth; and why should I abide save for the deeds of the
flesh which must be done? Truly, friend, this is but an old tale that
men must die; and I will tell thee another, to wit, that they live:
and I live now and shall live. Tell me then what shall befall."
Somehow I could not heed him as a living man as much as I had done,
and the voice that came from me seemed less of me as I answered:
"These men are strong and valiant as any that have been or shall be,
and good fellows also and kindly; but they are simple, and see no
great way before their own noses. The victory shall they have and
shall not know what to do with it; they shall fight and overcome,
because of their lack of knowledge, and because of their lack of
knowledge shall they be cozened and betrayed when their captains are
slain, and all shall come to nought by seeming; and the king's uncles
shall prevail, that both they and the king may come to the shame that
is appointed for them. And yet when the lords have vanquished, and
all England lieth under them again, yet shall their victory be
fruitless; for the free men that hold unfree lands shall they not
bring under the collar again, and villeinage shall slip from their
hands, till there be, and not long after ye are dead, but few unfree
men in England; so that your lives and your deaths both shall bear
"Said I not," quoth John Ball, "that thou wert a sending from other
times? Good is thy message, for the land shall be free. Tell on
He spoke eagerly, and I went on somewhat sadly: "The times shall
better, though the king and lords shall worsen, the Gilds of Craft
shall wax and become mightier; more recourse shall there be of foreign
merchants. There shall be plenty in the land and not famine. Where a
man now earneth two pennies he shall earn three."
"Yea," said he, "then shall those that labour become strong and
stronger, and so soon shall it come about that all men shall work and
none make to work, and so shall none be robbed, and at last shall all
men labour and live and be happy, and have the goods of the earth
without money and without price."
"Yea," said I, "that shall indeed come to pass, but not yet for a
while, and belike a long while."
And I sat for long without speaking, and the church grew darker as the
moon waned yet more.
Then I said: "Bethink thee that these men shall yet have masters over
them, who have at hand many a law and custom for the behoof of
masters, and being masters can make yet more laws in the same behoof;
and they shall suffer poor people to thrive just so long as their
thriving shall profit the mastership and no longer; and so shall it be
in those days I tell of; for there shall be king and lords and knights
and squires still, with servants to do their bidding, and make honest
men afraid; and all these will make nothing and eat much as aforetime,
and the more that is made in the land the more shall they crave."
"Yea," said he, "that wot I well, that these are of the kin of the
daughters of the horse-leech; but how shall they slake their greed,
seeing that as thou sayest villeinage shall be gone? Belike their men
shall pay them quit-rents and do them service, as free men may, but
all this according to law and not beyond it; so that though the
workers shall be richer than they now be, the lords shall be no
richer, and so all shall be on the road to being free and equal."
Said I, "Look you, friend; aforetime the lords, for the most part,
held the land and all that was on it, and the men that were on it
worked for them as their horses worked, and after they were fed and
housed all was the lords'; but in the time to come the lords shall see
their men thriving on the land and shall say once more, 'These men
have more than they need, why have we not the surplus since we are
their lords?' Moreover, in those days shall betide much chaffering
for wares between man and man, and country and country; and the lords
shall note that if there were less corn and less men on their lands
there would be more sheep, that is to say more wool for chaffer, and
that thereof they should have abundantly more than aforetime; since
all the land they own, and it pays them quit-rent or service, save
here and there a croft or a close of a yeoman; and all this might grow
wool for them to sell to the Easterlings. Then shall England see a
new thing, for whereas hitherto men have lived on the land and by it,
the land shall no longer need them, but many sheep and a few shepherds
shall make wool grow to be sold for money to the Easterlings, and that
money shall the lords pouch: for, look you, they shall set the lawyers
a-work and the strong hand moreover, and the land they shall take to
themselves and their sheep; and except for these lords of land few
shall be the free men that shall hold a rood of land whom the word of
their lord may not turn adrift straightway."
"How mean you?" said John Ball: "shall all men be villeins again?"
"Nay," said I, "there shall be no villeins in England."
"Surely then," said he, "it shall be worse, and all men save a few
shall be thralls to be bought and sold at the cross."
"Good friend," said I, "it shall not be so; all men shall be free even
as ye would have it; yet, as I say, few indeed shall have so much land
as they can stand upon save by buying such a grace of their masters."
"And now," said he, "I wot not what thou sayest. I know a thrall, and
he is his master's every hour, and never his own; and a villein I
know, and whiles he is his own and whiles his lord's; and I know a
free man, and he is his own always; but how shall he be his own if he
have nought whereby to make his livelihood? Or shall he be a thief
and take from others? Then is he an outlaw. Wonderful is this thou
tellest of a free man with nought whereby to live!"
"Yet so it shall be," said I, "and by such free men shall all wares be
"Nay, that cannot be; thou art talking riddles," said he; "for how
shall a woodwright make a chest without the wood and the tools?"
Said I, "He must needs buy leave to labour of them that own all things
except himself and such as himself."
"Yea, but wherewith shall he buy it?" said John Ball. "What hath he
"With himself then shall he buy it," quoth I, "with his body and the
power of labour that lieth therein; with the price of his labour shall
he buy leave to labour."
"Riddles again!" said he; "how can he sell his labour for aught else
but his daily bread? He must win by his labour meat and drink and
clothing and housing! Can he sell his labour twice over?"
"Not so," said I, "but this shall he do belike; he shall sell himself,
that is the labour that is in him, to the master that suffers him to
work, and that master shall give to him from out of the wares he
maketh enough to keep him alive, and to beget children and nourish
them till they be old enough to be sold like himself, and the residue
shall the rich man keep to himself."
John Ball laughed aloud, and said: "Well, I perceive we are not yet
out of the land of riddles. The man may well do what thou sayest and
live, but he may not do it and live a free man."
"Thou sayest sooth," said I.
HARD IT IS FOR THE OLD WORLD TO
SEE THE NEW
He held his peace awhile, and then he said: "But no man selleth
himself and his children into thraldom uncompelled; nor is any fool so
great a fool as willingly to take the name of freeman and the life of
a thrall as payment for the very life of a freeman. Now would I ask
thee somewhat else; and I am the readier to do so since I perceive
that thou art a wondrous seer; for surely no man could of his own wit
have imagined a tale of such follies as thou hast told me. Now well I
wot that men having once shaken themselves clear of the burden of
villeinage, as thou sayest we shall do (and I bless thee for the
word), shall never bow down to this worser tyranny without sore strife
in the world; and surely so sore shall it be, before our valiant sons
give way, that maids and little lads shall take the sword and the
spear, and in many a field men's blood and not water shall turn the
gristmills of England. But when all this is over, and the tyranny is
established, because there are but few men in the land after the great
war, how shall it be with you then? Will there not be many soldiers
and sergeants and few workers? Surely in every parish ye shall have
the constables to see that the men work; and they shall be saying
every day, 'Such an one, hast thou yet sold thyself for this day or
this week or this year? Go to now, and get thy bargain done, or it
shall be the worse for thee.' And wheresoever work is going on there
shall be constables again, and those that labour shall labour under
the whip like the Hebrews in the land of Egypt. And every man that
may, will steal as a dog snatches at a bone; and there again shall ye
need more soldiers and more constables till the land is eaten up by
them; nor shall the lords and the masters even be able to bear the
burden of it; nor will their gains be so great, since that which each
man may do in a day is not right great when all is said."
"Friend," said I, "from thine own valiancy and high heart thou
speakest, when thou sayest that they who fall under this tyranny shall
fight to the death against it. Wars indeed there shall be in the
world, great and grievous, and yet few on this score; rather shall men
fight as they have been fighting in France at the bidding of some lord
of the manor, or some king, or at last at the bidding of some usurer
and forestaller of the market. Valiant men, forsooth, shall arise in
the beginning of these evil times, but though they shall die as ye
shall, yet shall not their deaths be fruitful as yours shall be;
because ye, forsooth, are fighting against villeinage which is waning,
but they shall fight against usury which is waxing. And, moreover, I
have been telling thee how it shall be when the measure of the time is
full; and we, looking at these things from afar, can see them as they
are indeed; but they who live at the beginning of those times and
amidst them, shall not know what is doing around them; they shall
indeed feel the plague and yet not know the remedy; by little and by
little they shall fall from their better livelihood, and weak and
helpless shall they grow, and have no might to withstand the evil of
this tyranny; and then again when the times mend somewhat and they
have but a little more ease, then shall it be to them like the kingdom
of heaven, and they shall have no will to withstand any tyranny, but
shall think themselves happy that they be pinched somewhat less. Also
whereas thou sayest that there shall be for ever constables and
sergeants going to and fro to drive men to work, and that they will
not work save under the lash, thou art wrong and it shall not be so;
for there shall ever be more workers than the masters may set to work,
so that men shall strive eagerly for leave to work; and when one says,
I will sell my hours at such and such a price, then another will say,
and I for so much less; so that never shall the lords lack slaves
willing to work, but often the slaves shall lack lords to buy them."
"Thou tellest marvels indeed," said he; "but how then? if all the
churls work not, shall there not be famine and lack of wares?"
"Famine enough," said I, "yet not from lack of wares; it shall be
clean contrary. What wilt thou say when I tell thee that in the
latter days there shall be such traffic and such speedy travel across
the seas that most wares shall be good cheap, and bread of all things
Quoth he: "I should say that then there would be better livelihood
for men, for in times of plenty it is well; for then men eat that
which their own hands have harvested, and need not to spend of their
substance in buying of others. Truly, it is well for honest men, but
not so well for forestallers and regraters; but who heeds what
befalls such foul swine, who filch the money from people's purses, and
do not one hair's turn of work to help them?"
 Forestaller, one who buys up goods when they are cheap, and so
raises the price for his own benefit; forestalls the due and real
demand. Regrater, one who both buys and sells in the same market, or
within five miles thereof; buys, say a ton of cheese at 10 A.M. and
sells it at 5 P.M. a penny a pound dearer without moving from his
chair. The word "monopolist" will cover both species of thief.
"Yea, friend," I said, "but in those latter days all power shall be in
the hands of these foul swine, and they shall be the rulers of all;
therefore, hearken, for I tell thee that times of plenty shall in
those days be the times of famine, and all shall pray for the prices
of wares to rise, so that the forestallers and regraters may thrive,
and that some of their well-doing may overflow on to those on whom
"I am weary of thy riddles," he said. "Yet at least I hope that there
may be fewer and fewer folk in the land; as may well be, if life is
then so foul and wretched."
"Alas, poor man!" I said; "nor mayst thou imagine how foul and
wretched it may be for many of the folk; and yet I tell thee that men
shall increase and multiply, till where there is one man in the land
now, there shall be twenty in those days--yea, in some places ten
"I have but little heart to ask thee more questions," said he; "and
when thou answerest, thy words are plain, but the things they tell of
I may scarce understand. But tell me this: in those days will men
deem that so it must be for ever, as great men even now tell us of our
ills, or will they think of some remedy?"
I looked about me. There was but a glimmer of light in the church
now, but what there was, was no longer the strange light of the moon,
but the first coming of the kindly day.
"Yea," said John Ball, "'tis the twilight of the dawn. God and St.
Christopher send us a good day!"
"John Ball," said I, "I have told thee that thy death will bring about
that which thy life has striven for: thinkest thou that the thing
which thou strivest for is worth the labour? or dost thou believe in
the tale I have told thee of the days to come?"
He said: "I tell thee once again that I trust thee for a seer;
because no man could make up such a tale as thou; the things which
thou tellest are too wonderful for a minstrel, the tale too grievous.
And whereas thou askest as to whether I count my labour lost, I say
nay; if so be that in those latter times (and worser than ours they
will be) men shall yet seek a remedy: therefore again I ask thee, is
it so that they shall?"
"Yea," said I, "and their remedy shall be the same as thine, although
the days be different: for if the folk be enthralled, what remedy save
that they be set free? and if they have tried many roads towards
freedom, and found that they led no-whither, then shall they try yet
another. Yet in the days to come they shall be slothful to try it,
because their masters shall be so much mightier than thine, that they
shall not need to show the high hand, and until the days get to their
evilest, men shall be cozened into thinking that it is of their own
free will that they must needs buy leave to labour by pawning their
labour that is to be. Moreover, your lords and masters seem very
mighty to you, each one of them, and so they are, but they are few;
and the masters of the days to come shall not each one of them seem
very mighty to the men of those days, but they shall be very many, and
they shall be of one intent in these matters without knowing it; like
as one sees the oars of a galley when the rowers are hidden, that rise
and fall as it were with one will."
"And yet," he said, "shall it not be the same with those that these
men devour? shall not they also have one will?"
"Friend," I said, "they shall have the will to live, as the
wretchedest thing living has: therefore shall they sell themselves
that they may live, as I told thee; and their hard need shall be their
lord's easy livelihood, and because of it he shall sleep without fear,
since their need compelleth them not to loiter by the way to lament
with friend or brother that they are pinched in their servitude, or to
devise means for ending it. And yet indeed thou sayest it: they also
shall have one will if they but knew it: but for a long while they
shall have but a glimmer of knowledge of it: yet doubt it not that in
the end they shall come to know it clearly, and then shall they bring
about the remedy; and in those days shall it be seen that thou hast
not wrought for nothing, because thou hast seen beforehand what the
remedy should be, even as those of later days have seen it."
We both sat silent a little while. The twilight was gaining on the
night, though slowly. I looked at the poppy which I still held in my
hand, and bethought me of Will Green, and said:
"Lo, how the light is spreading: now must I get me back to Will
Green's house as I promised."
"Go, then," said he, "if thou wilt. Yet meseems before long he shall
come to us; and then mayst thou sleep among the trees on the green
grass till the sun is high, for the host shall not be on foot very
early; and sweet it is to sleep in shadow by the sun in the full
morning when one has been awake and troubled through the night-tide."
"Yet I will go now," said I; "I bid thee good-night, or rather
Therewith I half rose up; but as I did so the will to depart left me
as though I had never had it, and I sat down again, and heard the
voice of John Ball, at first as one speaking from far away, but little
by little growing nearer and more familiar to me, and as if once more
it were coming from the man himself whom I had got to know.
ILL WOULD CHANGE BE AT WHILES WERE IT NOT FOR
THE CHANGE BEYOND THE CHANGE
He said: "Many strange things hast thou told me that I could not
understand; yea, some my wit so failed to compass, that I cannot so
much as ask thee questions concerning them; but of some matters would
I ask thee, and I must hasten, for in very sooth the night is worn old
and grey. Whereas thou sayest that in the days to come, when there
shall be no labouring men who are not thralls after their new fashion,
that their lords shall be many and very many, it seemeth to me that
these same lords, if they be many, shall hardly be rich, or but very
few of them, since they must verily feed and clothe and house their
thralls, so that that which they take from them, since it will have to
be dealt out amongst many, will not be enough to make many rich; since
out of one man ye may get but one man's work; and pinch him never so
sorely, still as aforesaid ye may not pinch him so sorely as not to
feed him. Therefore, though the eyes of my mind may see a few lords
and many slaves, yet can they not see many lords as well as many
slaves; and if the slaves be many and the lords few, then some day
shall the slaves make an end of that mastery by the force of their
bodies. How then shall thy mastership of the latter days endure?"
"John Ball," said I, "mastership hath many shifts whereby it striveth
to keep itself alive in the world. And now hear a marvel: whereas
thou sayest these two times that out of one man ye may get but one
man's work, in days to come one man shall do the work of a hundred
men--yea, of a thousand or more: and this is the shift of mastership
that shall make many masters and many rich men."
John Ball laughed. "Great is my harvest of riddles to-night," said
he; "for even if a man sleep not, and eat and drink while he is
a-working, ye shall but make two men, or three at the most, out of
Said I: "Sawest thou ever a weaver at his loom?"
"Yea," said he, "many a time."
He was silent a little, and then said: "Yet I marvelled not at it;
but now I marvel, because I know what thou wouldst say. Time was when
the shuttle was thrust in and out of all the thousand threads of the
warp, and it was long to do; but now the spring-staves go up and down
as the man's feet move, and this and that leaf of the warp cometh
forward and the shuttle goeth in one shot through all the thousand
warps. Yea, so it is that this multiplieth a man many times. But
look you, he is so multiplied already; and so hath he been, meseemeth,
for many hundred years."
"Yea," said I, "but what hitherto needed the masters to multiply him
more? For many hundred years the workman was a thrall bought and sold
at the cross; and for other hundreds of years he hath been a villein--
that is, a working-beast and a part of the stock of the manor on which
he liveth; but then thou and the like of thee shall free him, and then
is mastership put to its shifts; for what should avail the mastery
then, when the master no longer owneth the man by law as his chattel,
nor any longer by law owneth him as stock of his land, if the master
hath not that which he on whom he liveth may not lack and live withal,
and cannot have without selling himself?"
He said nothing, but I saw his brow knitted and his lips pressed
together as though in anger; and again I said:
"Thou hast seen the weaver at his loom: think how it should be if he
sit no longer before the web and cast the shuttle and draw home the
sley, but if the shed open of itself and the shuttle of itself speed
through it as swift as the eye can follow, and the sley come home of
itself; and the weaver standing by and whistling The Hunt's Up! the
while, or looking to half-a-dozen looms and bidding them what to do.
And as with the weaver so with the potter, and the smith, and every
worker in metals, and all other crafts, that it shall be for them
looking on and tending, as with the man that sitteth in the cart while
the horse draws. Yea, at last so shall it be even with those who are
mere husbandmen; and no longer shall the reaper fare afield in the
morning with his hook over his shoulder, and smite and bind and smite
again till the sun is down and the moon is up; but he shall draw a
thing made by men into the field with one or two horses, and shall say
the word and the horses shall go up and down, and the thing shall reap
and gather and bind, and do the work of many men. Imagine all this in
thy mind if thou canst, at least as ye may imagine a tale of
enchantment told by a minstrel, and then tell me what shouldst thou
deem that the life of men would be amidst all this, men such as these
men of the township here, or the men of the Canterbury gilds."
"Yea," said he; "but before I tell thee my thoughts of thy tale of
wonder, I would ask thee this: In those days when men work so easily,
surely they shall make more wares than they can use in one
countryside, or one good town, whereas in another, where things have
not gone as well, they shall have less than they need; and even so it
is with us now, and thereof cometh scarcity and famine; and if people
may not come at each other's goods, it availeth the whole land little
that one country-side hath more than enough while another hath less;
for the goods shall abide there in the storehouses of the rich place
till they perish. So if that be so in the days of wonder ye tell of
(and I see not how it can be otherwise), then shall men be but little
holpen by making all their wares so easily and with so little labour."
I smiled again and said: "Yea, but it shall not be so; not only shall
men be multiplied a hundred and a thousand fold, but the distance of
one place from another shall be as nothing; so that the wares which
lie ready for market in Durham in the evening may be in London on the
morrow morning; and the men of Wales may eat corn of Essex and the men
of Essex wear wool of Wales; so that, so far as the flitting of goods
to market goes, all the land shall be as one parish. Nay, what say I?
Not as to this land only shall it be so, but even the Indies, and far
countries of which thou knowest not, shall be, so to say, at every
man's door, and wares which now ye account precious and dear-bought,
shall then be common things bought and sold for little price at every
huckster's stall. Say then, John, shall not those days be merry, and
plentiful of ease and contentment for all men?"
"Brother," said he, "meseemeth some doleful mockery lieth under these
joyful tidings of thine; since thou hast already partly told me to my
sad bewilderment what the life of man shall be in those days. Yet
will I now for a little set all that aside to consider thy strange
tale as of a minstrel from over sea, even as thou biddest me.
Therefore I say, that if men still abide men as I have known them, and
unless these folk of England change as, the land changeth--and
forsooth of the men, for good and for evil, I can think no other than
I think now, or behold them other than I have known them and loved
them--I say if the men be still men, what will happen except that
there should be all plenty in the land, and not one poor man therein,
unless of his own free will he choose to lack and be poor, as a man in
religion or such like; for there would then be such abundance of all
good things, that, as greedy as the lords might be, there would be
enough to satisfy their greed and yet leave good living for all who
laboured with their hands; so that these should labour far less than
now, and they would have time to learn knowledge, so that there should
be no learned or unlearned, for all should be learned; and they would
have time also to learn how to order the matters of the parish and the
hundred, and of the parliament of the realm, so that the king should
take no more than his own; and to order the rule of the realm, so that
all men, rich and unrich, should have part therein; and so by undoing
of evil laws and making of good ones, that fashion would come to an
end whereof thou speakest, that rich men make laws for their own
behoof; for they should no longer be able to do thus when all had part
in making the laws; whereby it would soon come about that there would
be no men rich and tyrannous, but all should have enough and to spare
of the increase of the earth and the work of their own hands. Yea
surely, brother, if ever it cometh about that men shall be able to
make things, and not men, work for their superfluities, and that the
length of travel from one place to another be made of no account, and
all the world be a market for all the world, then all shall live in
health and wealth; and envy and grudging shall perish. For then shall
we have conquered the earth and it shall be enough; and then shall the
kingdom of heaven be come down to the earth in very deed. Why lookest
thou so sad and sorry? what sayest thou?"
I said: "Hast thou forgotten already what I told thee, that in those
latter days a man who hath nought save his own body (and such men
shall be far the most of men) must needs pawn his labour for leave to
labour? Can such a man be wealthy? Hast thou not called him a
"Yea," he said; "but how could I deem that such things could be when
those days should be come wherein men could make things work for
"Poor man!" said I. "Learn that in those very days, when it shall be
with the making of things as with the carter in the cart, that there
he sitteth and shaketh the reins and the horse draweth and the cart
goeth; in those days, I tell thee, many men shall be as poor and
wretched always, year by year, as they are with thee when there is
famine in the land; nor shall any have plenty and surety of livelihood
save those that shall sit by and look on while others labour; and
these, I tell thee, shall be a many, so that they shall see to the
making of all laws, and in their hands shall be all power, and the
labourers shall think that they cannot do without these men that live
by robbing them, and shall praise them and wellnigh pray to them as ye
pray to the saints, and the best worshipped man in the land shall be
he who by forestalling and regrating hath gotten to him the most
"Yea," said he, "and shall they who see themselves robbed worship the
robber? Then indeed shall men be changed from what they are now, and
they shall be sluggards, dolts, and cowards beyond all the earth hath
yet borne. Such are not the men I have known in my life-days, and
that now I love in my death."
"Nay," I said, "but the robbery shall they not see; for have I not
told thee that they shall hold themselves to be free men? And for why?
I will tell thee: but first tell me how it fares with men now; may the
labouring man become a lord?"
He said: "The thing hath been seen that churls have risen from the
dortoir of the monastery to the abbot's chair and the bishop's throne;
yet not often; and whiles hath a bold sergeant become a wise captain,
and they have made him squire and knight; and yet but very seldom.
And now I suppose thou wilt tell me that the Church will open her arms
wider to this poor people, and that many through her shall rise into
lordship. But what availeth that? Nought were it to me if the Abbot
of St. Alban's with his golden mitre sitting guarded by his knights
and sergeants, or the Prior of Merton with his hawks and his hounds,
had once been poor men, if they were now tyrants of poor men; nor
would it better the matter if there were ten times as many Houses of
Religion in the land as now are, and each with a churl's son for abbot
or prior over it."
I smiled and said: "Comfort thyself; for in those days shall there be
neither abbey nor priory in the land, nor monks nor friars, nor any
religious." (He started as I spoke.) "But thou hast told me that
hardly in these days may a poor man rise to be a lord: now I tell thee
that in the days to come poor men shall be able to become lords and
masters and do-nothings; and oft will it be seen that they shall do
so; and it shall be even for that cause that their eyes shall be
blinded to the robbing of themselves by others, because they shall
hope in their souls that they may each live to rob others: and this
shall be the very safeguard of all rule and law in those days."
"Now am I sorrier than thou hast yet made me," said he; "for when once
this is established, how then can it be changed? Strong shall be the
tyranny of the latter days. And now meseems, if thou sayest sooth,
this time of the conquest of the earth shall not bring heaven down to
the earth, as erst I deemed it would, but rather that it shall bring
hell up on to the earth. Woe's me, brother, for thy sad and weary
foretelling! And yet saidst thou that the men of those days would
seek a remedy. Canst thou yet tell me, brother, what that remedy shall
be, lest the sun rise upon me made hopeless by thy tale of what is to
be? And, lo you, soon shall she rise upon the earth."
In truth the dawn was widening now, and the colours coming into the
pictures on wall and in window; and as well as I could see through the
varied glazing of these last (and one window before me had as yet
nothing but white glass in it), the ruddy glow, which had but so
little a while quite died out in the west, was now beginning to gather
in the east--the new day was beginning. I looked at the poppy that I
still carried in my hand, and it seemed to me to have withered and
dwindled. I felt anxious to speak to my companion and tell him much,
and withal I felt that I must hasten, or for some reason or other I
should be too late; so I spoke at last loud and hurriedly:
"John Ball, be of good cheer; for once more thou knowest, as I know,
that the Fellowship of Men shall endure, however many tribulations it
may have to wear through. Look you, a while ago was the light bright
about us; but it was because of the moon, and the night was deep
notwithstanding, and when the moonlight waned and died, and there was
but a little glimmer in place of the bright light, yet was the world
glad because all things knew that the glimmer was of day and not of
night. Lo you, an image of the times to betide the hope of the
Fellowship of Men. Yet forsooth, it may well be that this bright day
of summer which is now dawning upon us is no image of the beginning of
the day that shall be; but rather shall that day-dawn be cold and grey
and surly; and yet by its light shall men see things as they verily
are, and no longer enchanted by the gleam of the moon and the glamour
of the dream-tide. By such grey light shall wise men and valiant
souls see the remedy, and deal with it, a real thing that may be
touched and handled, and no glory of the heavens to be worshipped from
afar off. And what shall it be, as I told thee before, save that men
shall be determined to be free; yea, free as thou wouldst have them,
when thine hope rises the highest, and thou art thinking not of the
king's uncles, and poll-groat bailiffs, and the villeinage of Essex,
but of the end of all, when men shall have the fruits of the earth and
the fruits of their toil thereon, without money and without price.
The time shall come, John Ball, when that dream of thine that this
shall one day be, shall be a thing that men shall talk of soberly, and
as a thing soon to come about, as even with thee they talk of the
villeins becoming tenants paying their lord quit-rent; therefore, hast
thou done well to hope it; and, if thou heedest this also, as I
suppose thou heedest it little, thy name shall abide by thy hope in
those days to come, and thou shalt not be forgotten."
I heard his voice come out of the twilight, scarcely seeing him,
though now the light was growing fast, as he said:
"Brother, thou givest me heart again; yet since now I wot well that
thou art a sending from far-off times and far-off things: tell thou,
if thou mayest, to a man who is going to his death how this shall come
"Only this may I tell thee" said I; "to thee, when thou didst try to
conceive of them, the ways of the days to come seemed follies scarce
to be thought of; yet shall they come to be familiar things, and an
order by which every man liveth, ill as he liveth, so that men shall
deem of them, that thus it hath been since the beginning of the world,
and that thus it shall be while the world endureth; and in this wise
so shall they be thought of a long while; and the complaint of the
poor the rich man shall heed, even as much and no more as he who lieth
in pleasure under the lime-trees in the summer heedeth the murmur of
his toiling bees. Yet in time shall this also grow old, and doubt
shall creep in, because men shall scarce be able to live by that
order, and the complaint of the poor shall be hearkened, no longer as
a tale not utterly grievous, but as a threat of ruin, and a fear. Then
shall these things, which to thee seem follies, and to the men between
thee and me mere wisdom and the bond of stability, seem follies once
again; yet, whereas men have so long lived by them, they shall cling
to them yet from blindness and from fear; and those that see, and that
have thus much conquered fear that they are furthering the real time
that cometh and not the dream that faileth, these men shall the blind
and the fearful mock and missay, and torment and murder: and great and
grievous shall be the strife in those days, and many the failures of
the wise, and too oft sore shall be the despair of the valiant; and
back-sliding, and doubt, and contest between friends and fellows
lacking time in the hubbub to understand each other, shall grieve many
hearts and hinder the Host of the Fellowship: yet shall all bring
about the end, till thy deeming of folly and ours shall be one, and
thy hope and our hope; and then--the Day will have come."
Once more I heard the voice of John Ball: "Now, brother, I say
farewell; for now verily hath the Day of the Earth come, and thou and
I are lonely of each other again; thou hast been a dream to me as I to
thee, and sorry and glad have we made each other, as tales of old time
and the longing of times to come shall ever make men to be. I go to
life and to death, and leave thee; and scarce do I know whether to
wish thee some dream of the days beyond thine to tell what shall be,
as thou hast told me, for I know not if that shall help or hinder
thee; but since we have been kind and very friends, I will not leave
thee without a wish of good-will, so at least I wish thee what thou
thyself wishest for thyself, and that is hopeful strife and blameless
peace, which is to say in one word, life. Farewell, friend."
For some little time, although I had known that the daylight was
growing and what was around me, I had scarce seen the things I had
before noted so keenly; but now in a flash I saw all--the east crimson
with sunrise through the white window on my right hand; the
richly-carved stalls and gilded screen work, the pictures on the
walls, the loveliness of the faultless colour of the mosaic window
lights, the altar and the red light over it looking strange in the
daylight, and the biers with the hidden dead men upon them that lay
before the high altar. A great pain filled my heart at the sight of
all that beauty, and withal I heard quick steps coming up the paved
church-path to the porch, and the loud whistle of a sweet old tune
therewith; then the footsteps stopped at the door; I heard the latch
rattle, and knew that Will Green's hand was on the ring of it.
Then I strove to rise up, but fell back again; a white light, empty of
all sights, broke upon me for a moment, and lo I behold, I was lying
in my familiar bed, the south-westerly gale rattling the Venetian
blinds and making their hold-fasts squeak.
I got up presently, and going to the window looked out on the winter
morning; the river was before me broad between outer bank and bank,
but it was nearly dead ebb, and there was a wide space of mud on each
side of the hurrying stream, driven on the faster as it seemed by the
push of the south-west wind. On the other side of the water the few
willow-trees left us by the Thames Conservancy looked doubtfully alive
against the bleak sky and the row of wretched-looking blue-slated
houses, although, by the way, the latter were the backs of a sort of
street of "villas" and not a slum; the road in front of the house was
sooty and muddy at once, and in the air was that sense of dirty
discomfort which one is never quit of in London. The morning was
harsh, too, and though the wind was from the south-west it was as cold
as a north wind; and yet amidst it all, I thought of the corner of the
next bight of the river which I could not quite see from where I was,
but over which one can see clear of houses and into Richmond Park,
looking like the open country; and dirty as the river was, and harsh
as was the January wind, they seemed to woo me toward the
country-side, where away from the miseries of the "Great Wen" I might
of my own will carry on a daydream of the friends I had made in the
dream of the night and against my will.
But as I turned away shivering and downhearted, on a sudden came the
frightful noise of the "hooters," one after the other, that call the
workmen to the factories, this one the after-breakfast one, more by
token. So I grinned surlily, and dressed and got ready for my day's
"work" as I call it, but which many a man besides John Ruskin (though
not many in his position) would call "play."
A KING'S LESSON
It is told of Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary--the Alfred the Great
of his time and people--that he once heard (once ONLY?) that some
(only SOME, my lad?) of his peasants were over-worked and under-fed.
So he sent for his Council, and bade come thereto also some of the
mayors of the good towns, and some of the lords of land and their
bailiffs, and asked them of the truth thereof; and in diverse ways
they all told one and the same tale, how the peasant carles were stout
and well able to work and had enough and to spare of meat and drink,
seeing that they were but churls; and how if they worked not at the
least as hard as they did, it would be ill for them and ill for their
lords; for that the more the churl hath the more he asketh; and that
when he knoweth wealth, he knoweth the lack of it also, as it fared
with our first parents in the Garden of God. The King sat and said
but little while they spake, but he misdoubted them that they were
liars. So the Council brake up with nothing done; but the King took
the matter to heart, being, as kings go, a just man, besides being
more valiant than they mostly were, even in the old feudal time. So
within two or three days, says the tale, he called together such lords
and councillors as he deemed fittest, and bade busk them for a ride;
and when they were ready he and they set out, over rough and smooth,
decked out in all the glory of attire which was the wont of those
days. Thus they rode till they came to some village or thorpe of the
peasant folk, and through it to the vineyards where men were working
on the sunny southern slopes that went up from the river: my tale does
not say whether that were Theiss, or Donau, or what river. Well, I
judge it was late spring or early summer, and the vines but just
beginning to show their grapes; for the vintage is late in those
lands, and some of the grapes are not gathered till the first frosts
have touched them, whereby the wine made from them is the stronger and
sweeter. Anyhow there were the peasants, men and women, boys and
young maidens, toiling and swinking; some hoeing between the
vine-rows, some bearing baskets of dung up the steep slopes, some in
one way, some in another, labouring for the fruit they should never
eat, and the wine they should never drink. Thereto turned the King and
got off his horse and began to climb up the stony ridges of the
vineyard, and his lords in like manner followed him, wondering in
their hearts what was toward; but to the one who was following next
after him he turned about and said with a smile, "Yea, lords, this is
a new game we are playing to-day, and a new knowledge will come from
it." And the lord smiled, but somewhat sourly.
As for the peasants, great was their fear of those gay and golden
lords. I judge that they did not know the King, since it was little
likely that any one of them had seen his face; and they knew of him
but as the Great Father, the mighty warrior who kept the Turk from
harrying their thorpe. Though, forsooth, little matter was it to any
man there whether Turk or Magyar was their over-lord, since to one
master or another they had to pay the due tale of labouring days in
the year, and hard was the livelihood that they earned for themselves
on the days when they worked for themselves and their wives and
Well, belike they knew not the King; but amidst those rich lords they
saw and knew their own lord, and of him they were sore afraid. But
nought it availed them to flee away from those strong men and strong
horses--they who had been toiling from before the rising of the sun,
and now it wanted little more than an hour of noon: besides, with the
King and lords was a guard of crossbowmen, who were left the other
side of the vineyard wall,--keen-eyed Italians of the mountains,
straight shooters of the bolt. So the poor folk fled not; nay they
made as if all this were none of their business, and went on with
their work. For indeed each man said to himself, "If I be the one
that is not slain, to-morrow I shall lack bread if I do not work my
hardest to-day; and maybe I shall be headman if some of these be slain
and I live."
Now comes the King amongst them and says: "Good fellows, which of you
is the headman?"
Spake a man, sturdy and sunburnt, well on in years and grizzled: "I am
the headman, lord."
"Give me thy hoe, then," says the King; "for now shall I order this
matter myself, since these lords desire a new game, and are fain to
work under me at vine-dressing. But do thou stand by me and set me
right if I order them wrong: but the rest of you go play!"
The carle knew not what to think, and let the King stand with his hand
stretched out, while he looked askance at his own lord and baron, who
wagged his head at him grimly as one who says, "Do it, dog!"
Then the carle lets the hoe come into the King's hand; and the King
falls to, and orders his lords for vine-dressing, to each his due
share of the work: and whiles the carle said yea and whiles nay to his
ordering. And then ye should have seen velvet cloaks cast off, and
mantles of fine Flemish scarlet go to the dusty earth; as the lords
and knights busked them to the work.
So they buckled to; and to most of them it seemed good game to play at
vine-dressing. But one there was who, when his scarlet cloak was off,
stood up in a doublet of glorious Persian web of gold and silk, such
as men make not now, worth a hundred florins the Bremen ell. Unto him
the King with no smile on his face gave the job of toing and froing up
and down the hill with the biggest and the frailest dung-basket that
there was; and thereat the silken lord screwed up a grin, that was
sport to see, and all the lords laughed; and as he turned away he
said, yet so that none heard him, "Do I serve this son's son of a
whore that he should bid me carry dung?" For you must know that the
King's father, John Hunyad, one of the great warriors of the world,
the Hammer of the Turks, was not gotten in wedlock, though he were a
Well, they sped the work bravely for a while, and loud was the
laughter as the hoes smote the earth and the flint stones tinkled and
the cloud of dust rose up; the brocaded dung-bearer went up and down,
cursing and swearing by the White God and the Black; and one would say
to another, "See ye how gentle blood outgoes churls' blood, even when
the gentle does the churl's work: these lazy loons smote but one
stroke to our three." But the King, who worked no worse than any,
laughed not at all; and meanwhile the poor folk stood by, not daring
to speak a word one to the other; for they were still sore afraid, not
now of being slain on the spot, but this rather was in their hearts:
"These great and strong lords and knights have come to see what work a
man may do without dying: if we are to have yet more days added to our
year's tale of lords' labour, then are we lost without remedy." And
their hearts sank within them.
So sped the work; and the sun rose yet higher in the heavens, and it
was noon and more. And now there was no more laughter among those
toiling lords, and the strokes of the hoe and mattock came far slower,
while the dung-bearer sat down at the bottom of the hill and looked
out on the river; but the King yet worked on doggedly, so for shame
the other lords yet kept at it. Till at last the next man to the King
let his hoe drop with a clatter, and swore a great oath. Now he was a
strong black-bearded man in the prime of life, a valiant captain of
that famous Black Band that had so often rent the Turkish array; and
the King loved him for his sturdy valour; so he says to him, "Is aught
"Nay, lord," says he, "ask the headman carle yonder what ails us."
"Headman," says the King, "what ails these strong knights? Have I
ordered them wrongly?"
"Nay, but shirking ails them, lord," says he, "for they are weary; and
no wonder, for they have been playing hard, and are of gentle blood."
"Is that so, lord," says the King, "that ye are weary already?"
Then the rest hung their heads and said nought, all save that captain
of war; and he said, being a bold man and no liar: "King, I see what
thou wouldst be at; thou hast brought us here to preach us a sermon
from that Plato of thine; and to say sooth, so that I may swink no
more, and go eat my dinner, now preach thy worst! Nay, if thou wilt
be priest I will be thy deacon. Wilt thou that I ask this labouring
carle a thing or two?"
"Yea," said the King. And there came, as it were, a cloud of thought
over his face.
Then the captain straddled his legs and looked big, and said to the
carle: "Good fellow, how long have we been working here?"
"Two hours or thereabout, judging by the sun above us," says he.
"And how much of thy work have we done in that while?" says the
captain, and winks his eye at him withal.
"Lord," says the carle, grinning a little despite himself, "be not
wroth with my word. In the first half-hour ye did five-and-forty
minutes' work of ours, and in the next half-hour scant a thirty
minutes' work, and the third half-hour a fifteen minutes' work, and in
the fourth half-hour two minutes' work." The grin now had faded from
his face, but a gleam came into his eyes as he said: "And now, as I
suppose, your day's work is done, and ye will go to your dinner, and
eat the sweet and drink the strong; and we shall eat a little
rye-bread, and then be working here till after the sun has set and the
moon has begun to cast shadows. Now for you, I wot not how ye shall
sleep nor where, nor what white body ye shall hold in your arms while
the night flits and the stars shine; but for us, while the stars yet
shine, shall we be at it again, and bethink ye for what! I know not
what game and play ye shall be devising for to-morrow as ye ride back
home; but for us when we come back here to-morrow, it shall be as if
there had been no yesterday and nothing done therein, and that work of
that to-day shall be nought to us also, for we shall win no respite
from our toil thereby, and the morrow of to-morrow will all be to
begin again once more, and so on and on till no to-morrow abideth us.
Therefore, if ye are thinking to lay some new tax or tale upon us,
think twice of it, for we may not bear it. And all this I say with
the less fear, because I perceive this man here beside me, in the
black velvet jerkin and the gold chain on his neck, is the King; nor
do I think he will slay me for my word since he hath so many a Turk
before him and his mighty sword!"
Then said the captain: "Shall I smite the man, O King? or hath he
preached thy sermon for thee?"
"Smite not, for he hath preached it," said the King. "Hearken to the
carle's sermon, lords and councillors of mine! Yet when another hath
spoken our thought, other thoughts are born therefrom, and now have I
another sermon to preach; but I will refrain me as now. Let us down
and to our dinner."
So they went, the King and his gentles, and sat down by the river
under the rustle of the poplars, and they ate and drank and were
merry. And the King bade bear up the broken meats to the
vine-dressers, and a good draught of the archer's wine, and to the
headman he gave a broad gold piece, and to each man three silver
pennies. But when the poor folk had all that under their hands, it
was to them as though the kingdom of heaven had come down to earth.
In the cool of the evening home rode the King and his lords. The King
was distraught and silent; but at last the captain, who rode beside
him, said to him: "Preach me now thine after-sermon, O King!"
"I think thou knowest it already," said the King, "else hadst thou not
spoken in such wise to the carle; but tell me what is thy craft and
the craft of all these, whereby ye live, as the potter by making pots,
and so forth?"
Said the captain: "As the potter lives by making pots, so we live by
robbing the poor."
Again said the King: "And my trade?"
Said he, "Thy trade is to be a king of such thieves, yet no worser
than the rest."
The King laughed.
"Bear that in mind," said he, "and then shall I tell thee my thought
while yonder carle spake. 'Carle,' I thought, 'were I thou or such as
thou, then would I take in my hand a sword or a spear, or were it only
a hedge-stake, and bid others do the like, and forth would we go; and
since we would be so many, and with nought to lose save a miserable
life, we would do battle and prevail, and make an end of the craft of
kings and of lords and of usurers, and there should be but one craft
in the world, to wit, to work merrily for ourselves and to live
Said the captain: "This then is thy sermon. Who will heed it if thou
Said the King: "They who will take the mad king and put him in a
king's madhouse, therefore do I forbear to preach it. Yet it SHALL be
"And not heeded," said the captain, "save by those who head and hang
the setters forth of new things that are good for the world. Our trade
is safe for many an many a generation."
And therewith they came to the King's palace, and they ate and drank
and slept and the world went on its ways.