12 OCTOBER 1934, Page 20

Restoration England


MACAULAY'S brilliantly compressed third chapter has found a rival in Mr. Bryant's book, which is of comparable length, and deals with an England a little earlier than Macaulay's.

Its sub-title is What happened to ordinary people on ordinary days in the reign of Charles II." Mr. Bryant, whose work on the monarch himself has received no snore than its due quota of praise, likes the period and the people who lived in it : dwelling among them, he " feels the sinews of his soul grow hale." Here, he suggests, was good old England, democratic England, even, it seems, " merrie England." He would hardly have anything altered in this paradise, not even the deficiencies in sanitation, though he admits that "all this seems revolting to modern taste." At least we must assume that he would have not even this changed, for he fails to mention what Mr. Ogg tells us, that in 1662 an Act appointed commissioners to make sewers and drains, and forbade people to throw their refuse in front of their houses.

He and Mr. Ogg also differ in their view as to the value of the education of those days ; Mr. Bryant sees it as " a hard mental discipline." " And since classical education was the lot of r early all who held governing positions in Church and State, the community suffered perhaps less than it does today from rulers without the power to make up their minds." That is shrewd, except that rulers today do not have to make up their minds : these arc made up for them by vested interests and an efficient civil service. Mr. Ogg is not so satisfied :

"On the strength of an elementary knowledge of Latin syntax, many poor boys who might have been better employed as craftsmen were sent to the universities as sizars where, instead of liberal reading, they encountered Aristotelian logic, a narrow range of 4.1assival authors, and a great mass of theological polemic,"

in fact, the scholastic nonsense against which Milton had inveighed so bitterly. Yet, taking into account that Mr. Bryant regards the England of that day as static—for instance, though he mentions the wool trade, he does not say it was ecelining—and that he omits some of its scars—he nowhere refers to the prisons— the picture given in these two works is much the same, and not very different from that given by Macaulay. Mr. Bryant's work is lighter, more popular, though essentially scholarly ; it is the sort of book one can read through comfortably and pleasurably in an evening, being written in a sure and easy style which in its kind leaves nothing to be desired. Based on contemporary writings, including the Shakerley MS., to which he alone has access, he very properly omits the Court life, which in no way reflects that of the vast majority of English men and women at that time, and has been given undue prominence. And we should do well to regard his warning not to take the comedy of the period as a picture of life or thought or morality at that time ; and after all, comedy deals with what is unusual and

considered anti-social. Altergether it is a charming and fas- cinating volume, and we can agree with him that there was something about the vigour and .independence, the sense of

responsibility of the risen and women of those days we should do well to emulate now.

Compared, however, with Mr. Ogg's volumes, Mr. Bryant's work is only an introduction. Not only is Mr. Ogg much more

detailed, as naturally in the space allowed he would be, but he also covers the political issues, which Mr. Bryant scrupu-

lously avoids. Yet it is probable that the people of those days were much more politically minded than we are, or were till quite recently, as might be expected after a civil war ; for

though the history of the people is not made up of questions The England of Charles II. By Arthur Bryant. (Longmans. 6s. )—England in the Reign of Charles H. By David Ogg. (Milford. 2 vols. 30s.) of privilege or prerogative, of Exclusion Bills, and stops of the Exchequer, yet the popular furore at the time of the Popish Plot indicates that they were not lethargic about polities. Mr. Ogg begins with a chapter describing the political struggles between the death of Oliver and the Restoration, covering this tangled period in a few brief and lucid pages. There is a chapter on the administration of Clarendon, one on the second Anglo-Dutch war, another on Danby and the Parliamentary opposition, and so on. His conception is much more dynamic than Mr. Bryant's, and we are conscious of the gradual changes that came over the country in those formative twenty-live years. He lays more stress than Mr. Bryant does on the significance of colonial development and foreign trade, the beginnings of what we have come to know as the capitalist system, the advances made in mining and in agriculture. No longer can we give Townshend the glory of having seen the utility of turnips. Yet he does not neglect the social side, the daily life, and what he shows us is not unlike Mr. Bryant's picture.

Perhaps the most interesting chapters in these critical days of our polity, at least to those who wish their history to have some meaning for today, are those which Mr. Bryant names "The English Polity," and Mr. Ogg " Liberty of the Subject:' If Parliament was not democratic, at least it was a bulwark which preserved ancient legal rights against an encroaching executive. Each little unit in the country was governed by petty officials, but these were ordinary men forced to under- I take these obligations, and subject to the criticism of their neighbours. There might be big tyranny, but there could not be petty tyranny. England, in fact, was far more democratic than it is now. Whether or not it was freer is a different question. Minorities had a thin time. It was all very well if you were of the right religion, but if you were a Papist or a Quaker, or belonged to one of the innumerable sects, your soul was about all you could call your own, and your freedom of movement might be very restricted. The larger tyranny, especially that of the Exchequer, was merciless, and it was not until 1670 that the heroic Bushell, in the action against Penn and Meade, established the principle of the inviolability of the jury for its verdict. There was abundance of good, strong ale, the inns really were places of hospitality and comfort, in spite of Puritanism there was a good deal of junketing, especially at weddings and funerals, but we might find these

advantages overweighted by certain drawbacks. •

But there was at least abundance for everybody in an agricultural country which could even export its wheat. Foreign trade really benefited everybody, since it was an ' exchange of surplus commodities, which brought good things to England without the necessity of having to starve ourselves of our own products. The elaborate and costly game of foreign investment had not I.em invented, and the only bounties were export bounties, which naturally were later to meet with the condemnation of Adam Smith, who lived under a different dispensation. Game was plentiful, and the dis- covery of salt brought the benefit of salted fish to people whose winter fare was otherwise monotonous. English cloth was famous, though it was gradually being displaced by lighter material such as silk and cotton. The towns, Bristol, Norwich, York, Newcastle, were cultural centres of their own. Intellectual interest was changing its approach, and the foundation of the Royal Society was symptomatic of more than the idle curiosity of a few dilettantes. In short, it Was an interesting and a vital age, which may be read of with great pleasure in Mr. Bryant's volume, and with much of the profit to be obtained from Mr. Ogg's work, which, by no mans heavy reading, will be indispensable to the historian.