The veil is lifted up from the England of a century and a half ago; its geographical, industrial, social, and moral condition is revealed; and, as the panorama passes before us of lonely heaths, fortified farm-houses, bands of robbers, rude country squires doling out the odds and ends of their coarse fare to clerical dependents, rough roads, serviceable only for horseback travelling, towns with unlighted streets, reeking with filth and offal, and prisons, damp, loathsome, infected with disease, and swarming with vermin, we are filled with wonder at the contrast which it presents to the England of our day.
He, at least, was true to her; he, at least, believed in her perfection. The stout country squires, who could have given her houses and lands, had never stooped to flatter her foibles; had shown themselves heartlessly indifferent to her dragooning of the model villagers; had even hinted their pity for the villagers under that martial rule.
The wife of the present Lord Clifford, the beautiful and accomplished Lady Margaret, was the only child, consequently the heiress of Henry Bromflete Lord de Vesci, who was also possessed of large estates, one of which was Londesborough in Yorkshire, so that Henry, the hero of this tale, was born heir to great riches and honours, and in his childhood was surrounded with all the magnificence of a royal prince, for his father lived in kingly state, and his mother had her maids of honour, her squires and pages, just like a queen.
It may be confidently affirmed that of the squires whose names were then in the Commissions of Peace and Lieutenancy not one in twenty went to town once in five years, or had ever in his life wandered so far as Paris. Many lords of manors had received an education differing little from that of their menial servants.
"Aye, there is news: may the Saints have mercy!" one of the burghers answered to the quick questions of the visitors from the hamlets. "And it is strange news, I wot Heaven help us! For that was our own Seigneur, Pietro Davilla, new created a Knight of St. John, and gone but this morning, with all the gentlemen and squires of his household, to pay his homage a leal Knight to Her Majesty.
And the men would not be silenced; they had gazed on their divinest, and it was for the women to succumb to that unwholesome state, so full of thunder. Knights and squires, military and rural, threw up their allegiance right and left to devote themselves to this robust new vision, and in their peculiar manner, with a general View-halloo, and Yoicks, Tally-ho, and away we go, pelt ahead!
It is the recognition by Bethmann-Hollweg that this vicious system must be changed that brought down on him the wrath of the Prussian country squires, who for so long have ruled the German Empire, filling places, civil and military, with their children and relatives.
He commanded the players to halt, saying he wanted to teach them how to be courteous to donkeys and animals that served squires and knights errant for steeds. The merrymakers could tell by his stentorian tone that he was not jesting, so they all quickly jumped out of the cart and armed themselves with stones.
Townshend, a brilliant but shallow rhetorician whom Pitt had been driven reluctantly to make his Chancellor of the Exchequer, after angering the House of Commons by proposals for an increase of the land-tax, strove to win back popularity among the squires by undertaking to raise a revenue from America.
Widows of rural thanes in the neighbourhood, genteel spinsters, officers retired on half-pay, younger sons of rich squires, who had now become old bachelors, in short, a very respectable, proud, aristocratic set, who thought more of themselves than do all the Gowers and Howards, Courtenays and Seymours, put together.