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With him ther rood a gentil Pardoner
A vernicle hadde he sowed on his cappe
HAVE no plea to make for this fourteenth
century pardoner. He was an impudent vagabond, trafficking in damaged goods. One did not need to be a Lollard in order to see that he was a reprehensible character. Discerning persons in need of relics would go to responsible dealers where they could be assured of getting their money's worth. This glib-tongued fellow peddling religious articles from door to door lived on the credulity of untraveled country people. He took advantage of their weaknesses. Many a good wife would purchase a pardon she had no need of, simply because he offered it as a bargain. This was all wrong. We all know how the business of indulgence-selling was overdone. There was a general loss of confidence on the part of the purchasing public; and at last in the days of the too enterprising Tetzel there came a disastrous slump. There was no market for pardons, even of the gilt-edged varieties. Since then very little has been doing in this line, at least among the northern nations.
The pardoner richly deserved his fate. And yet there are times when one would give something to see the merry knave coming down the road.
I suppose that the nature of each individual has its point of moral saturation. When this point is reached, it is of no use to continue exhortation or rebuke or any kind of didactic effort. Even the finest quality of righteous indignation will no longer soak in. With me the point of moral saturation comes when I attend successively more meetings of a reformatory and denunciatory character than nature intended me to profit by. If they are well distributed in point of time, I can take in a considerable number of good causes and earnestly reprobate an equal number of crying evils. But there is a certain
monotony of rebuke which I am sure is not beneficial to persons of my disposition. That some things are wrong I admit, but when I am peremptorily ordered to believe that everything is wrong, it arouses in me a certain obstinacy of contradiction. I might be led to such a belief, but I will not be driven to it. I rebel against those censors of manners and morals who treat all human imperfectnesses with equal rigor. To relax even for an instant the righteous frown over the things that are going wrong, into an indulgent smile at the things that are not nearly so bad as they seem, is in their eyes nothing less than compounding a felony. If they would allow proper intervals between protests, so that the conscience could cool down, all would be well. But this is just what they will not allow. The wheels must go round without intermission until progress is stopped by the disagreeable accident of “a hot box.”
You remember after Mrs. Proudie had given her guests a severe lesson in social ethics, the Signora asked in her hearing,
“. Is she always like this ? ' “« Yes — always — madam,' said Mrs. Proudie, returning; always the same - always equally adverse to impropriety of conduct of every description.”
Mrs. Proudie was an excellent woman according to her light, yet Barchester would have been a happier place to live in had her light been less constant. A little flicker now and then, a momentary relief from the glare, would have been appreciated.
It is when the note of personal responsibility has been forced beyond my ability that I feel beneath my inherited Puritanism the stirring of a vague Papistry. Instead of joining another protesting society beginning with that feverish particle “anti,” how delightful it would be to go out and dicker with a well-conditioned pardoner
Streight comen fro the Court of Rome! Wearied with diatribes and resolutions, one falls back upon the guileless bargainings of Simple Simon. “Let me taste your ware,” say
I. “Show me first your penny,” says the pardoner.
There is a renewal of one's youth in this immortal repartee.
There is no greater relief than to go out and buy something, especially if one can buy it cheap. A great part of the attractiveness of the mediæval indulgences lay in the fact that you could buy them. They would not have seemed the same if they had been given away, or if you had to work them out like a road tax. To go out and buy a little heart's ease was an enticement.
Then again, the natural man, when he has to do with an institution, is in a passive rather than in an active mood. If it is instituted for his betterment, he says,
“ Let it better me." It seems too bad that in the end it should throw all the responsibility back upon himself.
A delightful old English traveler criticises the methods of transportation he found in vogue in parts of Germany. He says that on the Rhine it was customary to make the passengers do the rowing: “ Their custome is that the passengers must exercise themselves with oares and rowing, alternis vicibus, a couple together. So that the master of the boate (who methinks in honestie ought either to do it himself or to procure some others to do it for him) never roweth but when his turne commeth. This exercise both for recreation and health sake is I confesse very convenient