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Alfred J. Church

Of the Eliots Again

Of our journey into Shropshire it skilleth not to tell. Let it suffice to say that it was made safely and without mischance. The household at Berwick, for I have not as yet, methinks, told the name of Master Eliot's dwelling, seemed to me somewhat less cheerful than it had been at my first coming. Master Eliot himself was troubled of aspect and bare his years, which as yet were scarce threescore, more heavily than of old. These were, indeed, evil times for men that would live peaceably and mind their own business; and the dwellers in the country fared worse than the townsmen, for not only were they constrained to give up their hay and corn for scant payment, yea, oftentimes without price, great or small, but their fields were trodden down by the mere passing to and fro of armies. Also the whole country was overrun with sturdy vagabonds and masterful beggars, that had been wounded in the wars, or feigned themselves so to have been. Many knaves there be at all times who love to live idly rather than to work with their own hands; such did gladly take occasion by this war to follow their own ways, and did pretend themselves to be soldiers discharged for sickness or wounds, though they had never struck a blow either for York or Lancaster, or so much as seen a tented field. But there were also, in very truth, many who had been compelled by this war and by that which before was fought with such ill-fortune in France, to beg, as it were, upon the high-road. For some were maimed, having but one leg or one arm; and some were palsied (for sickness ever leaveth behind it more wounds than doth the sword), and many had lost such slender estate as they had. Verily, these were not days when a man could sit at peace under his own vine and his own fig-tree, but he must needs hold the plough or the sickle in one hand and the sword in the other, and be content with a portion, be it ever so small, of the fruit of his own labours.

Small marvel, then, if Master Eliot was like to one troubled with many things. Mistress Eliot, also, being, as a good wife should be, of one mind with her husband, was less blithe of aspect than before. Nevertheless, she bare bravely up, and failed not with comfort and counsel. As for Mistress Alice, that before was full of mirth and laughter, verily a "playful Galatea," as Virgil hath it of some nymph of the country, she was sobered, not altogether with care, but with happiness, being promised in marriage to a yeoman of fair estate that dwelt on the west side of Severn. This said yeoman, Robert Tudor by name, who had a far-away kinship with the Owen Tudor that did wed with Queen Katharine and was slain about this time at Mortimer's Cross, did come daily to Berwick; and Mistress Alice, though she had been wont to laugh at lovesick youths and maids, had no eyes for aught else when he was present, nor thoughts for aught else when he was absent. As for Willie, he had daily more and more the whole care of things upon his young shoulders, and was not a little burdened by it. Of Mistress Joan I have it not in my heart to write many words. Let it suffice to say that there grew up within me in those days a hope so strong that the breaking down thereof was like to have broken down my life. That she loved me I say not, and indeed know that it was not so. Yet did she begin to have for me such a regard as doth often, when it hath a prosperous course, lead unto love. And though at the first it troubled me, being, as I have before written, unskilled in such matters, that she seemed to behave less friendly, yet afterwards I noted, not without much pleasure, that she would turn her eyes to the ground when I spake, and would change her colour, nor would look me, as before, in the face. As for me, though I delayed, not being willing to risk so much without full assurance, to ask her love directly, yet I did sufficiently reveal that which was in my heart, being encouraged thereto by what Bishop William had said concerning my advancement in that course of life which I had chosen. And I do believe that there is never a woman in the world but is somewhat touched by the manifest love of a man, especially if she be of so tender a soul as was Joan Eliot.

This summer of the year 1462 was, I remember, as full of rain and storm as the same season nine years before, when I did first see Berwick, abounded in sunshine. The hay was yet in the fields when we came thither at the first beginning of August, and could not be gathered in till it had well-nigh lost all colour and savour; as for the corn, I saw some of it, in the low-lying lands, surrounded with water; nay, some was carried away by a great flood, which, as I shall hereafter write, did come down Severn from the Welsh mountains and carry him over all his bounds about the Feast of St. Michael. From these causes came no little care and trouble, and also much increase of labour, seeing that the work which was done on one day had to be done yet again on the morrow.

During these days it came into my mind to examine the books which, as I have before said, Mistress Eliot had inherited from a certain kinsman of hers that was a learned clerk at Wednesbury, in which books I found that which repaid my pains many times. This Sir Richard Warrington had travelled in Italy, a country which did then, even as it doth now, incomparably surpass this realm of England in the zealous following of learning. And in Italy he had fallen in with one Bracciolini, otherwise called Poggio, than whom there hath never been, from the days of the Romans themselves, any man more learned in the Latin tongue. With this man, of whose decease I do remember to have heard not long after my first going to Oxford, he consorted much at Florence, and was greatly furthered by him in his studies, as. I learned by certain notices which I found among his books. For this Poggio gave him free access to his library, in which there were to be found not only such books of the Latin writers as are commonly to be found in such places, but others also which were then newly discovered (in which business of discovery Poggio himself had had marvellous good fortune), and which even at this date of writing are known to but few only. Portions of these, but not the whole (either because of the too great cost or because the said Poggio would not suffer it), Master Warrington had caused to be transcribed for him. Among which writings was the first book of Lucretius, "Concerning the Universe," right noble poem, but of the detestable philosophy of them who say there is no God. But because I had turned my thoughts from arts to laws I did not give much heed to these matters, but rather to another volume which Master Warrington had brought with him from Florence, to wit, the Digesta of Justinianus, sometime Emperor of the East, wherein was included the whole body of the law of the Romans. And there was yet another book of which I must needs make some mention. It was a volume of some hundred pages, very neatly writ, and on the inner side of the cover, fastened thereto with paste, a letter which I will here transcribe, or rather translate, for it was of the most elegant latinity.

"Poggius to Richard Warrington, Greeting.

"I fear greatly that we shall never more interchange words with the living voice, for with both of us our age is far advanced, and there are between us, as Homerus hath it, 'the shadows of mountains and the roaring of the sea.' I send thee, therefore, as a pledge of regard and friendship, this book, which I have but lately purchased from a young Greek, Constantine Dioscorides by name, that hath fled hither from the city of Constantinople, lately taken, as thou knowest, by the infidels. Many others of the same nation are there now in Italy, so that the Greek tongue, in which, as thou knowest, in time past few only bestowed so much as a thought, is now diligently learnt by many. Now I know thee to be one that will never cease from learning so long as life shall be left thee. Therefore I send thee these elements of the Greek tongue with the more confidence. For if Cato, being now an old man, learnt Greek that he might not be behind the younger generation, wilt not thou do the same that thou mayest read the words of Christ and His apostles even as they themselves spake them.

"Written this fourteenth day of March, 1454"

This book was a grammar of the Greek tongue, writ in Latin, having at the end thereof certain passages wherewith the learner might conveniently exercise himself, among which passages were certain portions of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and of the Acts of the Holy Apostles, and from profane authors certain fables of Æsop and verses of Solon, the same that did make laws for the city of Athens.

This book I showed to John Eliot, saying much of how precious it was. And in the space of two or three days after saith to me John Eliot the elder, his wife and children being present with him, "Thomas, though thou lookest, I know, for no rewards for thy service done to us, yet we would fain show by some visible proof and token that we are not ungrateful. Take, therefore, if thou wilt, this book, which my wife, we all consenting, giveth to thee." And he gave into my hands the book of the Greek elements, which I, though I was ashamed to take so precious a gift, was fain to receive; and indeed I keep it to this day, and shall keep it till I die.