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WALES. Vol. IV.] NOVEMBER, 1897. [No. 43. THE BARDS AND THE FRIARS. HE end of the Middle Ages is characterised by the mighty struggle be¬ tween the secular and the spiritual power, —between the Empire and the Papacy. The same strife was going on in England, and at the same time. The mendicant friars had come as the regenerators of society, as the friends of the leper and the outcast, as the heralds of learning and art, as the fearless denouncers of the rich who knew no charity, of the strong who remembered not mercy. After the atheism and immorality of the Crusades, after their brutality and leprosy,—the friar brought purity and sympathy and God back into the desert world. The Crusader sought Christ's grave in a far away land, and came back brutal and diseased,—as if Christ were dead indeed. The friar came and taught men that Christ was still alive, and walked as his Saviour had done, doing good among men, and wearing his crown of thorns. But, before two centuries were over, the friars themselves had degenerated, —their fervent preaching had degenerated into mere mountebank tricks, their learn¬ ing into the most barren scholasticism, their asceticism and poverty had given place to luxury and wealth,—luxury and wealth which were odious because the friars still made believe that they fasted and prayed in poverty for the love of God and the redemption of man. Poets are not a saintly race,—few of them have been canonized,— but, saints or sinners, one thing they have always done, they have always torn off the cloak of hypocrisy and poured the most withering scorn on cant. The English monks and friars of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries have been immortalized in their hypocrisy, held up to the ridicule of all ages, by a poet who represents the rich they flattered, and by a poet who represents the poor they neglected. The monk of Chaucer will never die. He should have been poor and pen¬ sive, loving the solitude of his cloister, in deep meditation over the wonderful truths of God. But he was a gay rider, with his bridle " Jingling in the whistling wind as clear Ana eek as loud as doth the chapel bell," The rule of St. Benedict was old and too stringent, the monk of the fourteenth century had had better light, and believed that it was foolishness to make himself mad by poring over musty books, and that it was downright sin to work. He made the best of God's mercies and followed his greyhounds through the glades. The pale penance-worn monk had become a " lord full fat, and in good point." His plain garment had been doffed or barely hid his curious gold pins and his love knots, was embroidered with grey rabbit fur, the finest in the land. " Now certainly he was a fair prelate, He was not pale as a for-pyned ghost. A fat swan loved he best of any roast; His palfrey was as brown as is a berry." The friar had come later, with a nobler and more difficult task, but his degeneracy had only been the faster, and the con¬ trast is more striking between his loose life and the iron severity of the rules of his order, between the unutterable mean¬ ness of his aims and the noble self-sacrifice and lofty ideals of St, Dominic and St. 21 241