Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
The Good Yeoman
By Thomas Fuller (16081661)
From The Holy State
THE GOOD yeoman is a gentleman in ore, whom the next age may see refined; and is the wax capable of a genteel impression, when the prince shall stamp it. Wise Solon (who accounted Tellus the Athenian the most happy man, for living privately on his own lands) would surely have pronounced the English yeomanry a fortunate condition, living in the temperate zone betwixt greatness and want; an estate of people almost peculiar to England. France and Italy are like a die, which hath no points between cinque and acenobility and peasantry. Their walls, though high, must needs be hollow, wanting filling-stones. Indeed, Germany hath her boors, like our yeoman; but, by a tyrannical appropriation of nobility to some few ancient families, their yeomen are excluded from ever rising higher, to clarify their bloods. In England, the temple of honour is bolted against none who have passed through the temple of virtue; nor is a capacity to be genteel denied to our yeoman, who thus behaves himself:
He wears russet clothes, but makes golden payment.Having tin in his buttons, and silver in his pocket. If he chance to appear in clothes above his rank, it is to grace some great man with his service; and then he blusheth at his own bravery. Otherwise, he is the surest landmark whence foreigners may take aim of the ancient English customs; the gentry more floating after foreign fashions.
In his house he is bountiful both to strangers and to poor people.Some hold, when hospitality died in England, she gave her last groan amongst the yeomen of Kent. And still, at our yeomans table, you shall have as many joints as dishes; no meat disguised with strange sauces; no straggling joint of a sheep in the midst of a pasture of grass, beset with salads on every side; but solid, substantial food. No servitors (more nimble with their hands, than the guests with their teeth) take away meat, before stomachs are taken away. Here you have that which in itself is good, made better by the store of it, and best by the welcome to it.
He hath a great stroke in making the knight of the shire.Good reason, for he makes a whole line in the subsidy book; where, whatsoever he is rated, he pays without any regret, not caring how much his purse is let blood, so it be done by the advice of the physicians of the State.
He seldom goes far abroad, and his credit stretcheth further than his travel.He goes not to London, but se defendendo to save himself of a fine, being returned of a jury; where seeing the king once, he prays for him ever afterwards.
In his own country he is a main man in juries.Where, if the judge please to open his eyes in matter of law, he needs not to be led by the nose in matters of fact. He is very observant of the judges item, when it follows the truths imprimis; otherwise (though not mutinous in a jury,) he cares not whom he displeaseth, so he pleaseth his own conscience.
He improveth his land to a double value by his good husbandry.Some grounds that wept with water, or frowned with thorns, by draining the one, and clearing the other, he makes both to laugh and sing with corn. By marl and limestones burnt, he bettereth his ground; and his industry worketh miracles, by turning stones into bread. Conquest and good husbandry both enlarge the kings dominions; the one, by the sword, making the acres more in number; the other, by the plough, making the same acres more in value. Solomon saith, The king himself is maintained by husbandry. Pythis, a king, having discovered rich mines in his kingdom, employed all his people in digging of them; whence tilling was wholly neglected, insomuch as a great famine ensued. His queen, sensible of the calamities of the country, invited the king her husband to dinner, as he came home hungry from overseeing his workmen in the mines. She so contrived it, that the bread and meat were most artificially made of gold; and the king was much delighted with the conceit thereof, till at last he called for real meat to satisfy his hunger. Nay, said the queen, if you employ all your subjects in your mines, you must expect to feed upon gold; for nothing else can your kingdom afford.
In time of famine, he is the Joseph of the country, and keeps the poor from starving.Then he tameth1 his stacks of corn, which not his covetousness but providence hath reserved for time of need; and to his poor neighbours abateth somewhat of the high price of the market. The neighbour gentry court him for his acquaintance; which either he modestly waveth, or thankfully accepteth, but no way greedily desireth. He insults not on the ruins of a decayed gentleman, but pities and relieves him; and, as he is called Goodman, he desires to answer to the name, and to be so indeed.
In war, though he serveth on foot, he is ever mounted on a high spirit.As being a slave to none, and a subject only to his own prince. Innocence and independence make a brave spirit, whereas, otherwise, one must ask his leave to be valiant on whom one depends. Therefore, if a State run up all to noblemen and gentlemen, so that the husbandmen be only mere labourers or cottagers, (which one calls but housed beggars,) it may have good cavalry, but never good bands of foot; so that their armies will be like those birds called apodes, without feet, always only flying on their wings of horse. Wherefore, to make good infantry, it requireth men bred, not in a servile or indigent fashion, but in some free and, plentiful manner. Wisely, therefore, did that knowing prince, King Henry VII., provide laws for the increase of his yeomanry, that his kingdom should not be like to coppice woods; where, the staddles2 being left too thick, all runs to bushes and briars, and there is little clean underwood. For, enacting that houses used to husbandry should be kept up with a competent proportion of land, he did secretly sow Hydras teeth; whereupon, according to the poets fiction, should rise up armed men for the service of this kingdom.