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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 2 Chapter 10: Government

How Abbot Samson, giving his new subjects seriatim the kiss of fatherhood in the St. Edmundsbury chapterhouse, proceeded with cautious energy to set about reforming their disjointed distracted way of life; how he managed with his Fifty rough Milites (Feudal Knights), with his lazy Farmers, remiss refractory Monks, with Pope’s Legates, Viscounts, Bishops, Kings; how on all sides he laid about him like a man, and putting consequence on premiss, and everywhere the saddle on the right horse, struggled incessantly to educe organic method out of lazily fermenting wreck, -- the careful reader will discern, not without true interest, in these pages of Jocelin Boswell. In most antiquarian quaint costume, not of garments alone, but of thought, word, action, outlook and position, the substantial figure of a man with eminent nose, bushy brows and clear-flashing eyes, his russet beard growing daily greyer, is visible, engaged in true governing of men. It is beautiful how the chrysalis governing-soul, shaking off its dusty slough and prison, starts forth winged, a true royal soul! Our new Abbot has a right honest unconscious feeling, without insolence as without fear or flutter, of what he is and what others are. A courage to quell the proudest, an honest pity to encourage the humblest. Withal there is a noble reticence in this Lord Abbot: much vain unreason he hears; lays up without response. He is not there to expect reason and nobleness of others; he is there to give them of his own reason and nobleness. Is he not their servant, as we said, who can suffer from them, and for them; bear the burden their poor spindle-limbs totter and stagger under; and in virtue thereof govern them, lead them out of weakness into strength, out of defeat into victory!

One of the first Herculean Labours Abbot Samson undertook, or the very first, was to institute a strenuous review and radical reform of his economics. It is the first labour of every governing man, from Paterfamilias to Dominus Rex. To get the rain thatched out from you is the preliminary of whatever farther, in the way of speculation or of action, you may mean to do. Old Abbot Hugo’s budget, as we saw, had become empty, filled with deficit and wind. To see his account-books clear, be delivered from those ravening flights of Jew and Christian creditors, pouncing on him like obscene harpies wherever he shewed face, was a necessity for Abbot Samson.

On the morrow after his instalment, he brings in a load of money-bonds, all duly stamped, sealed with this or the other Convent Seal: frightful, unmanageable, a bottomless confusion of Convent finance. There they are; -- but there at least they all are; all that shall be of them. Our Lord Abbot demands that all the official seals in use among us be now produced and delivered to him. Three-and-thirty seals turn up; are straightway broken, and shall seal no more: the Abbot only, and those duly authorised by him shall seal any bond. There are but two ways of paying debt; increase of industry in raising income, increase of thrift in laying it out. With iron energy, in slow but steady undeviating perseverance, Abbot Samson sets to work in both directions. His troubles are manifold: cunning milites, unjust bailiffs, lazy sockmen, he an inexperienced Abbot; relaxed lazy monks, not disinclined to mutiny in mass: but continued vigilance, rigorous method, what we call ‘the eye of the master,’ work wonders. The clear-beaming eyesight of Abbot Samson, steadfast, severe, all-penetrating, -- it is like Fiat lux in that inorganic waste whirlpool; penetrates gradually to all nooks, and of the chaos makes a kosmos or ordered world!

He arranges everywhere, struggles unweariedly to arrange, and place on some intelligible footing, the ‘affairs and dues, res ac redditus,’ of his dominion. The Lakenheath eels cease to breed squabbles between human beings; the penny of reap-silver to explode into the streets the Female Chartism of St. Edmundsbury. These and innumerable greater things. Wheresoever Disorder may stand or lie, let it have a care; here is the man that has declared war with it, that never will make peace with it. Man is the Missionary of Order; he is the servant not of the Devil and Chaos, but of God and the Universe! Let all sluggards and cowards, remiss, false-spoken, unjust, and otherwise diabolic persons have a care: this is a dangerous man for them. He has a mild grave face; a thoughtful sternness, a sorrowful pity: but there is a terrible flash of anger in him too; lazy monks often have to murmur, “Sævit ut lupus, He rages like a wolf; was not our Dream true!” ‘To repress and hold-in such sudden anger he was continually careful,’ and succeeded well: -- right, Samson; that it may become in thee as noble central heat, fruitful, strong, beneficent; not blaze out, or the seldomest possible blaze out, as wasteful volcanoism to scorch and consume!

“We must first creep, and gradually learn to walk,” had Abbot Samson said of himself, at starting. In four years he has become a great walker; striding prosperously along; driving much before him. In less than four years, says Jocelin, the Convent Debts were all liquidated: the harpy Jews not only settled with, but banished, bag and baggage, out of the Bannaleuca (Liberties, Banlieue) of St. Edmundsbury, -- so has the King’s Majesty been persuaded to permit. Farewell to you, at any rate; let us, in no extremity, apply again to you! Armed men march them over the borders, dismiss them under stern penalties, -- sentence of excommunication on all that shall again harbour them here: there were many dry eyes at their departure.

New life enters everywhere, springs up beneficent, the Incubus of Debt once rolled away. Samson hastes not; but neither does he pause to rest. This of the Finance is a life-long business with him; -- Jocelin’s anecdotes are filled to weariness with it. As indeed to Jocelin it was of very primary interest. But we have to record also, with a lively satisfaction, that spiritual rubbish is as little tolerated in Samson’s Monastery as material. With due rigour, Willelmus Sacrista, and his bibations and tacenda are, at the earliest opportunity, softly, yet irrevocably put an end to. The bibations, namely, had to end; even the building where they used to be carried on was razed from the soil of St. Edmundsbury, and ‘on its place grow rows of beans:’ Willelmus himself, deposed from the Sacristry and all offices, retires into obscurity, into absolute taciturnity unbroken thenceforth to this hour. Whether the poor Willelmus did not still, by secret channels, occasionally get some slight wetting of vinous or alcoholic liquor, -- now grown, in a manner, indispensable to the poor man? Jocelin hints not; one knows not how to hope, what to hope! But if he did, it was in silence and darkness; with an ever-present feeling that teetotalism was his only true course. Drunken dissolute Monks are a class of persons who had better keep out of Abbot Samson’s way. Sævit ut lupus; was not the Dream true! murmured many a Monk. Nay Ranulf de Glanville, Justiciary in Chief, took umbrage at him, seeing these strict ways; and watched farther with suspicion: but discerned gradually that there was nothing wrong, that there was much the opposite of wrong.

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