Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Villeins Be Happy, Very, Very Happy

A long time ago T.H. White wrote a brilliant rethink of the Arthurian legend.

He seems to have used the Mallory version mainly, but he does occasionally reference Tennyson.

The result is a book that reads like a modern novel laced with political commentary and myriad sly asides leaping from Arthur’s time to ours – and back – like a millennium spanning badminton match.

The entire work is called The Once and Future King.

It has four sections:


I have observed on various occasions in these posts that in America the endgame of the republican party is to return most Americans to a state of serfdom: I can see Paul Ryan saying “A villein thou art and a villein thou will remain” interspersed with pithy quotes from Ayn Rand (makers and takers and all that shit).

So I took note when I recently read the following from Chapter 14 of The Sword in the Stone.

(I have formatted it to correspond with the way I lay down thoughts in this blog. I hope it’s ok with Mr. White.)


“Everybody was happy.

The Saxons were slaves to their Norman masters if you chose to look at it in one way—but, if you chose to look at it in another, they were the same farm labourers who get along on too few shillings a week today.

Only neither the villein nor the farm labourer starved, when the master was a man like Sir Ector.

It has never been an economic proposition for an owner of cattle to starve his cows, so why should an owner of slaves starve them?

The truth is that even nowadays the farm labourer accepts so little money because he does not have to throw his soul in with the bargain—as he would have to do in a town—and the same freedom of spirit has obtained in the country since the earliest times.

The villeins were labourers.

They lived in the same one-roomed hut with their families, few chickens, litter of pigs, or with a cow possibly called Crumbocke—most dreadful and insanitary! But they liked it. They were healthy, free of an air with no factory smoke in it, and, which was most of all to them, their heart's interest was bound up with their skill in labour.

They knew that Sir Ector was proud of them.

They were more valuable to him than his cattle even, and, as he valued his cattle more than anything else except his children, this was saying a good deal.

He walked and worked among his villagers, thought of their welfare, and could tell the good workman from the bad.

He was the eternal farmer, in fact—one of those people who seem to be employing labour at so many shillings a week, but who are actually paying half as much again in voluntary overtime, providing a cottage free, and possibly making an extra present of milk and eggs and home-brewed beer into the bargain.

In other parts of Gramarye, of course, there did exist wicked and despotic masters—feudal gangsters whom it was to be King Arthur's destiny to chasten—but the evil was in the bad people who abused it, not in the feudal system.”

So I guess if we get to work for Sir Ector it’s not going to be so bad.

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