The best modern work on Richard II. is that of M. Wallon ("Richard II." Paris, 1864)].
All the darker and sterner aspects of the age which we have been viewing, its social revolt, its moral and religious awakening, the misery of the poor, the protest of the Lollard, are painted with a terrible fidelity in the poem of William Longland. Nothing brings more vividly home to us the social chasm which in the fourteenth century severed the rich from the poor than the contrast between the " Complaint of Piers the Ploughman" and the " Canterbury Tales." The world of wealth and ease and laughter through which the courtly Chaucer moves with eyes downcast as in a pleasant dream is a far-off world of wrong and of ungodliness to the gaunt poet of the poor. Born probably in Shropshire, where he had been put to school and received minor orders as a clerk, " Long Will," as Longland was nicknamed for his tall stature, found his way at an early age to London, and earned a miserable livelihood there by singing "placebos" and "diriges" in the stately funerals of his day. Men took the moody clerk for a madman; his bitter poverty quickened the defiant pride that made him loth - as he tells us - to bow to the gay lords and dames who rode decked in silver and minivere along the Cheap, or to exchange a "God save you " with the law sergeants as he passed their new house in the Temple. His world is the world of the poor: he dwells on the poor man's life, on his hunger and toil, his rough revelry and his despair, with the narrow intensity of a man who has no outlook beyond it.
[Authorities. - The "Annales Ricardi Secundi et Henrici Quarti," published by the Master of the Rolls, are our main authority. They form the basis of the St. Albans compilation which bears the name of Walsingham, and from which the Life of Richard by a monk of Evesham is for the most part derived. The same violent Lancastrian sympathy runs through Walsingham and the fifth book of Knyghton's Chronicle. The French authorities, on the other hand, are vehemently on Richard's side. Froissart, who ends at this time, is supplemented by the metrical history of Creton (" Archaeologia," vol. xx.) and the "Chronique de la Tra´son et Mort de Richart" (English Historical Society), both the works of French authors, and published in France in the time of Henry the Fourth, probably with the aim of arousing French feeling against the House of Lancaster and the war-policy it had revived. The popular feeling in England may be seen in "Political Songs from Edward III. to Richard III." (Rolls Series). The "Fœdera" and Rolls of Parliament are indispensable for this period: its constitutional importance has been ably illustrated by Mr. Hallam ("Middle Ages"). William Longland's poem, the "Complaint of Piers the Ploughman" (edited by Mr. Skeat for the Early English Text Society), throws a flood of light on the social condition of England at the time; a poem on "The Deposition of Richard II.," which has been published by the Camden Society, is now ascribed to the same author.
The narrowness, the misery, the monotony of the life he paints reflect themselves in his verse. It is only here and there that a love of nature or a grim earnestness of wrath quicken his rime into poetry; there is not a gleam of the bright human sympathy of Chaucer, of his fresh delight in the gaiety, the tenderness, the daring of the world about him, of his picturesque sense of even its coarsest contrasts, of his delicate irony, of his courtly wit. The cumbrous allegory, the tedious platitudes, the rimed texts from Scripture which form the staple of Longland's work, are only broken here and there by phrases of a shrewd common sense, by bitter outbursts, by pictures of a broad Hogarthian humour. What chains one to the poem is its deep undertone of sadness: the world is out of joint and the gaunt rimer who stalks silently along the Strand has no faith in his power to put it right. His poem covers indeed an age of shame and suffering such as England had never known, for if its first brief sketch appeared two years after the Peace of Brdtigny its completion may be dated at the close of the reign of Edward the Third, and its final issue preceded but by a single year the Peasant Revolt. Londoner as he is, Will's fancy flies far from the sin and suffering of the great city to a May-morning in the Malvern Hills. "I was wery forwandered and went me to rest under a broad bank by a burn side, and as I lay and leaned and looked in the water I slumbered in a sleeping, it sweyved (sounded) so merry." Just as Chaucer gathers the typical figures of the world he saw into his pilgrim train, so the dreamer gathers into a wide field his army of traders and chafferers, of hermits and solitaries, of minstrels, "japers and jinglers," bidders and beggars, ploughmen that "in setting and in sowing swonken (toil) full hard," pilgrims "with their wenches after," weavers and labourers, burgess and bondman, lawyer and scrivener, court-haunting bishops, friars, and pardoners "parting the silver" with the parish priest.
Their pilgrimage is not to Canterbury, but to Truth; their guide to Truth neither clerk nor priest but Peterkin the Ploughman, whom they find ploughing in his field. He it is who bids the knight no more wrest gifts from his tenant nor misdo with the poor. " Though he be thine underling here, well may hap in heaven that he be worthier set and with more bliss than thou.... For in charnel at church churles be evil to know, or a knight from a knave there." The gospel of equality is backed by the gospel of labour. The aim of the Ploughman is to work, and to make the world work with him. He warns the labourer as he warns the knight. Hunger is God's instrument in bringing the idlest to toil, and Hunger waits to work her will on the idler and the waster. On the eve of the great struggle between wealth and labour Longland stands alone in his fairness to both, in his shrewd political and religious common sense. In the face of the popular hatred which was to gather round John of Gaunt, he paints the Duke in a famous apologue as the cat who, greedy as she might be, at any rate keeps the noble rats from utterly devouring the mice of the people.