If we define the Middle Ages as that period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Reformation, it will be admitted that the thousand and more years that elapsed were quite sufficient to see the development of the inn in Europe from a small, inconvenient structure to one of more imposing proportions and more romantic life.
Indeed, it might justly be said that at the beginning of the Middle Ages the inn was still the inn of antiquity, while at the close of this era it had undergone a species of change that brought it nearer to the hostelries of our day. It had ceased to be a tavern only, for it accommodated “both man and beast.”
One reason for the slow development will be found to be in the fact that in nearly all parts of Western Europe the wayfarer found abbeys and monasteries hospitably holding open their doors for him. These institutions of the Church in many instances were esteemed wealthy and their incomes were sufficient for them to lodge and feed worthy travellers for a small sum if they were able to give, and for nothing if they were too poor to make a return for their entertainment.
For some centuries before the Crusades excited Europe pilgrims were frequentlyperhaps constantlypassing from England and France to Rome, or to Venice, where they took passage on ships for Jaffa and thence, on donkeys, travelled to Jerusalem. Some of these pilgrimages were enforced upon the pilgrims by way of penance and the others were led to make the long, hazardous journey for the sake of pure spiritual satisfaction and enlightenment; still others, according to Hallam, went in a spirit of adventure. The abbeys and monasteries usually provided the stopping places on the way. In the Holy Land the pilgrim had to act the part of Gypsy, and carry with him food and drink, and get what shelter he could.
The necessity for better caring for these hordes of pilgrims which each year appeared to increase in size, led to the establishment of the Knights Hospitaliers, who sought to protect the visitors by erecting shelters or hospices for their accommodation. The first of these was founded about the middle of the eleventh century, before the Battle of Hastings, and probably paved the way for the Crusades which followed.
Pilgrimages were becoming common, but all of them did not have the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for their objective. Some were made to the shrines of Saints and many to the Eternal City. In England, as all readers of Chaucer know, pilgrims regularly left London to visit the shrine of St. Thomas a’Becket, the Martyr, in Canterbury. By the time Chaucer wrote the inn in England had reached the stage it continued to maintain for the next three centuries.
We catch a glimpse of the Southwark (London) inn, The Tabard, whence Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims set out. It has been suggested by commentators of Chaucer that the pilgrims did not make the journey from London to Canter-bury in a single day, since the distance is about sixty-four miles. There were stages in the journey and it has been suggested that four days were consumed by the Pilgrims.
Strangely enough, the information we have concerning the Tabard, and the pilgrimage noted by Chaucer, is obtained from an early editor of the poet’s works, Thomas Speght, who was responsible for the edition printed in 1598. Chaucer wrote more than half a century before the art of printing was invented, for the Canterbury Tales are supposed to date from 1383, and Chaucer died in the year 1400. Richard Morris, who edited the edition of the poet’s works in 1866, referring to the Tabard Inn, wrote:
“Mr. Speght, who appears to have been inquisitive concerning this inn in 1597, has left us this account of it in his Glossary, V. Tabard, `A jaquet, or sleeveless coate, worn in times past by Noblemen in the Warres, but now only by Heraults, and is called they’re coate of Armes in servise. It is the signe of an Inne in Southwarke by London, within the which was the lodging of the Abbot of Hyde by Winchester. This was the hostelry where Chaucer and the other pilgrims mett together, and, with Harry Bailey their hoste, accorded about the manner of their journey to Canter-bury. And whereas through time it hath bin much decaied, it is now by Master J. Preston, with the Abbot’s house thereto adjoyned, newly repaired, and with convenient roomes much encreased, for the receipt of many guests.’ ”
Mr. Morris, after noting that for many years a sign was hung out by the inn, called in 1866 The Talbot, noting that it was the identical house from which “Sir Jeffrey Chaucer and the twenty-nine Pilgrims lodged in their journey to Canterbury, Anno 1383,” goes on to give some history of the ancient hostelry, which was burned in 1873.
“While I am upon the subject of this famous Hostelry,” he wrote, “I will just add, that it was probably parcel of two tenaments which appear to have been conveyed by Witham deLudegarorle to the Abbott, &c de Hyda juxta Winton, in 1306, and which are described, in a former conveyance there recited, to extend in length, `a communi fossato de Suthwerke versus Orientem, usque Regiam viam de Suthwerke versus Occidentem.’ If we should ever be so happy as to recover the account books of the Abbey of Hyde, we may possibly learn what rent Harry Bailly paid for his inn, and many other important particulars.”
Although the Tabard was destroyed by fire in 1873, after having been condemned in 1866, it is interesting to note that it was located on the Borough High Street, in Southwark, not far from that White Hart Inn which, in addition to having been very ancient was made immortal from having been the scene of the first meeting of Mr. Pickwick and his inimitable servant, Sam Weller. There are several pictures extant of the Tabard. One of the last is that which appears as a frontispiece to Timbs’s “Clubs and Club Life in Lon-don,” 1872. John Urry’s edition of Chaucer, printed in 1721, gives a view of the ancient house as it was then, and in “The Gentleman’s Magazine” in 1812, another picture, which shows a galleried coach yard, was published. It should be explained that probably none of these pictures really gives us a correct representation of the Tabard which Chaucer must have seen, for that house or the greater part of it was destroyed by the fire that ravaged Southwark in 1676.
Those London Pilgrims who dwelt on the north side of the Thames had to cross London bridge and make their way through Southwark, if their destination was Canterbury, and the Tabard, which was not far from London Bridge, was a logical place for making the start. From Chaucer we learn considerable about the host of the Tabard who figures so prominently in that poet’s “Canterbury Tales.” Henry Morley, in his “English Writers,” paraphrases the poet’s description of the host and his wife in these words:
“Harry Bailly, also called Henry Balif, the host, was fit to be the marshal in a hall; large, deep-eyed, bold of speech, shrewd, manly, well informed. He had a big-armed, blabbing shrew for his wife, who brought him the clubbed staves when he beat his boys and cried, `Slay the dogs every one, and break their back and bone!’ She ramped in his face, and cried at him as a milksop who would not avenge her, if any neighbor failed to bow to her in church; and he must bear with her, unless he would fight her, which he dared not do. Some day she would be driving him, he said, to slay a neighbor, and then go his way, for he is dangerous with knife in hand. No wonder that the Host was ready for a pilgrimage to Canterbury, while his wife stayed by the Tabard.”
It is believed that the Tabard was originally intended as an ecclesiastical hostel designed for those who would make the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas. London had several similar institutions before the dissolution of the monasteries; one of these still survives in the Charter House, whose present walls do not appear to have been erected earlier than the Elizabethan period, but contain stone from the original monastery of Carthusian Monks who built the place in 1371. The popular name, Charter House,, will be recognized as a corruption of the name Chartreuse. We have no memories of the Charter House entertaining wayfarers, but of its later character as a “hospital” for forty poor boys and eighty poor men. We recall the connection with the institution of Thackeray, John Wesley, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island; and John Leech, the illustrator.
Froude, who has written the history of the reign of Henry VIII, and who was never friendly to the religious houses, wrote of the “Charter” house, the chief monastery in England of the religious order founded by St. Bruno, at the period of its dissolution, 1535, that it had a high reputation for believers, “perhaps the best ordered religious house in England. The hospitality was well sustained, the charities were profuse, the Carthusian monks were true to their vows and true to their duty.” Yet, the prior, and, as Froude relates, several of his monks were publicly executed, and great indignities performed upon their remains.
The Carthusians were not organized to provide for the welfare of travellers, although their storied hospitality might convey that impression, but in the sixteenth century the order had 206 monasteries throughout Europe, and these were daily called upon to shelter and entertain wayfarers, who never were turned away. The order was founded by St. Bruno in the eleventh century, and the site of the original group of modest buildings is occupied by a rather impressive assemblage of structures known to the world as La Grande Chartreuse, where the general of the Order formerly resided. This great house is in the Chartreuse Valley, in the neighborhood of Grenoble, in the Department of Savoie, France. Founded in 1084, the monastery was several times burned down and rebuilt, the last time in 1676; but under the Associations Law of France, passed in 1901, the monks were expelled in 1903. Since that time the historic character of the buildings was recognized and they were listed as a national monument, which in France means they must be preserved. For centuries visitors to these lower Alps were entertained at La Grande Chartreuse, and the monks even erected a special hostel for women travellers. Now, tourists have to stop at hotels at St. Pierre, two miles away, but are admitted to the quaint buildings of the monks at certain times of the day. Its glories are gone, but the casket remains.
In former days the monks each year made about 1,600,000 litres of their favored liqueur, the sale of which was a source of considerable revenue. They went to Tarragona, in Spain, after having been driven out of France, and there they still send out their aromatic beverage under the name of “Liqueur des Peres-Chartreux.” While the monks, who ate by themselves in their “cells,” excepting on Sunday, when they all sat at a table together, were frugal in their fare, they never imposed frugality on guests, who always were served with some of the best of their green Chartreuse. In some measure this compensated for the unappetizing meals, which one traveller tells us consisted of “eggs, and some little dried figs, and withered apples and a curious, tasteless fishI think with more bones than any ordinary fish possessesand soup which was at all events warm though it had no taste.” With catering of this kind, is it any wonder that they invented their matchless liqueur?
From the days of Hannibal the passes across the Southern Alps, between France and Italy, or between Italy and Switzerland, have been frequented by travellers, and made historic by the fortitude of armies which struggled over them. While all of the passes have their hospices, several of them maintained by Augustinian monks, that on the Great St. Bernard is the one most noted in history, and its story is a very old and very heroic one.
Whether Hannibal in his crossing with his great army and his elephants, most of which were lost on the way, did go by way of the Great St. Bernard Pass, is one of those historical questions which has not been settled satisfactorily to all students. Edward Holdsworth, an enthusiastic eighteenth century admirer of Virgil, who, because he projected a new edition of that poet’s Georgics, made many journeys to Italy in order to study the Roman “on the spot where he wrote,” took exceptions to Livy’s assertion that Hannibal did not go over Mt. Cenis, but passed a little to the right of it. This ancient historian has always been the authority for the assertion that the great General passed over the Great St. Bernard Pass. Holdsworth, who is quoted in Spence’s “Anecdotes,” placed more reliance on Polybius, who wrote that Hannibal passed over to the left of Mt. Cenis and descended into the Milanese. As both the Little St. Bernard and the Great St. Bernard lie to the left of Mt. Cenis, it would appear that Holdsworth has not been correctly quoted. The general impression seems to be that the Spanish general made his descent into Italy by choosing one of the St. Bernard passes which were known from very early times. The old Romans used it frequently and Constantine is said to have had the road over the Great St. Bernard improved in the year 339.
It seems certain that Charlemagne, who conquered Saxony and Lombardy in 773, and was crowned Emperor of the West in 800, or a thousand years after Hannibal’s exploit, crossed the St. Bernard Pass with his invading army.
Napoleon, always a mighty dreamer and student of the conquerors of the past, duplicated the feats of both his predecessors, and in 1800, or a thousand years after Charlemagne, while First Consul of France, headed 30,000 troops, or about the same number Hannibal lost, and ascended the Great St. Bernard, for his conquest of Italy..
When he interviewed one of his engineers on the possibility of the task, the conference was closed by the First Consul asking:
“Do you believe, then, that the army will be able to brave this passage?”
“Yes, General,” was the response, “it is possible to French soldiers.”
“Ah well!” said Napoleon, evidently uncertain, “let us attempt it then.” –
In the Hotel des Invalides, in Paris, the visitor inevitably halts before David’s imposing and dramatic painting, “Bona-parte au Mont St. Bernard.” In the lower left-hand corner of the picture one discerns, painted on the rocks, the names of the Conquerors: “Bonaparte,” “Karolus Magnus,” and “Annibal.”
The Hospice on the Great St. Bernard is probably the oldest in the Alps, having been founded by the Savoysien nobleman, St. Bernard de Menthon. As there are two other St. Bernards in the Church calendar, it is essential that the founder of the Hospice be properly designated.
The work of establishing this shelter, 8,116 feet above sea level, the highest winter habitation in the Alps, was accomplished in the year 962, especially with a view to caring for pilgrims on their way to Rome or to some other shrines. The name of the mount is believed to have been de-rived from that of Bernard, an uncle of Charlemagne, who led some of the latter’s forces across the pass; and undoubtedly the Saint received his name from the mount and its pass.
Of course, none of the present buildings date back so far as the tenth century, but it is not improbable that some of the materials of the original monastery were used in the construction of the more modern structures.
These consist mainly of two buildings, one of which contains the chapel, the quarters for the brethren and 175 beds in the rooms for travellers. Across the roadway is another and newer building. This is called the inn and it was erected on the site of the old Hotel St. Louis. It has 200 beds. The former structure is said to date from the sixteenth century, and the church from about 1680.
Like most of the medieval hospices, that of the Great St. Bernard was reputed very wealthy when the German emperors were influential and powerful, five centuries ago, for it received many extensive grants from these great princes. It was also the recipient of large gifts from various parts of Europe, for the beneficent work and self-sacrifice of the monks were generously recognized. Then, as now, no charge was made for lodging and feeding visitors. Indeed, it was the cardinal object of the institution to do this valuable work of succor to wayfarers gratuitously. However, it was expected that those who received the bounty of the Hospice and who, able to pay, would contribute generously. Even this is hinted to the traveller, for in the chapel is a box bearing a scroll on which is painted :
“Offrande pour l’Hospice.”
For nine months in the year the Hospice is covered by snow and sees no visitors, but during the other three months entertains from 20,000 to 25,000 guests. As the annual expenses of the monastery before the Great War was only about $10,000, it naturally would be imagined that so large a number of travellers would at least contribute that much to the revenues.
But they did not. “The sum they have contributed,” remarks so good an authority as the Baedeker Handbook, “barely amounts to what would be a moderate hotel charge for 1,000 guests.”
Fortunately, the brethren have still a little income from their estates, and each year a collection is taken up for them in Switzerland. There are on an average from ten to fifteen monks and a half-dozen attendants in residence in the monastery.
Admission to the Hospice is a very simple operation. The traveller rings a bell in the porch of the older building, and a smiling monk welcomes him, conducts him to his room, and generally sees that he is made comfortable during his stay.
At the time the Hospice was founded, and for centuries afterwards, many travellers were lost in the snows that covered the pass. This circumstance led to the introduction of intelligent dogs to seek out the unfortunates and bring them relief. The St. Bernard dog probably is better known to the world than the Hospice itself, but the breed is said to now be almost extinct. Originally, the St. Bernard dog came from the Spanish Pyrennees. Latterly Newfoundland dogs have been used in the work of succor, but the oc-casions for their services have become less.
One curious visitor to the Hospice some years ago, Lewis Hind, has given, in a paper in the English Magazine, an inter-view with one of the monks regarding the trained dogs.
” `And do the dogs find travellers, and do they drag them from the snow in their mouths, and do the monks watch the operation benignantly, blessing everything and everybody in a general way, and carrying wine and long loaves of bread, which they never seem to offer to the traveller?’ he inquired.
“The monk smiled, `What happened in the days when the Sunday-School books were made I do not know. But I can tell you the method of procedure to-day. First of all, lives are not lost on the pass now.’
” `Not lost on the pass, now!’ I echoed. `Then what is the meaning of your morgue yonderso full!’
“He shook his head. `Those poor, unclaimed creatures have been dead a very long time. It is six years since the last body was placed there. Some have been there fifty years. Travellers do not die on the St. Bernard Pass now.’
” `Indeed,’ I said sceptically, `and pray how is that managed? Do the good monks control the snow-storms and command the deep drifts to roll back from the valleys?’
” `No,’ he replies, `it is done by the telephone. Listen! The danger of the St. Bernard Pass begins, on the Swiss side, at the Cantine de Proz. Thence to the top, in the fine weather, the pass is good and clear, but in winter the snow fills all the valleys, and those who live here, and have walked to and fro hundreds of times, cannot find the way. Were it not for the dogs, nobody would even venture out. Well, the Hospice is connected by telephone with the Cantine de Proz. When the weather is bad, and travellers insist upon attempting the pass, the telephone warns the Hospice, and two monks and two dogs go forth to meet them. If the wayfarers are too exhausted to walk the monks put sticks under their arms and carry them to the Hospice. The dogs have an extraordinary gift of scent over the snow. So, you see, it is almost impossible for a traveller to be lost nowadays. Even if he is sunk in the snow-drifts up to his neck, the dogs will find him. The brothers always carry wine and food in their expeditions down the mountains. No, they could not do without the dogs. The hounds have a fine, lazy time during the three months of summer; but with the first fall of snow they are eager to begin work.
‘The use of the dogs has always been to point out the way. They are never baffled. Before the days of the telephone two of them, one old and one young, accompanied by a couple of monks, started each morning from the Hospice to the shelter at the foot of the pass on the Italian side. A similar party left for the shelter on the Swiss side of the pass. The dogs ran on ahead as they do now.
” `The first question asked by people at home,’ I broke in, `isif the pass is so dangerous why do so many people at-tempt it in the winter time?’
“The monk smiled. `If, living in your Oxford Street, you had some very particular business to transact in the City, would you postpone the journey if it happened to be raining in the Holborn Viaduct, or if Newgate Street was deep in snow? No! During the summer months people come here from curiosity, and we are very glad to see them, but the winter wayfarers are all poor travellers seeking work in Italy, or from Italy seeking work in Switzerland. This is the high road and a terrible high road it is sometimes.’ ”
The Hospitaliers, known variously as Knights Hospitallers, Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, or Knights of Malta, were originally established in 1050 to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land, which indicates that these pilgrimages were of frequent occurrence half a century before the First Crusade. They established Hospices with headquarters in the East and cared for those who strove to make at least one visit to Palestine. In 1522, the Turks drove them out of the Isle of Rhodes, where they had established themselves in 1310, but in 1530 they became masters of the Isle of Malta. They maintained Hospices at convenient places, one of them, in London, where St. John’s Gate is all that remains of their priory, which, of course, fell foul of the Act of Dissolution under Henry VIII.
In the “Adventures of Count George Albert of Erbach,” described on the title page as “a true story” and claimed in the preface to have been “compiled from the archives of the family to which it refers,” we are able to catch a glimpse of the routine and etiquette of the Knights of Malta in the closing years of their activities.
We are shown how the Grand Master of the Order “a short time before sunset daily fed twelve poor persons,” at the Palace, “before seating himself at table.”
“A regal dinner table was spread, and the Knights were placing bread and wine upon it,” to quote further, “Twelve poor men stood drawn up against the wall.
“The Grand Master entered, accompanied by two Knights of the Grand Cross, and gave a friendly smile as he approached the table, from which he took the bread, reciting the `Benedicite.’ Then he divided the food into twelve portions, and having tasted the wine and bread himself, he requested the poor men to be seated. Viands from the side table were handed round in silver dishes by the Knights of the Grand Cross, and after a hearty encouragement from them, as well as from the Grand Master, the poor men began their meal. When he noticed that there was not sufficient wine, some having been offered to the assembled guests, he gave one of the Knights a key, in order to fetch some more.
” `Does his Serene Highness carry on his own person the key to the cellars?’ inquired the Count with evident astonishment.
” `He does not keep the key to his own cellars: that is in the charge of the Master of the Household; but the cellars where the wine for the poor is kept he locks himself, and never allows any inferior wine to be given them, remembering that our Saviour at the marriage feast of Cana ordered the best wine to be set before the guests.’ ”
After the invention of printing the popularity of grimages to the Holy Land induced the publication of several treatises on the subject. One might call them guide books. In 1498 Wynkyn de Worde, the successor to Caxton, the first printer in England, published a pamphlet entitled, “Informacion for Pylgrymes Unto the Holy Londe,” which was reproduced in facsimile in 1893, but also was reprinted twice in the lifetime of its first printer, the last edition being the quarto of 1524. This pamphlet gives the distances from Calais to Rome by way of France; from Rome to Naples; from Rome to Venice; from Venice to Milan. There are also various other routes, and “chaunges of money fro Englonde to Rome and to Venyse.”
The Pilgrim is advised to be alert and speedy both in selecting a lodging when he comes to land, and also in choosing a mule or donkey for the last stage of his journey. It is evident that inns were not plentiful even at ports, in those days, for the author of “Informacions” advises:
“Also when ye come to haven townes if ye shall tary there three days go betymes to londe, for then ye may have lodgynge before another, for it will be take up anone. And yf ony good vytayle be yt maye be spedde before a nother.”
The ancient guide also advises haste in selecting an ass at Jaffa, “for and yet come betyme,” he warns, “ye may chese the best mule or asse that ye can, for ye shall paye no more for the beest than for the worste.” He gives a long list of supplies, ranging from bottles and gourds to knives and harness. Departing from Jerusalem the Pilgrim is advised to take with him out of that city, “brede, wyne, water, harde eggys, and chese, and suche vytalles as ye maye have for two dayes. For by all that waye, there is none to selle.” All of which indicates that inns were rather few in that part of the world.
A few years after this pamphlet for Pilgrims made its appearance, there came from the press the “Colloquies,” by Erasmus. This work is of deep interest here because it gives us one of the best pictures we have of an inn and inn life at the close of the Middle Ages. The quotation made here is from the translation appearing in “Source Book of the German Renaissance,” by Merrick Whitcomb. The Colloquy quoted is that one entitled “Diversoria,” which gives not the slightest clue to either its importance or its subject.
The dialoguefor it is a conversation between two per-sons designated as A and Bbegins by A asking “Why do so many people stop over for two or three days at Lyons?” and B, responding enigmatically, “I wonder that anyone can be got away from the place.”
Let us hear the reason travellers in that day disliked to leave Lyons.
“That is the place the companions of Ulysses could not have been drawn away from. The Sirens are there. No one is treated better in his own home than there at an inn.”
“What do they do?”
“Some woman was always standing near the table to divert the guests with wit and fun. First the woman of the house came to us, greeted us, and bade us to be of good cheer and make the best of what was set before us. Then came the daughter, a fine woman, merry in manner and tongue, so that she might amuse Cato himself. Nor do they talk to their guests as if they were strangers, but as if they were old acquaintances.”
“Yes, I admit the French people are very civil.”
“But since they could not be present all the time, and the business of the house had to be attended to and the other guests greeted, a girl well supplied with jokes attended us during the whole meal. She was well able to repay all jesters in their own coin. She kept the stories going until the daughter returned, for the mother was somewhat elderly.”
“But what sort of fare had you with all this? For the stomach is not filled with stories.”
“Fine! Indeed, I wonder that they can entertain guests so cheaply. Then, too, after dinner they divert you with pleasant conversation, lest you should grow weary. It seemed to me I was at home, not travelling.”
“Very likely such manners suit the French; as for me, the customs of Germany please me more. They are more manly,” observes the other, and then follows an ironical description:
“I am not certain that the process is everywhere the same. I will relate what I have seen. Upon your arrival nobody greets you, lest they should seem to court a guest; for they consider that mean and unworthy of the German gravity. When you have shouted yourself hoarse, finally someone puts out his head from the window of the stove-room (for they live there up to the middle of summer), just as a snail pokes its head out of its shell. You have to ask him if you may be entertained there. If he does not tell you no, you understand that place will be made for you. To your inquiries, with a wave of his hand, he indicates where the stables are. There you are permitted to take care of your horse as you choose; for no servant lifts a finger. If the tavern is a large one, a servant will show you the stables and a rather inconvenient place for your horse. They keep the better places for those who are to come, especially for the nobility. If you find fault with anything, you are told at once that if it does not please you, you are at liberty to hunt another tavern. In the cities it is with difficulty that you can get any hay, even a little, and then they sell it al-most as dear as oats. When your horse is provided for, you go just as you are to the stove-room–boots, baggage and mud. There is one room for all comers.”
“Among the French they show the guests to sleeping-rooms, where they may change their clothes, bathe and warm themselves, or take a nap, if they please.”
“Well, there is no such thing here. In the stove-room you take off your boots and put on slippers. If you like, you change your shirt; you hang your clothes, wet with rain, against the stove; and you sit by it yourself, in order to get dry. There is water at hand if you care to wash your hands, but it is generally so unclean that you have to seek more water to wash off that ablution. Even if you arrive the fourth hour after noon you cannot get your supper before the ninth, and sometimes the tenth.”
“Why is that?”
“They serve nothing until they see all the guests assembled, in order that the same effort may serve for all.” “They have an eye to labor-saving.”
“You are right, and thus very often eighty or ninety persons are assembled in the same stove-room : footmen, horsemen, tradesmen, sailors, coachmen, farmers, boys, women, healthy people and sick people.”
“That is in truth a community of living.”
“One is combing his head, another wiping the perspiration from his face, another is cleaning his winter shoes or boots, another reeks of garlic. What more could you desire? Here is no less confusion of tongue and persons than there was once in the Tower of Babel. But if they see a foreigner, who shows some evidence of distinction in his dress, they are all interested in him, and stare at him as if he were some animal from Africa. Even after they are at the table they turn their heads to get a look, and neglect their meals rather than lose sight of him.”
“At Rome, Paris and Venice no one wonders at any-thing.”
“Meanwhile you may not call for anything. When the evening is far advanced and no more guests are expected, an old servant appears, with gray beard, cropped head, a savage look and shabby clothes. He casts his eye about and silently reckons how many there are in the stove-room. The more there are present the more violently the stove is heated, although the weather may be uncomfortably warm outside. This is the certain indication of hospitality, that everyone should be dripping with sweat. If anyone who is not used to this steaming should open a chink of a window, lest he be stifled, immediately he hears: `Shut it!’ If you reply: `I cannot bear it!’ you hear: `Then look out for another tavern!’
“It seems to me there is nothing more dangerous than for so many persons to breathe the same air, especially when the pores are open, and then dine and stay there several hours.”
“Oh, but they are sturdy fellows. They laugh at these things.”
“Twenty-five years ago nothing was more common among the people of Brabant than public baths; now there is hardly one to be found, for the new ailment has taught us to avoid them.”
“But listen to the rest. The bearded Ganymede returns and spreads linen cloths as many tables as he considers necessary for the number of guests. But heavens and earth! how far from fine are the clothes. You would say they were sail-cloths taken down from the yardarms of a ship. He has reckoned eight guests to each table. Those who know the custom of the country now sit down, each one where he pleases; for no distinction is made between a poor man and a rich man, between master and servant. Well, after all are seated, the grim Ganymede comes out and counts over his company once more. By and by he returns and sets before each guest a wooden dish and a, spoon of the same kind of silver; then a glass and a little piece of bread. Each one polishes up his utensils in a leisurely way, while the porridge is cooking. And thus they sit not uncommonly for upwards of an hour.”
“Does no guest call for food in the meantime?”
“No one who is acquainted with the temper of the country. At length wine is servedgood Lord, how far from being tasteless ! Those who water their wine ought to drink no other kind, it is so thin and sharp. But if any guest seeks to obtain some other kind of wine, offering to pay extra for it, at first they dissemble, but with an expression as if they wished to murder you. If you insist upon it they answer that a great many counts and margraves have lodged there and none of them has complained of the quality of the wine; if it does not suit you, why then, look out for another tavern, for they look upon their noblemen as the only men of importance, and exhibit their coats of arms everywhere. By and by the dishes come on in great array. The first usually consists of pieces of bread soaked in meat-broth, or, if it be fish-day, in a broth of herbs. After this comes another kind of broth, then some kind of warmed-up meat or salt fish. Again the porridge is brought on, then some more substantial food, until, when the stomach is well tamed, they serve up roast meat or boiled fish, which is not to be despised. But here they are sparing, and take the dishes away quickly. In this way they diversify the entertainment, like play-actors who mix choruses with scenes, taking care that the last act shall be the best.”
“This is indeed the mark of a good poet.”
“You must sit there through the prescribed time, which they measure, I suppose, with an hour-glass. At last the bearded fellow, or the inn-keeper himself, who differs very little from the servants in his dress, comes in and asks if there is anything wanted. By and by some better wine is brought on. They admire most him who drinks most; but although he is the greater consumer he pays no more than he who drinks least. When at last the cheese, which hardly pleases them unless rotten and full of worms, has been taken away, the bearded fellow comes forth, bearing a trencher, in which are drawn with chalk some circles and semi-circles, and lays it upon the table, so silent, meanwhile, and sad, that you would say he was some Charon. They who comprehend the design lay down their money, then another and still another, until the trencher is filled. Then having observed who has contributed, he reckons it up silently; and if nothing is wanting he nods with his head. Then each is shown to his rest, and it is truly nothing more than a bed-chamber; for there is nothing there but a bed, and nothing else that you can use or steal.”
“Is there cleanliness?”
“Just as at dinner; linen washed six months ago, perhaps. How would you like me to tell you how guests are treated in that part of Italy which is called Lombardy, or in Spain, or in England and in Wales? For the English have assimilated in part the French and in part the German customs, being a mixture of these two nations.”
The “Colloquies,” published in 1522, from which the above extracts have been taken, undoubtedly gives the atmosphere of the period, even if Erasmus at times may let his sense of humor get the upper hand. There is nothing of the time that so well describes with agreeable life-like touches the manners of the age at the dawn of the Renaissance in Europe.