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Gits and the City

Subject: A critique of English towns in the twelfth century
Original source: Corpus Christi College library (Cambridge), MS. no.339; British Library Cott.Ms.Domit.A.XIII
Transcription in: J.T. Appleby, ed. The Chronicle of Richard of Devizes of the Time of King Richard the First. London: Thomas Nelson, 1963, 65-67.
Original language: Latin (English translation by Appleby)
Date: 1190s


When you reach England, if you come to London, pass through it quickly, for I do not at all like that city. All sorts of men crowd together there from every country under the heavens. Each race brings its own vices and its own customs to the city. No-one lives in it without falling into some sort of crime. Every quarter of it abounds in grave obscenities. The greater a rascal a man is, the better a man he is accounted. I know whom I am instructing. You have a warmth of character beyond your years, and a coolness of memory; and from these contrary qualities arises a temperateness of reasoning. I fear nothing for you, unless you live with evil companions, for manners are formed by association.

Well, be that as it may! You will arrive in London. Behold, I prophesy to you: whatever evil or malicious thing that can be found in any part of the world, you will find in that one city. Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with the throngs in eating-houses; avoid dice and gambling, the theatre and the tavern. You will meet with more braggarts there than in all France; the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty boys, effeminates, pederasts, singing and dancing girls, quacks, belly-dancers, sorceresses, extortioners, night-wanderers, magicians, mimes, beggars, buffoons: all this tribe fill all the houses. Therefore, if you do not want to dwell with evildoers, do not live in London. I do not speak against learned or religious men, or against Jews: however, because of their living amidst evil people, I believe they are less perfect there than elsewhere.

I do not go to the extent of saying that you should not go to any city whatever, since in my opinion there is nowhere for you to live except in a city; I refer only to which city. If, therefore, you arrive in the neighbourhood of Canterbury or if, indeed, you pass through it, your journey will be wasted. There is a whole collection of men there who have been abandoned by their lately deified leader, I know not whom, who was high priest of the men of Canterbury, who now, through lack of bread and of work, die in the open day in the broad streets. Rochester and Chichester are mere hamlets, and there is no reason why they should be called cities, except for the bishops' seats.

Oxford scarcely sustains, much less satisfies, her own men. Exeter refreshes both men and beasts with the same provender. Bath, placed or, rather, dumped down in the midst of the valleys, in an exceedingly heavy air and sulphureous vapour, is at the gates of hell. Neither should you choose a seat in the Marches, Worcester, Chester, or Hereford, because of the Welsh, who are prodigal of the lives of others. York is full of Scotsmen, filthy and treacherous creatures scarcely men. The region of Ely stinks perpetually from the surrounding fens. In Durham, Norwich, and Lincoln there are very few people of your sort amongst the powerful, and you will hear almost no-one speaking French. At Bristol there is no-one who is not or has not been a soap-maker, and every Frenchman loves soap-makers as he loves a dung-heap.

Outside the cities, every market-place, village, or town has inhabitants both ignorant and boorish. Moreover, for such qualities always look on Cornishmen as we in France consider our Flemings. In other respects, that country is most blessed with the dews of heaven and with richness of soil. In each locality there are some good men, but there are fewer of them by far in all of them put together than in one city, Winchester.

That city is in those parts the Jerusalem of the Jews; in that city alone do they enjoy perpetual peace. That city is a school for those who want to live and fare well. There they breed men; there you can have plenty of bread and wine for nothing. Monks are there of such mercifulness and gentleness, clerks of such wisdom and frankness, citizens of such courteousness and good faith, women of such beauty and modesty, that for a little I would go there myself and be a Christian among such Christians. I send you to that city, the city of cities, the mother of all and better than all others. There is one vice there and one alone, which is by custom greatly indulged in. I would say, with all due respect to the learned men and to the Jews, that the people of Winchester lie like sentries. Indeed, nowhere else under heaven are so many false rumours made up so easily as there; otherwise they are truthful in all things.



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