Fortunately, peasants are human beings

18 May 2008

Late 17th C. at­ti­tudes towards peasants:

It is true that peas­ants are human beings, but they are some­what less refined and are coarser than the others. One only has to observe their be­hav­iour and their ges­tures to see how easy it is to dis­tin­guish a peasant from someone with manners … Their odious way of speak­ing and be­hav­ing is obvious to every­one … When they eat, they don’t use cutlery but thrust their hands straight into the bowl … It might almost be said that peas­ants should be treated like dried cod: they are best when they have been given a full load of work to do, for then they are dis­ci­plined and regimented. The peasant always wants to be master, if his master allows him to give himself airs and graces. No one knows better how stub­born the peas­ants are than he who has lived among them for a long time. And one thing is certain, no amount of just saying the right thing will change a peasant, the only thing that he un­der­stands is firm lan­guage sup­ported by threats of cor­po­ral punishment.

(From The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648–1815, by Tim Blanning, pp. 186–187.)