Godric the Pedlar (1065-1170)

The pedlar, a micro system of capitalism -

The micro institutions of capitalism were inexorable emergent phenomena found everywhere as economic agents interacted ... pedlars, chapmen, mongers, hawkers, tinkers, shopkeepers, merchants ... as soon as folk specialised they improved their performance and as soon as they traded their improvements, there were synergies, and some like Godric, intent on hard work, honesty & thrift outperformed the parasites, predators and competitors and invested in their businesses to secure economies of scale. Their trade was a transfer of ownership at market prices, prices which tended to eliminate the costs of gluts & queues.

The pedlars plugged into a virtuous cycle -

specialised hard work = better goodies as creative innovative individuals specialised and honed their skills

trade honesty = exchanges in co-operative groups generated synergies and trust was a prerequisite for exchange

scale, thrift & investment = compound interest secured economies of scale.

... a positive feedback loop as market prices rewarded successful innovations by profits and punished competitive failures by bankruptcy.

The pedlars were a dynamic force which provided distribution channels for trade involving nothing less than the creation of a modern capitalist economies. They established the trading networks and broke down the medieval hierarchies, undermined the monopolies of the guilds by being innovative and responsive to consumers ... in addition to distributing exotic goods they offered crucial channels of communication about the wider world ... 

It was the pedlars who smuggled in the Protestant books and all the many forbidden desirables which had been monopolised by the guilds and confiscated by taxation ...

Of course, wherever positive feedback loops created wealth, there were always parasites & predators, and such conmen gave the pedlars a bad name ... but as John Aikin suggested these scallywags always got their comeuppance in the end -

'In the wild country between Buxton, Leek & Macclesfield, called the Flash, lived a set of pedestrian chapmen, who hawked buttons, together with ribbons and ferreting made in Leek, and handkerchiefs, with small wares from Manchester. These pedlars were known as Flashmen, and frequented farmhouses and fairs, using a sort of slang or canting dialect. At first they paid ready money for their goods till they acquired credit, which they were sure to extend till no more was to be had; whence they dropped their connections without paying and formed new ones. They long went on thus, enclosing the common where they dwelt for trifling payment, and building cottages, till they began to have farms, which they improved from the gains of their credit, without troubling themselves about paying, since no bailiff for a long time attempted to serve a writ there. At length a resolute officer, a native of the district, ventured to arrest several of them; whence their credit being blown up, they changed their wandering life of pedlars for a settled care on their farms. But as they held no leases, they were left at the mercy of the lords of the soil, the Harper family, who made them pay for their impositions on others'.

Godic was converted at Lindisfarne by the life of Saint Cuthbert and he discovered that the way to riches was through hard work, honesty & thrift ...

Reginald of Durham -

Godric was born in Norfolk and had long lived in the township called Walpole. When the boy had passed his childish years quietly at home, he began to grow to manhood and to follow more prudent ways of life, and to learn carefully and persistently the teachings of worldly forethought. He chose not to follow the life of a husbandman, but rather to study, learn and exercise the rudiment of more subtle conceptions. He aspired to the merchant's trade and began to follow the chapman's way of life, first learning how to gain in small bargains and things of insignificant price; and then, while yet a youth, his mind advanced little by little to buy and sell and gain from things of greater expense. In the beginning he was wont to wander with small wares around the villages and farmsteads of his own neighbourhood; but later he gradually associated himself by compact with city merchants. Hence, within a brief space of time, the youth who had trudged for many weary hours from village to village, from farm to farm, profited from his increase in age and wisdom and travelled with associates of his own age through towns and boroughs, fortresses and cities, to fairs and to all the various booths of the market place, in pursuit of his public chaffer. He went along the highway, neither puffed up by the good testimony of his conscience nor downcast in the nobler part of his soul by the reproach of poverty.
Yet in all things he walked with simplicity and truth. He had learned the Lord's Prayer and the Creed from his very cradle, he oftentimes turned them over in his mind, even as he went alone on his longer journeys and the truth was revealed to his mind. He lived as a chapman for four years in Lincolnshire, going on foot and carrying the smallest wares; then he travelled abroad, first to St Andrews in Scotland and then for the first time to Rome. On his return, having formed friendships with other young men who were eager for merchandise, he began to coast frequently by sea to the foreign lands that lay around him. Thus, sailing often to and fro between Scotland and Britain, he traded in many diverse wares and amid these occupations, learned much worldly wisdom. He fell into many perils of the sea, yet by God's mercy he was never wrecked. Thus, having learned by frequent experience his wretchedness amid such dangers, he began to further study and learn. He learned from his fellows with whom he shared these frequent perils; others he collected from faithful hearsay; others again from the custom of the place, for he saw and visited such holy places with frequent assiduity. Thus aspiring ever higher and higher, and yearning upward with his whole heart, at length his great labours and cares bore much fruit of worldly gain. For he laboured not only as a merchant but also as a shipman ... to Denmark and Flanders and Scotland ... in all which lands he found certain rare, and therefore more precious, wares, which he carried to other parts wherein he knew them to be least familiar, and coveted by the inhabitants beyond the price of gold itself. He exchanged these wares for others coveted by men of other lands and thus he chaffered most freely and assiduously. Hence he made great profit in all his bargains, and gathered much wealth from the sweat of his brow, for he sold dear in one place the wares which he had bought elsewhere at a small price.
Then he purchased the half of a merchant ship with certain of his partners in the trade and again by his prudence he bought the fourth part of another ship. At length, by his skill in navigation, wherein he excelled all his fellows, he earned promotion to the post of steersman. 
In labour he was strenuous, assiduous above all men and, when by chance his bodily strength proved insufficient, he compassed his ends with great ease by the skill which his daily labours had given him by a prudence born of long experience. He knew, from the aspect of sea and stars, how to foretell fair or foul weather.
On the way thither, he oftentimes touched at the island of Lindisfarne, wherein St Cuthbert had been bishop. Thence he began to yearn for solitude, and to hold his merchandise in less esteem than heretofore.
He had lived sixteen years as a merchant and began to think of spending on charity the goods which he had so laboriously acquired. Not long afterwards he became steward to a certain rich man of his own country, with the care of his whole house and household. But certain of the younger household were men of iniquity, who stole their neighbours' cattle and thus held luxurious feasts, whereat Godric, in his ignorance, was sometimes present. Afterwards, discovering the truth, he rebuked and admonished them to cease. But they made no account of his warnings, wherefore he concealed not their iniquity, but disclosed it to the lord of the household, who, however, slighted his advice. Wherefore he begged to be dismissed and went on a pilgrimage, that thus he might knowingly pay the penalty for those misdeeds wherein he had ignorantly partaken. I have often seen him, even in his old age, weeping for this unknowing transgression.
On his return, he abode awhile in his father's house until, inflamed again with holy zeal, he purposed to revisit the abode of the Apostles and made his desire known unto his parents. Not only did they approve his purpose, but his mother besought his leave to bear him company on this pilgrimage, which he gladly granted, and willingly paid her every filial service that was her due.
Godric, when he had restored his mother safe to his father's arms, abode but a brief while at home for he was now already firmly purposed to give himself entirely to God's service. Wherefore, that he might follow Christ the more freely, he sold all his possessions and distributed them among the poor. Then, telling his parents of this purpose and receiving their blessing, he went forth to no certain abode, for above all things he coveted the life of a hermit ...

Frederick Buechner -

On survival - He feared of all things most an empty belly. If our lord said fettle he’d fettle though he was no villein bound. But my lord was all there was if the harvest failed.

On the girls - Willing maids were flaxen locked Danes, cherry ripe for the plucking. I burn for her although my wick’s long since burnt out. Oh what a crop of sons the seed I’ve spilled in dreams would raise.

On decisions - The street forks out, and there’s two doors to choose between. Choose with care. Wonder how he would have fared if he’d gone right instead of left. Three things I’ve filled time with, what used to be, what might have been and most what may be yet. And oh what thoughts come to roost in this old skull.

On family & home - When a man leaves home he leaves behind some scrap of his heart. The ear takes comfort from the sounds of home and the outlandish speech of foreign folk makes all the world seem strange. How it warmed our heart to hear our native tongue again.

On wealth creation - Load them cheap the one place and unload them dear the other.

On markets - I went to peddle at the fair, with tents and stalls and painted flags, others were there from far away as Flanders with their wares of every sort too rare to name. Notaries were busy with their wax and whores flocked everywhere to seal some bargains of their own.

On aspiration - I’ll come back with wealth enough to build us a big house. We’ll learn to snare the power of the sun in nets, we’ve got kings to rule us now, some well, some ill. The day will come we’ll rule ourselves for good, you’ll see.

On education & compound interest - I see you’ve learned to read and write but don’t stop there, my friend, pile stone on stone. For unto everyone who hath will more be given. Might begets might and riches riches. That and no other is the truly golden rule.

On Norman culture - Base born folk, like willows, sprout better for being cropped. The Saxon folk they slew, all haunt these Norman shadows. As long as these stones stand Durham’s cathedral will be dark with death. The only treasure old men have lies buried deep in graves.

On the Bishops in cahoots with kings - He was as sharp a rogue that ever broke wind in a mitre, he travelled north to do the business of the king, his business as ever was to milk the land of gold & silver till it cried for mercy. And it was he that pulled the teats for him till they hung dry. He feared my trade might cost the king some Jewish geese that laid him golden eggs. When he was Lord Chancellor, they say, all justice slept and money ruled the land.

On regret - Goodness was not Godric’s meat, wealth was he after and sport and hazard. A lout that gives himself to lust and lies and thievery. But remember me not for the ill I’ve done but for the good I’ve dreamed.

On death - A man dies many times before he’s dead. I sometimes think that I’m already dead and only dream I live. He’d lived so long in pain & penitence I feared that when his time for bliss came round at last, he’d find he’d lost the art. Death’s like the night we need to rest our bones. Who wants a life that never ends?

On God - We found no God in Rome, if God were there then the eyes he cast on us were blind. It was like calling down an empty well. God himself approached me down the path I made of prayer. Although many’s the prayer I haven’t prayed. You know where God rules now? Not in churches hewn of stone, nor yet in heaven if truth be known. He rules within the privy parts and wit of men. With wit we’ll make a new and wondrous world.


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