The world of a thousand years ago. One thousand years ago our forebears lived in a “dark age.” They themselves did not believe it was that dark and they were only half wrong…
The roofs of peasant cottages in the Dark Ages were tile or shingle, or thatched straw, an efficient rain-shedder but verminous. A hole in the roof served as a chimney. The floor was of hard-packed mud. This, like our adobe, could be surprisingly durable, but it was likely to freeze and thaw, yield to upthrusting ground-water, and return to its original consistency. Sleeping on wet floors was a potent encouragement to rheumatism. The poorer families crowded into a single room together with their farm animals and poultry, insufficiently housebroken.
The furnishings were scanty- a table,benches or stools, a chest, wooden bowls, mugs and spoons, sometimes a bedstead. Earthenware cooking pots were common. There were no glass mirrors- hence girls were forever staring at quiet pools, to assess their faces and foresee the future. Metals for knives, spades, sickles, axes, shears, nails, skillets, were carefully husbanded. Our peasant ancestors were at least freed from the tyranny of possessions. They owned no more than enough to provide shelter, warmth, clothing, and food, and even that little was sometimes begrudged them. An English abbot told his serfs they owned nothing but their bellies.
Were they happy? The question is perhaps an idle one. The men of 1000 did not ask it, or at least they have given us no answer. They did not complain of the absence of comforts and conveniences they could not conceive of, as we do not miss the amenities to be invented in our future. Their lives were given to labor, but it was mostly labor in common, in the open fields, and except at plowing time and at harvest time it was not unduly burdensome. The temp was slow, the speed-up rare, the assembly line unknown. Tilling the soil among one’s mates must be a happier occupation than service to a machine, or to a counter in a big box store.