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cleaving his head with my good sword;" and thus, while the knight was anxious to promote what he considered the
glory of God,” “good will to man," was entirely forgotten; the diyine commandment, “ to love the brethren," was linked to the more congenial human one, “to hate the Infidels;" and whatever might have been their deficiencies in keeping the former, the latter was ever most scrupulously adhered to. In the domestic relations, and in private life, the knight of history differs widely from the ideal knight of the poet. It is the prerogative of the latter to select those points of character and manners which așe most congenial to his taste, and best adapted to his subject. He may place in high relief, and deck in the brightest colours, all that is beautiful, romantic, or touching, in the period to which he refers; and throw into the shade, or obliterate altogether, those unpleasing or disgusting adjuncts which it is the province of history to record. The principles of these remarks will account for the disappointment we feel, when, turning from the lay of the poet, we open the pages of the historian ; there we find the knight exulting in his ignorance of literature, and not infrequently unable to write his name; we behold him terrified into the most abject submissions by the dread of excommunication, and baring his shoulders to the lash of the ecclesiastic: or we perceive him using the most ridiculous spells, as preservatives from "witcherie.” In the tales and romances of the middle ages, an accurate picture is presented, of the customs and feelings of that period; and in these we shall find that chivalry was far from being the nurse of honour and purity, to that extent which many writers have imagined.
In the celebrated romance of “ Lancelot du Lac," the hero is represented as attached to Guinevre the wife of king Arthur, and inspired by her love, and rewarded by her favour, he performs the most incredible feats of knighterrantry. Sir Tristem, another equally celebrated hero in an equally celebrated romance, dívides his professions of loyalty and constancy between his own wife Yseult of Britany, and the wife of his uncle, Yseult of Ireland. The celebrated tale of the “ Lover's Heart,” which was so frequently a theme of the minstrels during this period, is founded on the love of the Sieur de Coucy for the lady of the Sieur du Fayal; and her tragical end is a consequence of the violent jealousy of her husband. In “ Ellis's Specimens," and "Dunlop’s History of Fiction,” many similar
instances will be found; and we seek in vain in the old romances for those high principles, that purity of motive, and that total freedom from selfishness, which enchant us in the ideal knights of Tasso, Spenser, or our modern Scott: The knights of the middle ages were, indeed, emphatically sans peur;", but the praise sans reproche, can never be applied to them.
In endeavouring to estimate the influence of chivalry, and to ascertain the degree of benefit which the nations of Europe derived from its institutions, we find it extremely difficult to distinguish between its influence, and the various other influences which were at work at the same time. Chivalry was intimately connected with the feudal system; it rose, it flourished, and it fell with it: it was indeed its offspring, and the daughter did not survive the mother. Now, much of the censure which has been passed on the warlike character and exclusive principles of chivalry, belongs equally, perhaps more, to the feudal system. Chivalry arose into eminence soon after the introduction of Christianity, and to this influence, the humanity of accompanying the operations of war, may, in some measure, be attributed. Although obscured by clouds, and struggling with darkness, “ the day-spring from on high” had visited the rude barbarians of the north, and beneath the early beams of “the Sun of righteousness,” their gentler virtues began to bud and blossom. Viewing then chivalry as the offspring of a period distinguished by its barbarism, as the institution of rude, unlettered warriors, who knew no law but their sword, no occupation but war, the slaves of a corrupt priesthood, and a debasing superstition, our astonishment might indeed have been great, had it exhibited those features of moral beauty which the romantic have so fondly imagined. For an institution to obtain extensive and powerful influence over the minds and feelings of a large class of individuals, it must be adapted to their tastes and habits; and had not chivalry in its general character been in accordance with the spirit of the times, with its faults, and even its vices, it could never have maintained an unbroken sway for nearly five centuries, We cannot admit that chivalry was a great moral engine ; it was not intended as such, and it never assumed that character: it influenced the outward forms of European society, not its internal structure : it gave laws for the regulation of manners, rather than rules for the formation of characs ter. It was oil cast on the agitated surface of society; and which spread a seeming calm over the billows that were raging and chafing beneath: it was a splendid meteor, which shed a bright but varying radiance over the darkness which it had no power to disperse.
While in its direct influence, chivalry was far from producing those great moral and civilizing effects which the enthusiast has fancied and the poet sung ; yet indirectly, benefits were conferred by it, for which the people of Europe, even in the present day, may be grateful. When the tournament took place, the common people lined the lists, and participated in the pleasures of the higher classes. The shouts of the vulgar, mingled with the praises of the lady and the noble; whilst the victorious knight found it was in the power even of his despised vassals to confer a new and most pleasing distinction, popular applause. The baron who had once witnessed the delighted acclamations of an assembled multitude, who had watched his progress, admired his valour, and exulted in his victory, found kindly feelings rising in his breast toward those who sympathized in his renown, although they were only his vassals. A freer intercourse began to take place between the various classes of society; and it may not, perhaps, be too much to assert, that one of the greatest steps in European civilization, the rise of the lower orders, may in a great measure be traced to the indirect influence of chivalry.
The splendid festivals, and gorgeous entertainments, which have been before alluded to, were also productive of benefit. Arts, which the rude barbarians of earlier times had rejected with contempt, were invoked by the genius of chivalry, to add lustre to her institution; a demand was made for foreign dainties, and commerce spread her sail; and the merchant sought in distant lands, delicacies,' and curiosities, which brought him both wealth and honour.
The spirit of enterprize and adventure which characterized chivalry, was indirectly beneficial both to science and literature. The tale of wonder which the knight returned from distant lands, had to tell, awakened the attention, and excited the interest, of those who hung in all the eagerness of newly awakened curiosity on his lips'; and many a conjecture, many a rude theory, was formed to account for the strange details to which they listened. The human mind once aroused to the pleasure of enquiry, could not easily relapse into intellectual torpor; the first impulse to mental activity was given, the first desires for mental food were expressed, and thus the first streaks of that morning light
which awakened the nations of Europe to joy and gladness, was seen gleaming (though faintly) in the age of chivalry.
It is interesting to observe the arrangement of Providence in regard to this singular institution. Indirectly, the very effects were produced which it was the direct object of chivalry to oppose.
A system whose institutions were exclusively warlike, fostered the arts of peace, until they flourished on her ruins; a system which elevated one favoured class, and consigned to degradation the mass of human society, by the indirect operation of its own laws, became the mean of exalting the lower orders. A system which proscribed science, and despised intellectual pursuits, was fated to awaken that spirit of improvement, at whose approach the splendour of romance, and the glories of chivalric enterprize, vanished for ever away. In the nineteenth century, though we lament the superstition, and censure the extravagancies of knight-errantry, we yet feel a spell-like attachment to the scenes and institutions of chivalry; we cannot be ignorant of its faults; but, like the recollection of some departed friend, we feel inclined to palliate rather than blame; to dwell upon its beneficial and redeeming qualities, and to forget its insuperable defects.
The glories of ancient Greece, with her long train of poets, heroes, and legislators, or “ high and palmy” Rome graced with her three hundred triumphs, and bearing the rod of universal empire, strike less vividly on our imagination, and come far less home to our feelings, than the
wild splendours of this new institution. The rudely sculptured effigy of the knight,
“ Who now is dust,
“ But whose soul is with the saints, we trust;" interests our feelings more powerfully than the exquisitely finished bust of some Grecian hero; and the wild ballad of the “olden time” awakens our sympathies far more than the lofty rhyme of classical poetry.
National feeling has some share in producing this interest, as has been before stated, for we connect the early military glories of our country with the remains and records of chivalry. But its chief cause will be found in the romantic circumstances of the times, and the no less romantic institution which adorned them. Mankind, as by com-,
mon consent, have agreed to look back on the infancy of society, with similar feelings of interest and affection to those with which they recal the days of their childhood. The early periods of national history have generally been considered a kind of golden age, and the mists and obscurity which have hung around them, have been gilded with the brightest tints of poetic genius : to these all the fables of the poet are referable, and the romantic have sought, by recurring to the earlier stages of society, to realize those bright visions of perfect loveliness which have existence only in a brilliant, but delusive fancy. Now the age of chivalry, sufficiently removed from the habits and customs of later times, to present scenes of wildness and romance, yet not so remote, and so entirely unknown, as to exercise but slender influence over our feelings, has presented a luxuriant field to the modern poet; and well has he availed himself of its fertility.
The unsettled and warlike character of the times, has favoured the introduction into poetry and fiction of the wildest scenes and most romantic incidents, without the possible charge of outraging probability; while the human character, freed from those restraints which the customs of modern times from infancy impose on it, displayed its native energies, and exhibited its varied and striking peculiarities, with a force, an originality, which can only be found in an early and unsettled 'state of society. The superstition of this period, the witchcraft, the omen, the magic, the tests of guilt, the giant, the dwarf, the spectre, and the fairy,—the romance of modern times, but the firm belief of the middle ages, have all contributed to adorn the narratives, to heighten the interest, and to add solemn grandeur, or wild beauty, to the fiction of later bards.
The philosopher scorns all supernatural machinery, and rejoices that the days are past when whole nations trembled at the sorcerer, and paid homage to the fairy: but the lover of fiction finds in these superstitions a garden whence he gathers his brightest flowers; a mine from which he draws his richest materials, and the stern censure which some have passed on all the supernatural adjuncts of poetry, seems like rudely dashing the dew from the morning blossom, or bidding the summer rainbow vanish for ever. Perhaps no state of society, considered in all its circumstances, was ever invested with so much of poetical character, as the period distinguished by the influence of chivalry. The gallant knight pricking forth to encounter unknown