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tain as the main and fortifast ages pos this
theless, pursue the hoary phantom, as if perseverance might charm off the veil. Our nature, it seems, like Janus, hath ever an eye upon the past, mingling recollections with hope, and reading the roll of events backwards, like witchcraft. For this reason it is, that the singular and brilliant of past ages possess so forcible a hold upon our fancy; and fortify themselves the stronger, in proportion as the nature of their tenure is more visionary and uncertain. We delight to meditate upon those things whose surface and contexture are hidden from us by the rust of time ; for, besides the spur which they give to our curiosity, there come along with them inferences of power and durability flattering to the mind, as indicative of the same principle of immortality in itself.
These feelings particularly attach to the disjecta membra of human legislation. We embark in our institutions to stem the flood of time, and would willingly persuade ourselves that our particular system is cased in immortality. Seeing, however, the wrecks of former theories strewed along the shores, reflection is awakened; but we curb its propensity to make comparisons,-and draw unpleasant conclusions, by complacently reckoning up the causes of each particular failure, and by shewing that they were rocks and shallows, which, from the direction of our course, we must necessarily escape. Human institutions, like clocks, are wound up for a longer or shorter time, according to the skill of the workman; and the excellent material of some will wear well, and receive, gradually, the new-modelling and impress of time; while others, the mere growth of the occasion, are adapted but for a season, and when put by, sink quickly among the ruins of the “ things that were.”
Of the latter kind was chivalry. But before we speak of its nature, it may be as well to make some inquiry respecting its origin; for that being once well ascertained, we shall experience no difficulty in unrolling the whole scroll of the establishment; but here it is that the “muffing," which Lord Bacon mentions, takes place. The origin of chivalry, as of most other things, is extremely uncertain. The researches of those writers who have treated the subject most successfully, conduct us back to the darkness of the eleventh century, where we meet it, clothed in mail, glittering upon its prancing steed, like a meteor issuing from behind a cloud.
But although the precise period and actual motives which gave birth to it, cannot positively be given, we may arrive at that degree of certainty which will satisfy the curiosity of any but a professed antiquarian : it may be permitted him, of course, to doubt, for therein lieth the zest of his profession. We know not how it is, but almost all laborious writers upon
ancient matters, have the knack of passing over the difficult parts of their subjects with a well-feigned indifference; they become philosophical at once, when they are puzzled, and close up the gap with an encomium, or reflections upon something else. Sainte-Palaye is not totally free from this fault. According to him, however, we are to seek the origin of chivalry in that chaotic state of society, which extended from the dismemberment of the Western Empire, to the period of the revival of letters. The petty princes and great lords having freed themselves, by degrees, from their subjection to government and laws, had, at last, succeeded in rendering them ridiculous; and a kingdom, if we may compare great things with small, resembled nothing so much as an extensive rookery, in which every nest is isolated and independent. For a knight no sooner passed the boundaries of his own domain, than he found himself in the territories of an enemy, who might rob or murder him with impunity. The castles of the great lords were, in fact, numerous central points, around which revolved the machines of as many separate societies; and cultivation, rich and high in their ticinity, became more neglected as it receded from the seat of power; till the land terminated almost, towards the frontiers, in impassable wildernesses. The great feudatory regarded these as so many ramparts thrown around him for his security; and saw, with pleasure, the huts of his lower vassals approximate to his castle.—The private manners of these nobles were, moreover, dissolute and unprincipled; and great numbers, in consequence, were daily dropping into poverty. But some of these, possessing castles in the passes of mountains, or near the fords of rivers, became the leaders of banditti, and plundered that society which they could no longer enjoy. In the history of the Troubadours, we find a dialogue between two noble and amorous bards, in which each charges his adversary with common highway robbery; and neither of them appears solicitous of exculpating himself. It was, in truth, too common to be disgraceful.-To complete the picture, even the monasteries were become nests of thieves; and hooded monks, with the crucifix upon their bosoms, were seen rushing forth upon the defenceless traveller. Added to all these evils, and greater, perhaps, than all, were the private wars between the great feudatories, barons, and abbots. The latter, professing no regard either for religion or morals, gave themselves up entirely to the defence of their temporalities, and converted the houses of God into mere receptacles of luxury and men-at-arms. By this it happened, that the few peaceful scholars, who flourished in those turbulent times, found no sanctuary wherein they might sit down in quiet; but were drawn into the fierce and fluctuating current of affairs, in which their feeble energies were misdirected or overwhelmed. For, instead of cloistered solitude, contemplation found in the church's holy aisles, the oaths and “scurril jests” of the boorish vassals.
Such was the state of society which gave rise to chivalry : for the barons, though sufficiently dissolute themselves, began, about the eleventh century, to be sensible that their power was in danger from the progress of violence; and the principle of self-love, aided by that thirst of enterprize and love of novelty, which live with man in all his changes, drew together a number of these great feudatories for their mutual support. Amongst such men, there were of course but few possessed of extended views, or minds sufficiently enlightened to form what laws were necessary for the preservation of their union; and, accordingly, we find that they did nothing more than accumulate a few rude maxims and ceremonials, which time condensed into that code denominated by succeeding ages, the Institutions of Chivalry.
The spirit of this institution, generated by the peculiar necessities of the times, could not fail to spread widely and rapidly; and the more so, as it was congenial with the previous habits and manners of the nobility. It was further agreeable, as not being imposed by the authority of any prince or government, the knights regarding it as an act of supererogation, claimed by no established ideas of duty, but arising simply from their heroism and love of fame ; for men are fonder of those of their actions, whether good or bad, which are seemingly unconstrained, than of those in the execution of which they appear to be the mere shuttlecocks of necessity.
It may, however, have received much of its subsequent splendour from the enthusiastic knighthood of the kings of France and England, who seldom disdained to mingle familiarly in tournament with their rich and magnificent vassals.
But, having said thus much of the origin of the order, we come to the work before us, which, on almost every other point, is as full and satisfactory as could be desired. SaintePalaye is an extremely pleasing and ingenious writer, and his style has a fine relish of antiquity. He perfectly understood the subject upon which he employed his pen; and it would have been strange, indeed, had it been otherwise, for his whole life was passed in making the researches, of which these two little volumes are the cream or essence. He begins his work in the following manner.
“ The aim which I have in view is to give a just idea of ancient chivalry; to make known the nature and usefulness of an establishment, which, though it be now considered frivolous, may, neverthe
less, be the offspring of an enlightened policy, and the glory of those nations by whom it was cherished.
"To fulfil this intention, it will be sufficient to trace out before the reader,—first, the education which fitted the youth for the honours of chivalry; second, the exercises of the tournaments which prepared them for war; third, the use which was made in battle of the courage, capacity, and experience of the knights ; fourth, the rewards which were promised those who distinguished themselves in battle, and the punishments with which those who were wanting in their duty were threatened ; and, fifth, in order, if possible, that nothing may be wanting, and that I may prove myself not to have been led away by a blind prejudice, I will examine the causes which produced the decay and extinction of chivalry, and the inconveniences which, possibly, counterbalanced the advantages of that establishment.”
We will follow St. Palaye as far as our limits will permit, and endeavour to give our readers a kind of miniature view of chivalry; which cannot be done better, we think, than by tracing out before them, the whole pilgrimage of a knight, from infancy to the tomb.
“ As soon as he had reached the age of seven years, he was taken from the women, and submitted to the care of men ; and a hardy, masculine education prepared him for the labours of war, synonimous with those of chivalry. In default of parental assistance, the numerous courts of princes and barons were ever open schools, in which the young nobility might receive the first rudiments of their profession, and enjoy the rites of a profuse hospitality.”
“ The first duties performed by the youthful knight, were those of a page or valet. He accompanied his patron and mistress to the chace, on their travels, in their visits or walks ; he carried their messages, and waited on them at table. The first lessons which he was taught, chiefly regarded the love of God, and of the ladies—that is, religion and gallantry; and if we may credit the chronicle of John de Saintré, it was the dames who commonly undertook to teach him his catechism, and the art of love."
“ To put the youthful novice in a condition to practise these ludicrous lessons of gallantry, he was obliged to make choice of one of the most noble, beautiful, and virtuous ladies of the court in which he resided; to whom, as to the Supreme Being, he directed all his sentiments, thoughts, and actions. This love, no less indulgent than the religion of the times, frequently accommodated itself to other passions, less pure and allowable."
But the page did not devote his whole time to love and his catechism.
“ The inclination to imitate the actions of his elders, which is natural to youth, led him to hurl the light javelin, or to defend a pass
attempted to be forced by other pages; who, making helmets or bacinets of their hoods, were accustomed to carry on a mock siege. They likewise snatched a foretaste of the various kinds of tournaments, and began to form themselves for the nobler exercises of squires and knights."
At the age of fourteen he passed on to the rank of squire, and had a new range of duties to perform. But this elevation was accompanied by a religious ceremony, the aim of which was to teach him the use of his sword, which was then first put into his hands.
“ He was presented at the altar by his father and mother, who came to the oblation with wax tapers in their hands. The officiating
nounced several benedictions; he then gave it to the youth, who wore it from that time."
“The squires were divided into many different classes, according to the employments which they were appointed to: viz. squire of the body, or person of his lady or Jord; (the first of these services was a grade to the second); squire of the chamber, or chamberlain; carving squire; squire of the stable; squire of the wine-cellar; squire of the pantry, &c. The most honourable of all these, was the squire of the body, for that reason called also squire of honour."
It is necessary to be something particular in describing the offices of a squire, because they reflect light upon various peculiarities of knighthood; and are more connected with the private manners of the times, than their after habits.
“ For a long time the youthful squire acquired in silence, while present in quality of carver at repasts and festivals, the art of expressing his ideas with propriety. The Lord de Joinville, in his youth, filled this office at the court of St. Louis; and in the palaces of kings it sometimes devolved upon their children. The squires prepared the tables, supplied the guests with water for washing the hands, carried in the various courses of the entertainment, watched over the pantry and cellar, and were constantly attentive that those present were provided with every thing. When the repast was over, they made preparations for the assembly, ball, or other amusements which followed; in which they likewise took part, with the damsels belonging to the suites of the ladies of high rank. After this they served up the spices, sweetmeats, claret (wine mixed with honey), pimenta, and hipocras, which always ended their feasts. A bumper was also taken on going to bed ; and this was called vin du coucher,”
By degrees the gentle squire approached the goal of his desires; but before putting on the badge of chivalry, he was obliged to submit to severe trials. It was thought, that to pre