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foreign Literature and Science.
SELECTED FOR THE MUSEUM.
The History of Chivalry; or, Knighthood and its Times. By
Charles Mills, Esq., Author of “ The History of the Crusades.” 2 vols. 8vo. Longman and Co. 1825.
This was an appropriate undertaking for the able historian of the Crusades; and he has executed it with equal learning, fidelity, and elegance. The histories of the Crusades and of chivalry are kindred subjects. They belong to one great epoch of the world, and one constitution of society: their peculiarities and consequences are to be sought in the same storehouse of chronicle and legend; and it appertained to the same historical diligence and to the same accomplished mind to describe their origin, progress, and fall, to observe their influence, and to estimate their value and results.
If the manners of chivalry were not always as pure as its precepts, we are still bound to remember the institution rather for its utility, which cannot be questioned, than for its abuses, which have been exaggerated. Upon the severest scrutiny, we shall find that the Christian chivalry of Europe was, at least, purer than any preceding condition of society; for it drew many of its principles of action from a divine source, of which classical antiquity could never boast. That it threw grace over the ruggedness of barbarism, tempered the ferocity of rude man, and dignified the loveliness of woman;—that it seconded the exhortations of religion, and insisted on the charities of life, the sternest moralist will be free to admit; and the chain of evidence is unbroken, which deduces the humanity, the polished courtesy, and the decent refinement of modern manners from the code of chivalric observances.
But, taken as a distinct subject of inquiry, chivalry is attended with many contradictions and difficulties. It existed rather as a principle in the manners, than as an intelligible episode in the history of the middle ages. It ran as a silken and devious thread through the coarser texture of society. It is not easy to separate its realities from its romance, still less to give it a decided historical character; and here it is that we think Mr. Mills has shown most tact and ability. Hitherto the subject had been too much abandoned to dry antiquarians, or used only for the mere meretricious purposes of fiction. But he has succeeded in presenting it in a tangible shape and substance; preserving the severe simplicity and form of bistory, and yet investing his inquiries with the grace VOL. VII, No. 42.-Museum.
and attraction which were proper to the theme. At the same time, we must complain that, in the enchantment of his fancy, he has sometimes forgotten his philosophy. His veracity as an historian is unquestionable; his facts are undeniable and clear; but, in his comments upon them, he more frequently appears as the advocate than the judge of the cause.
The work opens with some remarks on the origin and first appearances of chivalry in Europe. The occupations and every day life of knighthood, the education, the marshal equipment, the mili. tary, religious, and social qualities of the preux chevalier, are considered in successive chapters; and then we are led to his gentler and more romantic attributes. We are next introduced to the splendid and dazzling scene of the joust and tournament; and, lastly, in a digression, we are presented with a highly interesting account of the religious and military orders of knighthood.
Having thus skilfully described all the circumstances and appurtenances of chivalry, our author resumes his historical office. His inquiries into the progress of chivalry are conducted successively through England, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. In each of these countries the general train of chivalric events is narrated with fulness and care: the growth, meridian, and decline of the chivalric spirit are accurately traced; and the work concludes with a general estimate of its merits and its effects upon the frame of European society.
Such is an abstract of the plan which Mr. Mills has adopted. It is obviously the best and most judicious arrangement which he could have chosen; and he has evinced equal ingenuity in the use of his materials. In a theme which constantly borders upon
the province of romance, he seems to have been laboriously careful to work rather by authentic illustration than didactic assertion. As may be supposed, the Chronicle of Sir John Froissart is his principal text-book. But he has been able to enrich its ample stores, and to verify its lively pictures, with numerous other authorities. The mere metrical romances of the middle ages he has used only as fair evidence of manners and feelings. It is amusing to perceive how completely he has saturated his diction with the sterling and genuine English of the olden time. In his pages we can almost fancy that we are poring again over the tomes of other days; and we frequently recognise the racy manner and detect the forcible epithets of Lord Berners' version of Froissart. This quaintness of chivalric phrase beseems the subject; and Mr. Mills has here safely imbued his style with a colouring which, any where else, might have borne too much the hue of antiquated conceit.
We are glad to observe, from the opening chapter, a disposition in Mr. Mills to relieve our Anglo-Saxon ancestors from the idle reproach with which it has lately become fashionable to degrade their national character, as if it had been altogether coarse and unimaginative, and destitute of a chivalric spirit. We think, however, he might have insisted, more decidedly and at large than he has done, upon the traces of chivalric customs, and the influence of chivalric principles in England, before the Norman conquest.
The next chapter, on the Education of the Knight, is a beautiful picture of chivalric manners, and introduces us at once into the interior of the baronial hall. Every feudal lord had his court, to which he drew the sons and daughters of the poorer knighthood of his domain; and his castle was also frequented by the children of men of equal rank with himself. For (such was the modesty and courtesy of chivalry) each knight had generally some brother in arms, whom he thought better fitted than himself to adorn his children with noble accomplishments. The knightly education generally commenced about the age of seven or eight years.
“The duties of the boy for the first seven years of his service were chiefly per. sonal. If sometimes the harsh principles of feudal subordination gave rise to such service, it oftener proceeded from the friendly relations of life; and as in the latter case it was voluntary, there was no loss of honourable consideration in performing it. The dignity of obedience, that principle which blends the various shades
of social life, and wbich had its origin in the patriarchal manners of early Europe, was now fostered in the castles of feudal nobility. The light-footed youth attended the lord and his lady in the hall, and followed them in all their exercises of war and pleasure; and it was considered unknightly for a cavalier to wound a page in battle. He also acquired the rudiments of those incongruous subjects, religion, love, and war, so strangely blended in chivalry; and generally the intellectual and moral education of the boy was given by the ladies of the court.
“From the lips of the ladies the gentle page learned both his catechism and the art of love, and as the religion of the day was full of symbols, and addressed to the senses, so the other feature of his devotion was not to be nourished by abstract contemplation alone. He was directed to regard some one lady of the court as the type of his heart's future mistress; she was the centre of all his hopes and wishes; to her he was obedient, faithful, and courteous."
The military exercises of the page were not many, but they were not neglected. He was taught to leap over trenches, to wield the lance, and to sustain the shield, to engage in mimic combat, and to imitate in his walk the measured tread of the soldier. Thus passed the first few years of initiation; and then the candidate for chivalry adopted his next title,—that of armiger, scutifer, escuyer, or squire. But though these words denoted military attendance, yet his personal domestic service continued for some time. He prepared the refection in the morning, and then betook himself to his chivalric exercises. At dinner he, as well as the pages, furnished forth and attended at the table, and presented to his lord and his guests the water wherewith they washed their hands before and after the repast. The knight and the squire never sat at the same table, nor was the relation of father and son allowed to destroy the principle of chivalric subordination. Thus, in the days of Edward III., the young English squire_carved “ before his fader” at the table; and about the same time Froissart records that the sewers and cup-bearers of the Count de Foix were his sons.
"The squire cup-bearer was often as fine and spirited a character as his knight. Once, when Edward the Black Prince was sojourning in Bordeaux, be entertained in his chamber many of his English lords. A squire brought wine into the room, and the Prince, after he had drank, sent the cup to Sir John Chandos, selecting him as the first in honour, because he was constable of Acquí. tain. The Knight drank, and by his command the squire bore the cup to the Earl of Oxenford, a vain, weak man, who, unworthy of greatness, was ever seeking for those poor trifles which noble knights overlooked and scorned. Feeling his dig. nity offended that he had not been treated according to his rank, he refused the cup, and with mocking gesture desired the squire to carry it to his master, Sir John Chandos. “Why so ?” replied the youth : "he hath drank already, there. fore drink you, since he hath offered it to you. If you will not drink, by Saint George, I will cast the wine in your face." The Earl, judging from the stern and dogged männer of the squire that this was no idle threat, quietly set the cup to his mouth.
“ After dinner the squíres prepared the chess tables or arranged the hall for minstrelsy and dancing. They participated in all these amusements; and herein the difference between the squire and the mere domestic servant was shown. In strict. ness of propriety the squire's dress ought to have been brown, or any of those dark colours which our ancestors used to call “ sad.” But the gay spirit of youth was loth to observe this rule.
«“Embroudered was he, as it were a mede,
Alle ful of freshe floures, white and rede.” “ His dress was never of the fine texture, nor so highly ornamented as that of the knight. The squires often made the beds of their lords, and the service of the day was concluded by their presenting them with the vin du coucher.”
The most honourable squire--the senior in years of the youthful train-was he who was attached to the person of his lord, attended him to the field, and displayed his banner in the mélée.
“ But whatever were the class of duties to which the candidate for chivalry was at. tached, he never forgot that he was also the squire of dames. During his course of a valet he had been taught to play with love, and as years advanced, nature became his tutor. Since the knights were bound by oath to defend the feebler sex, so the principle was felt in all its force and spirit by him who aspired to chivalric honours. Hence proceeded the qualities of kindness, gentleness, and courtesy. The minstrels in the castle harped of love as well as of war, and from them (for all young men had not, like Sir Ipomydon, clerks for their tutors) the squire learnt to express his passion in verse. This was an important feature of chivalric education; for among the courtesies of love, the present of books from knights to ladies was not forgotten, and it more often happened than monkish austerity approved of, that a volume, bound in sacred guise,
contained, not a series of hymns to the Virgin Mary, but a variety of amatory effusions to a terrestrial mistress. Love was mixed in the mind of the young squire with images of war, and he, therefore, thought that his mistress, like honour, could only be gained through difficulties and dangers; and from this feeling proceeded the romance of his passion. But while no obstacle, except the maiden's disinclination, was in his way, he sang, he danced, he played on musical instruments, and practised all the arts common to all ages and nations to win the fair. In Chaucer, we have a delightful picture of the manners of the squire :
“Singing be was, or floyting all the day,
He slept no more than doth the nightingale." Martial exercises were blended with his anxieties of love: the attack of the quintain with his lance, feats of strength and activity, and skill in horsemanship.
“Wel could he sit on horse and fair ride,"