Page images
PDF
EPUB

to enforce those equal laws, and to insure that general free dom. The annals of the time proved that these were the objects of chivalry, and these its effects. It was contended, that it arose in a barbarous age, and declined, when intelligence began to triumph over ignorance. Certainly it did. When there was no longer any necessity for the institution, the institution was disused. Cessavit causa ; cessavit effectus. But that was no argument against it, for it might be as well contended that there was something objectionable in the nature of great-coats, because they were laid aside in the dogdays. It was said, that the knights were deficient in patriotism. If, by chance, any of them were, it was a direct infringement of their oaths; and if instances of this deficiency were so plenteous, it seemed rather curious that none were produced. When did it appear that the love of adventure called a true knight from the duties of a patriot, or the fidelity of a subject, if his country or his king required the assistance of his valiant arm ? Never. It was observed, very facetiously, no doubt, by a species of antiphrasis, that the anthorities consulted by the opener were accurate, that was lucus non lucendo ; but, bad as they were, in the estimation of the learned gentlemen, they were certainly better than no authorities at all. * The deeds of the Crusaders formed next the topic of observation. Whether those crusades had, or had not, been injurious to Europe in the effects they produced, was a proper subject of another discussion. No one, however, could deny, that those effects were beneficial to Europe, from the introduction they afforded the northern countries, to the Greek empire, at that time the emporium of arts, sciences, literature, and civilization. The fanaticism of the crusade against the Albigenses, was also remarked. This was but an instance of the same species of religious fury, which had caused so many fatal wars between the pope of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople. There was nothing in it peculiar to chivalry, and, therefore, did not form a fair ground of objection to that institution. As to the cruelty practised by the Spaniards on their landing in America, the opener conceived it had nothing to do with the present question. Where was

coarse, and gross debauchery," of which the knights had been accused ? Certainly not in history. As to the Dulcineas of the knights, the opener could not conceive that they ought to be regarded as objectionable in their characters. As

that 66

* The following authorities were then mentioned by the opener, as those whence be had derived his information. Segar's Military and Civil Orders ; Chevalerie Considerée, &c. par Mons. St. Palaye, Théatre d'Honneur de Mons. Favin, Ordres Militaires et Civiles, par Mons. Perrot. Histoire de France, par M. l'Abbé Millot, tome prem. p. 313.

mar

long as man was man, it must be expected, that he would have the passions natural to man; and surely the honourable love of a knight proved, by so many trials, and so much constancy, could not be viewed in an unfavourable light. As to ried dames," whose characters the gentlemen had treated very unceremoniously, they were connected in no other manner with the knights, than by occasionally presiding at a tournament, and presenting the victor with the prize, which his hardihood had won; and if the inuendo thrown out by the gentlemen were pressed, of what materials did they suppose the husbands of those times were made, that they would allow any bold adventurer to steal a treasure, to obtain which, they had themselves ventured both life and limb. Chivalry was accused of being a cloak for profligacy and irregularity. Why was not this proved by instances? No one could deny, that in this, as well as other orders, in which a great number of persons, inevitably of different dispositions and sentiments, joined, that some abuses would take place. But, in this case, if any knight were found unfaithful to his oaths, the punishment inflicted on him was sufficiently severe, to prevent a frequent recurrence of the same offence. It had also been urged, that no middle class was preserved in society, during the existence of chivalry: that was the fact. The cause of that fact, however, was not the existence or the non-existence of chivalry, but the political conformation at that time of the different countries of Europe. The allodial landholder of the reign of Charlemagne, had long since assumed the character of the feudal vassal, holding his property and his life at the will of his lord. This prevented any middle order. All were either lords, or vassals; and one principal object to which the knight directed his interference, was the correction of the abuses arising from the tyrannical exertion of feudal power. The gentlemen next touched on the respect paid by the knights to the fair sex. They did not deny that great respect was then paid to the ladies, but they did not like the species. It was not the same species as was now paid to the ladies. True; the darkness of the age prevented the one from paying the present species of respect; and the other, from enjoying it. Did the gentlemen suppose that no improvement had taken place between the manners and tastes of the ladies of 1066 and of 1824: Certainly there must, or the gentlemen paid but a poor compliment to their fair contemporaries. With regard to the other objections as to the point of honour, and duelling, the opener had been saved a great portion of trouble ; for, as it was denied that either the one or the other owed its origin to chivalry, the poor knights must escape unpunished for crimes, of which, even their enemies acquitted them. The gentlemen lastly observed, that there was no real connexion between the civilization of Europe and chivalry; and that the improvements which took place in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th,; 18th, and 19th centuries, could not be traced up to that institution. There might not be, possibly, what the gentlemen called an “immediate” connexion between them; but it was to the adventurous spirit of the 11th and 12th centuries, that Europe owed the first seeds of civilization, which were gathered at Constantinople, which afterwards were planted in a genial soil, blossomed under a Francis and a Leo, and at last brought forth that valuable fruit we now so happily enjoy.

happily enjoy. This being one effect resulting at present from the institution of Chivalry, and such other effects having before been remarked as those immediately or consequently produced by it, there could be no cause to prevent us from pronouncing it to have been advantageous in its effects.

ON THE

PUBLIC SPIRIT OF THE ROMAN AND BRITISH PEOPLE.

The subject of this essay comprises, on the part of the Romans, that happy portion of time during which their republic flourished in its greatest vigour, and which is distinguished in history by the name of the adolescence of the Roman Empire. It embraces, from the expulsion of Tarquin to the battle of Pharsalia, a period of about 461 years; during which time Rome was governed by consuls. She had, indeed, after this period, when her commonwealth was exchanged for a monarchy, and in her subsequent dismemberment, magistrates who bore this title ; but they were merely the shadows, and had but the semblance of that glorious authority, which, in its pristine state, secured to the people of Rome their liberties, and exalted their country to the highest points of power and

renown.

On the part of Britain, I have selected some of the occurrences of the late reign down to the peace of 1802.

The subject is one which is not easily dismissed in a few pages. I have passed over a mass of important transactions, and abridged, as much as possible, my remarks upon those which I have selected, that I may preserve that brevity, which is the soul of wit.

To all orders of society to every nation, such a

thense must be interesting. Without public spirit, a people would be feeble, ineffective, and worthless; and, in proportion as this vital principle prevails, they become powerful and great. It is the sacrifice of individual ease to the public good,—the love of country, in preference to that of private interest, that so eminently marks the actions of the patriot; and, as this patriotism is more or less found amongst the people, they become, as a nation, great and energetic, or weak and despicable. Sparta found, in the iron hearts of her men, and the public virtues of her women, firmer walls and more insuperable barriers, than did Darius, fighting for empire, for liberty, and for life, in a countless host of enervated and slavish dependents.

That man is a good citizen and a good subject, who faithfully discharges his moral and religious obligations; but, if the individual character of a people be made up of nothing beyond these, estimable as such qualities unquestionably are, the people themselves, though they may be valued and respected as a virtuous nation, will never be honoured nor esteemed as great and liberal. It was not that Rome produced affectionate parents and dutiful children merely, or because the worship of the gods was scrupulously performed, that the perusal and consideration of her history hills us with admiration and enthusiasm. It was the high honour of her public men,-her unbending firmness in adversity,—her clemency and generosity in prosperity,--the extent, importance, and usefulness of her conquests,- her moderation in victory, and magna. nimity in defeat, that have earned for her, and secured to her, an everlasting renown, and emblazoned and associated her imperishable name with all that is noble, and virtuous, and wise.

Coriolanus, after seventeen years' service to his country, was refused the consulship, because he would not deign to solicit that which he well knew his merits deserved. Who does not see, on the one hand, the inflexible spirit, the proud temper of a great mind, that would not receive as a boon that which it should have commanded as a right?-and, on the other hand, the jealous caution of a people, possessing and valuing their liberties, ever watchful over power and pre-eminence, who, while they could not but acknowledge the just claim of the individual, taught him, by this signal denial, to respect the opinions of the people? To punish the ingratitude of his countrymen, Coriolanus went over to the Volscians; yet, when he had vanquished the Roman army, and was supplicated to remember his country's honour, the public spirit of the hero rose superior to private feeling, and he forgot and forgave the injustice he had suffered. About

this time, indeed, the Romans were particularly watchful over their privileges. The Commonwealth, though not arrived at maturity, was yet in its vigour ; and any, the least encroachment on a government and constitution they had formed with so much care, and established by so much blood, was sure to call forth the displeasure, and oftentimes the vengeance of the people. They banished a consul, because he was a collateral branch, and bore the name of the royal family of Tarquin, whom they had justly dethroned and expelled. Another consul was obliged to raze bis house to the ground, because its superior magnificence seemed to be incompatible with the pretensions of a citizen. Were these acts of oppression? So far as regards the individuals, perhaps they were. But, although we may condemn the particular injustice, who can fail to admire the tenacious care with which the republic was thus continually guarded. It is in this way that the insidious inroads of tyranny are effectually barred. Whilst the Romans slept, the enemy had nearly taken the capitol: when they had totally sunk into vice and effeminacy, the republic was lost altogether.

Porsenna, the general and king of the Etrurians, was so astonished at the valour of a Roman soldier, who singly defended the entrance of a bridge against the whole body of the enemy, that he recalled his army, and no longer dared to encounter the Romans. It was thus that they won their greenest laurels : in the public spirit of her people, Rome found a bulwark impervious to numbers and to difficulties. Had this man loved himself better than his country, the Roman army would have been defeated and disgraced. His personal safety was nothing, weighed against the honour of his native land; that he saved, and gave to his country security,—to himself, immortality.

At a much later period, we meet with examples of public spirit, which shew that the virtue and patriotism of this wonderful people had, in the course of many years, suffered no diminution. The Roman territory was subject to the inroads of the barbarians, who, having tasted the luxuries of Italy, and felt the soft influence of her mild and fortunate climate, could not but prefer a permanent settlement in that country to the inhospitable accommodation and stern rigour of their native forests. Wherever they found opposition or impediment, they repelled it with the frenzied valour and indiscriminate slaughter of savages; and Rome, distressed and weakened by internal commotions, experienced the worst, and almost the last effects of the repeated incursions of the Goths.

Camillus, one of her wisest senators and ablest generals,

« PreviousContinue »