CHIVALRY

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CHIVALRY (from the French* chevalier, a horseman ; in German, JRitter, which signifies likewise a rider on horseback). Poets still sometimes use chivalry for cavalry; but this word is generally employed to signify a certain institution of the middle ages. The age of chivalry is the heroic age of the TeutonicChristian tribes, corresponding to the age of the Grecian heroes. This heroic period of a nation may be compared to the youth of an individual ; and we find, therefore, nations, in this .stage of their progress, distinguished by the virtues, follies, and even vices, to which the youth of individuals is most pronethirst for glory, enthusiasm, pride, indescribable and indefinite aspirations after something beyond the realities of life, strong faith in virtue and intellectual greatness, together with much vanity and credulity. Chivalry, in the perfection of its glory and its extravagance, existed only among the German tribes, or those which were conquered by and mingled with them, and who* institutions and civilization were impregnated with the Teutonic spirit. Therefore we find chivalry never fully developed in Italy, because the Teutonic spirit never penetrated all the institutions of that country, as it found a civilization already established, of too settled a character to be materially affected by its influence. We do not find much of the chivalric spirit in Greece, nor among the Sclavonic tribes, except some traces among the Bohemians and the Poles, who had caught a portion of it from the Germans. Among the Swedes, though a genuine Teutonic tribe, chivalry never struck deep root; but this is to be ascribed to their remote situation, and to the circumstance that they early directed their attention to navigation and naval warfare, which, in many ways, were unfavorable to the growth of the chivalric spirit; affording, for instance, compara tively little opportunity for that display of courage and accomplishment in the eyes of admiring multitudes, or in the adventurous quests of the single knight, which formed so striking a feature of the chivalric age. Poets and orators are fond of declaring that the chivalric spirit is gone. The famous passage in Burke's Reflections is familiar to every one ; but the man who coolly investigates the character of past times, and compares them with the present, will hardly come to the conclusion that our age is deficient in any of the qualities which constituted the glory of the age of chivalry. Their strength is the same; their direction only is changed. Is it courage which has departed ? The soldier, who steadily marches up to the jaws of a batteiy, can hardly be considered less brave than the knights of former days, who cased their bodies in steel to meet far less formidable means of destruction. The late wars in Europe abound with displays of valor, which may compete with any recorded in history or romance In the battle of Dresden, the emperor Napoleon (as Oldeleben relates in his account of Napoleon's campaign in Saxony), being seated before the Pirna gate, and seeing the artillerists in a redoubt shrink from serving the cannon, because the Prussian riflemen shot every man who presented himself, turned to his old guard, and said, " Show them how Frenchmen behave in battle;" when some of the soldiers addressed immediately sprung upon the redoubt, and marched up and down, in full view of the enemy, till they were shot. Of chivalric selfsacrifice, we can hardly find a more striking instance than that of a Prussian officer of the fcrps of colonel Schill (q. v.), wrho, when his comrades were condemned to death at Wesel, by a French courtmartial, for a military expedition in contravention of the existing peace, refused the pardon which was proffered to him alone by Napoleon, and preferred to die with his fellow soldiers. Are we referred to the enthusiastic selfdevotion which crowded the plains of Palestine with the thousands of European chivalry, eager to shed their blood for the tomb of their Savior ? We say the same spirit in our days has chosen a nobler direction: the adventurers who expose themselves to every peril in the cause of science and human improvement, the Humboldts, Clappertons, Burckhardts, display equal heroism in a worthier cause. We would not govern ourselves by so narrow a theory of utility as to refuse to acknowledge what was really great and sublime in the spiritof chivalry, but we cannot admit that the virtues of the chivalric age have vanished, because they now appear with less show and gorgeousness.To explain the nature and origin of chivalry, we must consider the character of the ancient German tribes. The warlike spirit was common to them with other barbarous nations; but there were certain traits in their character peculiarly their own. Among these was their esteem for women. This is dwelt upon by Tacitus, and is sufficiently apparent from the early native German historians. This regard for the female sex was diffused by them through every country into which they spread, though with considerable difference in the forms in which it developed itself. In France, it became that refined gallantry, for which the nation has been so long conspicuous; in Spain, it assumed a more romantic and glowing character, displaying much of the fire of Oriental feeling; in Germany itself, it became faithful and tender attachment to the wedded wife. Undoubtedly the Christian religion assisted in developing this feeling of esteem for the female sex in those times, particularly by the adoration of the Virgin, which was taught as a part of it. The constant reverence of this deified image of chastity and female purity must have had a great effect. We do not conceive, however, that the elevated condition of women can be referred entirely to the Christian religion, as we see that it has not produced this effect in the instance of nations who have had no opportunity of imbibing the Teutonic spirit; and many Asiatic nations recognise that feature of this religion, to which we have attributed so much efficacy, (namely the birth of the being whom they worship from a virgin,) and yet keep their women in a very degraded condition. We may be told, in answer to our claim of the peculiar regard for the female as a characteristic of the Teutonic tribes, that women were held in high esteem by the Romans. It is true that wives and mothers were treated with great regard by the Romans, and the history of no nation affords more numerous instances of female nobleness; but this esteem was rendered to them, not as females, but as the faithful companions and patriotic mothers of citizens. It had somewhat of a political cast. But this was not the case with the Germans. There is another trait of the German character which deserves to be considered in this connexion, which is very apparent in theii literature, and the lives of many individu dls; we mean that indefinite thirst for something superior to the realities of life, that sthnen, to use their own word, which hardly admits of translation, which has produced among them at the same time so much excellence and so much extravagance. These three traits of the Teutonic race, their warlike spirit, their esteem for women, and their indefinable thirst for superhuman greatness, together with the influence of the feudal system and of the Roman Catholic religion, afford an explanation of the spirit of chivalryan institution which, to many observers, appears like an isolated point in history, and leaves them in doubt whether to despise it as foolish, or admire it as sublime. The feudal system divided the Christian Teutonic tribes into masses, the members of which were united, indeed, by some political ties, but had little of that intimate connexion which bound men together in the communities of antiquity, and has produced like effects in our own and a few preceding ages. They still preserved, in a great measure, the independence of barbarians. There was, however, one strong bond of union, which gave consistency to the whole aggregate; we mean the Roman Catholic religion, which has lost much of its connecting power, in proportion as other ties, chiefly those of a common civilization, have gained strength. The influence of this religion was of great service to mankind during the ages of ignorance and violence, by giving coherency to the links of the social chain, which were continually in danger of parting. To this cause is to be ascribed the great uniformity of character which prevailed during the ages of chivalry. The feudal system, besides, enabled the gentry to live on the labors of the oppressed peasants, without the necessity of providing for their own support, and to indulge the love of adventures incident to their warlike and ambitious character. If we now combine the characteristics which we have been consideringa warlike spirit, a lofty devotion to the female sex, an imdefinable thirst for glory, connected with feudal independence, elevation above the drudgery of daily toil, and a uniformity of character and purpose, inspired by the influence of a common religionwe obtain a tolerable view of the chivalric character. This character had not yet quite developed itself in the age of Charlemagne. The courage exhibited by the warriors of his age was rather the courage of individuals in bodies. The independence, the individuality of character, which distinguished the errant knight who sought far and wide for adventures to be achieved by his single arm, was the growth of a later period. The use of the warhorse, which formed so essential an instrument of the son of chivalry, was not common among the Germans until the time of their wars with the Huns. They were indeed acquainted with it before, and Tacitus mentions it in his account of Germany; but it was not in common use among them till the period we have mentioned. After it was introduced, cavalry was considered among them, as among all nations in the early stages of their progress, much superior to infantry, which was, in fact, despised, until the successes of the Swiss demonstrated its superiority. In the 11th century, knighthood had become an established and welldefined institution; but it was not till the 14th that its honors were confined exclusively to the nobility (q. v.). The crusades gave a more religious turn to the spirit of chivalry, and made the knights of all Christian nations known to each other, so that a great uniformity is thenceforward to be perceived among them throughout Europe. Then arose the religious orders of knights, the knights of St. John, the templars, the Teutonic knights, &c. The whole establishment of knighthood assumed continually a more formal character, and, degenerat? ing, like every human institution, sunk at last into Quixotic extravagances, or flittered away its spirit amid the forms and punctilios springing from the pride and the distinctions of the privileged orders of society. It merged, in fact, among the abuses which it has been one of the great labors of our age to overthrow. The decline of chivalry might be traced through the different forms which it assumed in different nations as distinctly as its developementa task too extensive for this work. The education of a knight was briefly as follows:The young and noble stripling, generally about his 12th year, was sent to the court of some baron or noble knight, where he spent his time chiefly in attending on the ladies, and acquiring skill in the use of arms, in riding, &c. This duty of waiting about the persons of the ladies became, in the sequel, as injurious to the morals of the page as it may have been salutary in the beginning. When advancing age and experience in the use of arms had qualified the page for war, he became an escuyer (esquire or squire). This word is generally supposed to be derived from escu or scudo (shield), because, among other offices, it was the squire's business to carry the shield of the knight whom he served. The third and highest rank of chivalry was that of knighthood, which was not conferred before the 21st year, except in the case of distinguished birth or great achievements. The individual prepared himself by confessing, fasting, &c.; religious rites were performed; and then, after promising to be faithful, to protect ladies and orphans, never to lie, nor utter slander, to live in harmony with his equals, &c. (in France, there were 20 vows of knighthood) he received the accolade (q. v.), a slight blow on the neck with the flat of the sword, from the person who dubbed him a knight, who, at the same time, pronounced a formula to this effect: " I dub thee knight, in the name of God and St. Michael (or in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). Be faithful, bold and fortunate." This was often done on the eve of battle, to stimulate the new knight to deeds of valor, or, after the combat, to reward signal bravery. Though no man of any reflection would wish for the return of the age of chivalry, yet we must remember that chivalry exercised, in some respects, a salutary influence at a time when governments were unsettled and laws little regarded. Though chivalry often carried the feelings of love and honor to a fanatical excess, yet it did much good by elevating them to the rank of deities; for the reverence paid to them principally prevented mankind, at this period of barbarous violence, from relapsing into barbarism ; and, as the feudal system was unavoidable, it is well that its evils were somewhat alleviated by the spirit of chivalry. The influence which chivalry had on poetry was very great. The troubadours in the south of France, the trouveres in the north of the same country, the minstrels in England, the Minnesanger in Germany, sung the achievements of the knights who received them hospitably. (See Ballad.) In Provence arose the cours d} amour (q. v.), which decided the poetical contests of the knights. Amorous songs [chansons), duets (tensom), pastoral songs (pastourelles) and poetical colloquies (sirventes) were performed. In Germany, the chivalric spirit produced one of the most splendid and sublime epics, the Nibelungenlied. (q. v.) By the intercourse with the East, which grew up during the crusades, fairies, and all the wonders of enchantment, were introduced into the romantic or chivalric poetry. It is probable, however, that there existed something of the same kind before the influence of the East was felt; for instance, the stories of the enchanter Merlin. Chivalric poetry, in our opinion, begins, as Schlegel has shown, with the mythological cyclus of king Arthur's round table. The second cyclus is that of Charlemagne and his paladins, his 12 peers, which re< mained the poetical foundation of chivalric poetry for many centuries. The cyclus of Amadis (q. v.), which belongs, perhaps, exclusively to Spain, does not rest on any historical ground. (For further information, see the article Chivalry, in the supplement to the Encyclopaedia BHtannica, written by sir Walter Scott, which contains many interesting facts, though the writer does not investigate very deeply the spirit of the institution. The article Chevalerie, in the Encyclopedic Modeme, is full of valuable information. The preface to lord Byron's Childe Harold should not be forgotten. See also Heeren's Essay on the Influence of the Crusades, translated into French from the German: Biisching's Vorlesungen iiber Ritterzeit und Ritterwesen, Leipsic, 1823, 2 vols.; Memoires sur Vancienne Chevalerie, par Lacurne de SaintePalaye, Paris, 1826, 2 vols., with engravings; and last, but not least, Don Quixote. See also the article Tournament, and the other articles in this work connected with this subject.) We have dwelt so long on chivalry, as we think a correct view of it important to the understanding of many other subjects, and as some of our views may be new to our readers.