Page images
PDF
EPUB

and earnest thought-gather with us the gems of Poesy, as they sparkle by the wayside, or cull the flowers that blossom around, and our journey will yet prove a smooth and pleasant way.

Once more, then, let us bespeak that favor which has been so liberally extended to our predecessors, and although we may not equal them in contributing to your pleasure, yet may we hope to make some slight return for the confidence you have reposed in us. At present, we can only tender you our thanks; but hereafter we shall endeavor to present you with something more acceptable.

With feelings of gratitude, we remain,
Readers and Classmates,

Respectfully,

YOUR EDITORS.

[blocks in formation]

Honor to the brave of the olden time! Such a tribute from all is justly due to the Past, clothed as it is with glorious memories ; but from none can it come with better grace than from those who reap

the fruits of all those slumbering deeds which prepared the advent of an age of peace and liberty. Few, most probably, are those amongst us, who, in the flush of youth, with high hopes and stirring spirits, have not at times wished for a return of those thrilling eras. In fancy they loom up before us, glorious with splendors, while around them cluster all the sympathies which are ever the share of departed greatness. Upon the Future we look as upon an untried friend; but in the Past, every mark and feature remind us of some well-known event, so that in time, even its eccentricities become dear and cherished tokens of remembrance. For this reason it is that the days of Chivalry have ever been the pleasure-grounds of the imagination, and many a young spirit, could it but hold for a moment the Wand of Prospero,' would roll back centuries of civilization, that it might partake in the gay pastime of tilt and tournament. That such feelings originate in the exuberance of life and passion, and are not the result of calm, cool judgment, is self-evident. Yet it is equally clear, that fancy could never cling to the visions of those days, were they, as has been often charged, fraught with crime and horror.

To the lovers, then, of true chivalric sentiment, no apology need be made for the intrusion of a subject so foreign to the tone of the age in which we live. The fascination which once lured the chevalier to court the path of danger and glory, is but a more intense expression of the feeling which incites the mind to retrace his actions, and such sympathy as this ensures an approval. To the amateur it opens the vein of minstrelsy, while to the student of history there can be no more pleasing recreation than to revert sor a moment to the time when France was one vast tilting-ground, when Spain was the home of the troubadour, and England was in truth “merrie, merrie old England.” Indeed we can envy no one whose soul has become so sensual in its cast that he can fail of being pleased with the delicious, dream-like mystery which attaches to the chivalric age.

Its influence, too, is no less beneficial than agreeable. There is an emotion elicited by communion with those brave old tiines, that tends greatly to exalt and purify buman nature. It is the contemplation of nobleness that excites our own generous feelings, and if we find for ourselves a model of excellence in the Past, consecrated by time and the general approbation of mankind, it is far more desirable than when joined with the faults and foibles of those around us. The music of by-gone ages is but the requiem of ambition—the dirye of the greatest and the highest. Bold and towering spirits who sought the light, alone remain to us; and in no page of history can be found a more brilliant array than in the record of Chevisance. We all are forced to admire its heroic deeds, and whilst admiring, imperceptibly do we fashion our own minds after the beautiful image. In it we behold, not as has been represented, the last relic of barbarism, but the chief element of the new glory which was dawning upon the world. Its destiny was to soften the asperities, without detracting from that strength of character which Feudalism had impressed upon nations, and gloriously did it fulfill its duty. The milder emotions of the heart were called into play, to temper the strong flow of passion ; Love was elevated from a gross appetite into a beautiful fiction ; Religion was wedded to arms, and faith, meekness, bravery, and honor, became the attributes of knighthood.

In fancy we may recall the age of Chivalry, but in reality never. Its mouldering remains lie buried too deep even to be summoned up by the rod of the magician. The mimic sport of war—the wandering minstrel--the knight, with his glancing armor and gaily caparisoned steed—the days when music, mirth, and wine, flowed round the sestal board--the innocent pleasure unrepressed by the cynic sneer—when bright eyes adjudged the prize of gallantry and prowess-have all forever vanished. A confused array of dazzling images is the only legacy bequeathed to memory, and even those are but saint shadows of the things that were. Like the half-effaced impressions of a dream, we retain but just enough to excite our curiosity and interest, yet even that little assures us, that,

Blithely, then, to fancy seeming,

The wily web of Fate was weaving." It also assures us of a fact much more important, to wit: that we cannot now realize fully the strength and beauty of the new intellect then

impressed upon Europe, and that, in our vain attempt at imitation, our Chivalry has become a burlesque, while our stiff prudery is, at most, but a libel. The reason is, that we ridiculously assume the disguise, without having the spirit to carry out the character, and in the end present a more ludicrous object than did ever Don Quixote in his palmiest days. Like him, too, we mount our hobbies and charge down upon a wind-mill, and whether we come off victorious or not, we laud our bravery, while we forget both our discretion and modesty.

In a hurried glance at the prominent features of Chivalry, even the most listless observer cannot fail of being struck with the total absence of the selfish principle, not only in its written code, but also in the actions to which it gave rise. As this has been assumed by many to be the leading trait in man's nature, and by some few--Helvetius, amongst others—to be the only energetic principle about us, a review of this period, should it serve no other end, will yet present us with one exception to a truth so mortifying to human pride. At all events, the simple fact affords a clue by means of which we may unravel the brightest pages of the past. Philanthropy seems then, if never before or since, to have become the prominent feature of the world, and this alone speaks volumes of praise in favor of Chivalry. Indeed the mere existence of such a spirit would attest its beneficial effects ; but when we see it united with a thirst for adventure and individual action--terms which almost imply a certain share of selfishness -the proof becomes convincing that human nature then assumed its noblest guise. It shows, too, that there was then prevalent a flow of generous sentiment, combined with a decision of character, that reflects upon mankind far more credit than any, or even all, the lack-a-daisical graces which are now in such repute. And it teaches us, moreover, that all-important lesson, which it seems we have yet to learn again that morality must be interwoven with the affections, must be impressed upon the heart, and not upon the intellect alone, if it would conduce to any serviceable result.

Nothing, perhaps, exerted a more important influence in fashioning the spirit of that age, than the romances of Chivalry ; and it was in view of the end above noted that this influence was chiefly directed. In fact it was indispensable that it should be so, since nothing else would ever have imbued men so thoroughly with its own glow of virtuous sentiment; for as the garb in which it was clothed gave it ready access to the heart, so the sympathy it enlisted conspired to render it durable. An exhaustless theme, rich in poetry and fiction, was found in the legends of Arthur and his Paladins. The mighty deeds of

Gawaine,' Lancelot,' Sir Tristam,' and others, were well calculated to inspire with enthusiasm souls already thirsting for fame, and the courtesy of manner with which they were invested, served to elevate the ideal above the mere embodiment of brute courage. The brave deeds imputed to the knights of the • Round Table' became the textbook of the code of honor. In love, as in war, a long period, passed in undeviating constancy, was considered necessary to success; and yet a happy medium was still preserved between the cold formalism of the ascetic and the intemperance of the debauchee. In fact, all the virtues which were shadowed forth in the highly-wrought minstrelsy of the times, were those which are now held in most especial veneration, but which, unfortunately, are invested with so much of reverence that few dare now practice them. Then, however, they were practiced; and we speak it to the honor of the Troubadours, that there could not have been fancied a more glowing image of man, the hero, than that held up by them for imitation. Theirs was none of the cold “charitie,” the uneasy modesty or the strained civility that now caricatures society. A generous friendship consecrated the foibles as well as the virtues of a companion, and brethren in arms adopted the enmities as well as the loves of each other. Such warmth, it is true, might be condemned in principle, but the earnest which it afforded of their sincerity is worthy of all praise. The joust, the tournament, and the deadly combat, were all the very emphasis of honor, and he who should take an undue advantage, even in mortal strife, was deemed a recreant to his faith, and was ever afterwards expelled from the companionship of his equals in rank and station. The chief end and object of their song was to embody such feelings as these, and by investing them with a peculiar elegance of drapery, to make them subjects worthy of regard, not for themselves alone, but also for the beautisul fictions which encased them. As such, and with such an intent, it could not help but produce a moral system more effective and more in accordance with the rest of man's nature, than any which had preceded it. It was moreover the happy fortune of the institutions of Chivalry to join in unison what are now fast becoming antagonistic features. Interest and glory then lay in the same path; chastity and love were inculcated as synonymous, while apostacy was deemed as foul a blot upon an escutcheon as cowardice itself.

Founded on principles so pure and pleasing, such an institution could not fail to produce the most happy results. Its effect, however, was not so much the development of national, as of individual character. Patriotism, it is true, in a limited sense, was numbered amongst its virtues, yet not to the exclusion of all sympathy with noble rivals. The acolyte in arms chose rather to enlist beneath the standard of a • famous knight' than that of his own petty prince, and his favorite motto,“ honor to the brave,” is worthy of far more commendation than that narrow-minded philosophy which can see excellence only in the achievements of its own country. Indeed, its effect was rather to obliterate than to strengthen sectional prejudice, and the knight of Provence, who could carry off the prize at joust or tourney on English ground, was as loudly acclaimed, as though the seat had been performed beneath the battlements of his own castle. No system, perhaps, having for its object simply the creation of strong national features-which creation could only have been accomplished by fostering national prejudices--could during that period ever have contributed much towards the progress of civilization. It is by harmonizing, rather than by placing in antagonism, the discordant principles of human nature, that man is advanced towards a state of perfection.

« PreviousContinue »