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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Chivalry
By Edward Fitzgerald (1809–1883)
 
From ‘Euphranor’

WE sat down in one of those little arbours cut into the Lilac bushes round the Bowling-green; and while Euphranor and I were quaffing each a glass of Home-brew’d, Lycion took up the volume of Digby which Euphranor had laid on the table.  1
  “Ah, Lycion,” said Euphranor, putting down his glass, “there is one would have put you up to a longer and stronger pull than we have had to-day.”  2
  “Chivalry,—” said Lycion, glancing carelessly over the leaves. “Don’t you remember”—addressing me—“what an absurd thing that Eglinton Tournament was? What a complete failure! There was the Queen of Beauty on her throne—Lady Seymour—who alone of all the whole affair was not a sham—and the Heralds, and the Knights in full Armour on their horses—they had been practicing for months, I believe—but unluckily, at the very moment of Onset the rain began, and the Knights threw down their lances and put up their umbrellas.”  3
  I laugh’d, and said I remembered something like it had occurr’d, though not to that umbrella-point, which I thought was a theatrical or Louis Philippe Burlesque on the affair. And I asked Euphranor “what he had to say in defense of the Tournament?”  4
  “Nothing at all,” he replied. “It was a silly thing, and fit to be laughed at for the very reason that it was a sham, as Lycion says. As Digby himself tells us,” he went on, taking the Book and rapidly turning over the leaves—“Here it is”—and he read:—“‘The error that leads men to doubt of this first proposition’—that is, you know, that Chivalry is not a thing past, but, like all things of Beauty, eternal—‘the error that leads men to doubt of this first proposition consists in their supposing that Tournaments, and steel Panoply, and Coat arms, and Aristocratic institutions, are essential to Chivalry; whereas these are in fact only accidental attendants upon it, subject to the influence of Time, which changes all such things.’”  5
  “I suppose,” said Lycion, “your man—whatever his name is—would carry us back to the days of King Arthur and the Seven Champions—whenever they were—that one used to read about when a Child? I thought Don Quixote had put an end to all that long ago.”  6
  “Well, he at any rate,” said Euphranor, “did not depend on fine Accoutrement for his Chivalry.”  7
  “Nay,” said I; “but did he not believe in his rusty armour—perhaps even the pasteboard Visor he fitted to it—as impregnable as the Cause—”  8
  “And some old Barber’s bason as the Helmet of Mambrino,” interposed Lycion—  9
  “And his poor Rocinante not to be surpass’d by the Bavieca of the Cid—believed in all this, I say, as really as in the Windmills and Wine-skins being the Giants and Sorcerers he was to annihilate?”  10
  “To be sure he did,” said Lycion; “but Euphranor’s Roundtable men—many of them great rascals, I believe—knew a real Dragon or Giant—when they met him—better than Don Quixote.”  11
  “Perhaps, however,” said I, who saw Euphranor’s colour rising, “he and Digby would tell us that all such Giants and Dragons may be taken for Symbols of certain Forms of Evil, which his Knights went about to encounter and exterminate.”  12
  “Of course,” said Euphranor with an indignant snort, “every Child knows that: then as now to be met with and put down in whatsoever shapes they appear as long as Tyranny and Oppression exist.”  13
  “Till finally extinguisht, as they crop up, by Euphranor and his Successors,” said Lycion.  14
  “Does not Carlyle somewhere talk to us of a ‘Chivalry of Labour’?” said I; “that henceforward not ‘Arms and the Man,’ but ‘Tools and the Man,’ are to furnish the Epic of the world.”  15
  “Oh well, said Lycion, “if the ‘Table-Round’ turn into a Tailor’s Board—‘Charge, Chester, charge!’ say I—only not exorbitantly for the Coat you provide for us—which indeed, like true Knights, I believe you should provide for us gratis.”  16
  “Yes, my dear fellow,” said I laughing, “but then You must not sit idle, smoking your cigar, in the midst of it; but as your Ancestors led on mail’d troops at Agincourt, so must you put yourself, shears in hand, at the head of this Host, and become what Carlyle calls ‘a Captain of Industry,’ a Master-tailor, leading on a host of Journeymen to fresh fields and conquests new.”  17
  “Besides,” said Euphranor, who did not like Carlyle, nor relish this sudden descent of his hobby, “surely Chivalry will never want a good Cause to maintain, whether private or public. As Tennyson says, King Arthur, who was carried away wounded to the island valley of Avilion, returns to us in the shape of a ‘modern Gentleman’ who may be challenged, even in these later days, to no mock Tournament, Lycion, in his Country’s defense, and with something other than the Doctor’s shears at his side.”  18
  To this Lycion, however, only turn’d his cigar in his mouth by way of reply, and look’d somewhat superciliously at his Antagonist. And I, who had been looking into the leaves of the Book that Euphranor had left open, said:—  19
  “Here we are as usual, discussing without having yet agreed on the terms we are using. Euphranor has told us on the word of his Hero what Chivalry is not: let him read what it is that we are talking about.”  20
  I then handed him the Book to read to us, while Lycion, lying down on the grass, with his hat over his eyes, composed himself to inattention. And Euphranor read:— …  21
  Here Lycion, who had endured the reading with an occasional yawn, said he wish’d “those fellows up-stairs would finish their pool.”  22
  “And see again,” continued I, taking the book from Euphranor’s hands—“after telling us that Chivalry is mainly but another name for Youth, Digby proceeds to define more particularly what that is…. So that Lycion, you see,” said I, looking up from the book and tapping on the top of his hat, “is, in virtue of his eighteen Summers only, a Knight of Nature’s own dubbing—yes, and here we have a list of the very qualities which constitute him one of the Order. And all the time he is pretending to be careless, indolent, and worldly, he is really bursting with suppressed Energy, Generosity, and Devotion.”  23
  “I did not try to understand your English any more than your Greek,” said Lycion; “but if I can’t help being the very fine Fellow whom I think you were reading about, why, I want to know what is the use of writing books about it for my edification.”  24
  “O yes, my dear fellow,” said I; “it is like giving you an Inventory of your goods, which else you lose, or even fling away, in your march to Manhood—which you are so eager to reach. Only to repent when gotten there; for I see Digby goes on—‘What is termed Entering the World’—which Manhood of course must do—‘assuming its Principles and Maxims’—which usually follows—‘is nothing else but departing into those regions to which the souls of the Homeric Heroes went sorrowing.’”…  25
  “Ah, you remember,” said Euphranor, “how Lamb’s friend, looking upon the Eton Boys in their Cricket-field, sighed ‘to think of so many fine Lads so soon turning into frivolous Members of Parliament’!”  26
  “But why ‘frivolous’?” said Lycion.  27
  “Ay, why ‘frivolous’?” echoed I, “when entering on the Field where, Euphranor tells us, their Knightly service may be call’d into action.”  28
  “Perhaps,” said Euphranor, “entering before sufficiently equipp’d for that part of their calling.”  29
  “Well,” said Lycion, “the Laws of England determine otherwise, and that is enough for me, and I suppose for her, whatever your ancient or modern pedants say to the contrary.”  30
  “You mean,” said I, “in settling Twenty-one as the Age of ‘Discretion,’ sufficient to manage not your own affairs only, but those of the Nation also?”  31
  The hat nodded.  32
  “Not yet, perhaps, accepted for a Parliamentary Knight complete,” said I, “so much as Squire to some more experienced if not more valiant Leader. Only providing that Neoptolemus do not fall into the hands of a too politic Ulysses, and under him lose that generous Moral, whose Inventory is otherwise apt to get lost among the benches of St. Stephen’s—in spite of preliminary Prayer.”  33
  “Aristotle’s Master, I think,” added Euphranor with some mock gravity, “would not allow any to become Judges in his Republic till near to middle life, lest acquaintance with Wrong should harden them into a distrust of Humanity; and acquaintance with Diplomacy is said to be little less dangerous.”  34
  “Though, by the way,” interposed I, “was not Plato’s Master accused of perplexing those simple Affections and Impulses of Youth by his Dialectic, and making premature Sophists of the Etonians of Athens?”  35
  “By Aristophanes, you mean,” said Euphranor, with no mock gravity now; “whose gross caricature help’d Anytus and Co. to that Accusation which ended in the murder of the best and wisest man of all Antiquity.”  36
  “Well, perhaps,” said I, “he had been sufficiently punish’d by that termagant Wife of his—whom, by the way, he may have taught to argue with him instead of to obey. Just as that Son of poor old Strepsiades, in what you call the Aristophanic Caricature, is taught to rebel against parental authority, instead of doing as he was bidden; as he would himself have the Horses to do that he was spending so much of his Father’s money upon: and as we would have our own Horses, Dogs, and Children,—and Young Knights.”  37
  “You have got your Heroes into fine company, Euphranor,” said Lycion, who, while seeming inattentive to all that went against him, was quick enough to catch at any turn in his favour.  38
  “Why, let me see,” said I, taking up the book again, and running my eye over the passage—“yes,—‘Ardent of desire,’—‘Tractable,’—some of them at least—‘Without comprehending much’—‘Ambitious’—‘Despisers of Riches’—‘Warm friends and hearty Companions’—really very characteristic of the better breed of Dogs and Horses. And why not? The Horse, you know, has given his very name to Chivalry, because of his association in the Heroic Enterprises of Men—El mas Hidalgo Bruto, Calderón calls him. He was sometimes buried, I think, along with our heroic Ancestors—just as some favourite wife was buried along with her husband in the East. So the Muse sings of those who believe their faithful Dog will accompany them to the World of Spirits—as even some wise and good Christian men have thought it not impossible he may, not only because of his Moral, but—”  39
  “Well,” said Euphranor, “we need not trouble ourselves about carrying the question quite so far.”…  40
  “Well,” said I, “your great Schools might condescend to take another hint from abroad where some one—Fellenberg again, I think—had a Riding-house in his much poorer School, where you might learn not only to sit your horse if ever able to provide one for yourself, but also to saddle, bridle, rub him down, with the ss’ss–ss’ss which I fancy was heard on the morning of Agincourt—if, by the way, one horse was left in all the host.”  41
  “Well, come,” said Euphranor; “the Gladiator at any rate is gone—and the Boxer after him—and the Hunter, I think, going after both; perhaps the very Horse he rides gradually to be put away by Steam into some Museum among the extinct Species that Man has no longer room or business for.”  42
  “Nevertheless,” said I, “war is not gone with the Gladiator, and cannon and rifle yet leave room for hand-to-hand conflict, as may one day—which God forbid!—come to proof in our own sea-girt Island. If safe from abroad, some Ruffian may still assault you in some shady lane—nay, in your own parlour—at home, when you have nothing but your own strong arm, and ready soul to direct it. Accidents will happen in the best-regulated families. The House will take fire, the Coach will break down, the Boat will upset;—is there no gentleman who can swim, to save himself and others? no one do more to save the Maid snoring in the garret, than helplessly looking on—or turning away? Some one is taken ill at midnight; John is drunk in bed; is there no gentleman can saddle Dobbin—much less get a Collar over his Head, or the Crupper over his tail, without such awkwardness as brings on his abdomen the kick he fears, and spoils him for the journey. And I do maintain,” I continued, “having now gotten ‘the bit between my teeth’—maintain against all Comers that, independent of any bodily action on their part, these and the like Accomplishments, as you call them, do carry with them, and I will say, with the Soul incorporate, that habitual Instinct of Courage, Resolution, and Decision, which together with the Good Humour which good animal Condition goes far to ensure, do, I say, prepare and arm the Man not only against the greater but against those minor Trials of Life, which are so far harder to encounter because of perpetually cropping up; and thus do cause him to radiate, if through a narrow circle, yet through that imperceptibly to the whole world, a happier atmosphere about him than could be inspired by Closet-loads of Poetry, Metaphysic, and Divinity. No doubt there is danger, as you say, of the Animal overpowering the Rational, as, I maintain, equally so of the reverse; no doubt the higher-mettled Colt will be likeliest to run riot, as may my Lad, inflamed with Aristotle’s ‘Wine of Youth,’ into excesses which even the virtuous Berkeley says are the more curable as lying in the Passions; whereas, says he, ‘the dry Rogue who sets up for Judgment is incorrigible.’ But, whatever be the result, VIGOUR of Body, as of Spirit, one must have, subject like all good things to the worst corruption—Strength itself, even of Evil, being a kind of Virtus which Time, if not good Counsel, is pretty sure to moderate; whereas Weakness is the one radical and incurable Evil, increasing with every year of Life.”  43
 
 
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