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“I see,” cries my friend, “that you are for a speedy administration of justice; but all the world will grant that the more time that is taken up in considering any subject, the better it will be understood. Besides, it is the boast of an Englishman that his property is secure, and all the world will grant that a deliberate administration of justice is the best way to secure his property. Why have we so many lawyers, but to secure our property? Why so many formalities, but to secure our property? Not less than one hundred thousand families live in opulence, elegance, and ease, merely by securing our property.”
“To embarrass justice," returned I, “by a multiplicity of laws, or to hazard it by a confidence in our judges, are, I grant, the opposite rocks on which legislative wisdom has ever split. In one case, the client resembles that emperor who is said to have been suffocated with the bedclothes which were only designed to keep him warm; in the other, to that town which let the enemy take possession of its walls, in order to show the world how little they depended upon aught but courage for safety. But bless me! what numbers do I see here, all in black – How is it possible that half this multitude find employment?”
“Nothing so easily conceived,” returned my companion. “They live by watching each other. For instance, the catchpole watches the man in debt, the attorney watches the catchpole, the counselor watches the attorney, the solicitor the counselor, and all find sufficient employment."
“I conceive you,” interrupted I. “They watch each other, but it is the client that pays them all for watching. It puts me in mind of a Chinese fable, which is entitled 'Five Animals at a Meal.' A grasshopper, filled with dew, was merrily singing under a shade. A whangam, that eats grasshoppers, had marked it for its prey, and was just stretching forth to devour it. A serpent, that had for a long time fed only on whangams, was coiled up to fasten on the whangam. A yellow bird was just upon the wing to dart upon the serpent. A hawk had just stooped from above to seize the yellow bird. All were intent on their prey, and unmindful of their danger; so the whangam ate the grasshopper, the serpent ate the whangam, the yellow bird the serpent, and the hawk the yellow bird; when, sousing from
on high, a vulture gobbled up the hawk, grasshopper, whangam and all, in a moment.”
I had scarce finished my fable, when the lawyer came to inform my friend that his cause was put off till another term, that money was wanted to retain, and that all the world was of opinion that the very next hearing would bring him off victorious. “If so, then,” cries my friend, “I believe it will be my wisest way to continue the cause for another term; and in the meantime my friend here and I will go and see Bedlam.” — Adieu.
LETTERS ON CHIVALRY AND ROMANCE
[These letters form one of the landmarks of the “romantic movement,” in their daring defense of Gothic or mediæval art. The substance of them may well be compared with certain parts of Warton's Spenser (see page 332, above), and with Collins's Ode on the Superstitions of the Highlands. The extracts that follow are from Letters I, vi, and XII.]
The ages we call barbarous present us with many a subject of curious speculation. What, for instance, is more remarkable than the Gothic Chivalry? or than the spirit of Romance, which took its rise from that singular institution?
Nothing in human nature, my dear friend, is without its reasons. The modes and fashions of different times may appear, at first sight, fantastic and unaccountable. But they who look nearly into them discover some latent cause of their production.
Nature once known, no prodigies remain as sings our philosophical bard; but to come at this knowledge is the difficulty. Sometimes a close attention to the workings of the human mind is sufficient to lead us to it; sometimes more than that, the diligent observation of what passes without us, is necessary. This last I take to be the case here. The prodigies we are now contemplating had their origin in the barbarous ages. Why then, says the fastidious modern, look any farther for the reason? Why not resolve them at once into the usual caprice and absurdity of barbarians? This, you see, is a short and commodious philosophy. Yet barbarians have their own, such as it is, if they are not enlightened by our reason. Shall we then condemn them unheard, or will it not be fair to let them have the telling of their own story?
Would we know from what causes the institution of Chivalry was derived ? The time of its birth, the situation of the barbarians amongst whom it arose, must be considered; their wants,
designs, and policies must be explored. We must inquire when, and where, and how it came to pass that the western world became familiarized to this prodigy, which we now start at.
Another thing is full as remarkable, and concerns us more nearly. The spirit of Chivalry was a fire which soon spent itself; but that of Romance, which was kindled at it, burnt long, and continued its light and heat even to the politer ages. The greatest geniuses of our own and foreign countries, such as Ariosto and Tasso in Italy, and Spenser and Milton in England, were seduced by these barbarities of their forefathers; were even charmed by the Gothic romances. Was this caprice and absurdity in them? Or may there not be something in the Gothic romance peculiarly suited to the views of a genius and to the ends of poetry? And may not the philosophic moderns have gone too far, in their perpetual ridicule and contempt of it?
To form a judgment in the case, the rise, progress, and genius of Gothic Chivalry must be explained. The circumstances in the Gothic fictions and manners, which are proper to the ends of poetry (if any such there be) must be pointed out. Reasons for the decline and rejection of the Gothic taste in later times must be given.
You have in these particulars both the subject and the plan of the following Letters.
Let it be no surprise to you that, in the close of my last Letter, I presumed to bring the Gierusalemme Liberata into competition with the Iliad. So far as the heroic and Gothic manners are the same, the pictures of each, if well taken, must be equally entertaining. But I go further, and maintain that the circumstances in which they differ are clearly to the advantage of the Gothic designers.
You see my purpose is to lead you from this forgotten chivalry to a more amusing subject: I mean the poetry we still read, and which was founded upon it. Much has been said, and with great truth, of the felicity of Homer's age for poetical manners. But, as Homer was a citizen of the world, when he had seen in Greece, on the one hand, the manners he has described, could he, on the other hand, have seen in the West the manners of the feudal ages, I make no doubt but he would certainly have preferred the latter. And the grounds of this preference would, I
suppose, have been the improved gallantry of the feudal times, and the superior solemnity of their superstitions.
If any great poet, like Homer, had lived amongst, and sung of, the Gothic knights (for after all Spenser and Tasso came too late, and it was impossible for them to paint truly and perfectly what was no longer seen or believed), this preference, I persuade myself, had been very sensible. But their fortune was not so happy.
Nocte, carent quia vale sacro. As it is, we may take a guess of what the subject was capable of affording to real genius from the rude sketches we have of it in the old romancers. And it is but looking into any of them to be convinced that the gallantry which inspirited the feudal times was of a nature to furnish the poet with finer scenes and subjects of description, in every view, than the simple and uncontrolled barbarity of the Grecian. The principal entertainment arising from the delineation of these, consists in the exercise of the boisterous passions, which are provoked and kept alive from one end of the Iliad to the other, by every imaginable scene of rage, revenge, and slaughter. In the other, together with these, the gentler and more humane affections are awakened in us by the most interesting displays of love and friendship; of love elevated to its noblest heights, and of friendship operating on the purest motives. The mere variety of these paintings is a relief to the reader as well as writer. But their beauty, novelty, and pathos give them a vast advantage, on the comparison.
Consider, withal, the surprises, accidents, adventures which probably and naturally attend on the life of wandering knights; the occasion there must be for describing the wonders of different countries, and of presenting to view the manners and policies of distant states, — all which make so conspicuous a part of the materials of the greater poetry. So that, on the whole, though the spirit, passions, rapine, and violence of the two sets of manners were equal, yet there was a dignity, a magnificence, a variety in the feudal, which the other wanted.
As to religious machinery, perhaps the popular system of 1 "[Many brave men lived before Agamemnon, but they are all oppressed, unwept and unknown, in endless night, because they lack a sacred bard (to praise them).”