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to be a great man and a reformer, and yet not be quite a gentleman.
When the Roman Empire was destroyed the antique type of gentleman perished. The very names of the tribes which destroyed him have yet terrible associations. Goths, Vandals, Huns — to the civil
ized man of the fifth and sixth centuries these sounded like the names of wild beasts rather than of men. You might as well have said tigers, hyenas, wolves. The end had come of a civilization that had been the slow growth of centuries.
Yet out of these fierce tribes, destroyers of the old order, a new order was to arise. Out of chaos and night a new kind of gentleman was to be evolved. The romances of the Middle Ages are variations on a single theme, the appearance of the finer type of manhood and its struggle for existence. In the palace built by the enchantment of Merlin were four zones of sculpture.
“And in the lowest beasts are slaying men
Europe was in the second stage, when men were slaying beasts and what was most brutal in humanity. If the higher manhood was to live, it must fight, and so the gentleman appears, sword in hand. Whether we are reading of Charlemagne and his paladins, or of Siegfried, or of Arthur, the story is the same. The gentleman has appeared. He has come into a waste land,
"Thick with wet woods and many a beast therein,
And none or few to scare or chase the beast."
He comes amid savage anarchy where heathen hordes are "reddening the sun with smoke and earth with blood.” The gentleman sends forth his clear defiance. All this shall no longer be. He is ready to meet force with force; he is ready to stake his life upon the issue, the hazard of new fortunes for the race.
It is as a pioneer of the new civilization that the gentleman has pitched
“His tent beside the forest. And he drave
The heathen, and he slew the beast, and felled
The ballads and romances chronicle a struggle desperate in its beginning and triumphant in its conclusion. They are in praise of force, but it is a noble force. There is something better, they say, than brute force: it is manly force. The giant is no match for the gentleman.
If we would get at the mediæval idea of the gentle man, we must not listen merely to the romances as they are retold by men oi genius in our own day. Scott and Tennyson clothe their characters in the old draperies, but their ideals are those of the nineteenth century rather than of the Middle Ages. Tennyson expressly disclaims the attempt to reproduce the King Arthur
“whose name, a ghost,
When we go back and read Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur,3 we find ourselves among men of
somewhat different mould from the knights of Tennyson's idylls. It is not the blameless King Arthur, but the passionate Sir Launcelot, who wins admiration. We hear Sir Ector crying over Launcelot's body, “Ah, Launcelot, thou wert the head of the Christian knights. Thou wert the courtliest knight that ever bare shield; and thou wert the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou wert the truest lover for a sinful man that ever loved woman; and thou wert the kindest man that ever strake with sword; and thou wert the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights; and thou wert the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall with ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.
We must take, not one of these qualities, but all of them together, to understand the gentleman of those ages when good and evil struggled so fiercely for the mastery. No saint was this Sir Launcelot. There was in him no fine balance of virtues, but only a wild tumult of the blood. He was proud, self-willed, passionate, pleasure-loving; capable of great sin and of sublime expiation. What shall we say of this gentlest, sternest, kindest, goodliest, sinfulest of knights,
this man who knew no middle path, but who, when treading in perilous places and following false lights, yet draws all men admiringly to himself?
We can only say this: he was the prototype of those mighty men who were the makers of the modern world. They were the men who fought with Charlemagne, and with William the Conqueror, and with Richard; they were the men who “beat down the heathen, and upheld the Christ;" they were the
men from whom came the crusades, and the feudal system, and the great charter. As we read the history, we say at one moment, “These men mail-clad ruffians," and at the next, “What greathearted gentlemen!”
Perhaps the wisest thing would be to confess to both judgments at once. In this stage of his evolution
the gentleman may boast of feats that would now • be rehearsed only in bar-rooms. This indicates that the standard of society has improved, and that what was possible once for the nobler sort of men is now characteristic of the baser sort. The modern rowdy frequently appears in the cast-off manners of the old-time gentleman. Time, the old-clothes man, thus furnishes his customers with many strange misfits. What is of importance is that through these transition years there was a ceaseless struggle to preserve the finer types of manhood.
The ideal of the mediæval gentleman was expressed in the word "gallantry.” The essence of
' gallantry is courage; but it is not the sober courage of the stoic. It is courage charged with qualities that give it sparkle and effervescence. It is the courage that not only faces danger, but delights in it. What suggestions of physical and mental elasticity are in Shakespeare's description of the "springing, brave Plantagenet!" Scott's lines express the gallant spirit:
“One crowded hour of glorious life
Gallantry came to have another implication, equally characteristic. The knight was gallant not only in war, but in love also. There had come a new worship, the worship of woman. In the Church it found expression in the adoration of the Madonna, but in the camp and court it found its place as well. Chivalry was the elaborate and often fantastic ritual, and the gentleman was minister at the altar. The ancient gentleman stood alone; the mediæval gentleman offered all to the lady of his love. Here, too, gallantry implied the same overflowing joy in life. If you are anxious to find a test by which to recognize the time when you are growing old, - so old that imagination is chilled within you, - I should advise you to turn to the chapter in the Romance of King Arthur entitled “How Queen Guenever went maying with certain Knights of the Table Round, clad all in green." Then read: "So it befell in the month of May, Queen Guenever called unto her knights and she gave them warning that early upon the morrow she would ride maying into the woods and fields besides Westminster, and I warn you that none of you but that he be well horsed and that ye all be clothed in green.
I shall bring with me ten Ladies and every knight shall have a squire and two yeomen. So upon the morn they took their horses with the Queen and rode on maying through the woods and meadows in great joy and delights."
If you cannot see them riding on, a gallant company over the meadows, and if you hear no echoes of their laughter, and if there is no longer any enchantment in the vision of that time when all were “blithe and debonair,” then undoubtedly you are growing old. It is time to close the romances: perhaps you may still find solace in Young's “Night Thoughts” 4 or Pollok's “Course of Time." 5 Happy are they
5 who far into the seventies still see Queen Guenever