There is another element to this discussion, which is often ignored: the inherent, underlying danger of the knight or the gentleman. The knight had been trained in combat since he was a child, and was equipped with the finest weapons he could afford. On the battlefield, he was an armored juggernaut, killing the enemy with skill and steel. This did not vanish as the armored knight became the gentleman. The rapier’s name came from espada ropera, sword of the robes – the weapon of choice for the noble duelist. A gentleman was willing to risk his life with blades or guns in a duel for honor or in a war for his country and family. The finest Edwardian gentlemen took up their sabers to lead the lads over the top of a World War I trench.
The gentleman is civilized when facing gentlemen, and courteous toward the ladies. However, when facing barbarism, the gentleman destroys it ruthlessly. It is only by good breeding and upbringing that the Wolf is turned into a Sheepdog. The civilized system is an attempt to control and channel this inherent destructive power. A true gentleman is respected by other gentlemen, and feared by his enemies.
If we are going to promote civility and chivalrous conduct, let us have the whole system, and nothing less.
Omega Paladin-Go here to read the rest. This brought to my mind this quote by Edmund Burke:
“The Age of Chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold the generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprize is gone!”
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Perhaps Burke was right, but perhaps he was wrong:
Here lies a clerk who half his life had spent
Toiling at ledgers in a city grey,
Thinking that so his days would drift away
With no lance broken in life’s tournament
Yet ever ‘twixt the books and his bright eyes
The gleaming eagles of the legions came,
And horsemen, charging under phantom skies,
Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme.
And now those waiting dreams are satisfied
From twilight to the halls of dawn he went;
His lance is broken; but he lies content
With that high hour, in which he lived and died.
And falling thus, he wants no recompense,
Who found his battle in the last resort
Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,
Who goes to join the men of Agincourt.
This amazingly prophetic poem was written in 1912 by Herbert Asquith, a son of the British Prime Minister who two years hence would lead Britain into the Great War. Herbert Asquith served throughout the War in the Royal Artillery and his brother Raymond died fighting on the Western Front on September 15, 1916, concealing the gravity of his mortal wound to encourage his men in their attack. Winston Churchill, upon the death of Raymond’s father wrote of him:
“It seemed quite easy for Raymond Asquith, when the time came, to face death and to die. When I saw him at the Front he seemed to move through the cold, squalor and peril of the winter trenches as if he were above and immune from the common ills of the flesh, a being clad in polished armour, entirely undisturbed, presumably invulnerable. The War which found the measure of so many, never got to the bottom of him, and when the Grenadiers strode into the crash and thunder of the Somme, he went to his fate cool, poised, resolute, matter of fact, debonair. And well we know that his father, then bearing the supreme burden of the State, would proudly have marched at his side”
Chivalry as a system, with its virtues and its flaws, is long dead. Chivalry as aspiration, might for right, courage in the face of death, grace in the face of agony, the defense of the weak and faith in God, still is powerful.