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I ENTER, without more words, on the fubject I began to open to you in my laft Letter.
THE old inhabitants of these NorthWeft parts of Europe were extremely given to the love and exercife of arms. The feats of CHARLEMAGNE and our ARTHUR, in particular, were fo famous as in later times, when books of Chivalry were compofed, to afford a principal subject to the writers of them [a].
BUT CHIVALRY, properly fo called, and under the idea of a diftin&t military "order, conferred in the way of invefti"ture, and accompanied with the folem
[a] See a difcourfe at the end of Love's Labour Loft in WARB. Ed. of SHAKESPEAR; in which the origin, fubject, and character of these books of Chivalry (or Romances, properly fo called) are explained with an exactnefs of learning, and penetration, pe culiar to that writer
In tenui labor, at tenuis non gloria...-
nity of an oath and other ceremonies, as described in the old hiftorians and "romancers," was of later date, and feems to have fprung immediately out of the FEUDAL CONSTITUTION.
THE FIRST and moft fenfible effect of this conftitution, which brought about fo. mighty a change in the policies of Europe, was the erection of a prodigious number of petty tyrannies. For, though the great barons were clofely tied to the fervice of their Prince by the conditions. of their tenure, yet the power which was given them by it over their own numerous vaffals was fo great, that, in effect, they all fet up for themselves; affected an independency; and were, in truth, a fort of abfolute Sovereigns, at leaft with regard to one another. Hence, their mutual aims and interefts often interfering, the feudal state was, in a good degree, a state of war: the feudal chiefs were in frequent enmity with each other: O 4
the feveral combinations of feudal tenants were fo many feparate armies under their head or chief: and their caftles were fo many fortreffes, as well as palaces, of thefe puny princes.
In this ftate of things one fees, that all imaginable encouragement was to be given to the use of arms, under every different form of attack and defence, according as the fafety of these different communities, or the ambition of their leaders, might require. And this condition of the times, I fuppofe, gave rife to that military inftitution, which we know by the name of CHIVALRY.
FURTHER, there being little or no fecurity to be had amidst fo many reftlefs fpirits and the clashing views of a neighbouring numerous and independent nobility, the military difcipline of their followers, even in the intervals of peace, was not to be relaxed, and their ardour
ardour fuffered to grow cool, by a total difuse of martial exercises. And hence the proper origin of Justs and TURNAMENTS; thofe images of war, which were kept up in the caftles of the barons, and, by an useful policy, converted into the amusement of the knights, when their arms were employed on no serious occafion.
I CALL this the proper origin of Jufts and Turnaments; for the date of them is carried no higher, as far as I can find, even in France (where unquestionably. they made their first appearance) than the year 1066; which was not till after the introduction of the feudal govern ment into that country. Soon after, indeed, we find them in England and in Germany; but not till the feudal policy. had spread itself in those parts, and had prepared the way for them.
You fee, then, my notion is, that Chivalry was no abfurd and freakish inftitution, but the natural and even fober effect of the feudal policy; whose turbulent genius breathed nothing but war, and was fierce and military even in its amusements,
I LEAVE YOU to revolve this idea in your own mind. You will find, I believe, a reasonable foundation for it in the hiftory of the feudal times, and in the fpirit of the feudal government.
F the conjecture, I advanced, of the
ftances of the feudal
government, be thought reasonable, it will not be dif ficult to account for the feveral CHARACTERISTICS of this fingular profeffion.