Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

274

SKETCHES FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA.

one

the Princess of Bareith, written by herself. On his first presentation, the Czar took the king by the hand, and told him he was glad to see him ; he. then offered to kiss the queen, but she declined the honor. He next presented his son and daughter, and four hundred ladies-in-waiting, the greater part of whom were washerwomen and scullions promoted to that nominal dignity. Almost every

of them had an infant, richly dressed, in her arms.

The Czar took the princess up in his arms, and in kissing her rubbed the skin off her face with his rough beard, laughing very heartily at the airs with which she resented this familiarity. He was liable, at times, to convulsive starts and spasms, and being seized in this manner when at table, with his knife in his hand, put his hosts into no little bodily terror. He told the queen, however, that he would do her no harm, and took her hand in token of his good humor, but squeezed it so unmercifully that she was obliged to cry out ; at which he laughed again with great violence, and said “her bones were not so well knit as his Catharine's.' What pleased him most among the curiosities of Berlin was a piece of antique sculpture, most grossly indecent. He insisted that his wife should kiss this figure, and, when she hesitated, he told her he would cut off her head if she refused. He then begged this piece, and several other things of value, from the king, and packed them off for St. Petersburg without ceremony. In a few days he took his departure, leaving the palace, in which he had been lodged, in a most extraordinary state of filth and dilapidation.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][ocr errors]

The chivalry of the Gothic nations began in the woods of Germany. No youth was then permitted to assume arms, at that time the great privilege of the noble and the free, at his own pleasure. It was made a social rank, to which it was necessary that the aspiring candidates should be elected in the public councils of their rude commonwealth ; and the emulated distinction was then solemnly conferred by the prince, or a kinsman, giving them a javelin and a shield. In these customs we see the origin of knighthood. As the Christian clergy prevailed in Europe, and became a constituent portion of the national councils of every country, they made religion a part of the ceremonial on these elections. They caused an oath to be imposed on the knight. They made the protection of the Church a part of his duty, and extended this to the assistance of the weak and injured ; and they gained an influence over his mind by consecrating his sword and belt on the altar. Chivalry, thus improved by its religious ceremonial and obligations, became an important agent in civilizing the fierce and predatory warriors of the Gothic nations. It led their rude minds to make even the warfare they loved a subject for moral discrimination. The actions of the base knight became marked and separated from those of the noble and gallant. One path led to fame, and the other to disgrace. Hence, our savage ancestors, who differed little from banditti, were gradually taught to feel distinction; from honor, an intellectual principle ; from courtesy, a social merit; and from moral sensibility, the surest source of human improvement.

This distinction, having once arisen, could not fail to be permanent. It was the interest of the Church to preserve and increase it; for their property was always at the mercy of the depredator. The king found his advantage in maintaining it, because it softened the

ance.

turbulence of the baronial character, and gave the law the protection of its bravery. The barons themselves at last perceived the superior safety and comfort which arose from the extinction of the habits of the lawless knight. The fair sex at all times found in honorable chivalry their most effective guardian and avenger. It was, perhaps, their influence that established its predominance in Europe. In their presence, knights delighted to prove their martial prowess, and from their hands received their public honors. The smile of the lady he adored, or professed to extol, became the highest ambition of the sturdy warrior; and her excellence was the topic, not only of his praise, but of his defi

Her service and her favor were his proudest boast. Gradually, in his festive hours, he imitated her dress. Her gentle manners diffused their magic over his own; and social courtesy, the first herald of the compassionate virtues, became the indispensable accomplishment of the brave and polished chevalier.

Knights were usually persons of birth, but not always so; the lower ranks were sometimes raised to that honor for extraordinary valor. They were qualified for their duty by laboring, running, carrying weights, exposing themselves to the sun and dust, eating rustic food, living in the open air, or in tents, and practising the use of arms. The true merit of a knight is thus stated by a Troubadour: “It is to fight well; to conduct a troop well; to do his exercise well; to ride his horse well ; to present himself with a good grace at courts; and to render himself agreeable there.” He adds : “Seldom are all these qualities united." This is very probable. To unite martial habits and

[ocr errors]

vigor with the courteous elegan cesof polished life could not be often accomplished in a half civilized age. Knighthood was conferred by.girding the person with a sword, and striking him a blow over the shoulders with that weapon. In some countries the candidates confessed themselves, and watched all the preceding night in a church; but the fierce Normans thought this too unwarlike. The Spanish knight watched his armor previous to the ceremony. After being dubbed, he went solemnly to church, his sword and belt were placed upon the altar, and prayers were offered. His oath declared his duty to be, “ To defend the Church ; to attack the perfidious ; to venerate the priesthood ; to protect the poor from injury ; to keep the country quiet; and to shed his blood, and, if necessary, to lose his life, for his brethren.”

As they had their duties, so they had their privileges. They were free from taxes, and all other services and burdens, in order, says the authority, “ that, being so alleviated, they may instruct themselves in the use of horses and arms, and be apt and ready for action, and the defence of their country.” But the great inducements to the occupation were the honor, the donations they frequently received, and the plunder they were always acquiring. It is in vain to suppose, that, before that happy era commenced, in which the greatest man was subjected to the power of the law, the armed force of the country could be kept in peaceful demeanour. But, as the manners of the age softened, they attached themselves to the fair sex. In the earlier state of chivalry, they had neither leisure nor taste for the refinements of love. Their gratifications were then

« VorigeDoorgaan »