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The spirit of chivalry inspired the nobles of Europe with more liberal and generous sentiments than had formerly prevailed. This institution, though considered of a wild nature, the effect of caprice, and the source of extravagance, arose naturally from the state of society at that period, and had a very serious influence in refining the European manners. The feudal, was a state of almost perpetual war, rapine, and anarchy, during which the weak and unarmed were exposed to insults or injuries. The power of the sovereign was too limited to prevent these wrongs, and the ad. ministration of justice too feeble to redress them. The most effectual protection against violence and oppression was often found to be that which the valour and generosity of private persons afforded. The same spirit of enterprise which had prompted so many gentlemen to take arms in defence of the oppressed pilgrims in Palestine, incited others to declare themselves the patrons and avengers of injured innocence at home. When the final reduction of the holy land under the dominion of infidels put an end to those foreign expeditions, the latter was the only employment left for the activity and courage of adventurers. To check the insolence of overgrown oppressors; to rescue the helpless from captivity ; to protect or to avenge women, orphans, and ecclesiastics, who could not bear arms in their own defence; to redress wrongs and to renove grievances; were deemed acts of the highest prowess and merit. Valour, humanity, courtesy, justice, and honour,
were the characteristic qualities of chivalry. To these were added religion, which mingled itself with every passion and institution during the middle ages, and, by infusing a large proportion of enthusiastic zeal, gave them such force as carried them to romantic excess. Men were trained to knighthood by a long previous discipline; they were admitted into the order by solemnities no less devout than pompous; every person of noble birth courted that honour; it was deemed a distinction superior to royalty, and monarchs were proud to receive it from the hands of private gentlemen.
This singular institution, in which valour, galJantry, and religion, were so strangely blended, was wonderfully adapted to the taste and genius of martial nobles, and its effects were soon visible in their manners. War was carried on with less ferocity, when humanity came to be deemed the ornament of knighthood no less than courage. More gentle and polished manners were introduced, when courtesy was recommended as the most amiable of knightly virtues. Violence and oppression decreased, when it was reckoned meri. torious to check and to punish tliem. A scrupulous adherence to truth, with the most religious attention to fulfil every engagement, became the distinguishing characteristic of a gentleman, because chivalry was regarded as the school of honour, and inculcated the most delicate sensibility with respect to those points. The admiration of these qualities, together with the high distinctions and prerogatives conferred on knighthood in every part of Europe, inspired persons of noble birth
on some occasions with a species of military fanaticism, and led them to extravagant enterprises. But they deeply imprinted on their minds the principles of generosity and honour. These were strevgthened by every thing that can affect the senses or touch the heart. The wild exploits of those romantic knights who sallied forth in quest of adventures, are well known, and have been treated with proper ridicule. The humanity which accompanies all the operations of war, the refinements of gallantry, and the point of honour, are sentiments inspired by chivalry, and have had a wonderful influence on manners and conduct, during the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fitteenth centuries. They were so deeply rooted, that they continued to operate after the vigour and reputation of the institution itself began to decline.
CAUSES OF NATIONAL CHARACTERS,
The vulgar are very apt to carry all national characters to extremes; and having once established it as a principle, that any people are knavish, or cowardly, or ignorant, they will admit of no exception, but comprehend every individual under the same character. Men of sense condemn these undistiaguishing judgments; though at the same time they allow, that each nation has a peculiar set of manners, and that some particular qualities are more frequently to be met with among one people than among their neighbours. The common people in Switzerland have surely more probity than
of the same rank in Ireland, and every prudent man will, from that circumstance alone, make a difference in the trust which he reposes in each.
We have reason to expect greater wit and gaiety in a Frenchman than in a Spaniard, though Cervantes was born in Spain. An Englishman will naturally be thought to have more wit than a Dane, though Tycho Brahe was a native of Denmark.
Different reasons are assigned for these national characters, while some account for them from moral, and others from physical causes. By moral causes, I mean all circumstances which are fitted to work on the mind, as motives or reasons, and which render a peculiar set of manners habitual to us,
Of this kind are the nature of the government, the revolutions of public affairs, the plenty or penury in which the people live, the situation of the nation with regard to its neighbours, and such like circumstances. By physical causes, I mean those qualities of the air and climate, which are supposed to work insensibly on the temper, by altering the tone and habit of the body, and giving a particular complexion; which though reflection ,and reason may sometimes overcome, yet will it prevail among the generality of mankind, and have an influence on their manners.
That the character of a pation will very much depend on moral causes, must be evident to the most superficial observer; since a nation is nothing but a collection of individnals, and the manners of individuals are frequently determined by these causes. As poverty aud hard labour debase the minds of the common people, and render them upfit for any science or iugenious profession, so
where any government becomes very oppressive to all its subjects, it must have a proportional effect on their temper and genius, and must banish all the liberal arts from amongst them.
The same principle of moral causes fixes the characters of different professions, and alters even the disposition which the particular members receive from the hand of nature. A soldier and a priest are different characters in all nations and all ages, and this difference is founded on circumstances, whose operation is external and unalterable.
The uncertainty of their life makes soldiers lavish and generous, as well as brave; their idleness, as well as the large societies which they form in camps or garrisons, inclines them to pleasure and gallantry; by their frequent change of company they acquire good-breeding and an openness of behaviour; being employed only against a public and open enemy, they become candid, honest, and undesigning: and as they use more the labour of the body than the mind, they are commonly thoughtless and ignorant.
It is a trite but not altogether a false maxim, that priests of all religions are the same; and though the character of the profession will not in every instance prevail over the personal character, yet is it sure always to predominate with the greater number. For as chymişts observe, that spirits when raised to a certain height are all the same, from whatever materials they be extracted; so these men being elevated above humanity, acquire an uniform character, which is entirely their own, and which is in my opinion, generally speak