MacMillan's Reading Books eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 236 pages of information about MacMillan's Reading Books.
in their most important concerns, naturally acquired consideration and influence in society.  They were advanced to honours which had been considered hitherto as the peculiar rewards of military virtue.  They were entrusted with offices of the highest dignity and most extensive power.  Thus, another profession than that of arms came to be introduced among the laity, and was reputed honourable.  The functions of civil life were attended to.  The talents requisite for discharging them were cultivated.  A new road was opened to wealth and eminence.  The arts and virtues of peace were placed in their proper rank, and received their due recompense.

While improvements, so important with respect to the state of society and the administration of justice, gradually made progress in Europe, sentiments more liberal and generous had begun to animate the nobles.  These were inspired by the spirit of chivalry, which, though considered, commonly, as a wild institution, 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 manners of the European nations.  The feudal state 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 administration 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 these 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 remove grievances, were deemed acts of the highest prowess and merit.  Valour, humanity, courtesy, justice, honour, were the characteristic qualities of chivalry.  To these was 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.

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