Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chronicle of the Good Knight Messire Jacques de Lalain

Scott writes in his journal on February 19, 1826: '...Being troubled with thick-coming fancies, and a slight palpitation of the heart, I have been reading the Chronicle of the Good Knight Messire Jacques de Lalain—curious, but dull, from the constant repetition of the same species of combats in the same style and phrase. It is like washing bushels of sand for a grain of gold. It passes the time, however, especially in that listless mood when your mind is half on your book, half on something else. You catch something to arrest the attention every now and then, and what you miss is not worth going back upon; idle man's studies, in short. Still things occur to one. Something might be made out of the Pass or Fountain of Tears, a tale of chivalry,—taken from the Passages of Arms, which Jacques de Lalain maintained for the first day of every month for a twelvemonth. The first mention perhaps of red-hot balls appears in the siege of Oudenarde by the citizens of Ghent. Chronique, p. 293. This would be light summer work...'

Scott's read of this French work, which is based on a historical person, is reflected in "Count Robert" in at least two references: 'And yet so passionate a Rodomont is Count Robert, that he would rather risk the success of the whole expedition, than omit an opportunity of meeting a worthy antagonist en champ-clos, or lose, as he terms it, a chance of worshipping Our Lady of the Broken Lances.'...

And, exemplifying fair fight:'..."I acknowledge the debt," he said, sinking his battle-axe, and retreating two steps from his antagonist, who stood in astonishment, scarcely recovered from the stunning effect of the blow by which he was so nearly prostrated. He sank the blade of his battle-axe in imitation of his antagonist, and seemed to wait in suspense what was to be the next process of the combat. "I acknowledge my debt," said the valiant Count of Paris, "alike to Bertha of Britain and to the Almighty, who has preserved me from the crime of ungrateful blood-guiltiness. —You have seen the fight, gentlemen," turning to Tancred and his chivalry, "and can testify, on your honour, that it has been maintained fairly on both sides, and without advantage on either. I presume my honourable antagonist has by this time satisfied the desire which brought me under his challenge, and which certainly had no taste in it of personal or private quarrel. On my part, I retain towards him such a sense of personal obligation as would render my continuing this combat, unless compelled to it by self-defence, a shameful and sinful action."...'

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