Scott Roots Chivalry Marriage

Sir Walter Scott on the Roots of Chivalry's Attitude to Women:

One of the less-well-read works of Scott's is his long-form essay on chivalry. There are reasons why it is not as well read as his books. For one thing, you can learn more about his actual attitude toward the thing by reading his books. In the essay he is careful to criticize, as a scholar should, but the evenhandedness of the essay often gives the impression that there is just as much to be said in blame as in praise. That clearly was not his real sentiment, as his books show us so plainly.

You will also learn more to his credit from the books than from the essay. In his books he is usually generous even to his villains, with only a few of them being without redeeming qualities. In the essay he is more clearly prejudiced, in the just the way one would expect a Scottish Tory of his age to be: for example against the Spanish (who are 'Oriental' in character, he says, and better at feeling than thinking) and Catholics generally (the faith is lowered in quality by superstition, such as reverence for saints and the Virgin Mary).

Nevertheless, it's an interesting essay for those of you who might have time to spend on it. One particular passage that struck me was his writings on how the Germanic nations had a kind of proto-chivalry toward women in their attitude toward polygamy and chastity.

[T]he opinion that it was dishonorable to hold sexual intercourse until the twentieth year was attained... must have contributed greatly to place their females in that dignified and respectable rank which they held in society. Nothing tends so much to blunt the feelings, to harden the heart, and to destroy the imagination as the worship of the Vagus Venus in early youth. Wherever women have been considered as the early, willing, and accomodating slaves of the voluptuousness of the other sex, their character has become degraded, and they have sunk into domestic drudges and bondswomen among the poor -- the captives of a harem among the more wealthy....

Hence polygamy, and all its brutalizing consequences, which were happily unknown among our Gothic ancestors. The virtuous and manly restraints imposed upon their youth were highly calculated to exalt the character of both sexes, and especially to raise the females in their own eyes and those of their lovers.
Scott is relying on Tacitus here. I think it is fair to say that he is slightly overstating the case on polygamy, as we will see; but if anything he understates Tacitus' remarks on the exaltation of women in Germanic marriage. Compared with the Roman or the Greek conception, the barbarians are much closer to our own view about the relationship between husband and wife.
Almost alone among barbarians they are content with one wife, except a very few among them, and these not from sensuality, but because their noble birth procures for them many offers of alliance. The wife does not bring a dower to the husband, but the husband to the wife. The parents and relatives are present, and pass judgment on the marriage-gifts, gifts not meant to suit a woman's taste, nor such as a bride would deck herself with, but oxen, a caparisoned steed, a shield, a lance, and a sword. With these presents the wife is espoused, and she herself in her turn brings her husband a gift of arms. This they count their strongest bond of union, these their sacred mysteries, these their gods of marriage. Lest the woman should think herself to stand apart from aspirations after noble deeds and from the perils of war, she is reminded by the ceremony which inaugurates marriage that she is her husband's partner in toil and danger, destined to suffer and to dare with him alike both in in war. The yoked oxen, the harnessed steed, the gift of arms proclaim this fact.
Lars Walker has occasionally written against the proposition that Tacitus put forward; rather than excerpt his argument, I'll let him forward it himself. Tacitus is clearly writing with influencing his Roman audience in mind, more than he is trying to present a perfectly accurate picture.

There's a lot here that is highly relevant to many discussions we are having about our own society today. I'll stop with this, for now, and see what you think.

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