(Every Sunday will include a little essay that is off the beaten track a bit. It's not meant to be serious. It's not meant to invoke any deep thinking. It's just for fun...and more than a few will be a bit warped. Just like the other six days entries.)_____________
The origins of chivalry, for the most part, can be traced back to the 12th Century. Amusingly, the word, itself, comes from the word ‘cheval.’ That means "horse.” The tin man sitting on the cheval would be the ‘chevalier.’ He became the emissary of ‘chevalerie.’ So, by default, the truly chivalrous one must eat out of a bucket, sleep standing up, and jump the occasional fence.
French Literary figure of the 1800’s , Honore de Balzac tells us “the motto of chivalry is also the motto of wisdom; to serve all, but love only one." That quote finds de Balzac early in this life. Years later he was to provide comment that could, possibly, be considered a recant.
“A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband."
Weighty words from one considered an intellectual. Unfortunately, I was reminded of a Seinfeld episode and immediately regressed into the belief that a blind wife would be an annoyance. Blind wives, as they say, would be a little messier around the house. There’s no way she would get all the crumbs. However, I’d relish the opportunity to let the house go a bit. In addition, you could let yourself go. A blind wife would never know if you are good looking or not. She would never know if you’re good enough for her (shameless rip offs of Seinfeld Episode 114).
Modern day chivalry seems to have a varying mileage. Somehow, the concept has always been considered interaction between those of the opposite of sex. As a result, some arbitrary actions are perceived to be an emphasis on dominance; male over female. Those folks need to lighten up a tad. It’s not like I hold the door for unattractive women.
Respected author, Albert Geurard, seems to think less of chivalry. He went so far as to call it “the most delicate form of contempt." Well, that’s just not true. Winona Ryder with pockets is the most delicate form of contempt. What people fail to realize is that there are some droll historical truths attached to our, everyday, acts of chivalry.
For example, we are all familiar with the most recognized progeny of the “Code la Chevalries,” door holding. We do it for those with their hands full. Perhaps we do it for the opposite sex. Most of us do so as a courtesy to all making an entrance without consideration of gender. It’s just a civil gesture. However, back in the 1200’s a knight might hold wide the entry for m’lady simply out of the consideration that an adversary with raised sword or battle axe lay wait out of sight just beyond the frame. Really, it’s true. That is the clear origin of such an act.
(Feel free to insert your own “battle axe” pun here)
There is, also, the act of holding the lady’s coat behind her so that she can gain easier access. A wonderful and thoughtful gesture to be sure. It can, in duplicity, be an act of irritation as well; at least in my family. For as long as I can remember, my father would always hold my mother’s coat for her. Every single time, he would pinch shut one of the sleeves and watch with sophomoric delight as she searched in vain for that elusive opening. I tried that once (ONCE) with my girlfriend. It didn’t go over well, but I’m healing.
There are times when chivalry gets in the way of safety. The act must be fluid, subtle, and in good sense I’m afraid. Fraser Marlton-Thomas knows well that lesson.
Christmas Day 2005, the young man in royal service to the Queen of England noticed her majesty stand up during the dinner at Sandringham. Responding immediately, he pulled the chair back from the table assuming that she was about to visit the buffet. Unfortunately, the Queen had planned on sitting back down straight away. Her Highness ended up on her “hindness.”
We have a multitude of chivalrous, idiosyncratic behaviors that can be deployed in the name of consideration and courtesy. In fact, we have some efforts that are outdated, but we still do them. For instance, it is considered proper for the man to walk closest to the street when escorting a woman down the avenue. This action predates macadam. When you perform this thoughtful gesture, my friend, you are shielding your main squeeze from the perils of fast passing carriages, and rut accumulated mud puddles. If you still employ this ritual of civility I salute you. Mud puddles and carriages have given way to drive by’s and souped-up Toyotas.
Chivalry, evolved from a horse; acheval, really holds no hard and fast rules. Courtesy seems to be the guiding principle. I think there is something to be said for acting in moderation. Take Mark Twain’s advice in that regard. He said, “I can always tell which is the front end of a horse, but beyond that, my art is not above the ordinary.” I would, only, add that ignoring chivalry altogether can hold the same menace attributed to not recognizing the south end of that same horse.
Holding the sleeve shut packs a perfidious kick.