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Twentieth Century Chivalry

A New Appraisal

We recently promised a reexamination of chivalry ~ one somewhat overdue, we thought, as we headed towards the new millenium and the threatened changes in Western society. This is now scheduled for the first issues of 2000, and we have chosen to introduce it by allowing this young lady to recount her experiences while travelling in the London area.

I was flying to Rome a few weeks ago. I had just boarded the flight and was struggling to place a heavy bag in one of the overhead lockers. Standing behind me was a man of about 59 or 60. In every respect he was stronger and fitter than I. He had shoulders like the Parthenon. He resembled a bronzed, living statue. (What with improved diet and medicine and so forth, it's amazing how well old people look these days.)

As I was saying, this man was standing there watching me battle with the bag. The bag, it was clear, was winning. Eventually I turned around and said most politely, "Excuse me, but would you be awfully kind and help me with this?"

The response the plea elicited was a metaphorical kick in the teeth. The man grimaced through clenched, expensively capped and bleached teeth. He snarled, "You must be out of your mind. I'm not insured against that kind of thing."

. . . . . . .

Travelling back to London on the train from Gatwick airport I encountered another example of this social epidemic. This time, I asked an airport steward to help me put a large suitcase on the train. I was late and in danger of missing it altogether. The steward appeared to be in his sixties and none the worse for wear. He refused point blank to give me any assistance.

He stared at me in the most hostile manner and whined, "What about my back?"

What about his back? "I'm going to miss this train if I don't get this suitcase on. Please will you help me?"

"No, I won't, I tell you. I'll put my back out. It's your fault. You shouldn't travel with such a large piece of luggage."

I am afraid I lost my temper.

"Look here. You're twice my size. You're a big strong man. (Yes, God forgive me, I did say that.) How can you not help me? Have you no manners at all?"

His reaction to this well-deserved lecture was to answer in the affirmative.

"Why should I help you? F--- off."

This enlightening piece appeared in The Spectator (the British one) of 4 September this year. It prompted our ancient Editor to make enquiries and, in consequence, to be assured that there was nothing unusual in Miss Wyatt's experience. Until then it had been his intention to look at chivalry on the battlefield only. Now the review is to be expanded to look at 21st-century attitudes in general.

The code from which chivalry evolved dates from the end of the 8th century. READ ON

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The origins of chivalry
© 1999 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd
Miss Petronella Wyatt's paragraphs are © 1999 The Spectator (1828) Ltd