Lament For The Decline Of Chivalry by Thomas Hood

[Note: These verses form a good specimen of Hood’s capabilities for writing to order. They first appeared in the Bijou for 1828, accompanying a vignette by Thomas Stothard of two knights, mounted, and in complete armor, engaged in deadly conflict. This was doubtless (after the then custom of Annuals) placed in Hood’s hands for him to supply the appropriate letterpress.]

Well hast thou cried, departed Burke,
All chivalrous romantic work
Is ended now and past!–
That iron age–which some have thought
Of metal rather overwrought–
Is now all overcast!

Ay! where are those heroic knights
Of old–those armadillo wights
Who wore the plated vest?–
Great Charlemagne and all his peers
Are cold–enjoying with their spears
An everlasting rest!

The bold King Arthur sleepeth sound;
So sleep his knights who gave that Round
Old Table such eclat!
Oh, Time has pluck’d the plumy brow!
And none engage at tourneys now
But those that go to law!

Grim John o’ Gaunt is quite gone by,
And Guy is nothing but a Guy,
Orlando lies forlorn!–
Bold Sidney, and his kidney–nay,
Those “early champions”–what are they
But “Knights without a morn”?

No Percy branch now perseveres,
Like those of old, in breaking spears–
The name is now a lie!–
Surgeons, alone, by any chance,
Are all that ever couch a lance
To couch a body’s eye!

Alas for Lion-Hearted Dick,
That cut the Moslems to the quick,
His weapon lies in peace:
Oh, it would warm them in a trice,
If they could only have a spice
Of his old mace in Greece!

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The famed Rinaldo lies a-cold,
And Tancred too, and Godfrey bold,
That scaled the holy wall!
No Saracen meets Paladin,
We hear of no great Saladin,
But only grow the small!

Our Cressys, too, have dwindled since
To penny things–at our Black Prince[A]
Historic pens would scoff:
The only one we moderns had
Was nothing but a Sandwich lad,
And measles took him off!

Where are those old and feudal clans,
Their pikes, and bills, and partisans,
Their hauberks, jerkins, buffs?
A battle was a battle then,
A breathing piece of work; but men
Fight now–with powder puffs!

The curtal-axe is out of date;
The good old crossbow bends–to Fate;
‘Tis gone, the archer’s craft!
No tough arm bends the spinning yew,
And jolly draymen ride, in lieu
Of Death, upon the shaft!

The spear,–the gallant tilter’s pride,
The rusty spear, is laid aside,–
Oh, spits now domineer!
The coat of mail is left alone,–
And where is all chain armor gone?
Go ask at Brighton Pier.

We fight in ropes, and not in lists,
Bestowing hand-cuffs with our fists,
A low and vulgar art!–
No mounted man is overthrown:
A tilt!–it is a thing unknown–
Except upon a cart!

Methinks I see the bounding barb,
Clad like his Chief in steely garb,
For warding steel’s appliance!
Methinks I hear the trumpet stir!
‘Tis but the guard, to Exeter,
That bugles the “Defiance”!

In cavils when will cavaliers
Set ringing helmets by the ears,
And scatter plumes about?
Or blood–if they are in the vein?
That tap will never run again–
Alas! the Casque is out!

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No iron-crackling now is scored
By dint of battle-axe or sword,
To find a vital place–
Though certain doctors still pretend,
Awhile, before they kill a friend,
To labor through his case.

Farewell, then, ancient men of might!
Crusader, errant squire, and knight!
Our coats and customs soften;
To rise would only make you weep–
Sleep on, in rusty-iron sleep,
As in a safety coffin!

[Footnote A: The allusion to our modern “Black Prince” is apparently to Prince Le Boo, whose death, while on a visit to England, had so impressed the public imagination. He came, however, from the Pelew Islands, not the “Sandwich;” and it was smallpox, not measles, that “took him off.”]

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