Page:15 decisive battles of the world (New York).djvu/191

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BATTLE OF HASTINGS. 185


our sympathies with Harold and Hereward, and our abhorrence of the founder of the New Forest and the desolator of Yorkshire, we must confess the superiority of the Normans to the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Danes, whom they met here in 1066, as well as to the degenerate Frank noblesse, and the crushed and servile Romanesque provincials, from whom, in 912, they had wrested the district in the north of Gaul, which still bears the name of Normandy.

It was not merely by extreme valor and ready subordination to military discipline that the Normans were pre-eminent among all the conquering races of the Gothic stock, but also by an instinctive faculty of appreciating and adopting the superior civilizations which they encountered. Thus Duke Rollo and his Scandinavian warriors readily embraced the creed, the language, the laws, and the arts, which France, in those troubled and evil times with which the Capetian dynasty commenced, still inherited from imperial Rome and imperial Charlemagne. "Ils adopterent les usages, les devoirs, les subordination que les capitulaires des empereurs et les rois avoient institues. Mais ce qu'ils apporterent dans 1'application de ces lois, ce fut lesprit de vie, l'esprit de liberte, l'habitude de la subordination militaire, et l'intelligence d'un etat politique qui conciliat la surete6 de tous avec l'independance de chacun."* So, also, in all chivalric feelings, in enthusiastic religious zeal, in almost idolatrous respect to females of gentle birth, in generous fondness for the nascent poetry of the time, in a keen intellectual relish for subtle thought and disputation, in a taste for architectural magnificence, and all courtly refinement and pageantry. The Normans were the Paladins of the world. Their brilliant qualities were sullied by many darker traits of pride, of merciless cruelty, and of brutal contempt for the industry, the rights, and the feelings of all whom they considered the lower classes of mankind.

Their gradual blending with the Saxons softened these harsh and evil points of their national character, and in return they fired the duller Saxon mass with a new spirit of animation and power. As Campbell boldly expressed it, "They high-mettled the blood of our veins," Small had been the figure which England made in the world before the coming over of the Normans, and without them she never would have emerged from insignif-

  • Sismondi, "Histoire de Francais," vol. iii., p. 174.