The Personal Equation
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BY F. H. TOWNSEND
A GIPSY ENCAMPMENT BY FRANK BRANGWYN, R.I
THE DREAMING KNIGHT
BY A. C. BENSON.
AT Reepham, in Norfolk, there is an inconspicuous church, which few travellers go to see, because of the two magnificent churches of Cawston and Salle pronounced like Saul close by, miniature cathedrals, with their painted screens, rich woodwork, timbered roofs, set down for some undiscovered reason perhaps only for the glory of God in tiny pastoral hamlets ; and so Reepham escapes notice. Yet there is at Reepham one of the most beautiful monuments in England, the tomb of Sir Roger de Kerdeston, who died in 1337, a work of art which is almost the last word of the Middle Ages !
The designer of this tomb must have been a man of deeply poetical mind. He threw away all convention, and instead of depicting the knight in the usual fashion, stiffly extended, with strong hands just pressed together in prayer, a cushion under his head, and perhaps a faithful dog at his feet, he chose to represent him with arms crossed, and one mailed leg over the other, asleep, awaiting the battle, on a bed of large stones. The utter restfulness of the great wearied figure, who had fought perhaps all through the day, and has laid himself down to bivouac, making a pillow for himself, like Jacob on the bare hill of Luz, out of the stones of the place, is infinitely noble and suggestive. He sleeps like a tired child, his armour still laced about him, ready to rise and fight again as soon as the dawn comes up and the trumpet sounds over the dewy field.
This mysterious piece of mediaeval realism has, so far as I know, no counterpart ; it is an attempt to get back to life through art, to present a thing seen, rather than a thing imagined. But its very freshness and spontaneity seems to be a symbol of something new dawning on the world, a new order, which is to set the ancient order aside.
It stands for the end of the old romance, of a world with half its mysteries uninterpreted and unexplored, a place of marvellous surprises and adventures, in which almost any-thing seemed possible, and when the curtain screening life and life's laws had not been lifted. He is waiting, that wearied knight, for the dawn of a new knowledge, which has ever since been making the world not less wonderful or mysterious, but certainly less bewildering and surprising. Science was to achieve marvels which the most potent magic had failed to bring about, the laboratory was to transform the earth, the printing-press was to multiply knowledge ; labour and order and peace were to gain ground, century by century, and a life both fuller and richer was to rise out of the ashes of the old.
And yet if the old romance was about to die, with its chivalry and its high-hearted adventures, and with all its misery and wretchedness, too, it was not to be an extinction or even a decay of its forces ; the force was but to run in different channels. Because with all our knowledge of what is happening in nature, all our binding of nature's powers to serve our turn, we are still as much in the dark, indeed more in the dark than ever, about the ultimate mysteries. We have no idea how we come to be alive, or what death means ; we know nothing of the strange force of passion and love which draws human beings together still, and overleaps all obstacles. It may be possible indeed that the same sort of order of life as we have seen in the world's history may be evolving itself in millions of planets in space, each globe with a history and a development of its own. All this is dark to us ; but it seems as though science, in maiming superstition, in destroying the old possibilities of wonder, had but brought within our range a far vaster and more intricate mystery ; it has limited miracle, in fact, but increased amazement, by showing us that life as it is, as it remains to be lived, is a far larger and deeper thing than any private fancy, and lovelier than any clash of minstrelsy. So that the old knight, who sleeps so hard and chill upon the stones of the wold, has but opened his eyes upon a statelier pageant than ever he saw before, whether he flashed and thundered in the onset, with the castle-towers staring grimly over the bastion, or rode silken-starved and robed with one whom he loved, among the thorn-thickets on a May morning.
If one could but find words to say clearly how far richer and stranger life is now than it was then, in all its peaceful concourse, its high-built cities, its infinite combinations, its very battles and tumults, one would do a greater deed than any knight of old. For the thing is all there, staring us in the face, entreating us, crying out urgently to be perceived, with a myriad of voices both loud and sweet. And yet the poet and the dreamer turn away their eyes, and look back regretfully to the old dim days, forgetting all the fears and narrownesses, the brutalities and horrors. Because in those days the battle was so insistent, the pressure of life so hard, that the sage and the poet, and even the lover, if he was not a man of prowess, were hunted out of it into monasteries and colleges, fortresses of quiet, into a sad routine of prayers and gossip. But now romance, by which I mean a certain fineness and glow of life, can come to us anywhere and every-where, in office and villa and country cottage. We do not all want it, it is true, because our hearts are set on the wrong things, and we do not all recognise it when we see it ; but it is there for all that, the wonder and greatness of life, looking through disasters and toil, and reaching out like the sunset glow beyond the rim of the dusky world. That is the new gift, the art of life, once possessed by so few, now freely handed to all. That is the change that has overtaken the world, since the dust of carved stone was brushed from the new-made shrine at Reepham six centuries ago.