[DFT] Fw: [ChivalryToday] Going Down With The Ship

Seanan seanan.dft at gmail.com
Mon Oct 3 18:57:36 PDT 2005

Chivalry Didn't Go Down With The Ship
By Scott A. Farrell ©2005

There are many claims that chivalry is an outmoded concept — a relic
of a bygone culture that was created to romanticize absurd acts of
foolishness, bravado and imprudence. And there’s probably no single
event that is as emblematic of this criticism as the infamous wreck
of the Titanic.

When the doomed Titanic began its slow descent into the ocean, the
upper-class men on board made a proud show of loitering on deck
wearing tuxedoes, sipping brandy, reciting poetry and encouraging the
band to play on while women and children took their places in the
ship’s limited number of lifeboats. Today this all seems a bit odd,
but this was an era when notions of knightly stoicism and forlorn
glory had elevated self-sacrifice to a level of virtuousness that
bordered on the sublime. Had these gentlemen not been addled by the
poetic sacrifices of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” or the
“Incident of the French Camp,” they might have been busy lashing
furniture together to create makeshift rescue rafts rather than
brooding on the pathos of their demise.

It was a moment in history when Victorian gallantry crashed headlong
into rugged American self-sufficiency. Later commentators would
wonder how any “real man” could stand by and idly, even happily
embrace death rather than fighting to live. In his 1988 essay “The
Fate of Chivalry and the Assault Upon Mother,” author and World War
II veteran Paul Fussell explains how the events of the Titanic’s
final hour demonstrate the obsolescence of chivalry:

“Today it would be impossible to imagine in a plane-crash evacuation
the men standing aside, calmly, nobly inhaling flames and gases for
several minutes and feeling their fingers, ears, and noses burning
off, while encouraging the women and children to leave down the
slides. Like much else that is traditional, chivalry has proved
unsuited to the world we have chosen to create.”

Ironically, Fussell’s essay was written during a period that has
become known as the “me-first decade.” Nearly 20 years later,
Fussell’s words aren’t very convincing; his sarcastic description
reads as an unintended insult to the heroes who emerged during recent
tragedies, from the Gulf Coast hurricanes to the attacks of 9/11.
Despite Fussell’s claim, we can imagine men (and women too) putting
themselves at risk, rushing into harm’s way and literally throwing
themselves into the flames and floodwaters in order to save others.
We can imagine it because we’ve seen it — we have been touched,
humbled and inspired by real demonstrations of these “impossible”

Of course, worship of blind self-sacrifice can become ridiculous and
even destructive, but that’s no excuse to dismiss the values of
compassion, duty and courage. Chivalry may have been abused and
misinterpreted throughout the ages, but at its core is a system of
supportive and empowering ideals that are very well suited to the
world we have created.

Without chivalry we would exist in a nation of predatory savages
willing to sacrifice the innocent and abandon the helpless for
purposes no better than profit and self-preservation. Chivalry
elevates us above such hollowness; it gives us the opportunity to
stand in the company of heroes through our own small, sincere acts of
grace and kindness. When life’s storm winds threaten to blow us into
the reefs and hazards of callousness and insensitivity, chivalry is
the compass that prevents us from sailing into rough water and going
down with the ship.

***Readers may wish to explore the thematic poems mentioned in this
article. Texts of the poems are available on-line by following these

The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Incident of the French Camp, by Robert Browning:

(Links are provided for informational purposes only. Chivalry Today
takes no responsibility for the material presented on these external


Readers are permitted and encouraged to share this article with
others as a way of furthering the understanding of the Code of
Chivalry in the modern world. Scott Farrell's seminars on "The
Leadership Secrets of the Code of Chivalry," as well as presentations
regarding the history and development of  chivalry and the knightly
virtues are available to businesses, schools and civic organizations
throughout the Southern California area; more information can be
found on our website. Please include all copyright statements and
attributions when forwarding Chivalry Today articles. Copyright 2005
Scott Farrell and Shining Armor Enterprises. Visit our website at
www.ChivalryToday.com .

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