by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Justice and Judgment Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"I care not," replied Gurth, "how soon he makes a mark of me. Yesterday he left Wilfred, my young master, in his blood. To-day he has striven to kill before my face the only other living creature that ever showed me kindness. By St Edmund, St Dunstan, St Withold, St Edward the Confessor, and every other Saxon saint in the calendar," (for Cedric never swore by any that was not of Saxon lineage, and all his household had the same limited devotion), "I will never forgive him!" (18.24)
While Gurth has been off helping Ivanhoe at the tournament at Ashby, he has technically been AWOL from his job as Cedric's pig-herder. Gurth reappears in the forest as his master is passing by on his way home from a feast with Prince John. In a rage, Cedric hurls a spear at Gurth's dog Fang and throws Gurth in chains. Here Gurth complains to Wamba about how much he hates Cedric now. As soon as Cedric is attacked by De Bracy and Bois-Guilbert, though, Gurth immediately lets go of his (justified) anger and tries to help his master. What do you think of Gurth's forgiveness? Does Cedric deserve it? Would you be able to forgive Cedric for the highhanded way he treats his slaves and his son?
"For my vow," said the Templar [Brian de Bois-Guilbert], "our Grand Master hath granted me a dispensation. And for my conscience, a man that has slain three hundred Saracens, need not reckon up every little failing, like a village girl at her first confession upon Good Friday eve." (21.18)
Even though Bois-Guilbert's attraction to Rebecca breaks his vow of chastity as a Knight Templar, he doesn't feel guilty about it. Why? Because he has fought so bravely in the Crusades that he thinks a few little sins won't count against him after he dies. Bois-Guilbert seems to think of morality like a bank account: if you make enough good-deed deposits you don't have to worry about a couple of bad-deed withdrawals. Obviously Bois-Guilbert has done plenty of bad deeds, but do you agree with this moral system? If you do enough good works, do they cancel out your wrongdoing? Is there evil that no amount of good can make up for?
And here we cannot but think it necessary to offer some better proof than the incidents of an idle tale, to vindicate the melancholy representation of manners which has been just laid before the reader. It is grievous to think that those valiant barons, to whose stand against the crown the liberties of England were indebted for their existence, should themselves have been such dreadful oppressors, and capable of excesses contrary not only to the laws of England, but to those of nature and humanity. But, alas! we have only to extract from the industrious Henry one of those numerous passages which he has collected from contemporary historians, to prove that fiction itself can hardly reach the dark reality of the horrors of the period. (24.33)
In this passage, Scott interrupts the story with a message: you may find it hard to believe that the cruelty at Torquilstone could ever really take place, but don't forget that the Middle Ages was a bad time! Even fiction can barely match the "dark reality of the horrors of the period."
By making this statement, Scott implies both that the Middle Ages were hellish and that times have changed: people are more civilized now, and would never torture anyone the way they did back then. This seems like a naive outlook on human history. If Scott had lived long enough to see the horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries, maybe he would have had a less rosy view of how much humanity has changed and improved.
By the way, the "valiant barons" Scott is talking about are the nobles who forced King John (still Prince John in Ivanhoe) to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. This document started to chip away at the supposedly divine power of the throne by making English kings subject to laws just like everybody else.