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Castles of England and Wales
POSSIBLY a romantic child can still invest the keep of Newcastle with all the glories of flying pennons, fair ladies, and knights-at-arms. But for those who have found that history is not a tale of the unceasing triumphs of idealists, there comes a weariness of Utopian chivalry. It may be that King Arthur was a “parfit gentil knight” indeed, but who King Arthur actually was no historian can say. And everybody knows that Henry II, who built the keep at Newcastle, was a King of some merit, of some talent, endowed like the rest of us with a fluctuating tide of virtues and vices.
The ruins of Tintagel give licence to the imagination to reconstruct their airy pinnacles, their cloud-capped towers, in the most magnificent way conceivable. The keep at Newcastle is preserved before our eyes in a severely practical manner. In its position it is as if caught and held fast in a fork of railways. It may once have stood siege, it may once have been the prison of kings. But in later days it has served as a county gaol and it is the meeting-place of a society of antiquaries. As though, indeed, solicitous that a border hold should come to such base uses, a paternal railway company has erected, at suitable positions in the vicinity, tasteful walls capped by picturesque but useless battlements. The great keep, bereft of curtain wall and drawbridge, has had restored to it by a generation in love with the past some little of its ancient glory. And, indeed, in this Newcastle is more fortunate than Canterbury, whose keep was converted into a coal-hole to assuage, in some measure, the archæological zeal of a gas company.
But do not say there is no Romance in Newcastle keep. The lonely cliff of Tintagel is no more romantic than the industrial town that has grown up around the fortress of Robert Curthose and Henry II. When knights-errant saw the pennons and banners, they knew whose castle they approached. So do we, by a low-hung cloud of trailing smoke, recognize the industrial town.
There live the magnates of the new feudalism. Their castle is a factory, their crest a hoarding, their motto a slogan. Bound by ties of “economic self-interest,” rather than by those of thegnhood or of sergeantry, an army of workers garrison their factories and accept their bounty; an army greater and more dependent — and bound not for a mere forty days of service, but until death — than ever gathered under the banner of a Neville or a Pole. In the new feudalism as in the old, it is the reliance of the weak upon the strong. The only change is that the military reliance has become an economic one.
Is not Romance here? How spiritless in comparison are the green fields of Tintagel, unused by man and useless to him. In Newcastle there is life and history in the making.
In the more immediate surroundings of Newcastle keep there lies another equally vital contrast. The older feudalism, being the formation of local associations, was in part, at least, the result of poor communications. The king’s peace and the king’s power had a tendency to be restricted to the great high roads. The keep was the local defence or the local terror; when besieged it held out as best it might until its garrison starved or its besiegers withdrew. Its main characteristic was immobile strength.
But it is the improvement in communication that has made possible the new feudalism. The local associations become increasingly national and controlled by the State; and in war it is not the combatant with the strongest defence, but the combatant with the most effective communications that is victorious. Verdun would not have sustained siege any longer than isolated Mauberge if it had not had the railways in its rear; and the industrial magnate knows that his factories are useless without his strategic railways to provision them with raw materials.
So the lodger in a slum and the worker in a factory need sigh no longer for green fields and ivy-mantled castle ruins in which to reincarnate all their fancied heroes of vanished centuries. Let them look up on high to the factory chimneys against the black pall of the firmament. Let them consider the railway lines, how they run here and there carrying the merchants and the merchandise that, to them, mean life and livelihood. Let them scorn the old feudalism of Tintagel and reverence the new feudalism of Newcastle. Is not this the whole of their life, and is not life Romance?
THE CASTLE, NEWCASTLE.