Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11 / Part 12
Saladin is depicted as a virtuous, calm, refined, and sagacious figure much given to uttering what Scott must take to be pearls of Eastern wisdom, but which read more like those pseudo-Confucian proverbs to be found in Chinese cookies:
 Know, Christian, that when one eye is extinguished, the other becomes more keen””when one hand is cut off, the other becomes more powerful; so, when our reason in human things is disturbed or destroyed, our view heavenward becomes more acute and perfect.
 It is better that a man should be the servant of a kind master, than the slave of his own wild passions.
 The sage fears nothing but Heaven, but ever expects from wicked men the worst which they can do.
 Fortune may raise up or abuse the ordinary mortal, but the sage and the soldier should have minds beyond her control.
 Thou canst cut off the head, but not cure the aching tooth.
 When the rich carpet is soiled, the fool pointeth to the stain, the wise man covers it with his mantle.
 A valiant camel-driver is worthy to kiss the lip of a fair Queen, when a cowardly prince is not worthy to salute the hem of her garment.
 Her eye is as the edge of the sword of the Prophet, who shall look upon it? He that would not be burnt avoideth to tread on hot embers””wise men spread not the flax before a bickering torch””He, saith the sage, who hath forfeited a treasure, doth not wisely to turn back his head to gaze at it.
On the other hand, the character sketch of King Richard is more nuanced; he is painted as a true monarch, a great leader, courageous but impetuous, irritable, haughty, coarse, and contemptuous of his brother sovereigns. He would undoubtedly have triumphantly marched to Jerusalem but for the jealousies of the Christian princes engaged in the same enterprise. However, Richard is unequivocal in his admiration for Saladin — “my noble Saladin” — considered a man of his word. King Richard listens to some advice, and declares, “yet now this counsel sounds not so strange in mine ear; for why should I not seek for brotherhood and alliance with a Saracen, brave, just, generous,””who loves and honours a worthy foe, as if he were a friend,””whilst the Princes of Christendom shrink from the side of their allies, and forsake the cause of Heaven and good knighthood?”
“It were well,” said Richard, “to apply to the generosity of the royal Saladin, since, heathen as he is, I have never known knight more fulfilled of nobleness, or to whose good faith we may so peremptorily intrust ourselves. I speak thus for those who may be doubtful of mishap””for myself, wherever I see my foe, I make that spot my battle-ground.” Elsewhere Richard again adduces Saladin’s noble qualities, “Noble Saladin, suspicion and thou cannot exist on the same ground.”
While he praises the ideals of chivalry: “Sir Kenneth had full leisure to enjoy these and similar high-souled thoughts, fostered by that wild spirit of chivalry, which, amid its most extravagant and fantastic flights, was still pure from all selfish alloy “”generous, devoted, and perhaps only thus far censurable, that it proposed objects and courses of action inconsistent with the frailties and imperfections of man”, and does not doubt the sincerity of individual crusaders, Scott nonetheless finds the whole crusading project irrational, “But in the Crusade, itself an undertaking wholly irrational, sound reason was the quality, of all others, least estimated, and the chivalric valour which both the age and the enterprise demanded, was considered as debased, if mingled with the least touch of discretion.”
To be continued.