Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/60

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
56
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

right side. This explanation is scarcely explanatory. Were highwaymen not as common in other countries as in Italy and England? Could they not and would they not as footmen attack from the left side of the road as well as from the right? Usage so widespread must have a far more generally acting and ancient habit behind it than this of robbery. All such habits as the rule of the road must have sprung from many and more primitive and humble origins, from the necessities or customs of the common people, in fact, whence as here the few later diligences and post-coaches derived their habits. The conscious legal enactment is merely the late acceptance of centuries of unconscious custom. If suddenly springing into existence, a general change must be the response to a new circumstance of powerful and general application.

Contributing customs or necessities may have cooperated to effect the change in Italy and England from the natural passage of vehicles to the right, making them pass to the left, while foot-passengers, vessels, etc., continued to pass to the right. But it has been overlooked that before vehicles had come into use horseback-riding must have set the fashion in passing because the riding of horses, asses, mules, etc., must have long preceded the existence of the wheeled vehicle of any kind. For perhaps a thousand years (as now in a large part of the earth's surface) it must have been impossible for transportation of goods or men to be effected by wagons, and only by horses, pack-mules, etc. During this time the rule of the road must have been fixed pretty rigidly, especially as the narrow "trail" or path would not everywhere allow meeting riders to pass, but only in certain wider or more open spaces. In all civilized countries, except the two mentioned, the fact that subsequent customs demand the passage to the right shows that, during the preceding centuries, the ridden horses and pack-animals must have passed to the right. One can scarcely doubt that the ridden horses of England and Italy did the same. This seems only to deepen the mystery of their contrary practise to-day.

The mystery, I suspect, is resolved by the forgotten fact of the tremendous, fashion-setting, and centuries-long influence of chivalry with its tourneys, joustings, and knightly battles on horseback, with ax, sword, spear, tilting lance or pole. Those who have studied and realize the vast domination of chivalry can easily comprehend the role it played as its vogue after centuries melted into plebeian tilling the soil, commercialism, and roads covered with wagons, coaches, etc. The horseback fights and mock-battles of the troubadours, minnie signers, knights, and aristocrats of these centuries were possible only by the contestants meeting and passing to the left. It is needless to illustrate the fact from histories of chivalry, from medieval legends, tales, adventures, etc., whether of the Arthurian cycle, or Ariosto, or a hundred