I have often commented here on the value of broad reading in literature. One value is that good stories tend to include keen insight into human nature. Currently I am listening to the audio of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lesser known novels, The White Company. The story is set in 14th century Europe during the Hundred Year’s War. In one section Alleyne, a young man who has just left a monastery, encounters for the first time men of the world in a local tavern. In the quote below the common woman who runs the tavern corrects Alleyne about the marks of great men as opposed to the pretense of small men. This is a good word.
“And the other?” asked Alleyne in a whisper. “He is surely some very great man, for he looks as though he scorned those who were about him.”
The landlady looked at him in a motherly way and shook her head. “You have had no great truck with the world,” she said, “or you would have learned that it is the small men and not the great who hold their noses in the air. Look at those shields upon my wall and under my eaves. Each of them is the device of some noble lord or gallant knight who hath slept under my roof at one time or another. Yet milder men or easier to please I have never seen: eating my bacon and drinking my wine with a merry face, and paying my score with some courteous word or jest which was dearer to me than my profit. Those are the true gentles. But your chapman [peddler] or your bearward [keeper of bears] will swear that there is a lime in the wine, and water in the ale, and fling off at the last with a curse instead of a blessing. This youth is a scholar from Cambridge, where men are wont to be blown out by a little knowledge, and lose the use of their hands in learning the laws of the Romans.