The Dream

The Dream and the Tomb

by Robert Payne

Reviewed by Kenny Brechner

      The Crusades, by  their nature, excited a great deal of letter writing on the part of their aristocratic participants. Distance from family and political concerns, as well as an urgent need to plea for arms and supplies, made for diligent correspondents. The Crusades were further marked by four exceptionally good contemporary accounts.

    With this record in hand, and given the richness of prior scholarship and the colorful nature of the subject, The Crusades were an ideal subject for a mature and capable historian such as Robert Payne.

    Payne's The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades, was completed shortly before his death. And indeed it may be fairly said that the admixture of maturity and vigor which he brought to his final work rendered it like Theoden's face, " young and fair , save that a peace lay on it beyond the reach of youth."

    Historians living in a modern industrialized society are often loth to give any credence to the importance of individual personality as an historical force. Payne, however, has the laudable good sense to stress that the personality of a King in the eleventh century had far reaching ramifications throughout his domain.

    This was never more relevant than in the strikingly unstable Crusader environment where a man could wake up a squire in the morning, be appointed Knight in the afternoon, perform well in the days battle, and finally be appointed ruler of a substantial castle that evening as reward. Payne vividly presents the successive Crusader Kings and their Islamic counterparts, steadily developing an argument that, given the Crusaders' isolation from supply and refurbishment of arms, their only hope of lasting success would have been an endless stream of capable monarchs.

    Since, as Milton pointed out, history has never deigned to produce an uninterrupted flow of high functioning monarchs, the Crusader enterprise was surrounded by inevitable failure. Throughout the book Payne establishes a sense of fatalism. Cut off from reinforcements, and surrounded by canny foes with near infinite resources, the Crusaders could ill afford a single misstep while their opponents could rebound indefinitely. In this sense the great number of Crusader victories seem more notable than their few, though fatal, catastrophes.

    A fine stylist and a master of his materials Payne succeeds both in telling a gripping story and developing a consistent and well founded argument. The Crusaders' strengths and weaknesses were cut from the same cloth. Their headlong passion, their absolute belief in victory and being on God's side, were of a piece with their disdain and ignorance of their enemies, maps, caution, and other factors usually considered worthy of consideration.

    Payne argues that the end of the Crusades came when "at last they discovered that Jerusalem was not a geographical place. It was a place in the human heart." In capturing the Crusaders' mentality, their passionate confusion of the ideal and the real, The Dream and the Tomb very gracefully merges the historical progression of both action and perspective.