ORIGIN OF THE BOOK.
WE owe this our English Epic of Le Morte Darthur to Sir Thomas Malory, and to William Caxton the first English printer. Caxton’s Preface shows (what indeed would have been certain from his appeal to the ‘Knights of England’ at the end of ‘The Order of Chivalry’) that however strongly he, ‘William Caxton, simple person,’ may have been urged to undertake the work by ‘divers gentlemen of this realm of England,’ he was not less moved by his own love and reverence for ‘the noble acts of chivalry,’ and his deep sense of his duty and responsibility in printing what he believed would be for the instruction and profit of his readers, ‘of whatever estate or degree.’ But to Sir Thomas Malory he gives all the honour of having provided him with the copy which he printed. And ever since, for more than four hundred years, successive generations have approved the fitness of Caxton’s choice. For it is Malory’s book, and not the older forms of King Arthur’s story which we still read for enjoyment, and for the illustration of which scholars edit those earlier books. Only a true poem, the offspring of genius, could have so held, and be still holding its ground, age after age. It may be said that it is chiefly with boys, and with men who have formed the taste by their boyish reading, that the book is so popular. But is not this so with the Iliad too? Men of mature intellect and taste read and re-read the Iliad with ever new discoveries, appreciation, and enjoyment; but it may be questioned whether there are many, or even any, of them who did not begin those studies at school, and learn to love Homer before they knew that he was worthy of their love. And they who have given most of such reading, in youth and in manhood, to Malory’s Morte Darthur will be the most able and ready to recognise its claim to the character of an Epic poem.
MALORY A POET.
Malory wrote in prose, but he had ‘the vision and the faculty divine’ of the poet, though ‘wanting the accomplishment of verse’; and, great as that want is, we may apply Milton’s test of ‘simple, sensuous, and passionate,’ and we shall find no right to these names more real than is Malory’s. Every incident, the description of every event, is ‘simple,’ that is to say, complete in itself, while making a part of the whole story. The story is ‘sensuous,’ like that of Homer, and as every true poem must be, it is a living succession of concrete images and pictures, not of abstractions or generalized arguments and reasonings. These are the characteristics of the book, from its opening story of Igraine, which ‘befell in the days of Uther Pendragon,’ down to the death of the last four remaining knights who ‘went into the Holy Land, there as Jesus Christ was quick and dead,’ and there ‘did many battles upon the miscreants or Turks, and there they died on a Good Friday for God’s sake.’ And for ‘passion,’ for that emotion which the poet first feels in a special manner, and then awakens in his hearers, though they could not have originated it in themselves, with the adventures of the Round Table and the San Greal, or the deaths of Arthur, of Guenever, and of Launcelot, we may compare the wrath of Achilles, its cause and its consequences, or the leave-taking of Hector and Andromache. It would, indeed, be hard to find anywhere a pathos greater than that of Malory’s description of the death or ‘passing’ of Arthur, the penitence of Guenever, and her parting with Launcelot, or the lament of Launcelot over the King and Queen, and of Sir Ector over Launcelot himself. The first is too long to quote, but I may say that Malory has re-cast the old story, and all the poetry is his own. I give the two last:—
‘Truly, said Sir Launcelot, I trust I do not displease God, for He knoweth mine intent, for my sorrow was not, nor is not, for any rejoicing of sin, but my sorrow may never have end. For when I remember of her beauty, and of her noblesse, that was both with her king and with her; so when I saw his corpse and her corpse so lie together, truly mine heart would not serve to sustain my careful body. Also when I remember me, how by my default, mine orgule, and my pride, that they were both laid full low, that were peerless that ever was living of christian people, wit you well, said Sir Launcelot, this remembered, of their kindness and mine unkindness, sank so to my heart, that I might not sustain myself.’
‘Ah, Launcelot, he said, thou were head of all christian knights; and now I dare say, said Sir Ector, thou Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou were never matched of earthly knight’s hand; and thou were the courtiest knight that ever bare shield; and thou were the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse; and thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman; and thou were the kindest man that ever strake with sword; and thou were the goodliest person ever came among press of knights; and thou was the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest1.’
The former passage is all Malory’s own: the beauty of the latter is enhanced, if we set by its side the old version which he follows:—
‘Alas, sir [said] Bors, that I was born,
Humour is akin to passion; and it may not be out of place to notice here Malory’s vein of humour, as shown, for instance, in the way in which he tells the adventures of La Cote Male Taile, and of Beaumains; the pranks of the braver knights with Dinadan and Dagonet; the story of Arthur’s wedding feast, when a lady who ‘cried and made great dole,’ was forcibly carried out of the hall by a strange knight, and Arthur ‘was glad, for she made such a noise,’ and was thereupon rebuked by Merlin for thinking so lightly of his royal and knightly duties; or that of the usurper Mordred and the Bishop of Canterbury, when after each had defied the other, the bishop ‘did the curse in the most orgulous wise that might be done,’ and then retired to live ‘in poverty and holy prayers, for well he understood that mischievous war was at hand.’
THE BOOK EPIC IN PLAN.
In the Drama the action is present, actually unwinding itself and going on before our eyes. The Epic is the story of the past, a cycle of events completed, while through the one and the other may be traced a thread of destiny and providence, leading either to a happy triumph over circumstances, or to a tragic doom, which, too, is in the end, a triumph also. Thomas Hughes, the early Elizabethan dramatist, in his ‘Misfortunes of Arthur,’ concentrated and deepened the horror of such a tragedy by transferring the guilt of Launcelot to Mordred the son of Arthur and his unknown sister. He would better have recognised and followed the finer art of Malory. For though the motive of Malory’s epic is less gross and exaggerated than that of Hughes’s drama, the thread of guilt and doom which runs from first to last through the former is not less real than in the latter. The crime of Uther Pendragon, with which the story opens, leads to the concealment of Arthur’s parentage from himself, and this to his illicit love for her whom he does not know to be his sister, and so to the birth of Mordred. Then comes the prophetic doom:—‘Ye have done of late a thing that God is displeased with you: and your sister shall have a child that shall destroy you and all the knights of your realm.’ Arthur tries in vain to prevent the fulfilment of this doom by the only cruel deed of his life: and then—after another warning of the woe which his marriage with Guinevere will bring on him, through her guilty love for Launcelot—these germs of tragic destiny remain hidden through long years of prosperity. Arthur, aided by his fellowship of the Round Table, reduces universal anarchy into order: and not only ‘gets into his hand’ all England, Wales, and Scotland, but by his march to Rome makes himself emperor, and the head of all the kingdoms as well as of all the chivalry of Christendom. Still the fame and the honour of the king and his knights of the Round Table open continually into new and brighter forms, which seem above the reach of any adverse fate, till the coming of the Sancgreal, into the quest of which all the knights enter with that self-reliance which had become them so well in the field of worldly chivalry, but which would be of no avail now. They are now to be tried by other tests than those by which they had been proved as ‘earthly knights and lovers,’ tests which even Launcelot, Ector de Maris, Gawaine, and the other chiefest of the fellowship could not stand. The quest is achieved by the holy knights alone: two depart from this life to a higher, while Sir Bors, not quite spotless, yet forgiven and sanctified, the link between the earthly and the spiritual worlds, returns to aid in restoring the glory of the feasts and tournaments at Camelot and Westminster. But the curse is at work: the severance between good and evil which had been declared through the Sancgreal cannot be closed again; and the tragic end comes on, in spite of the efforts—touching from their very weakness—of Arthur and Launcelot to avert the woe, the one by vainly trying to resist temptation, the other by refusing to believe evil of his wife and his dearest friend. The black clouds open for a moment as the sun goes down; and we see Arthur in the barge which bears him to the Holy Isle; Guenever, the nun of Almesbury, living in fasting, prayers, and almsdeeds; and Launcelot with his fellowship, once knights but now hermit-priests, ‘doing bodily all manner of service.’
Nor are the marks of harmony and unity less plain in the several characters than in the events of the story. Arthur is a true knight, sharing the characteristics of his nobler knights, yet he differs from them all in showing also that he is, and feels himself to be, a king; as when—with an imperiousness which reminds us of Froissart’s story of Edward III refusing to listen to Sir Walter of Manny’s remonstrances on behalf of the burgesses of Calais—he tells Sir Launcelot that he ‘takes no force whom he grieves,’ or insists on his entering the lists against a tired knight whom he is not willing to see victorious over the whole field; or as when he sadly regrets that he cannot do battle for his wife, though he believes her innocent, but must be a rightful judge according to the laws. There are many others of the Round Table who are ‘very perfect gentle knights, yet we feel that Launcelot stands distinct among them all in the pre-eminence of his knightliness, notwithstanding his one great sin. Thus, to take one of many instances, who but Launcelot would have borne the taunts and the violence of Gawaine with his humble patience and ever-renewed efforts for a reconciliation, when he was leaving the realm, and when he was besieged in Joyous Gard. Modern critics of great name agree in censuring Sir Thomas Malory for departing from the old authorities who represented Gawaine as the very counterpart of Launcelot in knightly character: but I rather see a proof of Malory’s art in giving us a new Gawaine with a strongly individual character of his own. Gawaine’s regard for his mother’s honour, his passion for Ettard, and his affection for his brothers, are fierce impulses driving him to unknightly and unworthy deeds, yet he is far from being represented as a mere savage. If Malory depicts him thirsting to revenge upon Launcelot the unintentional killing of Gaheris and Gareth, he depicts also his long previous affection for Launcelot and his opposition to the hostility of his other brother, Mordred, against him; his devotion to his uncle Arthur; his hearty repentance towards Launcelot at the last; and his entreaty that he would ‘see his tomb, and pray some prayer more or less for his soul.’ Nor must we forget that it was by the prayer of those ladies for whom Gawaine had ‘done battle in a rightwise quarrel,’ that his ghost was permitted to give Arthur a last warning. Distinct again from the character of this fierce knight is that of the Saracen Palamides, whose unquestionable courage and skill in deeds of chivalry also want—though in another way than Gawaine’s—the gentleness, the meekness, and the delicate sense of honour of the Christian knight. Sir Dinadan again, who can give and take hard knocks if need be, though he has no great bodily strength, and who is always bantering the good knights who know and esteem him with his humorous protests against love and arms, is a distinctly drawn character. So is Merlin, half Christian, half magician, but always with dog-like loyalty to the house of Uther Pendragon. So is the Bishop of Canterbury, who appears at intervals in the story. So are many others whose names I might recite. The dignity of queen Guenever towards her husband and her court is not less marked than her guilty passion for Launcelot, and the unreasoning jealousy it excites in her. The wife-like simplicity of Igraine, the self-surrender beyond all limit, though from different impulses, of the two Elaines, the pertness of the damsel Linet, and the piety and self-sacrifice of Sir Percivale’s sister, will occur to the reader among the distinctive characteristics of the different ladies and damsels who live and move, each in her own proper form, in the story. Sir Thomas Malory, as we know, found many of these men and women already existing in the old romances as he represents them to us; but we may believe that those earlier books were to him something of what the pages of Plutarch and Holinshed were to Shakespeare.
MALORY’S USE OF THE OLD ROMANCES.
It has been too commonly assumed that, because Caxton says that Sir Thomas Malory took his work ‘out of certain books of French and reduced it into English,’ he was a mere compiler and translator. But the book itself shows that he was its author—its ‘maker,’ as he would have called it. Notwithstanding his occasionally inartificial manner of connecting the materials drawn from the old romances, there is an epic unity and harmony, ‘a beginning, a middle, and an end,’ which, if they have come by chance and not of design, have come by that chance which only befalls an Homeric or a Shakespeare-like man. If more instances and proofs are needed than have been already given, let us turn to the opening chapters of the book. If we compare these with the old romances which supplied the materials for them, we see at once how Malory has converted prose into poetry, giving life and beauty to the clods of earth, and transmuting by his art the legends which he yet faithfully preserves. For the long and repulsive narrative of Merlin’s origin3 he substitutes a slight allusion to it: without disguising what he probably believed to be at least an half historical record of Arthur’s birth, he gives a grace and dignity to the story by the charms of the mother’s character, the finer touches of which are wanting in the original: and so through the whole of this part of the story.
Twenty-three years ago, I ventured to assert Malory’s claim to epic genius: and now this claim may be farther tested, and as I think, established, by help of the learned researches of Dr. Sommer. Of these I shall state some details, in speaking of the text and its several editions, here giving the result so far as it bears on the present point. We may now see how Malory’s ‘Morte Darthur’ was fused into its actual form out of crude materials of ten times its bulk, and that while he often translated or transcribed the French or English romances as they lay before him, on the other hand he not only re-wrote, in order to bring into its present shape the whole story, but also varied both the order and the substance of the incidents that so he might give them that epic character, and that beauty in the details, which his book shows throughout. Malory was no doubt a ‘finder’ as well as a ‘maker,’ but so, I repeat, was Shakespeare, and so was every other great poet. But the quarry and the building are not the same thing, though the one supplies the rough stones with which the other is raised up. We see that there is much that is rude and inartificial in Malory’s art. He has built a great, rambling, mediæval castle, the walls of which enclose rude and even ruinous work of earlier times, and not a Greek Parthenon nor even an Italian palace of the Renaissance. Still, it is a grand pile, and tells everywhere of the genius of its builder. And I ask, as Carlyle once asked me, Who built St. Paul’s? Was it Wren, or the hodman who carried up the bricks? But while supporting my conclusions as to Malory’s art by the evidence of Dr. Sommer’s facts, it is right to add that the conclusions are my own rather than those of this learned critic. His estimate of Malory’s genius in the choice and treatment of his materials falls far short of mine: and I can believe that Malory may have judged rightly, for his own purpose, when he did not take that form of a legend which was in itself the most beautiful.
MALORY’S HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY.
The most recent critics are disposed to prefer Hume’s and Gibbon’s belief to Milton’s scepticism as to the actual existence of Arthur. But upon this question I do not enter. Malory’s historical chapters, as they may be called, seem to be mainly taken from the Historia Brithonum of Geoffrey of Monmouth, though much of them is also to be found in the romances4. The details of Arthur’s march to Rome are so accurate that I think that Malory may have had actual knowledge of the road, which indeed must have been familiar to many men—soldiers, priests, and merchants—in the days of Edward IV. But of the rest of the history and the geography of the book before us we can only say that they are something
‘Apart from place, withholding time,
of the great hero of English romance. We cannot bring within any limits of history the events which here succeed each other, when the Lords and Commons of England, after the death of King Uther at St. Alban’s, assembled at the greatest church of London, guided by the joint policy of the magician Merlin and the Christian bishop of Canterbury, and elected Arthur to the throne; when Arthur made Carlion, or Camelot, or both, his head-quarters in a war against Cornwall, Wales, and the North, in which he was victorious by help of the king of France; when he met the demand for tribute by the Roman emperor Lucius with a counter-claim to the empire for himself as the real representative of Constantine, held a parliament at York to make the necessary arrangements, crossed the sea from Sandwich to Barflete in Flanders, met the united forces of the Romans and Saracens in Burgundy, slew the emperor in a great battle, together with his allies, the Sowdan of Syria, the king of Egypt, and the king of Ethiopia, sent their bodies to the Senate and Podestà of Rome as the only tribute he would pay, and then followed over the mountains through Lombardy and Tuscany to Rome, where he was crowned emperor by the Pope, ‘sojourned there a time, established all his lands from Rome unto France, and gave lands and realms unto his servants and knights,’ and so returned home to England, where he seems thenceforth to have devoted himself wholly to his duties as the head of Christian knighthood.
With the exception just mentioned, the geography is fanciful enough; and we need the magic of Merlin, or of some conjuror-poet like him of Horace, to set us with the required disregard of time successively in Carleon, Carlisle, Winchester, London, St. Alban’s, and Camelot. The story opens within a night’s ride of the castle of Tintagil. Thence we pass to St. Alban’s, to London, and to Carlion. This last is, no doubt, Caerleon-upon-Usk; but it seems through this, as in other romances, to be interchangeable in the author’s mind with Carlisle, or (as written in its Anglo-Norman form) Cardoile, which latter in the History of Merlin is said to be in Wales, while elsewhere Wales and Cumberland are confounded in like manner. So of Camelot, where Arthur chiefly held his court, Caxton in his Preface speaks as though it were in Wales, probably meaning Caerleon, where the Roman amphitheatre is still called Arthur’s Round Table. Malory himself, though at page 49 he seems to connect Camelot with Avelion, or Glastonbury, yet farther on, page 63, says that Camelot is Winchester, where, too, there is a Round Table, mentioned by Caxton, and still to be seen,—an oaken board with the knights’ names on it. And yet at the time these authorities wrote Camelot itself existed in Somersetshire with its proper name, and with all the remains of an important town and fortress, and, doubtless, the traditions of Arthur which Leland found there, and which in great part at least remain to this day. Leland calls it Camallate or Camalat, ‘sometime a famous town or castle, upon a very torre or hill, wonderfully enstrengthened of nature5.’ Four ditches and as many walls surrounded a central space of about thirty acres where foundations and remains of walls might be seen, and whence Roman pavements, urns, coins, and other relics have been found up to the present time. I find it called the Castle of Camellek in maps of the dates of 1575 and 1610, and in that of the 1727 edition of Camden’s Magna Britannica, the text of which says ‘the inhabitants call it King Arthur’s Palace.’ But soon after that date a learned antiquarian6 writes that the name had been superseded by that of Cadbury Castle, which trilingual appellation may seem to indicate the Roman, British, and Saxon possessors by whom it was probably held in succession. The neighbouring villages which, according to Leland, bore ‘the name of Camalat with an addition, as Queen-Camel,’ still exist as Queen-Camel, or East Camel, and West Camel, and near by runs the river Camel, crossed by Arthur’s Bridge. Arthur’s well still springs from the hill side; and if Arthur’s Hunting Causeway in the field below, Arthur’s Round Table and Arthur’s Palace within the camp, cannot still, as of old, be pointed out to the visitor, the peasant girl will still tell him that within that charmed circle they who look may see through golden gates a king sitting in the midst of his court. Drayton describes the river Ivel in Somersetshire as
‘The nearest neighbouring flood to Arthur’s ancient seat,
These old legendary traditions, pleasant to hear or to know of, have been collected by another Somersetshire antiquarian, the late Rev. J. H. Bennett, Rector of South Cadbury8. Together with the legends told by Leland and others, and those which he himself gathered on the spot, Mr. Bennett has given a carefully detailed topographical description of the old town and fortress of Camelot, strong by nature and strengthened by art, where the Britons made their last stand against the Saxons; and he has shewn how its strategical position was connected, in fact as well as in romance, with the Isle of Avallon, the Monastery of Glastonbury, and the Nunnery of Almesbury. He thinks that during the hundred years which followed the taking of Sarum by the Saxons A.D. 551, during which (except in the capture of Bath in 577 A.D.) they made no further progress in the conquest of Somersetshire, Camelot became the capital of the South British kingdoms, and stemmed the tide of war in this direction by its great line of strongholds; and he thus suggests that we may have here the historical circumstances which connected or helped to connect, the legends of the great British hero with Camelot. Leland, who wrote his Itinerary early in Henry VIII’s reign, mentions, among other relics found at Camelot, a silver horseshoe, and Mr. Bennett gives us the words of one of the Cadbury peasants who told him ‘folks do say that on the night of the full moon King Arthur and his men ride round the hill, and their horses are shod with silver, and a silver shoe has been found in the track where they do ride, and when they have ridden round the hill they stop to water their horses at the wishing well.’ But more than three hundred years before Leland wrote, this still living legend had been recorded by Gervase of Tilbury, who, in his Otia Imperialia (date about 1212) says that in the woods of Britain the foresters, as the common people call the keepers of the woods and wild game, tell that on alternate days, about noon, or at midnight when the moon is full and shining, they often see an array of hunters with dogs and sound of horns, who, in answer to the enquirers, say that they are of the household and fellowship of Arthur. And, what is still more curious, Gervase, in the same place, gives a legend of Arthur, of Mount Etna, which singularly corresponds with that just mentioned as still living among the mounds of ancient Camelot. He tells that the horse of the Bishop of Catania had run away from his groom, and when the groom was following him up the precipitous side of the mountain, he came upon an open place where was the Great Arthur, resting upon a couch. Arthur ordered the horse to be brought back and restored to the bishop, sent him presents, and related how he had lain there, all those years, suffering from wounds he had received in the battle with his nephew Mordred, and Childeric the leader of the Saxons9. The British story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table had spread through Italy by the side of the French romances of Roland and Charlemagne10 but this curious transfer of an incident from Camelot in Somersetshire, to Mount Etna in Sicily seems as if it must have been due to some Norman troubadour who had actually passed from one land to the other, and given the proper local colouring to the story in its new home as the bee carries fertility from one garden to another. Scotland, too, among the stories by which she claimed her part in Arthur and his knights, had a tale how ‘Arthour Knycht he raid on nycht with gylten spur and candel lycht11.’
Legend tells that Glastonbury—founded by Joseph of Arimathea, and his burial-place, though his body was vainly sought in Edward III’s reign—possesses the coffin of Arthur. It is said that Henry II found the bodies of Arthur and Guenever there, and that Guenever had yellow hair. Their skulls were afterwards taken for relics by Edward Longshanks and Eleanor.
Almesbury, where Guenever died a nun, is a town in Wiltshire, seven and a half miles from Salisbury, where may still be seen the ruins of its celebrated abbey. The name was originally Ambrosebury, then Ambresbury, and lastly Amesbury, as it is now spelt.
The ruins of the castle of Tintagil, too, may still be seen in Cornwall.
Joyous Gard, Launcelot’s favourite castle, is sometimes identified with Berwick. Malory tells us that ‘some men say it was Anwick, and some men say it was Bamborow.’ Bamborow, or Bamborough, is in Northumberland, sixteen miles southeast of Berwick. The castle, founded in the middle of the sixth century, which is the supposed time of Arthur’s reign, stands on a high rock projecting into the North Sea. It now contains a granary, hospital, and other endowments made for the poor in 1715 by Lord Crewe, bishop of Durham. Did he think of his predecessor Launcelot, and his doles of ‘flesh, fish, wine and ale, and twelve pence to any man and woman, come who would?’
The names of some other places in this book are given in the Glossary.
Let us turn to the Sangreal, or Holy Grail, the Quest of which forms so important a part of Malory’s book. The word ‘Grail’ means a dish, a drinking vessel, or a tureen, in the Romance language, and is probably derived from the Low Latin ‘gradalis’ or ‘grasalis’; and this from the Greek ‘crater’: and the old writers describe it sometimes as a shallow vessel for holding food, and sometimes as a cup12. The legend of the Grail is traced back to Pagan times, where it appears as a miraculously food-producing vessel, of which we perhaps see a survival in the coming of the Sangreal to Launcelot and King Pelles, and at the feast of Pentecost which led to the Quest:—
‘Then there entered into the hall the holy Grail covered with white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bare it. And there was all the hall full filled with good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world: and when the holy Grail had been borne through the hall, then the holy vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became.’
But in the Christian form into which the legend passed, the Grail became either the dish which held the paschal lamb at the Last Supper, the vessel in which Joseph of Arimathea had received the Saviour’s blood, or the sacramental cup itself. Mr. Alfred Nutt has treated the whole subject with exhaustive learning in his ‘Studies of the Legend of the Holy Grail,’ and his article ‘Grail, the Holy’ in Chambers’ Encyclopaedia. But when I say that one only of the many stories of which Mr. Nutt gives an account is a poem of 60,000 verses, I shall not be expected to attempt any summary of his book. I shall content myself with the more popular account of the Sangreal, in its immediate relation to Malory’s Morte Darthur. According to the romances of Le S. Graal, Lancelot du Lac, Perceforest, and Morte Arthur, the Sangreal, or Holy Graal, was the dish which held the paschal lamb of the Last Supper. Joseph of Arimathea having gone into the house where the Supper had been eaten, took away the dish, and in it received the blood from the wounds of Jesus; and this dish, ‘with part of the blood of our Lord,’ he brought with him into England, and with it converted many heathens; and it was kept in a tower expressly built for it at Corbenicy. The romance of Merlin says that ‘this vessel was brought to this said knight [Joseph of Arimathea] by our Lord Jesu Christ while he was in prison xl. winter, him to comfort,’ but does not mention its earlier history.
When Caxton replied to the ‘noble and divers gentlemen of this realm of England’ who urged him to print the history of Arthur, that many persons held the opinion that there was no such Arthur, ‘one in special’ insisted that this was mere blindness, since Arthur’s sepulchre was to be seen at Glastonbury, Gawaine’s skull at Dover, the Round Table at Winchester, as well as many other relics. And if this noble gentleman had only known it, he might have added that the Holy Grail itself was to be seen in the Cathedral Church of Genoa. There it is still shewn. It is an hexagonal dish, about seventeen inches across, and was long supposed to be a single emerald, which stone it resembles in colour and brilliancy. It is called ‘Sagro Catino,’ with a tradition which makes it to be the Holy Grail we have just described, and with the addition that it was brought to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba. It was taken, on the capture of Caesarea, by the Genoese under Guglielmo Embriaco in 1101 A.D. Like the other plunder of Italian cities it was taken to Paris by Napoleon I, and restored after the peace of 1815, but was broken in pieces on the road from careless packing. It is now kept together by a wire frame: and when I saw it in the Cathedral treasury a few years since I was gravely told that it was broken in its return from the Paris ‘Exposition’ of Napoleon III13.
INFLUENCE OF THE BOOK ON ENGLISH LETTERS AND LIFE.
The influence of Sir Thomas Malory’s book upon English literature, and so upon English life, upon our thoughts, morals, and manners, has been great and important. I have spoken of its claims to be considered an Epic poem; but it is not the less true, that it is our first great work of English prose, the first in which the writing of prose was shown to be one of the fine arts for England. Malory’s style is often inartificial: he is not always able to master the huge masses of his materials, and fails to fuse and mould them into a perfect whole. But we must confess the like of Milton, whose grand periods of magnificent English are often followed by others which are confused and cumbrous in form, if not in thought. It has taken many workmen, through many generations, to make our prose writing what it is: but there is an infant beauty in Malory’s style which is full of promise of the perfect manly form that is to be. The passages which I have already quoted are instances of this inartificial beauty of style. The thoughts and images spontaneously utter themselves in words without any attempt at rhetorical balance and arrangement. Thus in the lament of Sir Ector over Sir Launcelot, Malory does not ask himself whether there is a logical connection between courtesy and bearing a shield, or between true friendship and bestriding a horse, as a modern writer would have done, and so brought those sentences into a more finished though more monotonous correspondence with the rest. The flow of feeling is true, direct, and simple, and that is enough. Dr. Sommer, in his notes on the language of ‘Le Morte Darthur,’ points to the indications, in grammar, spelling, and other usages of words, of its transitional place between the language of Chaucer and that of Shakespeare; while Southey says that it was composed in the best possible time for making it what it is: and Mr. J. A. Symonds (whom I am permitted to name) says:—‘The Morte Darthur was written at a lucky moment in our literary history, when the old Saxon fountain of speech was yet undefiled, and when printing had not introduced stereotyped forms or enforced the laws of a too scrupulous grammar; at the same time the language is truly English—rich in French and Latin words, as well as Saxon, and not so archaic as to be grotesque or repulsive14.
And if in these things Malory was happy in the opportuneness of the times in which he wrote, not less was he so in that he lived in a day in which (as we see from Caxton’s Preface) men could still believe in the marvellous adventures of knight-errantry. A hundred years later, the spirit of chivalry had so departed from the old forms that Spenser could only use them as materials for allegory, while Cervantes, himself full of the old spirit, could only treat the belief in knight-errantry as the fantasy of a crazed though generous mind. But Malory was still able to embody the ideals of chivalry in actual and serious personages, and so to influence the national character and manners of his countrymen in the best way. His book is a possession for all times. The old stock is still putting out new leaves and fruits for ourselves.
THE MORALITY OF THE BOOK.
In morals as well as in language (though more obscurely, since the subject of morals is so much more complicated than that of philology), we may find signs of a transition from the times of Chaucer to those of Shakespeare, and of progress no less than transition. The suppression of the Lollards—hated alike by the Church and the feudal lords, the War of the Roses, and the licentiousness of the court and courtiers, must, in the days of Edward IV, in which Malory wrote, have cut the moral and social life of the country down to its roots. Yet even in Malory’s book there are signs of the new moral life which was coming, and which in the days of the Reformation reached a power and expansion never before known. It would be absurd to pretend that Malory had greatly advanced in morality from the position of Chaucer and his age towards that of the Elizabethan period. Roger Ascham, indeed, while admitting that ‘ten Morte Arthurs do not the tenth part so much harm as one of these books made in Italy and translated in England,’ protests against the demoralising effect of the literature of which he takes this book as the example, ‘the whole pleasure of which,’ he says, ‘standeth in two special points—in open manslaughter and bold bawdray. In which book those be counted the noblest knights that do kill most men without any quarrel, and commit foulest adulteries by subtlest shifts15.’ I remember Dante’s story of the sin and doom of Paolo and Francesca—
‘Galeotto fu il libro, e chi lo scrisse’—
and recognise a real though only half truth in Ascham’s strictures. But he greatly over-states the evil, while he altogether omits to recognise the good in the book. Caxton’s estimate of the moral purport of the whole book, gives not merely the other side, but both sides of the case. Much more than half the ‘open manslaughter’ is done in putting down cruel oppressors and bringing back kingdoms from anarchy to law and good government; and the occasions call forth all the knightly virtues of gentleness, forbearance, and self-sacrifice, as well as those of courage and hardihood. And though it is far from possible to deny the weight of Ascham’s other charge, yet we must not, in forming our estimate of the book, forget the silent yet implied judgment which is passed upon lawless love by its tragic end, nor the ideal presented in the lives of the maiden knights, Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale. For the purpose of a due estimate of Malory’s ‘Morte Darthur,’ we may fairly take Caxton’s Preface as an integral part of the book. The Preface gives the tone, the motive, to the whole book. The morality of ‘Morte Darthur’ is low in one essential thing, and this alike in what it says and in what it omits: and Lord Tennyson shows us how it should be raised. The ideal of marriage, in its relation and its contrast with all other forms of love and chastity, is brought out in every form, rising at last to tragic grandeur, in the Idylls of the King. It is not in celibacy, though spiritual and holy as that of Galahad or Percivale, but in marriage, as the highest and purest realisation of the ideal of human conditions and relations, that we are to rise above the temptations of a love like that of Launcelot or even of Elaine; and Malory’s book does not set this ideal of life before us with any power or clearness. In no age or country has the excellence of marriage, as the highest condition of man’s life, been wholly unknown: but Luther and the Reformation brought it first into the full light of day, when he, a monk, married a nun, and thus in the name of God, declared that the vows of marriage were more sacred and more binding than those of the convent, and that the one might be lawfully set aside by the other. And we know how this ideal of love in marriage is worked out by Shakespeare. With Shakespeare it is marriage which explains, justifies, forgives, glorifies, and blesses every prosperous and happy condition of life, and gives an abiding peace as well as dignity to the closing scenes of his deepest tragedies. Marriage not only sheds its radiance upon the loves of Ferdinand and Miranda, and of Rosalind and Orlando, but on all around them: marriage justifies the boldness of Helena as the love of Elaine, touching as its self-surrender is, cannot do: it secures forgiveness to the weak and foolish Leontes, and even to the worthless Angelo; it is to the husband of Desdemona that we find ourselves constrained to accord the pardon and the sympathy which she herself had given him. And no one will know Hamlet as he is, nor fully understand his tragic destiny, unless he sees what it might have been, as his mother saw it, when she exclaims:—
‘Sweets to the sweet, farewell!
But this is Shakespeare’s Ophelia, not the preposterous misconception of Tieck and Goethe, who should have been warned by Polonius not ‘to cast beyond themselves in their opinions.’
If Morte Arthur does not deserve the unqualified denunciation of the learned Ascham, it cannot be denied that it exhibits a picture of a society far lower than our own in morals, and depicts it with far less repugnance to its evil elements, on the part either of the author or his personages, than any good man would now feel. Still—with the exception of stories like those of the birth of Arthur and Galahad, which show not only another state of manners from our own, but also a really different standard of morals from any which we should now hold up—the writer does for the most part endeavour, though often in but an imperfect and confused manner, to distinguish between vice and virtue, and honestly to reprobate the former; and thus shows that his object is to recognize and support the nobler elements of the social state in which he lived, and to carry them towards new triumphs over the evil. And even where, as in the story of Tristram, there is palliation rather than reprobation of what Sir Walter Scott justly calls ‘the extreme ingratitude and profligacy of the hero,’ still the fact that such palliation, by representing King Mark as the most worthless of men, was thought necessary in the later, though not in the earlier, romance on the same subject, shows an upward progress in morals; while a real effort to distinguish virtue from vice is to be seen in the story of Launcelot, with his sincere though weak struggles against temptation, and his final penitence under the punishment of the woes which his guilt has brought on all dear to him as well as to himself. Or if we look at the picture which Chaucer’s works give us of the co-existence in one mind—and that one of the noblest of its age—of the most virtuous Christian refinement and the most brutish animal coarseness, and then see how in the pages of Malory, inferior as we must hold him to be to Chaucer, the brutish vice has dwindled to half its former size, and is far more clearly seen to be vice, while the virtue, if not more elevated in itself, is more avowedly triumphant over the evil, we find the same upward progress. And I cannot doubt that it was helped on by this book, and that notwithstanding Ascham’s condemnation of Morte Arthur, Caxton was right in believing that he was serving God and his countrymen by printing it; and that he justly estimated its probable effect when he says, ‘Herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, sin. Do after the good, and leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renommée . . . . All is written for our doctrine, and for to beware that we fall not to vice nor sin, but to exercise and follow virtue, by which we may come and attain to good fame and renommé in this life, and after this short and transitory life to come unto everlasting bliss in heaven; the which He grant us that reigneth in heaven, the blessed Trinity. Amen.’
SPENSER, MILTON, TENNYSON.
It can hardly be doubted that Spenser, while drawing largely from Geoffrey of Monmouth, was acquainted with Malory’s story of Arthur, if not with the earlier romances also. We might have known this with certainty, if Spenser had completed his great design which he sketched in his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to the first three books of the Faerie Queene, and after labouring ‘to pourtrait in Arthur before he was king, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the twelve Morall Vertues,’ he might have been ‘perhaps encouraged to frame the other part of Politick Vertues in his person, after that he came to be King.’ He farther identifies his hero as the son of the Lady Igraine, and the infant charge of Merlin, and his description of the Redcross Knight and his claim to the adventure of Una, must forcibly recall Malory’s story of Beaumains and the lady Linet, notwithstanding the differences between the two. Beyond this, there is the evidence of general literary probability. Spenser’s ideals of knighthood and knight-errantry are so much in harmony with those of Malory, while they rise into a far higher moral life, that it does not seem unreasonable to suppose a relation between the two, and to believe that we owe to Malory the transmission from the earlier romances of all that was worth preserving in these to the generation which could give birth to the Faerie Queene.
And while Spenser strove to carry forward the national life of his countrymen by presenting the noblest ideals of chivalry under the old forms of romance, Shakespeare was embodying them in the new forms destined thenceforth to take the place of the old, and showing us in a Ferdinand, a Prince Henry, or a Hamlet, the ideals of the Gentleman, while the Sydneys and the Raleighs were presenting the counterpart in actual life. Ben Jonson, too, though he makes fun of ‘the whole sum of Errant Knighthood’ in his Execration upon Vulcan, elsewhere describes the old training of pages and squires in chivalry, as ‘the noblest way of breeding up our youth in all the blazon of a gentleman.’
Of Milton’s debt to Malory there is no less probability. He no doubt knew the other legends of Arthur, but Malory’s book must surely have had some part in taking that hold on his imagination, and exercising that influence in the formation of his character and life, of which he himself tells us. In his poem addressed to Giovanni Battista Manso, Marquis of Villa, the friend of Tasso, and of himself when he visited Naples, he says:—
‘O mihi si mea sors talem concedat amicum;
The like hope and purpose of writing an Epic poem of British story is to be found in the Epitaphium Damonis. And in his defence of his life in the ‘Apology for Smectymnuus,’ he says:—
‘Next, (for hear me out now, readers), that I may tell ye whither my younger feet wandered; I betook me among those lofty fables and romances, which recount in solemn cantos the deeds of knighthood founded by our victorious kings, and from thence had in renown over all christendom. There I read it in the oath of every knight, that he should defend to the expence of his best blood, or of his life, if it so befel him, the honour and chastity of virgin or matron; from whence even then I learned what a noble virtue chastity sure must be, to the defence of which so many worthies, by such a dear adventure of themselves, had sworn; and if I found in the story afterward, any of them, by word or deed breaking that oath, I judged it the same fault of the poet, as that which is attributed to Homer, to have written indecent things of the gods; only this my mind gave me, that every free and gentle spirit, without that oath, ought to be born a knight, nor needed to expect the gilt spur, or the laying of a sword upon his shoulder to stir him up both by his counsel and his arms, to secure and protect the weakness of any attempted chastity. So that even these books, which to many others have been the fuel of wantonness and loose living; I cannot think how, unless by divine indulgence, proved to me so many incitements, as you have heard, to the love and steadfast observation of virtue.’
In a word, not the fears of Ascham but the hopes of Caxton were now fulfilled in Milton’s study of the old romances.
And though it were idle and mistaken to wish that the poet had finally chosen the Death of Arthur rather than Paradise Lost, the lovers of the story of the Round Table may be forgiven if they wish it were possible to call up him who left untold that story as it would have been seen in the light of his genius.
Such a transformation has, indeed, been effected for us by Lord Tennyson in his Idylls of the King. He who has been familiar with the old Morte Arthur from his boyhood, must consent to let the poet transport him into a quite new region of the imagination, and must in a manner and for the time forget the old before he can read the Idylls of the King without a somewhat sad feeling that these are not the old knights whom he has always known. I have already likened Malory’s work to a mediæval castle, and, if I may be allowed to vary my parable a little, I would say this: There are some of us who in their childhood lived in, or can at least remember, some old house, with its tower and turret stairs, its hall with the screen, and the minstrel’s gallery, and the armour where it was hung up by him who last wore it: the panelled chambers, the lady’s bower, and the chapel, and all the quaint rambling passages and steps which lead from one to another of these. And when in after years he comes to this same house, and finds that it has all been remodelled, enlarged, furnished and beautified to meet the needs and the tastes of modern life, he feels that this is not the very home of his childhood, and that a glory has departed from the scenes he once knew: and yet, if the changes have been made with true judgment, and only with a rightful recognition of the claim that the modern life should have full scope for itself while preserving all that was possible of the old, though not letting itself be sacrificed or even cramped and limited, for its sake: if he is thus reasonable, he will acknowledge that it was well that the old order should yield place to the new, or at least make room for it at its side. And such are the thoughts and sentiments with which the lover of the old Morte Arthur will, if he be also a student of the growth of our national character and life, read the new Idylls of the King.
SIR THOMAS MALORY.
Of Sir Thomas Malory himself we know nothing more than can be inferred by probable conjecture from his book. His name occurs in it three times, and with the three variations of Malorye, Malory, and Maleore. These variations are not singular, for the spelling of proper as well as of common names was very much at the fancy of the writer; and we know that Shakespeare, Marvell, and Pym, wrote their own names in various forms. Sir Thomas Malory tells us that his book was ended in the ninth year of the reign of Edward IV, or 1470 A.D.; and at that time there was an old and important Yorkshire family of the name at Hutton Coniers and High Studley, near Ripon; for Leland, early in the next century, speaks of the ancestors of Malory17, and in 1427 and 1472 the death or burial of two persons of the same name is recorded at Ripon18. Andrew Mallorie of Middlesex armiger is among the contributors to the funds for defence against the Spanish Armada (1588)19. At the beginning of the seventeenth century we find Sir John Mallory of Studley, and son of Sir William Mallory, M.P. for Thirsk and Ripon, and a subscriber to the second Virginia Charter20: in 1622 Burton speaks of the pedigree, arms, and lands of Sir Thomas Malory in Kirby-Malory, Winwick, Newbould, and Swinford in Leicestershire21; and about the same time two scholars of the name were elected to Winchester College22; and reasonable conjecture may connect our author with these Malorys, although no links of actual pedigree have been found.
The Biographia Britannica (article ‘Caxton’) says:—
‘If this Sir Thomas Malory was a Welshman, as Leland and others after him assert, he was probably a Welsh Priest; as appears not only by the legendary vein which runs through all the stories he has thus extracted and wove together, but by his conclusion of the work itself, in these words: “Pray for me, whyle I am on lyve, that God sende me good delyveraunce; and when I am deed, I praye you all, praye for my soule; for this booke was ended the 9th yeer of the reygne of Kyng Edward the Fourth, by Syr Thomas Maleore, Knyght, as Jesu helpe him for his grete myght, as he is the servaunte of Jesu, bothe day and nyght.”’
But no references are given as to where this supposed assertion by ‘Leland and others’ is to be found; in fact, it is not to be found in any of Leland’s writings. And the origin of the statement remained an unexplained puzzle, until Dr. Sommer has now apparently discovered the key to it in a passage which he quotes from Bale’s Illustrium Maioris Britanniæ Scriptorum, &c., first edition, folio 208. In this passage, Bale, after praising Thomas Mailorius and his history of King Arthur, goes on to say, ‘Est Mailoria in finibus Cambriæ regio,’ on the authority of Leland23. I have not myself verified these references, but I infer from what Dr. Sommer tells us, that Bale, perhaps writing from an imperfect recollection, supposed that he had the authority of Leland for a connection between Mailorius, and the Welsh place of the like name: and then the writer of the Biographia Britannica, still more inaccurately, converted the possible suggestion of Bale into the direct statement that Leland had asserted Malory to be a Welshman, while Bale himself is referred to as ‘the others.’ Nor is there any reason to suppose from Malory’s own book that he was a Welshman. Though Caxton tells us that there were books in Welsh about Arthur and his Knights, Malory never quotes any but the French and English books. He shows no acquaintance with Welsh legends or traditions, unless it be with those in Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote in Latin, nor of any local knowledge of Welsh places. Then as to the fanciful and inconsequent conjecture that he was a priest, he himself tells us that he was a knight, and thus implies that he was not a priest, while the words that ‘he is the servant of Jesu by day and by night,’ which suggested the notion that he was a priest, are evidently put into that form in order to give a rhythmical ending to the book. Nor did the priest’s usual title of ‘Sir’ make him a knight. What we may say of Sir Thomas Malory is that he was probably of an old English family: that he was a knight both in rank and in temper and spirit, and a lover alike of the gentle and the soldierly virtues of knighthood. He was a man of genius, and a devout Christian: he wrote for gentlewomen as well as gentlemen, believing that they would read his book ‘from the beginning to the ending,’ and that it would call forth in them a sympathy which would properly express itself in prayers for the pious writer.
Of William Caxton we know more. A native of Kent, he became an apprentice, freeman, and livery man of the London Guild of Mercers, and was for many years resident in the English factory at Bruges, which was under their chief authority, though it represented and controlled all English trading interests in the Low Countries. Such factories were the usual, and indeed essential means of carrying on trade with foreign nations in the Middle Ages. Thus charters were granted by Henry IV and his successors to ‘Merchant Adventurers’ trading in Flanders, which, in giving them a corporate character, enabled them to treat with the authorities of the country more effectually than would have been possible to private individuals, and also to exercise needful control over, and give protection to, their own countrymen in the place. Though these Merchant Adventurers included many of the City Guilds, the majority were Mercers, and the factory at Bruges, while called ‘the English Nation,’ and its house ‘the English House,’ was practically under the management of the London Mercers’ Guild. Mr. Blades has given an engraving from Flandria Illustrata of the ‘Domus Anglorum’ at Bruges as it was in Caxton’s time; and he thus describes the mode of life of its inhabitants:—
‘A great similarity prevailed in the internal management of all foreign guilds, arising from the fact that foreigners were regarded by the natives with jealousy and suspicion. The laws which governed the Esterlings in London, who lived in a strongly-built enclosure, called the Steel Yard, the site of which is now occupied by the City station of the South Eastern Railway Company, were much the same as those under which the English Nation lived in Bruges and other cities. The foreign merchant had, in Caxton’s time, to brave a large amount of popular dislike, and to put up with great restraints on his liberty. Not only did he trade under harassing restrictions, but he resigned all hopes of domestic ties and family life. As in a monastery, each member had his own dormitory, whilst at meal-times there was a common table. Marriage was out of the question, and concubinage was followed by expulsion. Every member was bound to sleep in the house, and to be in-doors by a fixed time in the evening, and for the sake of good order no woman of any description was allowed within the walls24.’
To this house of the English in Bruges Caxton went to live in the year 1441, being then probably about twenty years of age. In 1462 he was acting as ‘Governor of the English Nation in the Low Countries,’ and certainly in full possession of that office and title two or three years later. And in 1465 he was appointed by Edward IV one of two envoys with the title of Ambassadors, to negociate a renewal of the existing treaty of trade with the Duke of Burgundy. We do not know at what time he began to combine his literary studies or his acquaintance with the new art of printing with the prosecution of his official duties: but he tells us that in 1471, at the request of Margaret, sister of Edward IV and wife of the Duke of Burgundy, he completed his translation of the Recuyell of the Histories of Troye which he had begun, but laid aside unfinished some time before. And then, in order to meet the desire of many friends to have copies of this translation, he printed such copies for their use.
He was now in the service of Margaret, and married; and about the year 1476, after thirty-five years’ residence abroad, he returned to England, there to introduce the Printing Press, and to make himself famous to all ages by so doing. Caxton was not only a printer, but a translator, an editor, and the publisher of the books which he printed in unfailing succession, during the remaining fifteen years of his life. He was the first of that honourable order of publishers who from his day to our own still share with authors the gratitude of men for that inestimable boon, the Printed Book. There are still publishers among us who, like Caxton, are themselves authors and editors of no unimportant ability: and not only to them, but also to those who aspire only to be the publishers of other men’s books, do we owe—what even the art of printing could have done little towards giving us—that broad spreading25 of knowledge which has become to us like the common light of day in which we live and move, only half conscious of its blessings. Mr. Blades justly defends Caxton against Gibbon’s censure of him because he did not print the ancient classics. He did far better. He printed and published translations from those classics for men who could not read the originals; and it was surely no loss, but the greatest gain, to Englishmen that he enabled them to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Polychronicon of English History (which latter he carried down to his own time) rather than if he had printed Virgil and Livy in the original Latin. He laid the foundations of popular English literature in the best possible way. He taught his countrymen to read, by giving them a large and judiciously selected succession, year by year, of books which they could and would read. He gave them books of piety and devotion, poetry and history, of chivalry and romance, of morals and manners, including his own translations of Cicero’s Old Age and Friendship; of proverbs, fables, and classical legends; of statutes of the realm; and the Game of Chess, an allegory of civil government. We cannot read down the list of ninety-nine books, including several second and third editions, which Caxton printed, without wonder and respect for the genius and the judgment of the man whose choice of subjects was so wide, so high-minded, moral, religious, and generous, and at the same time so popular. He was indeed, in all senses, the first of English publishers. He died in 1491, occupied (as his chief workman and successor, Wynkyn de Worde, tells us) on the last day of his life in finishing his translation of the Lives of the Fathers from the French. Mr. Blades conjectures, with apparent probability, that his wife was the Mawde Caxton whose burial is recorded in the parish books of St. Margaret’s in 1489, and he adds:—
‘If so, it will explain, in a most interesting manner, the reason why he in that year suspended printing the Fayts of Arms until he had finished a new undertaking, The Arte and Crafte to Die Well.’
The operation of the silent but never-failing laws which govern the growth and progress of our national life, seems to be sustained and directed in certain epochs of our history by great men who have yet themselves been made what they are by those very laws. Among such laws are the ideals of chivalry in its twofold aspect of self-sacrifice and of self-assertion. And not least among the men who have given to the spirit of chivalry its special English forms in which the sense of duty and zeal in the redress of wrongs are characteristic, stand Sir Thomas Malory and William Caxton.
1.‘A braver soldier never couched lance,
First part of Henry VI. iii. 2. [back]
9. Gervasii Tilburiensis Otia Imperialia, Decisio ii. cap. xii, de Insulis Mediterranei, in vol. I of ‘Scriptores Rerum Brunsvicensium Illustrationi inservientes: Cura G. G. Leibnitzii, Hanov. MDCCVII.’ Gervase of Tilbury wrote about the beginning of the thirteenth century. He was at the Peace of Venice in 1177 A.D.; was Chancellor and Marshall of the kingdom of Arles about the year 1200; and died in 1235. [back]
11. The passage, which also recounts the names of Ewaine, Gawaine, and Launcelot du Lac, is found in a charming episode in ‘The Complaynt of Scotland’ (written in 1548, and edited in 1801 by G. J. Leyden), in which the author tells how he went into the country to refresh his weary mind and body, and there fell in with a party of shepherds and shepherds’ wives and servants, who amused themselves with telling a number of stories, classical and romantic, of which he gives the names. It is a prose idyll, which reminds us of the Canterbury Tales, and the Vision of Piers Plowman, in the love of nature and the love of story-telling which it displays. Here, and in the passage from Gervase, I quote from the originals; but my attention was first directed to these by Sir George Webb Dasent’s quotations in his ‘Popular Tales from the Norse,’ p. xxix. [back]
13. Caffari Annales Genuenses in Muratori’s Italicarum Rerum Scriptores, Tom. VI: Bent’s Genoa; and Dunlop’s History of Fiction, edited by H. Wilson, Vol. I, Supplementary Note on the Sangreal. [back]
16. ‘Oh, may my lot grant such a friend who knows
It is curious to note that Milton with all his learning should, like Malory and Caxton, have spoken of the Britons as English, and the Saxons as foreigners—a popular misuse of names which still makes the Lowland Scotch complain if they are called English instead of British, though they are in fact more English than the English in language and in blood.[back]
17. ‘There be 2 Lordshipps lyenge not very far from Ripon . . . Malory hath Hutton Coniers. Thes Lands cam to their Aunciters by two Dowghtars, Heirs generall of that Coniers. Malory hath another place caullyd Highe Studly, a litle from Fountaines.’ Leland’s Itinerary, viii. 2. p. 55. Hearne, 1712. [back]
24. ‘The Biography and Typography of William Caxton, England’s First Printer,’ by William Blades, 8vo, 1877, p. 22. In this, and in his larger work, ‘Life and Typography of William Caxton, England’s First Printer,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1861-1863, Mr. Blades has given a very learned and complete history of Caxton and his times so far as they relate to him. [back]