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University of California • Berkeley

Gift of








" When Arthur was a King —
Hearken, now a marvellous thing.'^

" La>aniou'a lirut," by bir F. Maiden, Vol. i. p- 113.






r 11 E F A C E.

I CANNOT better Lcgin the few remarks that it seems to me fitting
to prefix to this poem, than by acknowledgments sincere and earnest
to those whose approbation of the earlier portions honoured my ex-
periment and encouraged its progress ; — I venture to hope that the
work as now completed, will not forfeit the indulgence that they be-
stowed on the commencement ; indeed, it is almost the necessary
condition of any fiction, planned with some forethought, and sus-
tained through some length, that the passages most calculated to
please the reader, should open upon him in proportion as he habi-
tuates himself to the style, and becomes familiarized with the design,
of the author — while it is obvious that such merit as the work may
possibly be entitled to claim on the score of art, or consistency, can
be but imperfectl}'^ conjectured by specimens of its parts.

Whatever the defects of this Poem, it has not been hastily con-
ceived or lightly undertaken. From my earliest youth, the sul)jcct I
have selected has haunted my ambition — for twenty years it has
rested steadily on my mind, in sp^te of other undertakings, for the
most part not wholly ungenial, — since a lengthened and somewhat
various practice in the conception and conduct of imaginative story,
ought to be no disadvantageous preparation for a poem which seeks
to construct from the elements of national romance, something ap-
proaching to the completeness of epic narrative. If my powers be
unequal to the task I have assumed, at least I have waited in patience,
until they wore matured and disciplined to such strength as they
might be enabled to attain ; until taste, if erroneous, could be cor-
rected, invention if sterile, be enriched, by some prolonged appren-


ticeship to the principles of art, by the contemplation of its master-
pieces in many languages, and by such familiarity with the resources
of my native tongue as study and practice could permit me to obtain-
But every one knovrs the proverb, that "The poet is born, the orator
made ; — and though, perhaps, it is only partially true that the " Poet
is born," and a slight examination of the higher order of poets will
suffice to show us that they themselves depended very little on the
innate faculty, and were not less diligent in self-cultivation than the
most laborious orator, — yet it would be in vain to deny, that where
the faculty itself is wanting, no labour can supply the defect : and
if certain Critics are right in asserting, that that defect is my misfor-
tune, I must content myself with the sombre reflection that I have
done my best to counteract the original unkindness of nature, I
have given to this work a preparation that, evincing my own respect
to the public, entitles me in return to the respect of a just hearing
and a fair examination : if the work be worthless, it is at least the
worthiest it is in my power to perform, — and on this foundation,
however hollow, I know that I rest the least perishable monument
of those thoughts and those labours which have made the life of my

In aiming at a complete and symmetrical design, I find myself
involuntarily compelled to refer to the distinctions of Epic Fable,
although by no means presuming to give to my poem a title which
an author may arrogate, but which a long succession of readers has
alone the prerogative to confirm, — and although few in this age will
pretend that an Epic can be made merely by adherence to formal
laws, or that it may not exist in^spite of nearly all which learning
has added to the canons of common sense, and the quick perceptions
of a cultivated taste. Pope has, however, properly defined the three
cardinal distinctions of Epic Fable to consist in the Probable, the
Allegorical, and the Marvellous. For Avithout the Probable, there
could be no vital interest ; without the Marvellous, its larger field
would be excluded from the imagination ; and without the Allego-
rical the Poet would lose the most pleasing medium of conveying
instruction. It is chiefly by the Allegorical that the imaginative
writer is didactic, and that he achieves his end of insinuatinjr


truth through the disgiiisc of fancy. I accept these divisions be-
cause they conform to the simplest principles of rational criticism ;
and though their combination does not form an Epic, it serves at
least to amplify the region and elevate the oljccts of Romance..

It has been my aim so to blend these divisions, that each may
harmonize with the other, and all conduce to the end proposed from
the commencement For this is that unity of structure which every
artistic narrative requires, and it forms one of the main considera-
tions which influence any reader of sound judgment in estimating
the merit that belongs to a whole. — I have admitted but little episo-
dical incident, and none that does not grow out of what Pope terms
' the platform of the story.' For the marvellous agencies I have not
presumed to make direct use of that Divine Machinery which the
war of the Christian Principle with the forms of Heathenism might
have suggested to the sublime daring of Milton, had he prosecuted
his original idea of founding a heroic poem upon the legendary
existence of Arthur; — and, on the other hand, the Teuton jMythology,
however interesting and profound, is too unfamiliar and obscure, to
permit its employment as an open and visible agency ; — such re-
ference to it as could not be avoided, is therefore rather indulged as
an appropriate colouring to the composition, than an integral part
of the materials of the canvas : And, not to ask from the ordinary
reader an erudition I should have no right to expect, the reference
so made is in the simplest form, and disentangled from the necessity
of other information than a few brief notes will suffice to afford.

In taking my subject from chivalrous romance, I take, then, the
agencies from the Marvellous that it naturally and familiarly affords
— the Fairy, the Genius, the Enchanter : not wholly, indeed, in the
precise and literal spirit with which our nursery tales receive those
creations of Fancy through the medium of French Fabliaux, but in
the larger significations by which in their conceptions of the Super-
natural, our fathers often implied the secrets of Nature. For the
Romance from wliich I borrow is the Romance of the North — a Ro-
mance, like the Northern mythology, full of typical meaning and
latent import. The gigantic remains of symbol worship are visible
amidst the rude fables of the Scamlinavians, and what little is left


to us of the earlier and more indigenous literature of the Cymrians,
is by a mysticism profound with characterized parable. This fond-
ness for an interior or double meaning is the most prominent attri-
bute in that Romance popularly called The Gothic, the feature most
in common with all creations that bear the stamp of the Northern
fancy ; we trace it in the poems of the Anglo-Saxons ; it returns to
us, in our earliest poems after the Conquest ; it does not originate
in the Oriental genius" (immemorially addicted to Allegory,) but it
instinctively appropriates all that Saracenic invention can suggest
to the more sombre imagination of the North — it unites to the Ser-
pent of the Edda, the flying Griffin of Arabia, the Persian Genius
to the Scandinavian Trold, — and wherever it accepts a marvel, it
seeks to insinuate a type. This peculiarity which demarks the
spiritual essence of the modern from the sensual character of an-
cient poetry, especially the Roman, is visible wherever a tribe allied
to the Goth, the Frank, or the Teuton, carries with it the deep mys-
teries of the Christian faith. Even in the sunny Provence it trans-
fuses a subtler and graver moral into the lays of the joyous trouba-
dour,* — and weaves " The Dance of Death" by the joyous streams,
and through the glowing orange groves of Spain. Onwards, this
under current of meaning flowed, through the various phases of
civilization : — it pervaded alike the popular Satire and the dramatic
Mystery ; — it remained unimpaired to the glorious age of Elizabeth,
amidst all the stirring passions that then agitated mankind, to de-
mand and to find their delineator ; — it not only coloured the dreams
of Spenser, but it placed abstruse and recondite truth in the clear
yet unfathomable wells of Shakspeare. Thus, in taking from
Northern Romance the Marvellous, we are most faithful to the
genuine character of that Romance when we take with the Marvel-
lous its old companion, the Typical or Allegorical. But these form
only two divisions of the three which I have assumed as the compo-

* " Kien n'cst pluscommun dans la poesieproven^ale que I'ailegoric; seule-

ment elle est un jou d'esprit an lieu d'f^tre une action Line

autre analogic nie r arait, plus spontantje qu'iiniu'e — la pousie des troubadours
qu'on suppose frivole, a souvcnt retracee dcs sejitiments graves et touchanls,"
&c, — ViLLKMAiN, Tabltau du Mnycn Ai^t.


ncnts of the unity I seek to accompUsh; there remains the Probable,
which contains the Actual. To subject the whole poem to allegori-
cal constructions would be erroneous, and opposed to the vital prin-
ciple of a work of this kind which needs the support of direct and
human interest. The inner and the outer meaning of Fable should flow
together, each acting on the other, as the thought and the action in
the life of a man. It is true that in order clearly to interpret the
action, we should penetrate to the thought. But if we fail of that
perception, the action, though less comprehended, still impresses its
reality on our senses, and makes its appeal to our interest.

I have thus sought to maintain the Probable through that chain
of incident in which human agencies are employed, and through
those agencies the direct action of the Poem is accomplished; while
the Allegorical admits into the Marvellous the introduction of that
subtler form of truth, which if less positive than the Actual, is
wider in its application, and ought to be more profound in its signifi-

For the rest, it may perhaps be conceded that this poem is not
without originality in the conception of its plot and the general
treatment of its details. Though I have often sought to enrich its
materijils with ornaments of expression, borrowed or imitated, whe-
ther from our own earliest poetry, or that of other countries, yet I
am not aware of any previous romantic poem which it resembles in
its main design, or in the character of its principal incidents ; — and
though I may have incurred certain mannerisms of my own day, (in
spite of my endeavour rather to err on the opposite side, by often
purposely retaining those forms of diction and phraseology which
recent criticism regards as common-place, and by generally adhering
to those laws of rhythm and rhyme which recent poetry has been
inclined to regard as servile and restricted) ; — yet I venture to trust,
that, in the pervading form or style, the mind employed has been
sufficiently in earnest to leave its own peculiar effigy and stamp
upon the work. For the incidents narrated, I may, indeed, thank
the nature of my subject, if many of them could scarcely fail to be
new. The celebrated poets of chivalrous fable — Ariosto, Tasso, and
Spenser, have given to their scenery the colourings of the West.


The Great North from which Chivah-y sprung — its polar seas, its
natural wonders, its wild legends, its antediluvian remains, — a wide
field for poetic description and heroic narrative — have been, indeed,
not wholly unexplored by poetry, but so little appropriated, that
even after Tegner and Oehlenschlager, I dare to hope that I have
found tracks in which no poet has preceded me, and over which yet
breathes the native air of our National Romance.

For the Manners preserved through this poem, I have elsewhere
implied that I take those of that age, not in which the Arthur of
History, of whom we know so little, but in which the Arthur of
Romance, whom we know so well, revived into fairer life at the
breath of Minstrel and Fabliast. The anachronism of chivalrous
manners and costume for himself and his knighthood, is absolutely
required by all our familiar associations. On the other hand, with-
out affecting any strict or antiquarian accuracy in details, I have
kept the country of the brave Chief of the Silures (or South Wales)
somewhat more definitely in view, than has been done by the French
fabliasts ; while in portraying his Saxon foes, I have endeavoured
to distinguish their separate nationality, without enforcing too violent
a contrast between the rudeness of the heathen Teutons and the po-
lished Christianity of the Cymrian Knighthood,*

* In the more historical view of the position of Arthur, I have, however,
represented it such as it really appears to have been, — not as the Sovereign at
all Britain, and the conqurring invadei' of Europe (according to the ground-
less fable of Geotfrey of Monmouth), but as the patriot Prince of South
VVaies, resisting successfully the invasion of his own native soil, and accom-
plishing the object of his career in preserving entire the nationality of his
Welch country men. In ihus contracting his sphere of action to the bounds
of rational truth, his dignity, both moral and poetic, is obviously enhanced.
Hepresented as the champion of all Britain against the Saxons, his life would
have been a notorious and signal failure; but as the preserver of the Cym-
rian INationality — of that part of the British population which took refuge iu
Wales, he has a claim to the epic glory of success.

It is for this latter reason that I have gone somewhat out of the strict letter
of history, and allowed mysell ihe privilege of making the Mercians his prin-
ci[)le enemy, as they were his nearest neighbours, (though properly speaking,
the Mercian kingdom was not then foinded.) The allifince between the Mer-
cian and the U'elch, which concludes the Poem— is at least not contrary to
the spirit »f History — since in very early periods such atnicable bo i.ds between


May I be pormlttcd to say a word as to the metre T have selected ?
One advantage it has, — that while thoroughly English, and not un-
cultivated by the best of the elder masters, it has never been applied
to a poem of equal length, and has not been made too trite and fami-
liar, by the lavish employment of recent writers. Shakspeare has
taught us its riches in the Venus and Adonis, — Spenser in The As-
trophel, — Cowley has sounded its music amidst the various intona-
tions of his irregular lyre. But of late years, if not wholly laid aside,*
it has been generally neglected for the more artificial and complicated
Spenserian stanza, which may seem, at the first glance, to resemble
it, but which to the ear is widely different in rhythm and construction.

The reader may perhaps remember that Dryden has spoken with
emphatic praise of the rhyming, or elegiac, metre with its alternate
rhyme. He has even regarded it as the noblest in the language.
That metre in its simple integrity is comprised in the stanza selected,
ending in the vigour and terseness of the rhyming couplet, in which
for the most part, the picture should be closed or the sense clenched.
And whatever the imperfection of my own treatment of this variety
in poetic form, I cannot resist a prediction that it will be ultimately
revived into more frequent use, especially in narrative, and that its
peculiar melodies of rhythm and cadence, as well as the just and
measured facilities it affords to expression, neither too diffuse, nor
too restricted, will be recognized hereafter in the hands of a more
accomplished master of our language.

Here ends all that I feel called upon to say respecting a Poem
which I now acknoAvlcdge as the child of my most cherished hopes,
and to which I deliberately confide the task to uphold, and the
chance to continue, its father's name.

The motives that induced me to publish anonymously the first
portion of " Arthur," as well as the " New Timon," are simple
enough to bo easily recognised. An author who has been some

Welch anil Mercian were contracteJ, and the Welch on the whole, were on
better terms with those formidable borderers, than with the other branches of
the Saxon family.

» ."Souilicy lias used it in the ••Lay of the Laureate" and ''The Poet's
Pilgrimage," — not his best known and most considerable poems.


time before the public, feels, in undertaking some new attempt in
his vocation, as if released from an indescribable restraint, when he
pre-resolves to hazard his experiment as that of one utterly unknown.
That determination gives at once freedom and zest to his labours in
the hours of composition, and on the anxious eve of publication,
restores to him much of the interest and pleasureable excitement,
that charmed his earliest delusions. When he escapes from the
judgment that has been passed on his manhood, he seems again to
start fresh from the expectations of his youth.

In my own case, too, I believed, whether truly or erroneously,
that my experiment would have a fairer chance of justice, if it could
be regarded without personal reference to the author ; — and at all
events it was clear, that I myself could the better judge how far the
experiment had failed or succeeded, when freed from the partial
kindness of those disposed to overrate, or the predetermined censure
of those accustomed to despise my former labours.

These motives were sufficient to decide me to hazard unacknow-
ledged those attempts which the public has not ungraciously received.
And, indeed, I should have been well contented to preserve the
mask, if it had not already failed to ensure the disguise. My iden
tity with the author of these poems has been so generally insisted
upon, that I have no choice between the indiscretion of frank avowal,
and the effrontery of flat denial. Whatever influence of good or ill,
my formal adoption of these foundlings may have upon their future
career, like other adventurers they must therefore take their chance
in the crowd. Happy if they can propitiate their father's foes, yet
retain his friends ; and, — irrespective of either, — sure to be judged,
at last, according to their own deserts.


January, 1849.




Opening; King Arthur keeps holiday in the Vale of Carduel ; Pastimes;
Arthur's sentiments on life, love, and mortal change; the strange appa-
rition ; The King follows the phantom into the forest ; His return ; The
discomfiture of his knights ; The Court disperses ; Night ; The restless
King ascends his battlements ; His soliloquy ; He is attracted by the
light from the Wizard's tower ; Merlin described ; The King's narra-
tive ; The Enchanter's invocation ; Morning ; The tilt-yard ; Sports,
knightly and national; Merlin's address to Arthur; The three Labours
enjoined ; Arthur departs from Carduel ; His absence explained by
Merlin to the Council ; Description of Arthur's three friends, Caradoc,
Gawaine, and Lancelot ; The especial love between Arthur and the
last ; Lancelot encounters Arthur ; The parting of the friends.




Our land's first legends, love and kniglitlj deeds,
And wonderous Merlin, and his wandering King,

The triple labour, and the glorious meeds
Won from the world of Fable-land, I sing :

Go forth, Song, amidst the banks of old,

And glide translucent o'er the sands of gold.


Now is the time when, after sparkling showers,
Her starry wreaths the virgin jasmine weaves;

Now lure the bee wild thyme and sunny hours ;
And light wings rustle thro' the glinting leaves ;

Music on every bough ; on mead and lawn

May hfts her fragrant altars to the dawn.




Now life, with every moment, seems to start
In air, in wave, on earth ;- — above, below ;

And o'er her new-born children, Nature's heart
Heaves with the gladness mothers only know.

On poet times the month of poets shone —

May deck'd the world and Arthur fill'd the throne.


Hard by a stream, amidst a pleasant vale.
King Arthur held his careless holiday : —

The stream was blithe with many a silken sail.
The vale with many a proud pavilion gay;

While Cymri's dragon, from the Roman's hold,(^)

Spread with calm wing o'er Carduel's domes of gold ,


Dark to the right, thick forests mantled o'er
A gradual mountain sloping to the plain ;

Whose gloom but lent to light a charm the more.
As pleasure pleases most when neigbouring pain ;

And all our human joys most sweet and holy,

Sport in the shadows cast from melancholy.


Below that mount, along the glossy sward,

Were gentle groups, discoursing gentle things ] —

Or listening idly where the skilful bard

Woke the sweet tempest of melodious strings 5

Or whispering love — I ween, less idle they,

Eor love's the honey in the flowers of May.

EOOK T, 19


Some plied in lusty race the glist'ning oar ;

Some, noiseless, snared the silver-scaled prey ;
Some wreathed the dance along the level shore ;

And each was happy in his chosen way.
Not by one shaft is care, the hj'dra, kilVd,
So mirth determined, had his quiver fill'd.


Bright as the Morn, when all the pomp of cloud

Reflects its lustre in a rosy ring,
The worthy centre of a glittering crowd

Of youth and beaut3^, shone the British King,
Above that group, o'er-arch'd from tree to tree.
Thick garlands hung their odorous canopy ;


And in the midst of that delicious shade

Up sprang a sparkling fountain, silver- voiced.

And the bee murmur d, and the breezes j^layed :
In their gay j^outh, the j'outh of May rejoiced —

And they in hers — as thro' that leafy hall

Chimed the heart's laughter with the fountain's fall.


Propp'd on his easy arm, the King reclined,
And glancing gaily round the ring, quoth lie —

^"'^Man,' say our sages, Miath a fickle mind.
And pleasures pall, if long enjoy 'd they be.'

But I, methinks, like this soft summer-day,

Mid blooms and sweets could wear the hours away.



'^ Feel, in the eyes of Love, a cloudless sun,
T«aste, in the breath of Love, eternal spring ;

Could age but keep the joys that youth has won,
The human heart would fold its idle wing !

If change there be in Fate and Nature's plan.

Wherefore blame us ? — it is in Time, not Man."


He spoke, and from the happy conclave there
Echoed the murmur " Time is but to blame :"

Each knight glanced amorous on his chosen fair.
And to the glance blush'd each assenting dame :

But thought had dimm'd the smile in Arthur's eye,

And the light speech was rounded by a sigh.


And while they murmur'd " Time is but to blame,"
Right in the centre of the silken ring,

Sudden stood forth (none marking whence it came),
A strange, and weird, and phantom-seeming thing ;

It stood, dim-outlined in a sable shroud,

And shapeless, as in noon-day hangs a cloud.


Hush'd was each lip, and every cheek was pale ;

The stoutest heart beat tremulous and high ;
" Arise," it muttered from the spectral veil,

" I call thee. King !" Then burst the wrathful cry,
Feet found the earth, and ready hands the sword.
And angry knighthood bristled round its lord.

BOOK r. 21


But Arthur rose, and, waiving back the throng,
Fronted the Imaire with a dauntless brow :

Then shrunk the Phantom, indistinct, along

The unbending herbage, noiseless, dark, and slow ;

And where the forest, night at noonday made,

Glided, — as from the dial glides the shade.


Cone ; — but an ice-bound horror seem'd to cling
To air ; the revellers stood transfix'd to stone ;

While from amidst them, palely passed the King,
Dragg'd by a will more royal than his own :

Onwards he went ; the invisible control

Compell'd hnn, as a dream compels the soul.


They saw, and sought to stay him, but in vain ;

They saw, and sought to speak, but voice was dumb :
So Death some warrior from his armed train

Plucks forth defenceless when his hour is come.
He gains the wood ; their sight the shadows bar,

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 1 of 25)