Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

King Arthur online

. (page 4 of 25)
Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 4 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

might seem but generally and loosely applied to any hill over
which the nymphs wander. If the initials of the words are
printed in capitals, the '* Fork'd IJill," the emphasis so con-
cisely obtained would inform any scholar that I mean Parnassus.
In fine, I cannot think that the Author errs w^hen he employs the
capital initial to designate and fix in some peculiar sense the
meaning of a word that, without it, might appear used only in
its more general application.

The second censure to w^hich the Author of "The New
Timon" was subjected, is one that interferes with a far more
important privilege ; a privilege, indeed, absolutely essential to
all ease, spirit, force, and variety in narrative composition ; viz.
the rapid change of tense from the past to the present, or the
present to the past, in descriptions of movement or action.
This is too essential an element in narrative not to be used
freely and boldly ; and it has been so used by all English
poets whom we acknowledge as models in narrative. We
have only to take any of our standard narrative poems from
the shelf, and open them at hazard, to find abundant and
familiar instances of this necessary license. A very few^ ex-
amples from Milton, Dryden, and Pope, are subjoined in proof
of this assertion, and as the best vindication the Author can
make for deliberately and purposely persevering in a course
which has occasioned, w^hat he ventures to call, inconsiderate

"With these that never fade the spirits elect
Bind their resplendant locks, enwreathed with beams,
Now in h:)Ose garlands thick thrown off "^^'^"'^
Then, crowned again, their golden harps they took,
Harps ever tuned, that glittering by their side
Like quivers hung, and with preambule sweet
Of charming symphony they ixtroduce
Tlieir sacred song and waken raptures high."

Paradhe Lost, Book iii. from 1. 60 to 67.


In this single description the tense changes three times.
Again —

" So PRAYED they, innocent, and to their thoughts
Firm peace recovered soon and wonted cahn ;
On to their mo^ning^s rural work they haste,
Amont^ sweet dews and flowers, where any row
Of fruit trees over woody reach'd too far
Their pampered boughs, and needed hands to check
Fruitk'ss embraces ; or they led the vine
To wed the ehn.'^

Ibid, book v. from 1. 209 to 216.

Here also the tense changes three times.
Again —

*' Straight knew him all the bands

Of angels under watch, and to his state

And to his message high in honour rise,

For on some message high they guessed him bound/^

Ibid, book v. from 1. 288 to 291.

Let US now open Dryden.

" Thus while he spoke, the virgin from the ground
Upstarted fresh ; already closed the wound,
And unconcerned for all she felt before,
Precipitates her flight along the shore ;
The hell-hounds as ungorged with flesh and blood
Pursue their prey and seek their wonted food ;
The fiend remounts his courser, mends his pace,
And all the vision vanisii'd from the place."

Duyden's Theod. and Honor.

Pope — not without reason esteemed for verbal correctness
and precision — far exceeds all in his lavish use of this privilege,
as one or two quotations will amply sufiice to show.

" She said, and to the steeds approaching near
Drew from his seat the martial charioteer ;


The vigorous Power* the trembling car ascends

Fierce for revenge, and Diomed attends

The groaning axle bext beneath the load," &c.

Pope's Iliad^ book v,

" Pierced through the shoulder first Decopis fell,
Next Eunomus and Thoun sunk to Hell.
Chersidamas, beneath the navel thrust.
Falls prone to earth, and grasps the bloody dust;
Cherops, the son of Hipposus, was near ;
Uljsses reached him with the fatal spear,
But to his aid his brother Socus flies,
Socus, the brave, the generous, and the wise,
Near as he drew the warrior thus began," &c.


" Behind, unnumbered multitudes attend
To flank the navy and the shores defend.
Full on the front the pressing Trojans bear,
And Hector first came towering to the #ar,
Phoebus himself the rushing battle led,
A veil of clouds involved his radiant head —
The Greeks expect the shock ; the clamours rise
From different parts and mingle in the skies ;
Dire WAS the hiss of darts by heaven flung.
And arrows, leaping from the bowstring, sung :
These drink the life of generous warrior slain —
Those GUILTLESS fall and thirst for blood in vain."

Pope's Odysay.

In the last quotation, brief as it is, the tense changes six

* In the corrupt and thoughtless mode of printing now in vogue, Power is of
course printed with a small p, and the sense of the clearest of all English poets
instantly becomes obscure. v

" The vigorous power the trembling car ascends."
It is not till one has read the line twice over that one perceives the power means
" the God," which, when printed The I'ovver, is obvious at a glance.


BOOK 11.


Introductory reflections ; Arthur's absence ; Caracloc's suspended epic ;
The deliberations of the three friends ; Merlin seeks them ; The trial
of the enchanted forest ; Merlin's soliloquy by the fountain ; The re-
turn of the kni^-hts from the forest ; Merlin's selection of the one per-
mitted to join the King; ; The narrative returns to Arthur ; The strange
guide allotted to him ; He crosses the sea, and arrives at the court of
the Vandal; Ludovick, the Vandal King, described; His wily questions ;
Arthur's answers ; The Vandal seeks his friend Astutio ; Arthur leavtfs
the court ; Conference between Astutio and Ludovick ; Astutio's pro-
found statesmanship and subtle schemes ; The Ambassador from Mercia;
His address to Ludovick ; The Saxons pursue Arthur ; Meanwhile the
Cymrian King arrives at the sea-shore ; Description of the caves that
intercept his progress ; He turns inland ; The Idol-shrine ; The wolf
and the priest.



Swift on the dial shifts the restless shade, —
Glides swifter still our memory from the heart ;

Noiseless the past doth in the present fade,
Nor scarce a foot-print to the sands impart ;

For life's quick tree the seasons are so brief,

As falls the fading, springs the budding leaf.


If absence parts, Hope, ready to console,

Whispers, '' Be soothed, the absent shall return ;"

If death divides, a moment from the goal.

Love stays the step, and decks, but leaves, the urn.

Vowing remembrance ; — let the year be o'er,

And see, remembrance smiles like joy, once more !


In street and mart still plys the busy craft ;

Still Beauty trims for stealthy steps the bowser ;
By lips as gay the Hirlas horn(^) is quaft;

To the dark bourne still flies as fast the hour,
As when in Arthur men adored the sun ;
And Life's large rainbow^ took its hues from One !



Yet ne'er by Prince more loved a crown wa>s worn.
And liad'st thou ventured but to hint the doubt

That loA'al subjects ever ceased to mourn,

And that without him, earth was joy without, —

Thou soon had'st joined in certain warm dominions

The horned friends of pestilent opinions.


Thrice bless'd, King, that on thy royal head

Fall the night dews; that the broad-spreading beech

Curtains thy sleep ; that in the paths of dread.
Lonely, thou wanderest, — so thy steps may reach

The only shore that grows the amaranth tree,

Whose wTeaths keep fresh in mortal memory.


All is forgot save poetry ; or whether

Haunting Time's river from the vocal reeds.

Or linked not less in luiman souls together
With ends, v/ hich make the poetry of deeds ;

For either poetry alike can shine —

From Hector's valour as from Homer's line.


Yet let me wrong ye not, ye faithful three,

Gawaine, and Carodoc, and Lancelot!
Gawaine's light lip had lost its laughing glee,

And gentle Caradoc had half forgot
That famous epic which his muse had hit on.
Of Trojan Brut — from whom the name of Briton.'-'

* Geoffrey of Monmouth, 16. I.ayamon, in his Brut, styles the Britons Bndtes,
or Briittus; and Britain, Brutlonde.



Therein Sir Brut, expell'd from flaming Troy,(^)
Comes to this isle, and seeks to build a city,

Which Devils, then the Freeholders, destroy;
Till the sweet Virgin on Sir Brut takes pity,

And bids St. Bryan,* hurrying from the sky,

Baptize the astonished heathen in the Wye !


This done, the fiends at once disfranchised, fled ;

Sir Brut repaid St Bryan by a chapel,
Yv here masses daily were for Priam said ; —

While thrice a week, the priests, that golden apple
By which three fiends, as goddesses disguised,
Bewitch'd Sir Paris, — anathematized.


But now this epic, in its course suspended.
Slept on the shelf — (a not uncommon fate ;)

Ah, who shall tell, if, ere resumed and ended,
That kind of poem be not out of date ?

For of all ladies there are none who choose

Such freaks and turns of fashion, as the Muse.


And thou, sad Lancelot ; but there I hold ;

Some griefs there are which grief alone can guess ;
And so we leave whate'er he felt untold ; •

Light steps profane the heart's deep loneliness.
I, too, had once a friend in happier years !
He fled, — he owed, — forgot ; — Forgive these tears ! —

* Bran, /. e. St. Bryan (Poetice), the founder of one of the three sacred lineages
of Britain, was the first introducer of Christianity among the Cymry. The Welch

64 KING Arthur:


Much; their sole comfort, much conversed the three
Upon their absent Arthur ; what the cause

Of his self-exile, and its ends, could be ;
Much did they ponder, hesitate, and pause

In high debate, if loyal love might still

Pursue his wanderings, though against his will.


But first the awe which kings command, restrained ;

And next the ignorance of the path and goal ;
So, thus for weeks they communed and remained;

Till o'er the woods a mellower verdure stole;
The bell-flower clothed the river-banks; the moon
Stood in the breathless firmament of June ;


When as one twilight — near the forest-mount
They sate, and heard the vesper bell afar

Swing from the dim Cathedral, and the fount
Hymn low its own sweet music to the star

Lone in the west — they saw a shadow pass

Where silvering shot the pale beam o'er the grass.


They turned, beheld their Cymri's mighty seer,
Majestic Merlin, and with reverence rose ;

" Knights," said the soothsayer, smiling, " be of cheer
If yet, alone (the stars themselves his foes,)

Wanders the King, — now, of his faithful three

One, Fate permits ; the choice with Fate must be.

Triads assert that Bran, tho Blessed, brought over with him to Britain two Jews
and one Arwysth ; whom Welch commentators assure us was Aristohulus, the dis-
ciple of St. Paul.



"Enter the forest — each his several way;

Return as dies in air the vesper chime ;
The fiend the forest populace obey

Hath not o'er mortals empire in the time
When holy sounds the wings of Heaven invite ;
And prayer hangs charm-like on the wheels of Night.


" What seen, what heard, mark mindful, and relate ;

Here will I tarry till your steps return."
Ne'er leapt the captive from the prison grate

With livelier gladness to the smiles of morn,
Than sprang those rivals to the forest gloom,
And its dark arms closed round them' like a tomb.


Before the fount, with though t-o'ershadowed brow,
The prophet stood, and bent a wistful eye

Along its starlight shimmer : — " Even as now,"
He murmured, " didst thou lift thyself on high,

symbal of my soul, and make thy course*

One upward struggle to thy mountain source —


" When first, a musing boy, I stood beside

Thy sparkling showers, and ask'd my restless heart

What secrets Nature to the herd denied
But might to earnest hieroj)hant impart ;

When, in the boundless space around and o'er.

Thought whispered — ' Rise, seeker, and explore :

* As Merlin was a mathematician as well as a magician, we may suppose him




" ' Can every leaf a teeming world contain ?

Can every globule gird a countless race,
Yet one death-slumber, in its dreamless reign.

Clasp all the illumed magnificence of space ?
Life crowd a grain, from air s vast realms effaced ?
The leaf a world — the firmament a waste ?'


"And while Thought whispered, from thy shining spring
Murmured the glorious answer — ' Soul of Man,

Let the fount teach thee, and its struggle bring
Truth to thy yearnings ! — whither I began

Thither I tend ; my law is to aspire :

Spirit thy souixe, be spirit thy desire.'


" And I have made the life of sjoirit mine ;

And, on the margin of my mortal grave,
My soul, already in an air divine

Even in its terrors, — starlit, seeks to cleave
Up to the height on which its source must be —
And falls again, in earthward showers, like thee.


" System on system climbing, sphere on sphere, .

Upward for ever, ever, evermore.
Can all eternity not bring more near?

Is it in vain that I have sought to soar?
Vain as the Has been, is the long To be ?
Type of my soul, fountain, answer me !" '

•A least acquainted with the property of water to rise to its level — the practical ap-
plication of which is the main law of the fountain.



And while he spoke, behold the night's soft flowers,
Scentless to-day, awoke, and bloom'd, and breathed ;

Fed by the falling of the fountain's showers,

Bound its green marge the grateful garland weathed ;

The fount might fail its source on high to gain —

But ask the blossom if it soared in vain !


The prophet mark'd, and, on his mighty brow,

Thought grew resign'd, serene, though mournful still.

Now ceased the vesper, and the branches now
Stirr'd on the margin of the forest hill —

And Gawaine came into the starlit space —

Slow was his step, and sullen was his face.


" What saw, what heard my son ?" — " The sky and wood,
The crisping leaves the winds of winter spared."

A livelier footstep gain'd the fount — and stood,
Blithe in the starlight, Carodoc the bard ;

The prophet smiled on that fair face (akin

Poet and prophet) " Child of Song, begin."


a ^

I saw a glowworm light his fairy lamp.
Close where a little torrent forced its way
Through broad leaved water-sedge, and alder damp;

Above the glowworm, from some lower spray
Of the near mountain-ash, the silver song
Of night's sweet chorister came clear and strong ;



^- No thrilling note of melancholy wail ;

Ne'er pour'd the thrush more musical delight
Through noon-day laurels, than that nightingale

In the lone forest to the ear of Night —
Even as the light web by Arachne spun,
From bough to bough suspended in the sun


" Ensnares the heedless insect, — so, methought

Midway in air my soul arrested hung
In the melodious meshes ; never aught

To mortal lute was so divinely sung !
Surely, prophet, these the sound and sign,
Which make the lot, the search determines, mine."


'•' self-deceit of man !" the soothsayer sigh'd,

" The worm but lent its funeral torch the rav ;

The night bird's joy but hail'd the fatal guide,
In the bright glimmer, to its thoughtless prey.

And thou, bold-eyed one — in the forest, what

Met thy firm footstep?" — Out spoke Lancelot —


" I pierced the forest till a pool I reached,

Ne'er mark'd before — a dark yet lucid wave ;

High from a blasted oak the night owl screeched.
An otter crept from out its water-cave.

The owl t-rew silent when it heard mv tread —

The otter mark'd my shadow, and it tied.



This all I saw, and all I heard." — '' Rejoice !"
The enchanter cried, " for thee the omens smile ;

On thee propitious Fate hath fix'd the choice ;
And thou the comrade in the glorious toil.

In death the gentle bard but music heard ;

But death gave way when life'>s firm soldier stirr'd.

" Forth ride, a dauntless champion, with the morn ;

But let the night the champion nerve with prayer ;
Higher and higher from the heron borne.

Wheels thy brave falcon to the heavenliest air,
Poises his wings, far towering o'er the foe,
And hangs aloft, before he swoops below ',


•^ Man, let the falcon teach thee ! — Now, from land
To land thy guide, receive this crystal ring ;

See, in the crystal moves a fairy hand,

Still where it moveth, moves the wandering King —

Or east, or north, or south, or west, where'er

Points the sure hand, thy onward path be there !


" Thine hour comes soon, young Gawaine ! to the jDort
The light heart boundeth o'er the stormiest wave ;

And thou, fair favourite in Gwyn-ab-Nudd's* court.
Whom fairies realms in every fancy gave ;

Fear not from glory exiled long to be.

What toil to others. Nature brings to thee."

* Gwyn-ab-Nudd, the king of the faries. He is, also, sometimes less pleasingly
delineated, as the king of the infernal regions ; the Welch I'luto — much the same



Thus with kind word, well chosen, unto each
Spoke the benign enchanter ; and the twain,

Less favoured, heart and comfort from his speech
Hopeful conceived ; the prophet up the plain,

Gathering weird simples, pass'd — to Carduel they;

And song escapes to Arthur's lonely way,


On towards the ocean-shore (for thus the seer
Enjoin'd) — the royal knight, deep musing rode;

Winding green margins, till more near and near
Unto the deep the exulting river ilow'd.

Here too, a guide, when reach'd the mightier wave,

The heedful promise of the prophet gave.


Where the sea flashes on the argent sands,
Soars from a lonely rock a snow white dove;

Nor birds more beauteous to immortal lands
Bore Psyche rescued side by side with Love.

Even as some thought which, pure of earthly taint,

Springs from the chaste heart of a virgin saint.


It hovers in the heaven, and from its wings
Shakes the clear dewdrops of unsuUying seas;

Then circling gently in slow-measured rings,
Nearer and nearer to its goal it flees.

And dropping, fearless, on that noble breast,

Murmuring low joy, it coos itself to rest.

as, in the chivalric romance writers, Proserpine is sometimes made the queen of the



The grateful King, with many a soothing word,
And bland caress, the guileless trust repaid ;

When, gently gliding from his hand, the bird

Went fluttering where the hollow headlands made

A boat's small harbour; Arthur from the chain

Released the raft, — it shot along the main.


Now in that boat, beneath the eyes of heaven,
Floated the three, the steed, the bird, the man ;

To favouring winds the little sail was given;
The shore fail'd gradual, dwindling to a span ;

The steed bent wistfully o'er the watery realm ;

And the white dove perch'd tranquil at the helm.


H:iply by fisherman, its owner, left,

Within the boat were rude provisions stored;

The yellow harvest from the wild bee reft.

Bread, roots, dried fish, the luxuries of a board

Health spreads for toil ; while skins and fiasks of reed

Yield these the water, those the strengthening mead.

Five days, five nights, still onward, onward o'er

Light-swelling waves, bounded the bark its way;
At last the sun set reddening on a shore ;

Walls on the cliff, and war-ships in the bay ;
While from bright towers, overlooking sea and plain,
The Leopard-banners told the Yandals' reign.



Amid those shifting royalties, the North

Pour'd from its teeming breast, in tumult driven,

Now to, now fro, as thunder-clouds sent forth

To darken, burst, — and bursting, clear the heaven;

Ere yet the Nomad nations found repose,

And order dawn'd as Charlemain arose ;


Amidst that ferment of fierce races, won

To jonder shores a wandering A^andal horde,

Whose chief exchanged his war-tent for a throne,
And shaped a sceptre from a conquerer's sword ;

His sons, expeird by rude intestine broil,

Sought that worst wilderness — the Stranger's soil.


A distant kinsman, Ludovick his name,

Reign'd in their stead, a king of sage repute ;

His youth had wasted some few seeds on fame ;
His age, grown wiser, only planted — fruit.

War stormed the state, and civil discord rent.

He shunn'd the tempest till its wrath w^as spent.


Safe in serener lands he passed his prime ;

But mused not vainly on the strife afar :
Return'd, he watch'd — the husbandman of time —

The second harvest of rebellious war ;
Cajoled the Fjlelincjf^'''' fix'd the fickle Gau^
And to the Leute promised equal law.

The EnKLiNRS were the nobles of the Teutonic races ; the Go-w or Gau, the
net composed of the union of clans (Mahcua), which had its own independent



The moment came, disorder split the reahu ;

Too stern the ruler, or too feebly stern ;
The supple kinsman slided to the helm.

And trimmed the rudder with a dexterous turn ;
A turn so dexterous, that it served to lling
Both over board — the people and the king.


The captain's post repaid the pilot's task.

He seized the ship as he had cleared the prowj

Drop we the metaphor as he the mask :

And, while his gaping Vandals wondered how,

Behold the patriot to the despot grown,

Filch'd from the ^^\i, and juggled to the throne !


And bland in words was wily Ludovick !

Much did he promise, nought did he fulfil ;
The trickster Fortune loves the hands that trick,

And smiled approving on her conjuror's skill !
The promised freedom vanished in a tax.
And bays, turn'd briars, scourged bewildered backs.


Soon is the landing of the stranger knight

Known at the court ; and courteously the king

Gives to his guest the hospitable rite ;

Heralds the tromp, and harpers wake the string ;

Rich robes of minever the mail replace.

And the bright banquet sparkles on the dais.

administration, and chose its parliament of delegates (called Graven) ; and the Liti
(whence the modern German word Lecte), were the subject population.



Where on the wall the cloth, gold woven, glow'd,
Beside his chair of state, the Vandal lord

Made room for that fair stranger, as he strode,
With a king's footstep, to the kingly board.

In robes so nobly worn, the wise old man

Saw some great soul, which cunning whispered ' scan.'


A portly presence had the realm-deceiver;

An eye urbane, a peoj)le-catching smile,
A brow, of webs the everlasting weaver.

Where jovial frankness mask'd the serious guile ;
Each word, well aim'd, he feathered with a jest,
And, unsuspected, shot into the breast.


Gaily he welcomed Arthur to the feast.

And press'd the goblet, which unties the tongue ;

As the bowl circled so his speech increast,

And chose such flatteries as seduce the young ;

Seeming in each kind question more to blend

The fondling father with the anxious friend.


If frank the prince, esteem him not the less ;

The soul of knighthood loves the truth of man ;
The boons he sought 't was needful to suppress.

Not mask the seeker ; so the prince began —
" Arthur my name, from Mel Ynys* I come.
And the steep homes of Cymri's Christendom.

• Mel Ynys, the Isle of Honey (sometimes Vol Ynys, with a more disputed sig-
nification), the old Welch name for Kngland, as is also Clas Merlin, which, like
most of such primitive Welch terms, is variously construed — by some into the



" Five days ago, in Carduel's hall a king,
Now, over land and sea, a pilgrim knight ;

I seek such fame as gallant deeds can bring.
And take from danger what denies delight;

Lore from experience, thought from toil to gain,

And learn as man how best as king to reign."


The Yandal smiled, and praised the high design ;

Then, careless, questioned of the Cymrian land :
' Was earth propitious to the corn and vine ?

Was the sun genial ? — were the breezes bland ?
Did gold and gem the mountain mines conceal ?'
" Our soil bears manhood, and our mountains steel,"


Answered the Briton ; " and where these are found,
All plains yield harvests, and all mines the gold."

Next ask'd the Yandal, ' What might be the bound
Of Cymri's realm, and what its strongest hold ?'

" Its bound where might without a wrong can gain ;

Its hold a people that abhors the chain !"


The Yandal mused, and thought the answer shrewd.

But little suited to the listeners by;
So turned the subject, nor again renewed

Sharp questions blunted by such bold reply.

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 4 of 25)