Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

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Now ceased the banquet ; to a chamber, spread
With fragrant heath, his guest the Yandal led.

"garden of Merlin,'' by others into " the sea-girt green spot," &c. &c. Another
name for England is Ynys wen, or the While Island.



With his own hand uiicLisp'd the mantle's fold.
And took his leave in blessings without number ;

Bade every angel""*' shelter from the cold,

And every saint watch sleepless o'er the sluml3er ;

Then his own chamber sought, and rack'd his breast

To find some use to which to put the guest.


Three days did Arthur sojourn in that court,
And much he marvelled how that warlike race

Bowed to a chief, whom never knightly sport.
The gallant tourney, or the glowing chase

Allured ; and least those glory-lighted dyes

Which make Death lovely in a warrior's eyes.


Yet, midst his marvel, much the Cymrian sees
For king to imitate and sage to praise ;

Splendour and thrift in nicely poised degrees.

Caution that guards, and promptness that dismay ^j,

The mild demeanour that excludes not awe,

And patient purpose steadfast as a law.


On his part, Arthur in such estimation

Did the host hold, that he proposed to take
A father's charge of his forsaken nation,
' ' He loved not meddling, but for Arthur's sake.
Would leave his own, liis guest's afiairs to mind.'
An offer Arthur thankfully declined.

* As the Vandals in Africa were already converted to Christianity, we must pay
Ludovick and his northern tribes the compliment of supposing them no less enlight-
ened than their more celebrated brethren.

•- BOOK II. n


Mucli grieved the Vandal ^tliat he just had given
His last unwedded daughter to a Frank,

But still he had a wifeless son, thank heaven !
Not yet provision'd as beseem'd his rank^

And one of Arthur's sisters' — Uther's son

Smiled, and replied — " Sir king, I have but one,


^' Borne by my mother to her former lord ;

Not young." — "Alack ! youth cannot last like riches."
" Not fair." — " Then youth is less to be deplored."

"A witch. "'^' — "^4.// women till they're wed are witches!
Wived to my son, the witch will soon be steady !"
'' Wived to your son ? — she is a wife already !"


baseless dreams of man ! The king stood mute !

That son, of all his house the favorite flower,
How had he sought to force it into fruit,

And graft the slip upon a lusty dower !
And this sole sister of a king so rich,
A wife alreadv ! — Saints consume the witch.


With brow deject, the mournful Vandal took
Occasion prompt to leave the royal guest,

And sought a friend who served him, as a book
Read in our illness, in our health dismist ;

For seldom did the Vandal condescend

To that poor drudge which monarchs call a friend !

* The witch Mouiige, or Morgana, (historically Anxa), was Arthur's sister.

/ 8 K I N G A R T H U R.


And yet Astutio was a man of worth

Before the brain had reasoned out the heart ;

But now he learned to look upon the earth
As peddhng hucksters look upon the mart ;

Took souls for wares, and conscience for a till ;

And damn'd his fame to serve his master's will.


Much lore he had in men, and states, and things,
And kept his memory mapp'd in prim precision,

With histories, laws, and pedigrees of kings.

And moral saws, which ran through each division,

All neatly colour d with appropriate hue —

The history black, the morals heavenly blue !


But state-craft, mainly, was his pride and boast ;

" The golden medium" was his guiding star,
Which means " move on until you 're uppermost.

And then things can't be better than they are !"
Brief, in two rules he summ'd the ends of man —
^' Keep all you have, and try for all you can !"


While these conferred, fair Arthur wistfully
Look'd from the lattice of his stately room ;

The rainbow spann'd the ocean of the sky.
Sunshine and cloud, the glory and the gloom,

Tike grief and joy from light's same sources given ; —

Tears weave with smiles to form the bridge to heaven !

BOOK II. - 79


As such, perchance, his thought, the snow-white dove,
Which at the threshold of the Vandal's towers

Had left his side, came circling from above,

Athwart the rainbow and the sparkling showers,

Flew through the open lattice, j)aused, and sprung

Where on the wall the abandoned armour hung;


Hovered above the lance, the mail, the crest,
Then back to Arthur, and with querelous cries,

Peck'd at the clasp that bound the flowing vest,
Chiding his dalliance from the arm'd emprize,

So Arthur deem'd ; and soon from head to heel

Blazed War's dread statue, sculptured from the steel.


Then through the doorway flew the winged guide,
Skimm'd the long gallery, shunn'd the thronging hall,

And, through deserted posterns, led the stride
Of its arm'd follower to the charger's stall ;

Loud neigh'd the destrier at the welcome clang,

And drowsy horseboys into service sprang.


Though threaten'd danger well the prince divined,
He deem'd it churlish in ungracious haste

Thus to depart, nor thank a host so kind ;

But when the step the courteous thought retraced.

With breast and wing the dove opposed his way.

And warn'd with scaring scream the rash delay.



Eeluctant yields the King. Now in the court
Paws with impatient hoof the barbed steed ;


Now yawn the sombre portals of the fort;

Creaks the hoarse drawbridge ; — now the walls are
Thro' dun woods hanging o'er the ocean tide,
Glimmers the steel, and srleams the an2;el-iruide.


An opening glade upon the headland's brow

Sudden admits the ocean and the day.
Lo ! the waves cleft before the gilded prow,

Where the tall w^ar-ship, towering, sweeps to bay.
Why starts the King ? — High over mast and sail
The Saxon Horse rides ghastly in the gale !


Grateful to heaven, and heaven's plumed messenger.
He raised his reverent eyes, then shook the rein :

Bounded the barb, disdainful of the spur,

Clear'd the steep cliff, and scour'd along the plain.

Still, while he sped, the swifter wings that lead

Seem'd to rebuke for sloth the swiftening steed.


Nor cause unmeet for grateful thought, I ween,

Had the good King ; nor vainly warn'd the bird,

Nor idly fled the steed ; as shall be seen.

If, where the Vandal and his friend conferr'd,

Awhile our path retracing, we relate

What craft deems guiltless when the craft of state.



" Sire," quoth Astutio, " well I comprehend

Your cause for grief; the seedsman breaks the ground

For the new plant ; new thrones that would extend
Their roots, must loosen all the earth around ;

For trees and thrones no rule than this more true,

What most disturbs the old best serves the new.


" Thus all ways wise to push your princely son
Under the soil of Cymri's ancient stem ;

And if the ground the thriving plant had won,

What prudent man will plants that thrive, condemn.

Sir, in your move a master hand is seen.

Your well play'd bishop caught both towers and queen."


" And now checkmate !" the wretched sire exclaims.
With watering eyes, and mouth that watered too.

" Nay," quoth the sage ; " a match means many games.
Keplace the pieces, and begin anew."

" You want this Cymrian's crown — the want is just."

" But how to get it ?" — " Sir, with ease, I trust."


" The witch is married — better that than burn ;

(A well-known text^ — to witches not applied,)
But let that pass : — great sir to Anglia turn.

And mate your Yandal with a Saxon bride.

Her dower," — Cried Ludovick, " The dower's the thing !"

" The lands and sceptre of the Cymrian King."





Then to that anxious sire the learned man
Bared the large purpose latent in his speech ;

O'er Britain's gloomy history glibly ran ;

Anglia's new kingdoms, he described them each ;

But most himself to Mercia he addresses,

For Mercia s king, great man, hath two princesses !


Long on this glowing theme enlarged the sage,
And turn'd, return'd, and turn'd it o'er again;

Thus when a mercer would your greed engage
In some fair silk, or cloth of comely gram,

He spreads it out — upholds it to the sun —

Strokes and restrokes it, and the pelf is won !


He showed the Saxon hungering to devour

The last unconquer'd realm the Cymrian boasts ;

He dwelt at length on Mercia's gathering power,
Swell'd year by year, from Elbe's unfailing hosts ;

Then proved how Mercia scarcely could retain

Beneath the sceptre what the sword might gain.


' For Mercia's vales from Cymri's hills are far,
And Mercian warriors hard to keep a-iield ;

And men fresh conquer'd stormy subjects are ;
What can't be held 't is no great loss to yield ;

And still the Saxon might secure his end.

If where the foe had reign'd he left the friend.



' Nay, what so politic in Mercia's king
As on that throne a son-in-law to place ?'

While thus they saw their birds upon the wing
Ere hatched the egg, — as is the common case

With large capacious minds, the natural heirs

Of that vast property — the things not theirs !


In comes a herald — comes with startling news :
A Saxon chief has anchored in the bay,

From Mercia's king ambassador, and sues
The royal audience ere the close of day.

The wise old men upon each other stare.
While monarchs counsel^ thus the saints prepare,"


Murmured Astutio, with a pious smile.

" Admit the noble Saxon," quoth the kmg.
The two laugh out, and rub their palms, the while

The herald speeds the ambassador to bring ;
And soon a chief, fair-haired, erect, and tall.
With train and trumpet, strides along the hall.

Upon his wrist a falcon, bell'd, he bore ;

Leash'd at his heels six bloodhounds grimly stalked ;
A broad round shield was slung his breast before ;

The floors reclanged with armour as he walked ;
He gained the dais ; his standard-bearer spread
Broadly the banner o'er his helmed head ;



And thrice the tromp his blazon'd herald woke,
And hail'd Earl Harold from the Mercian king.(^)

Full on the Vandal gazed the earl, and spoke :
" Greeting from Crida, Woden's heir, I bring,

And these plain words ; — ' The Saxon's steel is bare,

Red harvests wait it — Avill the Vandal share ?


" ' Hengist first chased the Briton from the vale ;

Crida would hound the Briton from the hill ;
Stern hands have loosed the Pale Horse on the gale ;

The Horse shall halt not till the winds are still.
Be ours your foeman, — be your foeman shown,
And we in turn will smite them as our own.


" ' We need allies — ^in you allies we call ;

Your shores oppose the Cymrian's mountain sway ;
Your armed men stand idle in your hall ;

Your chiules* rot within your crowded bay :
Send three full squadrons to the Mercian bands —
Send seven tall war-sliips to the Cymrian lands.


" ' If this you grant, as from the old renown,
Of Vandal valour, Saxon men believe,

Our arms will solve all question to your crown ;
If not, the heirs you banish we receive ;

But one rude maxim Saxon bluntness knows —

We serve our friends, who are not friends are foes !

• Ships of war.



" ' Thus speaks King Crida.' " Not the manner much
Of that brief speech wise Ludovick admired ;

But still the matter did so nearly touch
The great state-objects recently desired,

That, with a smile, he gulped resentment down,

And trimmed the hook that angled for a crown.


Fair words he gave, and friendly hints of aid,
And pray'd the envoy in his halls to rest ;

And more, in truth, to please the earl had said,
But that the sojourn of the earlier guest

(For not the parting of the Cjonrian known)

Forbade his heart too broadly to be shown.


But ere a long and oily speech had closed,

Astutio, who the hall, when it begun.
Had left, to seek the prince, (whom he proposed.

If yet the tidings to his ear had won
Of his foe's envoy, by some smooth pretext
To lull) came back with visage much perplext —


And whispered Ludovick — " The King has fled !"
The Vandal stammer d, stared, but versed in all

The quick resources of a wily head,
That out of evil still a good could call.

He did but pause, with more effect to wing

The stone that chance thus fitted to his string.



" Saxon," lie said, " thus far we had premised,
And if still wavering, not our heart in fault.

Three days ago, the Cymrian king, disguised.
First drank our cup, and tasted of our salt,

And hence our zeal to aid you we represt.

Least men should say, ' the Vandal wrong'd his guest.'

juuy vvi.xj.ic; v> c Ductxrv, uiic ocixiiLo lixc muijiu. xcj

Lo, while we speak, the saints the bond release ;
Arthur but now hath left us — we are free.'
"Arthur — the Cymrian!" cried the envoy. "Peace;

In deed, not words, men's love the Saxons see :
Left you ! and whither ? But a word I need —
Leave to the rest my bloodhounds and my steed."


Dumb sate the Vandal, dumb with fear and shame.
No slave to virtue, but its shade was he ;

A tower of strength is in an honest name —
'T is wise to seem what oft 't is dull to be !

A kingly host a kingly guest betray !

The chafing Saxon brook'd not that delay —

But tnrn'd his sparkling eyes behind, and saw

His knights and squires with zeal as fierce inflamed.
And out he spoke — " The hospitable law

We will not trench, whate'er the guest hath claim'd
Let the host yield ; forgive, that, hotly stirr'd,
His course I question'd ; I retract the word.



" If on your hearth he stands, protect ; within
Your reahn if wandering, guard him as you may;

This hearth not ours, nor this our realm ; — no sin
To chase our foeman, whatsoe'er his way :

Up spear — forth sword ! to selle each Saxon man —

Unleash the warhounds — stay us those who can !"

Loud rang the armed tumult in the hall ;

Rush'd to the doors the Saxon's fiery band ;
Yell'd the gaunt bloodhounds loosened from the thrall ;

Steeds neigh'd ; leapt forth the falchion to the hand ;
Low on the earth the bloodhounds track'd the scent,
And where they guided there the hunters went.

Amazed the Vandal with his friend debates

What course were best in such extremes to choose ;
Nicely they weigh ; — the Saxons pass the gates :

Finely refine ; — the chase its prey pursues.
And while the chase pursues, to him, whose way
The dove directs, well pleased, returns the lay.


Twilight was on the earth, when paused the King,
Lone by the beach of far-resounding seas ;

Rock upon rock, behind, a Titan ring.

Closed round a gorge o'erhung with breathless trees,

A horror of still umbrage ; and, before,

Wave-hollow'd caves arch'd, ruinous, the shore.



Column and vault, and seaweed-dripping dome^,
Long vistas opening through the streets of dark,

Seem'd like a city's skeleton ; the homes
Of giant races vanish'd since the ark

Rested on Ararat : from side to side

Moan'd the lock'd waves that ebb not with the tide.


Here, path forbid ; where, length'ning up the land.
The deep gorge stretches to a night of pine.

Veer the white wings ; and there the slacken'd hand
Guides the tired steed ; deeplier the shades decline

Dull'd with each step into the darker gloom

Follows the ocean's hollow-sounding boom.


Sudden starts back the steed, with bristling mane
And nostrils snorting fear ; from out the shade

Loom the vast columns of a roofless fane.

Meet for some god whom savage man hath made ;

A mighty pine-torch on the altar glow'd

And lit the goddess of the grim abode —


So that the lurid idol, from its throne,

Glared on the wanderer with a stony eye ;

The King breathed quick the Christian orison,
Spurr'd the scared barb, and passed abhorrent by,

Nor mark'd a figure on the floor reclined ;

It watch'd, it rose, it crept, it dogg'd behind.



Three days, three nights, within that dismal shrine,
Had couch'd that man, and hungered for his prey.

Chieftain and priest of hordes that from the Rhine
Had track'd in carnage thitherwards their way ;

Fell souls that still maintained their rights of yore.

And hideous altars rank with human gore.

By monstrous Oracles a coming foe,

Whose steps appal his gods, hath been foretold ;
The fane must fall unless the blood shall flow ;

Therefore three days, three nights, he watch'd ; behold
At last the death-torch of the blazing pine
Darts on the foe the lightning of the shrine !


Stealthily on, amidst the brushwood, crept
With practised foot, and unrelaxing eye,

The steadfast Murder ; — where the still leaf slept
The still leaf stirr'd not : as it glided by

The mosses gave no echo ; not a breath !

Nature was hush'd as if in league w^ith Death !


As moved the man, so, on the opposing side
Of the deep gorge, with purpose like his own,

Did steps as noiseless to the blood-feast glide ;
And as the man before his idol's throne

Had watch'd, — so watch'd, since daylight left the air,

A giant wolf within its leafy lair.



Whether the blaze allured or hunger stung,

There still had cower'd and crouch'dthe beast of prey ;

With lurid eyes unwinking, spell-bound, clung
To the near ridge that faced the torchlit way ;

As the steed pass'd, it rose ! On either side,

Here glides the wild beast, there the man doth glide.


But, all unconscious of the double foe,

Paused Arthur, where his resting-place the dove

Seem'd to select, — his couch a mound below ;
A bowering beech his canopy above :

From his worn steed the barbed mail released,

And left it reinless, to its herbage-feast.

Then from his brow the mighty helm unbraced,

And from his breast the hauberk's heavy load ;
On the tree's trunk the trophied arms he placed.

And, ere to rest the wearied limbs bestow'd.
Thrice sign'd the cross the fiends of night to scare,
And gaurded helpless sleep with potent prayer.


Then on the moss-grown couch he laid him down,
Fearless of night and hopeful for the morn :

On Sleep's soft lap the head without a crown
Forgot the gilded trouble it had worn ;

Slumbered the King — the browsing charger stray 'd —

The dove, unsleeping, watch'd amidst the shade.



And now, on either hand the dreaming King,

Death halts to strike the crouching wild beast, here,

From the close crag prepares the rushing spring ;
There, from the thicket creeping, near and near,

Steals the wild man, and listens for a sound —

Lifts the pale steel, and gathers for the bound.


But what befell ? thou, whose gentle heart
Lists, scornful not, this undiurnal rhyme ;

If, as thy steps to busier life depart.

Still in thine ear rings low the haunting chime.

When leisure suits, once more forsake the throng.

Call childhood back^ and redemand the song.


1 " By lips as gay the Hirlas horn is quaft."

Page 61, stanza iii.

The Hirlas, or drinking-horn, (made of the horn of a buffalo,
enriched either with gold or silver), was not a vessel peculiar
to the Welch ; the Scandinavian nations also used it. The
Hirlas Song of Owen, Prince of Powys, is familiar to all lovers
of Welch literature ; the best translation of which I am aware is
to be found in the notes to Southey's Ma doc.

2 " Therein Sir Brut, expelled from flaming Troy."

Page 63, stanza viii.

Caradoc's version of the descent of Brut differs somewhat
from that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, but perhaps it is quite as
true. According to Geoffrey, Brut is great-grandson to iEneas,
and therefore not expelled from ^'-flaming Troy." Caradoc
follow^s his own (no doubt authentic) legends, also, as to the
aboriginal population of the island, w^hich, according to Geof-
frey, were giants, not devils. The cursory and contemptuous
way in which that delicious Romance writer speaks of these
poor giants is inimitable — '^ Albion a nemine, exceptis paiicis
^igantihus inhabit abatur.^^ — '^ Albion w^as inhabited by no-
body except J indeed^ a few giants V^


" The vesper-bell afar

Swing from the dim cathedraL"

Page 64, stanza xiv.

A cathedral church at which Arthur was crowned, and of
which Dubricius was arch prelate, already existed at Caerlon,
according to the venerable authorities consulted rather by poets
than historians.

4 " And haird Earl Harold from the Mercian king."

Page 84, stanza xcii.

Harold is so familiar to us as a Saxon name, that it has been
used as such without scruple ; but, in strictness, it is a Scandi-
navian name, introduced into England by the Danes,




Arthur still sleeps ; The sounds that break his rest ; The war between the
beast and the man ; How ended ; Tlie Christian foe and the heathen ;
The narrative returns to the Saxons in pursuit of Arthur ; Their chase
is stayed by the caverns described in the preceding book, the tides
having now advanced up the gorge through which Arthur passed, and
blocked that pathway ; the hunt is resumed at dawn ; the tides have
receded from the gorge ; One of the hounds finds scent ; The riders are
on the track ; Harold heads the pursuit ; The beech tree ; The man by
the water-spring ; The wood is left ; The knight on the brow of the
hill ; Parley between the earl and the knight ; The encounter ; Harold's
address to his men, and his foe ; His foe's reply; the dove and the fal-
con ; The unexpected succour ; And conclusion of the fray ; The nar-
rative passes on to the description of the Happy Valley; In which
the dwellers await the coming of a stranger ; History of the Happy
Valley ; A colony founded by Etrurians from Fiesole, forwarned of the
destined growth of the Roman dominion; Its strange seclusion and
safety from the changes of the ancient world ; The law that forbade
the daughters of the Lartian or ruling family to marry into other clans ;
Only one daughter (the queen) is left now, and the male line in the
whole Lartian clan is extinct ; The contrivance of the Augur for the
continuance of the royal house, sanctioned by two former precedents ;
A stranger is to be lured into the valley ; The simple dwellers therein
to be deceived into believing him a god ; He is to be married to the queen,
and then, on the birth of a son, to vanish again amongst the gods, (i.
e. to be secretly made away with) ; Two temples at the opposite ends
of the valley give the only gates to the place ; By the first, dedicated to
Tina, (the Etrurian Jove,) the stranger is to be admitted ; In the second,
dedicated to Mantu, (the god of the shades,) he is destined to vanish ;
Such a stranger is now expected in the happy valley ; He emerges, led
by the Augur, from the temple of Tina ; ^gle, the queen, described ;
Her stranger-bridegroom is led to her bower.



We raise the curtain where the unconscious Kino:
Beneath the beech his fearless couch had made ;

Here the fierce fangs prepared their deadly sj^ring ;
There, in the hand of Murther gleamed the blade ;

And not a sound to warn him from above ;

Where still unsleeping, watch'd the guardian dove !

Hark, a dull crash ! — a howling, ravenous yell !

Opening fell symphony of ghastly sound,
Jarring yet blent, as if the dismal hell

Sent its strange anguish from the rent profound :
Through all its scale the horrible discord ran,
Now mock'd the beast, now took the groan of man ;


Wrath, and the grind of gnashing teeth ; the growl

Of famine routed from its red repast;
Sharp shrilling pain ; and furj^ from some soul

That fronts despair, and wrestles to the last.
Sprang to his feet the King ; — the feeble ray
Through the still leaves just wins its glimmering way,




And lo, before him, close, yet ^vanly faint.

Forms that seem shadows, strife that seems the sport

Of things that oft some holy hermit saint
Lone in Egyptian plains — (the dread resort

Of Nile's dethroned demon gods) hatli \dewed;

The grisly tempters, born of Solitude : —


Coird in the strong death-grapple, through the dim
And haggard air, before the Cymrian lay

Writhing and interlaced, with fang and limb.
As if one shape, what seem'd a beast of prey

And the grand form of Man ! — The bird of Heaven

Wisely no note to warn the sleep had given ;

The sleep protected ; — as the Murther sprang

Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 5 of 25)