Thomas Malory.

The boy's King Arthur : being Sir Thomas Malory's history of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table online

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How Sir Turquine bare Sir Ector clean out of his Saddle.




King Arthur and his Knights *f th*
Round Table



OTTO* or "THB BOY'S ntotstAJtr 1

Illustrated by Alfred Kafflc*







WILL the time come when Hamlet will be a boy's tale ?

Since the young readers of King Arthur and theii
young readers after them are of all persons in the world
the very oracles who must one day answer this question ;
and since its curious face will be thrusting itself upon us
from all manner of odd corners as we now go on to trace
the rise and spread of the stories which Sir Thomas
Malory used in making this beautiful old book : I wished
to state it at the beginning, so that it might at once widen
and intensify our thoughts as we look upon those changes
in language, in life, in the general stature of man's spirit,
whereby the great cycle of Arthurian romances which en-
chanted the grown men of all Europe during the middle
ages finds itself arrived, in the nineteenth century, at the
form of this present Boys King Arthur.

About the time when Englishmen first began to hear
the name " Plantagenet," from the planta genista or wild
broom of Anjou which Henry II.'s father liked to wear by
way of a plume ; when Thomas a Becket was beginning
that bright friendship with this same King Henry II.
which presently darkened into their desperate struggle;
when a stranger was allowed to stop over in an English
borough but one night unless he could fetch good and
sufficient security against bad behavior ; when, although a


Iv Introduction.

criminal could clear himself of his accusation by holding
hot iron in his hand or by sinking when cast into water,
nevertheless those bodies of men which have since become
what we call the "jury" the most admirable provision
ever made by our race for perfect reason and pure justice
between man and man were taking form : in such a time,
which we may roughly centre at the middle of the twelfth
century, the name of King Arthur first appeared in Eng-
lish literature. For it was then that a certain Geoffrey
of Monmouth put forth his Latin Historia Britonum,
" History of the Britons," in which for the first time
the story of Arthur as an ancient British king was fairly
set before the world.

Geoffrey told it for true, not as a mere fiction. Here
is his account of the way he happened to know it, and of
his reason for publishing it as matter belonging to the real
history of the Britons. This is a translation of part of
his first chapter.

" Whilst occupied on many and various studies, I hap-
pened to light upon the History of the Kings of Britain,
and wondered that in the account which Gildas and Bede,
in their elegant treatises, had given of them, I found
nothing said of those kings who lived here before Christ,
nor of Arthur, and many others who succeeded after
Christ; though their actions both deserved immortal
fame, and were also celebrated by many people in a pleas-
ant manner, and by heart, as if they had been written.
Whilst I was intent upon these and such like thoughts,
Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford" whom we suppose to
be the Walter Map presently figuring in this account
" a man of great eloquence, and learned in foreign histo-
ries, offered me a very ancient book in the British tongue "
Geoffrey's "British" here means ou- Welsh "which,


in a continued regular story and elegant style, related the
actions of them all, from Brutus the first king of the
Britons down to Cadwallader the son of Cadwallo. At
his request, therefore, though I had not made fine lan-
guage my study, by collecting florid expressions from
other authors, yet contented with my own homely style
I undertook the translation of that book into Latin."

It must be confessed that our historian's ideas of proba-
bility seem very unsatisfactory to the modern view of
historic dignity. Perhaps no more striking proof could
be given of the enormous growth in men's conscience and
reasonableness since that time than by the following
couple of stories which I have taken out of Geoffrey's
"History," the one purporting to be a true account of
the way in which the island of Britain was first peopled
and named, the other setting forth the strange advent
of Merlin as prophet and counsellor to the British kings.

After relating how ^Eneas settled in Italy at the close
of the Trojan war, Geoffrey treats of his descendants
there, and presently comes to one Brutus, the great-grand-
son of ^Eneas, who is afterwards the founder of the British
race. This Brutus, having by accident slain his own
father with an arrow while hunting, is banished by his
kinsmen for the dreadful deed. He wanders forth over
the earth, falls into wondrous adventures, fights battles,
and does noble deeds, until he is finally told by the god-
dess Diana that there is an island in the Western Sea
upon which he is to found a great empire.

He goes in search, and, after other tremendous wan
and victories in which he amasses great spoils, he and his
mighty lieutenant Corineus, with a company which he has
gathered in his wanderings, arrive on the coast of Eng-
land. The details of these matters occupy fourteen

vl Introduction.

chapters after chapter first, already quoted : and here, in
chapter sixteen, we have the terrible fight ol Corineus
with the aboriginal giant, and the founding of Britain.

" The island was then called Albion, and was inhabited
by none but a few giants." Fixing their habitation, they
begin to till the ground ; and " Brutus called the island
after his name Britain, 1 and his companions Britons."
But Corineus begins to languish for some fun : " For it
was a diversion to him to encounter the said giants, which
were in greater numbers " in his province " than in all the
other provinces that fell to the share of his companions.
Among the rest was one detestable monster named Goe-
magot, in stature twelve cubits, and of such prodigious
strength that at one shake he pulled up an oak as if it had
been a hazel wand. On a certain day, when Brutus was
holding a solemn festival to the gods . . . this giant with
twenty more of his companions came in upon the Britons,
among whom he made a dreadful slaughter. But the
Britons, at last assembling together in a body, put them
to the rout, and killed them every one but Goemagot.
Brutus had given orders to have him preserved alive, out
of a desire to see a combat between him and Corineus. . . .
Corineus, overjoyed at this, prepared himself, and, throw-
ing aside his arms, challenged him to wrestle with him,
At the beginning of the encounter, Corineus and the giant,
standing front to front, held each other strongly in their
arms, and panted aloud for breath ; but Goemagot pres-
ently, grasping Corineus with all his might, broke three of
his ribs. ... At which Corineus, highly enraged, roused up

1 The first in " Brutus " sounded like the modern French u in Geoffrey's
time. This in rapid conversation is not widely different from the short / of
Brit-ain. The derivation was therefore at any rate not an improbable one, in
point of sound, to Geoffrey's readers.

Introduction. vil

his whole strength, and, snatching him upon his shoulders,
ran with him as fast as the weight would allow him to the
nearest part of the sea-shore, and there, getting upon the
top of a high rock, hurled down the savage monster into
the sea; where, falling upon the sides of craggy rocks,
he was torn to pieces, and colored the waves with his
blood. The place where he fell ... is called Lam Goe
magot, that is Goemagot's Leap, to this day."

And here, in the last chapters of Geoffrey's sixth book,
we have the mystic appearance of Merlin. Vortigern,
king of Britain, after the slaughter of his whole princely
following through the treachery of Hengist and the wast-
ing of his countries by that warrior, retires desolate into
Cambria, the modern " Wales," and for some time
is at a loss how to act.

" At last he had recourse to magicians, and commanded
them to tell him what course to take. They advised him
to build a very strong tower for his own safety, since he
had lost all his other fortified places. Accordingly he
. . . assembled workmen from several countries, and
ordered them to build the tower. The builders therefore
began to lay the foundation ; but whatever they did one
day, the earth swallowed up the next, so as to leave no
appearance of their work. Vortigern, being informed of
this, again consulted with his magicians concerning the
cause of it, who told him that he must find out a youth
that never had a father, and kill him, and then sprinkle
the stone and cement with his blood ; for by those means,
they said, he would have a firm foundation. Hereupon
messengers were despatched over all the provinces to in-
quire out such a man. In their travels they came to a
city . . . where they saw some young men playing before
the gate, and went up to them; but, being weary with

viii Introduction.

their journey, they sat down. . . . Towards evening there
happened on a sudden a quarrel between two of the youn
men, whose names were Merlin and DabuHus. In the
dispute Dabutius said to Merlin : ' You fool, do you pre-
sume to quarrel with me ? ... I am descended of royal
race both by my father's and mother's side. As for you,
nobody knows what you are, for you never had a father/
At that word the messengers looked earnestly upon Mer-
lin, and asked the by-standers who he was. They told
them it was not known who was his father ; but that his
mother was daughter to the king of Dimetia, and that she
lived in St. Peter's Church among the nuns of that city.
Upon this the messengers hastened to the governor of the
city, and ordered him in the king's name to send Merlin
and his mother to the king."

The king having received them, and having made nu-
merous inquiries which were satisfactorily answered,

" Merlin then approached the king and said to him, ' For
what reason am I and my mother introduced into your
presence?' 'My magicians,' answered Vortigern, 'advised
me to seek out a man who had no father, with whose blood
my building is to be sprinkled in order to make it stand.'
' Order your magicians,' said Merlin, ' to come before me,
and I will convict them of a lie.' The king was surprised
at his words, and presently ordered the magicians to come
and sit down before Merlin, who spoke to them after this
manner :

" ' Because you are ignorant what it is that hinders
the foundation of the tower, you have recommended the
shedding of my blood for cement to it, as if that would
presently make it stand. But tell me now what is there
under the foundation ? For something there is that will
not suffer it to stand.'


"The magicians at this began to be afraid and made
him no answer. Then said Merlin, who is also called
Ambrose, * I entreat your majesty would command your
workmen to dig into the ground, and you will find a
pond which causes the foundation to sink. 1

" This accordingly was done, and then presently they
found a pond deep under ground which had made it give
way. Merlin after this went again to the magicians and
said, ' Tell me, ye false sycophants, what is there under the
pond/ But they were silent. Then said he again to the
king, * Command the pond to be drained, and at the bottom
you will see two hollow stones, and in them two dragons
asleep/ The king made no scruple of believing him, since
he had found true what he had said of the pond, and there-
fore ordered it to be drained ; which done, he found as
Merlin had said ; and now was possessed of the greatest
admiration of him. Nor were the rest that were present
less amazed at his wisdom, thinking it to be no less than
divine inspiration."

If all Geoffrey's history were of this cast, and that of
the famous Prophecy of Merlin which follows the extract
just given, one could find great comfort in a phrase of the
angry Hotspur in Shakspere's King Henry IV. t who, when
reproached by Mortimer for his endless crossing and taunt-
ing of the Welshman Glendower, cries,

I cannot choose : sometime be angers me
With telling me ...

Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies,
And of a dragon and a finless fish,
... A couching lion, and a ramping cat,
And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff
AM puts me from my faith.


But there are many soberer matrers, lying nearer within
historic possibility, in Geoffrey's bcx k ; and its rich stores
have often furnished groundwork for later English think-
ers, as, for instance, its account of Leir, an early king of
England, which has been transformed into Shakspere's
terrible play of King Lear.

Before leaving Geoffrey it is worth while mentioning, as
explanatory of several English names which occur in the
following work, that according to him Brutus had three
sons, who upon their father's death divided the kingdom
between them : these were, Locrin, who took the middle
part of the island, and thus gave it a name often used in
this book, " Loegria," or sometimes " Logris ; " Albanact,
who took the northern part, and thus gave name to the
country of Albania, or Albany, now known as Scotland ;
and Kamber, who took the part beyond the Severn, and
thus gave it the name of Kambria, or Cambria, now
known as "Wales," though still often referred to under
the other title.

Advancing, now, to Walter Map (whose name is also
spelled " Mapes ") : he seems not to have been content
that these matters should remain in Geoffrey's Latin, for
we find three long Arthurian romances in French which
are attributed to him. One of these is called La Queste
del Saint Graal? and is in a far nobler vein of story than
Geoffrey's. I have thought that many young readers
would be glad to see some of the French of Maistres
Gautiers Map, and for this purpose I have selected part of

1 The " Saint Graal," or Saint Grail, or Sane Greal, or Sangreal as it
has been variously spelled at different times means the holy (sanct-us, saint)
Grail, or Cup, which was fabled to have received some of the blood of Jesus
Christ, and to have been brought away, endowed with miraculous powers, bj
Joseph of Arimathea, finally lodging in England.

Introduction. xl

that most exquisite story which is also finely told in the
present book of the meeting of Sir Percival and the
lion, and of their friendship. My extract begins as Sir
Percival has slain the serpent. " Quant li lyons se voit
delivres del serpent par 1'aide del chivaler, il ne fait pas
samblant qu'il vit volentee de combatre a percheval"
[Percival} "ains vient devant lui, et boisse sa teste. et
lui fait grant ioie. si que perchevaus [Percival} voit bien
qu'il n'a talent de lui mal faire, il remet s'espee el fuerre,
et iete ius son escu, et son hiaume de sa teste por le vent
requellir. Car assis Tot escaufe li serpens, et li lyons aloit
tous iours apres lui, covetant et faisant grant ioie. Et
quant il voit che, si le commence a aplanier col et teste,
et dist que notres sires lui a envoie celle beste pour lui
faire compaignie."

But perhaps it will be still more interesting to see ex-
actly what sort of English was spoken in this time : and,
for the purpose of showing, I wish to bring forward a
short passage from an old English poet who seems to me
the most delightful boy-that-never-grows-old in the world,
and whom perhaps one loves a little more, because his
countrymen have as yet loved him a great deal less,
than he deserves. His name is Layamon; and he not
only began one of the most remarkable revolutions in
the whole history of language, but he was writing at one
of the most glorious moments in the history of England.
If I mention the year 1215, every boy's mind will imme-
diately fly to that famous day at Runnymede when the
barons forced the Great Charter from King John. While
this Charter, with its deep declarations which seem to
have rendered English liberty indestructible such as,
" To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or jus-
tice," and "We will not go against any man nor send

xil Introduction.

against him, save by legal judgment of his peers or by
the law of the land" was overthrowing political tyran-
ny, Layamon, in a spirit not unlike, was overthrowing
a literary tyranny. For a hundred and fifty years
since William the Norman came over in 1066 and im-
posed his tongue upon England French had been the
official language of the country : if you had a communi-
cation for royalty it must be in French, if you had a case
in court the pleadings must be in French, and we have
just seen how Walter Map writes his story in French
while Geoffrey writes his in Latin. No one writes books
in English. At length, however, comes Layamon, a
priest living at Earnley, on the Severn; with infinite
labor he toils about different parts of England to find
three books, one by Bseda ("the Venerable Bede"), one
by Wace, and one by Sts. Albin and Austin. At last
he gets them ; and wha v u fine figure he puts before us,
through these six and a half centuries, when we find him
saying of himself, " Layamon laid down these books, and
turned the leaves ; he gazed on them lovingly ; may the
Lord be merciful to him ! " Then he plied his pen, and
presently he had made a poem called "The Brut" (pro-
nounced Brute, and being so called as a history of Eng-
land from the time of Geoffrey's Brutus, father of the
Britons), which was so thoroughly English that in its
more than thirty thousand lines not fifty French words
can be found.

But Layamon was far from confining himself to his three
books. His imagination went far outside of their record ;
and it is just possible that he had heard some of those
popular legends about Arthur which appear to have been
handed down from father to son, and to which Geoffrey
must refer in the extract first given from him, where he

Introduction. xiil

says that the deeds of the old kings " were also celebrated
by many people . . . by heart, as if they had been writ-

Here, then, is the English of Layamon, which, though
fifty years later than Geoffrey, is substantially the same as
was spoken by the latter.

The passage gives us a picture of King Arthur in one
of his series of battles with Colgrim, leader of the Saxons.
At first Arthur's forces are overpowered, and, with that
cool judgment of the brave man which you will find
always held up in the present book as a far higher test
and ideal of manfulness than mere hot fighting and dash,
Arthur does not hesitate to take advantage of a stream,
and retreat. But in retreating he keeps his wits about
him, and ever looks out for a chance to strike, never
dreaming of surrender. And so, presently, says Laya-

Tho Arthur that i-sch, that Cckgrim him was so neh,
1 Then Arthur that saw, that Coif rim Aim was sa nigk,

That hii * weren beyne in on half than watcrc,'
Thai they wer* both on on* half (of) th* wattr,

Tho saide Arthur . . . ,

Then said Arthur . . . ,

here we have a brief soul-stirring speech from the king,
calling upon his men for valor, and crying out that the

1 I give the modern form of each old word immediately under it, in the
italicized line, thus showing the changes since Layamon. The meaning can
be made out from the literal translation in italics : it must be remembered
that the order of words in a sentence was different then from now. Signs of
this will be seen along through Malory's book, though so much later.

* " Hii " is pronounced as if written foe.

" Watere " in three syllables, wat-er-th : every final e makes a syllable

xlv Introduction.

day of God is come for the Saxons to perish : and, with
the last word,

Up brayd * Arthur his scald fora to his breaste,
Up stretched Arthur his shield before his breast,

And he gan to rese, so the wode " wolf

And he 'fan U rush, eu the furieus wolf

Wane he cometh of holte, bi-hong mid snowe,
When he cometh (tut) 0f (the) forest, behung -with

And thencheth to bite woch seap that him liketh.

And thtnheth U Me what sheep that him liketh.

Swa the haeye wade

As the high wood

Thene wind wode weieth bine mid maeine,
When (the) wind furieusbendeth it with

Flogen over the f eldes thrift! 4 thusend sceldes,
Flew ever the fields thirty theusand shields,

& smiten a Colgrimes cnihtes that tha eorthe agaen quehte.
And smeU Colgrimes knights (so) that the earth again thotk.

Breken braden speren, brustleden sceldes,
Broke broad spears, shivered shields,

Feollen Saexisce men folden to grunden.
Fell Saxen men U ground.

1 " Brayd n is an old form of modern broad: Arthur up-broadens hii
shield, that is, extends it upward. The Scotch, who preserve many Anglo
Saxon forms, still say " braid " for broad.

* " Wode " is a word which will be often found in the book you are about
to read, spelled " wood," and meaning mad, " insane ; " as, " like a wood (mad)
lion." It is used by Shakspere in A Midsummer Nighfs Dream, whera
Demetrius punningly says, " And here am I, and wood within this wood, "
that is, mad within this wood, " Because I cannot meet my Helena."

' That is, with power : we still say, " with might and main."

* The last / in " thritti " short : as if thritty.


That i-sah Colgrim, ther vore wa wes him.
Thai taw Colgrim, therefore woe was him.

Colgrim gon to flaenne, feondliche swithe,
Colgrim 'fan to flee, ftend-lihe fast,

& his hors hine bar mid haeghere strengthc
And his horse him bore with higher strength

Over that water deape and scelde him with daethc.
Over that water deep and shielded him against death.

Saxes gunnen sinken : sorge hem wes givede.
Saxons oegun (to) sink: sorrow (to) them was given.

Arthur wende his speres ord and forstod heo them vord.
Arthur turned his shear's point and forstoed them the ford.

Ther a-druncke Sexes fulle seove thusend.
There drowned Saxons full seven thousand.

Swa doth the wilde crane

So doth the wild crane

Wane his fliht is a-wemmid and him holdeth after havekes s wif te,
When his flight is a-hindered and him holdeth after kawhs swift,

Houndes in than reode mid routhe him i-meteth :
Hounds in the reeds with sorrow him meet:

Thanne is him nother god no that lond nother flod,
Then is(to)him neither good the land n* the flood,

Havekes him smiteth, houndes him bitcth,
Hawks him smite, hounds him Use,

Than his the kineworthe fogel adrad in eche side.
Then is the royal bird a-dread on eaeh tide.

Layamon, you observe, writes sometimes in rhyme,

xvi Introduction.

Havekes him smitcth,
Houndes him bifeth,


Flogen over the ./*/<&*
Thritti thusend sccldes,

the rhyme being between words at the middle and end
of the verse, as here printed ; and sometimes in what is
called the Anglo-Saxon alliterative metre, as, for instance,
where the three first main syllabks of the line begin with
the same letter, s, in

.Saxes gunnen jinken : jorge hem wes givede.

When one is so familiar with the sounds and spirit of
Layamon's speech as to recite his poetry in something
of his own manner, the music of it is far less rugged than
seems at first sight possible.

If we now leave out of sight the numerous writers,
besides Wace and Layamon and Map, who sent forth all
manner of romances in prose and verse growing out of
Geoffrey's original stock ; and, passing at one step along
nearly three hundred years, if we come to an English
author who is still re-telling the Arthurian stories, and
find an English audience still desiring to hear them re-
told : we cannot fail to be struck with the hold which
Geoffrey's tales had taken upon men's minds.

This author is our own simple, valorous, wise, tender
Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote the History of King
Arthur and his knights of the Round Table found in the
following pages. I regret that I can give no personal
account of one who must have been an interesting man :
so far as I can discover, we know absolutely nothing of
him save what is contained in the following words, which

Introduction. xvll

form the last clause of the last sentence of his work : . . .
" for this book was ended the ninth year of the reign of
King Edward the Fourth, by Sir Thomas Maleore, knight,
as Jesu help him for His great might, as he is the servant

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