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Chapter 7


The Idylls may probably be best considered in their final shape:
they are not an epic, but a series of heroic idyllia of the same
genre as the heroic idyllia of Theocritus. He wrote long after the
natural age of national epic, the age of Homer. He saw the later
literary epic rise in the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, a poem
with many beauties, if rather an archaistic and elaborate revival as
a whole. The time for long narrative poems, Theocritus appears to
have thought, was past, and he only ventured on the heroic idyllia of
Heracles, and certain adventures of the Argonauts. Tennyson, too,
from the first believed that his pieces ought to be short.
Therefore, though he had a conception of his work as a whole, a
conception long mused on, and sketched in various lights, he produced
no epic, only a series of epic idyllia. He had a spiritual
conception, "an allegory in the distance," an allegory not to be
insisted upon, though its presence was to be felt. No longer, as in
youth, did Tennyson intend Merlin to symbolise "the sceptical
understanding" (as if one were to "break into blank the gospel of"
Herr Kant), or poor Guinevere to stand for the Blessed Reformation,
or the Table Round for Liberal Institutions. Mercifully Tennyson
never actually allegorised Arthur in that fashion. Later he thought
of a musical masque of Arthur, and sketched a scenario. Finally
Tennyson dropped both the allegory of Liberal principles and the
musical masque in favour of the series of heroic idylls. There was
only a "parabolic drift" in the intention. "There is no single fact
or incident in the Idylls, however seemingly mystical, which cannot
be explained without any mystery or allegory whatever. The Idylls
ought to be read (and the right readers never dream of doing anything
else) as romantic poems, just like Browning's Childe Roland, in which
the wrong readers (the members of the Browning Society) sought for
mystic mountains and marvels. Yet Tennyson had his own
interpretation, "a dream of man coming into practical life and ruined
by one sin." That was his "interpretation," or "allegory in the

People may be heard objecting to the suggestion of any spiritual
interpretation of the Arthur legends, and even to the existence of
elementary morality among the Arthurian knights and ladies. There
seems to be a notion that "bold bawdry and open manslaughter," as
Roger Ascham said, are the staple of Tennyson's sources, whether in
the mediaeval French, the Welsh, or in Malory's compilation, chiefly
from French sources. Tennyson is accused of "Bowdlerising" these,
and of introducing gentleness, courtesy, and conscience into a
literature where such qualities were unknown. I must confess myself
ignorant of any early and popular, or "primitive" literature, in
which human virtues, and the human conscience, do not play their
part. Those who object to Tennyson's handling of the great Arthurian
cycle, on the ground that he is too refined and too moral, must
either never have read or must long have forgotten even Malory's
romance. Thus we read, in a recent novel, that Lancelot was an homme
aux bonnes fortunes, whereas Lancelot was the most loyal of lovers.

Among other critics, Mr Harrison has objected that the Arthurian
world of Tennyson "is not quite an ideal world. Therein lies the
difficulty. The scene, though not of course historic, has certain
historic suggestions and characters." It is not apparent who the
historic characters are, for the real Arthur is but a historic
phantasm. "But then, in the midst of so much realism, the knights,
from Arthur downwards, talk and act in ways with which we are
familiar in modern ethical and psychological novels, but which are as
impossible in real mediaeval knights as a Bengal tiger or a Polar
bear would be in a drawing-room." I confess to little acquaintance
with modern ethical novels; but real mediaeval knights, and still
more the knights of mediaeval romance, were capable of very ethical
actions. To halt an army for the protection and comfort of a
laundress was a highly ethical action. Perhaps Sir Redvers Buller
would do it: Bruce did. Mr Harrison accuses the ladies of the
Idylls of soul-bewildering casuistry, like that of women in
Middlemarch or Helbeck of Bannisdale. Now I am not reminded by
Guinevere, and Elaine, and Enid, of ladies in these ethical novels.
But the women of the mediaeval Cours d'Amour (the originals from whom
the old romancers drew) were nothing if not casuists. "Spiritual
delicacy" (as they understood it) was their delight.

Mr Harrison even argues that Malory's men lived hot-blooded lives in
fierce times, "before an idea had arisen in the world of 'reverencing
conscience,' 'leading sweet lives,'" and so on. But he admits that
they had "fantastic ideals of 'honour' and 'love.'" As to
"fantastic," that is a matter of opinion, but to have ideals and to
live in accordance with them is to "reverence conscience", which the
heroes of the romances are said by Mr Harrison never to have had an
idea of doing. They are denied even "amiable words and courtliness."
Need one say that courtliness is the dominant note of mediaeval
knights, in history as in romance? With discourtesy Froissart would
"head the count of crimes." After a battle, he says, Scots knights
and English would thank each other for a good fight, "not like the
Germans." "And now, I dare say," said Malory's Sir Ector, "thou, Sir
Lancelot, wast the curtiest knight that ever bare shield, . . . and
thou wast the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall
among ladies." Observe Sir Lancelot in the difficult pass where the
Lily Maid offers her love: "Jesu defend me, for then I rewarded your
father and your brother full evil for their great goodness. . . .
But because, fair damsel, that ye love me as ye say ye do, I will,
for your good will and kindness, show you some goodness, . . . and
always while I live to be your true knight." Here are "amiable words
and courtesy." I cannot agree with Mr Harrison that Malory's book is
merely "a fierce lusty epic." That was not the opinion of its
printer and publisher, Caxton. He produced it as an example of "the
gentle and virtuous deeds that some knights used in these days, . . .
noble and renowned acts of humanity, gentleness, and chivalry. For
herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness,
love, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin. Do after the good
and leave the evil."

In reaction against the bold-faced heroines and sensual amours of
some of the old French romances, an ideal of exaggerated asceticism,
of stainless chastity, notoriously pervades the portion of Malory's
work which deals with the Holy Grail. Lancelot is distraught when he
finds that, by dint of enchantment, he has been made false to
Guinevere (Book XI. chap. viii.) After his dreaming vision of the
Holy Grail, with the reproachful Voice, Sir Lancelot said, "My sin
and my wickedness have brought me great dishonour, . . . and now I
see and understand that my old sin hindereth and shameth me." He was
human, the Lancelot of Malory, and "fell to his old love again," with
a heavy heart, and with long penance at the end. How such good
knights can be deemed conscienceless and void of courtesy one knows
not, except by a survival of the Puritanism of Ascham. But Tennyson
found in the book what is in the book--honour, conscience, courtesy,
and the hero -

"Whose honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true."

Malory's book, which was Tennyson's chief source, ends by being the
tragedy of the conscience of Lancelot. Arthur is dead, or "In Avalon
he groweth old." The Queen and Lancelot might sing, as Lennox
reports that Queen Mary did after Darnley's murder -

"Weel is me
For I am free."

"Why took they not their pastime?" Because conscience forbade, and
Guinevere sends her lover far from her, and both die in religion.
Thus Malory's "fierce lusty epic" is neither so lusty nor so fierce
but that it gives Tennyson his keynote: the sin that breaks the fair
companionship, and is bitterly repented.

"The knights are almost too polite to kill each other," the critic
urges. In Malory they are sometimes quite too polite to kill each
other. Sir Darras has a blood-feud against Sir Tristram, and Sir
Tristram is in his dungeon. Sir Darras said, "Wit ye well that Sir
Darras shall never destroy such a noble knight as thou art in prison,
howbeit that thou hast slain three of my sons, whereby I was greatly
aggrieved. But now shalt thou go and thy fellows. . . . All that ye
did," said Sir Darras, "was by force of knighthood, and that was the
cause I would not put you to death" (Book IX. chap. xl.)

Tennyson is accused of "emasculating the fierce lusty epic into a
moral lesson, as if it were to be performed in a drawing-room by an
academy of young ladies"--presided over, I daresay, by "Anglican
clergymen." I know not how any one who has read the Morte d'Arthur
can blame Tennyson in the matter. Let Malory and his sources be
blamed, if to be moral is to be culpable. A few passages apart,
there is no coarseness in Malory; that there are conscience,
courtesy, "sweet lives," "keeping down the base in man," "amiable
words," and all that Tennyson gives, and, in Mr Harrison's theory,
gives without authority in the romance, my quotations from Malory
demonstrate. They are chosen at a casual opening of his book. That
there "had not arisen in the world" "the idea of reverencing
conscience" before the close of the fifteenth century A.D. is an
extraordinary statement for a critic of history to offer.

Mr Harrison makes his protest because "in the conspiracy of silence
into which Tennyson's just fame has hypnotised the critics, it is
bare honesty to admit defects." I think I am not hypnotised, and I
do not regard the Idylls as the crown of Tennyson's work. But it is
not his "defect" to have introduced generosity, gentleness,
conscience, and chastity where no such things occur in his sources.
Take Sir Darras: his position is that of Priam when he meets
Achilles, who slew his sons, except that Priam comes as a suppliant;
Sir Darras has Tristram in his hands, and may slay him. He is "too
polite," as Mr Harrison says: he is too good a Christian, or too
good a gentleman. One would not have given a tripod for the life of
Achilles had he fallen into the hands of Priam. But between 1200
B.C. (or so) and the date of Malory, new ideas about "living sweet
lives" had arisen. Where and when do they not arise? A British
patrol fired on certain Swazis in time of truce. Their lieutenant,
who had been absent when this occurred, rode alone to the stronghold
of the Swazi king, Sekukoeni, and gave himself up, expecting death by
torture. "Go, sir," said the king; "we too are gentlemen." The idea
of a "sweet life" of honour had dawned even on Sekukoeni: it lights
up Malory's romance, and is reflected in Tennyson's Idylls, doubtless
with some modernism of expression.

That the Idylls represent no real world is certain. That Tennyson
modernises and moralises too much, I willingly admit; what I deny is
that he introduces gentleness, courtesy, and conscience where his
sources have none. Indeed this is not a matter of critical opinion,
but of verifiable fact. Any one can read Malory and judge for
himself. But the world in which the Idylls move could not be real.
For more than a thousand years different races, different ages, had
taken hold of the ancient Celtic legends and spiritualised them after
their own manner, and moulded them to their own ideals. There may
have been a historical Arthur, Comes Britanniae, after the Roman
withdrawal. Ye Amherawdyr Arthur, "the Emperor Arthur," may have
lived and fought, and led the Brythons to battle. But there may also
have been a Brythonic deity, or culture hero, of the same, or of a
similar name, and myths about him may have been assigned to a real
Arthur. Again, the Arthur of the old Welsh legends was by no means
the blameless king--even in comparatively late French romances he is
not blameless. But the process of idealising him went on: still
incomplete in Malory's compilation, where he is often rather otiose
and far from royal. Tennyson, for his purpose, completed the

As to Guinevere, she was not idealised in the old Welsh rhyme -

"Guinevere, Giant Ogurvan's daughter,
Naughty young, more naughty later."

Of Lancelot, and her passion for him, the old Welsh has nothing to
say. Probably Chretien de Troyes, by a happy blunder or
misconception, gave Lancelot his love and his pre-eminent part.
Lancelot was confused with Peredur, and Guinevere with the lady of
whom Peredur was in quest. The Elaine who becomes by Lancelot the
mother of Galahad "was Lancelot's rightful consort, as one recognises
in her name that of Elen, the Empress, whom the story of Peredur"
(Lancelot, by the confusion) "gives that hero to wife." The second
Elaine, the maid of Astolat, is another refraction from the original
Elen. As to the Grail, it may be a Christianised rendering of one or
another of the magical and mystic caldrons of Welsh or Irish legend.
There is even an apparent Celtic source of the mysterious fisher king
of the Grail romance. {12}

A sketch of the evolution of the Arthurian legends might run thus:-

Sixth to eighth century, growth of myth about an Arthur, real, or
supposed to be real.

Tenth century, the Duchies of Normandy and Brittany are in close
relations; by the eleventh century Normans know Celtic Arthurian

After, 1066, Normans in contact with the Celtic peoples of this
island are in touch with the Arthur tales.

1130-1145, works on Arthurian matter by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

1155, Wace's French translation of Geoffrey.

1150-1182, Chretien de Troyes writes poems on Arthurian topics.

French prose romances on Arthur, from, say, 1180 to 1250. Those
romances reach Wales, and modify, in translations, the original Welsh
legends, or, in part, supplant them.

Amplifications and recastings are numerous. In 1485 Caxton publishes
Malory's selections from French and English sources, the whole being
Tennyson's main source, Le Mort d'Arthur. {13}

Thus the Arthur stories, originally Celtic, originally a mass of
semi-pagan legend, myth, and marchen, have been retold and rehandled
by Norman, Englishman, and Frenchman, taking on new hues, expressing
new ideals--religious, chivalrous, and moral. Any poet may work his
will on them, and Tennyson's will was to retain the chivalrous
courtesy, generosity, love, and asceticism, while dimly or brightly
veiling or illuminating them with his own ideals. After so many
processes, from folk-tale to modern idyll, the Arthurian world could
not be real, and real it is not. Camelot lies "out of space, out of
time," though the colouring is mainly that of the later chivalry, and
"the gleam" on the hues is partly derived from Celtic fancy of
various dates, and is partly Tennysonian.

As the Idylls were finally arranged, the first, The Coming of Arthur,
is a remarkable proof of Tennyson's ingenuity in construction. Tales
about the birth of Arthur varied. In Malory, Uther Pendragon, the
Bretwalda (in later phrase) of Britain, besieges the Duke of
Tintagil, who has a fair wife, Ygerne, in another castle. Merlin
magically puts on Uther the shape of Ygerne's husband, and as her
husband she receives him. On that night Arthur is begotten by Uther,
and the Duke of Tintagil, his mother's husband, is slain in a sortie.
Uther weds Ygerne; both recognise Arthur as their child. However, by
the Celtic custom of fosterage the infant is intrusted to Sir Ector
as his dalt, or foster-child, and Uther falls in battle. Arthur is
later approven king by the adventure of drawing from the stone the
magic sword that no other king could move. This adventure answers to
Sigmund's drawing the sword from the Branstock, in the Volsunga Saga,
"Now men stand up, and none would fain be the last to lay hand to the
sword," apparently stricken into the pillar by Woden. "But none who
came thereto might avail to pull it out, for in nowise would it come
away howsoever they tugged at it, but now up comes Sigmund, King
Volsung's son, and sets hand to the sword, and pulls it from the
stock, even as if it lay loose before him." The incident in the
Arthurian as in the Volsunga legend is on a par with the Golden
Bough, in the sixth book of the AEneid. Only the predestined
champion, such as AEneas, can pluck, or break, or cut the bough -

"Ipse volens facilisque sequetur
Si te fata vocant."

All this ancient popular element in the Arthur story is disregarded
by Tennyson. He does not make Uther approach Ygerne in the semblance
of her lord, as Zeus approached Alcmena in the semblance of her
husband, Amphitryon. He neglects the other ancient test of the
proving of Arthur by his success in drawing the sword. The poet's
object is to enfold the origin and birth of Arthur in a spiritual
mystery. This is deftly accomplished by aid of the various versions
of the tale that reach King Leodogran when Arthur seeks the hand of
his daughter Guinevere, for Arthur's title to the crown is still
disputed, so Leodogran makes inquiries. The answers first leave it
dubious whether Arthur is son of Gorlois, husband of Ygerne, or of
Uther, who slew Gorlois and married her:-

"Enforced she was to wed him in her tears."

The Celtic custom of fosterage is overlooked, and Merlin gives the
child to Anton, not as the customary dalt, but to preserve the babe
from danger. Queen Bellicent then tells Leodogran, from the evidence
of Bleys, Merlin's master in necromancy, the story of Arthur's
miraculous advent.

"And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried 'The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!'"

But Merlin, when asked by Bellicent to corroborate the statement of
Bleys, merely

"Answer'd in riddling triplets of old time."

Finally, Leodogran's faith is confirmed by a vision. Thus
doubtfully, amidst rumour and portent, cloud and spiritual light,
comes Arthur: "from the great deep" he comes, and in as strange
fashion, at the end, "to the great deep he goes"--a king to be
accepted in faith or rejected by doubt. Arthur and his ideal are
objects of belief. All goes well while the knights hold that

"The King will follow Christ, and we the King,
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing."

In history we find the same situation in the France of 1429 -

"The King will follow Jeanne, and we the King."

While this faith held, all went well; when the king ceased to follow,
the spell was broken,--the Maid was martyred. In this sense the poet
conceives the coming of Arthur, a sign to be spoken against, a test
of high purposes, a belief redeeming and ennobling till faith fails,
and the little rift within the lute, the love of Lancelot and
Guinevere, makes discord of the music. As matter of legend, it is to
be understood that Guinevere did not recognise Arthur when first he
rode below her window -

"Since he neither wore on helm or shield
The golden symbol of his kinglihood."

But Lancelot was sent to bring the bride -

"And return'd
Among the flowers, in May, with Guinevere."

Then their long love may have begun, as in the story of Tristram sent
to bring Yseult to be the bride of King Mark. In Malory, however,
Lancelot does not come on the scene till after Arthur's wedding and
return from his conquering expedition to Rome. Then Lancelot wins
renown, "wherefore Queen Guinevere had him in favour above all other
knights; and in certain he loved the Queen again above all other
ladies damosels of his life." Lancelot, as we have seen, is
practically a French creation, adopted to illustrate the chivalrous
theory of love, with its bitter fruit. Though not of the original
Celtic stock of legend, Sir Lancelot makes the romance what it is,
and draws down the tragedy that originally turned on the sin of
Arthur himself, the sin that gave birth to the traitor Modred. But
the mediaeval romancers disguised that form of the story, and the
process of idealising Arthur reached such heights in the middle ages
that Tennyson thought himself at liberty to paint the Flos Regum,
"the blameless King." He followed the Brut ab Arthur. "In short,
God has not made since Adam was, the man more perfect than Arthur."
This is remote from the Arthur of the oldest Celtic legends, but
justifies the poet in adapting Arthur to the ideal hero of the

"Ideal manhood closed in real man,
Rather than that grey king, whose name, a ghost,
Streams like a cloud, man-shaped, from mountain-peak,
And cleaves to cairn and cromlech still; or him
Of Geoffrey's book, or him of Malleor's, one
Touched by the adulterous finger of a time
That hovered between war and wantonness,
And crownings and dethronements."

The poetical beauties of The Coming of Arthur excel those of Gareth
and Lynette. The sons of Lot and Bellicent seem to have been
originally regarded as the incestuous offspring of Arthur and his
sister, the wife of King Lot. Next it was represented that Arthur
was ignorant of the relationship. Mr Rhys supposes that the mythical
scandal (still present in Malory as a sin of ignorance) arose from
blending the Celtic Arthur (as Culture Hero) with an older divine
personage, such as Zeus, who marries his sister Hera. Marriages of
brother and sister are familiar in the Egyptian royal house, and that
of the Incas. But the poet has a perfect right to disregard a
scandalous myth which, obviously crystallised later about the figure
of the mythical Celtic Arthur, was an incongruous accretion to his
legend. Gareth, therefore, is merely Arthur's nephew, not son, in
the poem, as are Gawain and the traitor Modred. The story seems to
be rather mediaeval French than Celtic--a mingling of the spirit of
fabliau and popular fairy tale. The poet has added to its lightness,
almost frivolity, the description of the unreal city of Camelot,
built to music, as when

"Ilion, like a mist, rose into towers."

He has also brought in the allegory of Death, which, when faced,
proves to be "a blooming boy" behind the mask. The courtesy and
prowess of Lancelot lead up to the later development of his

In The Marriage of Geraint, a rumour has already risen about Lancelot
and the Queen, darkening the Court, and presaging

"The world's loud whisper breaking into storm."

For this reason Geraint removes Enid from Camelot to his own land--
the poet thus early leading up to the sin and the doom of Lancelot.
But this motive does not occur in the Welsh story of Enid and
Geraint, which Tennyson has otherwise followed with unwonted
closeness. The tale occurs in French romances in various forms, but
it appears to have returned, by way of France and coloured with
French influences, to Wales, where it is one of the later Mabinogion.
The characters are Celtic, and Nud, father of Edyrn, Geraint's
defeated antagonist, appears to be recognised by Mr Rhys as "the
Celtic Zeus." The manners and the tournaments are French. In the
Welsh tale Geraint and Enid are bedded in Arthur's own chamber, which
seems to be a symbolic commutation of the jus primae noctis a custom
of which the very existence is disputed. This unseemly antiquarian
detail, of course, is omitted in the Idyll.

An abstract of the Welsh tale will show how closely Tennyson here
follows his original. News is brought into Arthur's Court of the
appearance of a white stag. The king arranges a hunt, and Guinevere
asks leave to go and watch the sport. Next morning she cannot be
wakened, though the tale does not aver, like the Idyll, that she was

"Lost in sweet dreams, and dreaming of her love
For Lancelot."

Guinevere wakes late, and rides through a ford of Usk to the hunt.
Geraint follows, "a golden-hilted sword was at his side, and a robe
and a surcoat of satin were upon him, and two shoes of leather upon
his feet, and around him was a scarf of blue purple, at each corner
of which was a golden apple":-

"But Guinevere lay late into the morn,
Lost in sweet dreams, and dreaming of her love
For Lancelot, and forgetful of the hunt;
But rose at last, a single maiden with her,
Took horse, and forded Usk, and gain'd the wood;
There, on a little knoll beside it, stay'd
Waiting to hear the hounds; but heard instead
A sudden sound of hoofs, for Prince Geraint,
Late also, wearing neither hunting-dress
Nor weapon, save a golden-hilted brand,
Came quickly flashing thro' the shallow ford
Behind them, and so gallop'd up the knoll.
A purple scarf, at either end whereof
There swung an apple of the purest gold,
Sway'd round about him, as he gallop'd up
To join them, glancing like a dragon-fly
In summer suit and silks of holiday."

The encounter with the dwarf, the lady, and the knight follows. The
prose of the Mabinogi may be compared with the verse of Tennyson:-

"Geraint," said Gwenhwyvar, "knowest thou the name of that tall
knight yonder?" "I know him not," said he, "and the strange armour
that he wears prevents my either seeing his face or his features."
"Go, maiden," said Gwenhwyvar, "and ask the dwarf who that knight
is." Then the maiden went up to the dwarf; and the dwarf waited for
the maiden, when he saw her coming towards him. And the maiden
inquired of the dwarf who the knight was. "I will not tell thee," he
answered. "Since thou art so churlish as not to tell me," said she,
"I will ask him himself." "Thou shalt not ask him, by my faith,"
said he. "Wherefore?" said she. "Because thou art not of honour
sufficient to befit thee to speak to my Lord." Then the maiden
turned her horse's head towards the knight, upon which the dwarf
struck her with the whip that was in his hand across the face and the
eyes, until the blood flowed forth. And the maiden, through the hurt
she received from the blow, returned to Gwenhwyvar, complaining of
the pain. "Very rudely has the dwarf treated thee," said Geraint.
"I will go myself to know who the knight is." "Go," said Gwenhwyvar.
And Geraint went up to the dwarf. "Who is yonder knight?" said
Geraint. "I will not tell thee," said the dwarf. "Then will I ask
him himself," said he. "That wilt thou not, by my faith," said the
dwarf; "thou art not honourable enough to speak with my Lord." Said
Geraint, "I have spoken with men of equal rank with him." And he
turned his horse's head towards the knight; but the dwarf overtook
him, and struck him as he had done the maiden, so that the blood
coloured the scarf that Geraint wore. Then Geraint put his hand upon
the hilt of his sword, but he took counsel with himself, and
considered that it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf,
and to be attacked unarmed by the armed knight, so he returned to
where Gwenhwyvar was.

"And while they listen'd for the distant hunt,
And chiefly for the baying of Cavall,
King Arthur's hound of deepest mouth, there rode
Full slowly by a knight, lady, and dwarf;
Whereof the dwarf lagg'd latest, and the knight
Had vizor up, and show'd a youthful face,
Imperious, and of haughtiest lineaments.
And Guinevere, not mindful of his face
In the King's hall, desired his name, and sent
Her maiden to demand it of the dwarf;
Who being vicious, old and irritable,
And doubling all his master's vice of pride,
Made answer sharply that she should not know.
'Then will I ask it of himself,' she said.
'Nay, by my faith, thou shalt not,' cried the dwarf;
'Thou art not worthy ev'n to speak of him';
And when she put her horse toward the knight,
Struck at her with his whip, and she return'd
Indignant to the Queen; whereat Geraint
Exclaiming, 'Surely I will learn the name,'
Made sharply to the dwarf, and ask'd it of him,
Who answer'd as before; and when the Prince
Had put his horse in motion toward the knight,
Struck at him with his whip, and cut his cheek.
The Prince's blood spirted upon the scarf,
Dyeing it; and his quick, instinctive hand
Caught at the hilt, as to abolish him:
But he, from his exceeding manfulness
And pure nobility of temperament,
Wroth to be wroth at such a worm, refrain'd
From ev'n a word."

The self-restraint of Geraint, who does not slay the dwarf,

"From his exceeding manfulness
And pure nobility of temperament,"

may appear "too polite," and too much in accord with the still
undiscovered idea of "leading sweet lives." However, the uninvented
idea does occur in the Welsh original: "Then Geraint put his hand
upon the hilt of his sword, but he took counsel with himself, and
considered that it would be no vengeance for him to slay the dwarf,"
while he also reflects that he would be "attacked unarmed by the
armed knight." Perhaps Tennyson may be blamed for omitting this
obvious motive for self-restraint. Geraint therefore follows the
knight in hope of finding arms, and arrives at the town all busy with
preparations for the tournament of the sparrow-hawk. This was a
challenge sparrow-hawk: the knight had won it twice, and if he won
it thrice it would be his to keep. The rest, in the tale, is exactly
followed in the Idyll. Geraint is entertained by the ruined Yniol.
The youth bears the "costrel" full of "good purchased mead" (the
ruined Earl not brewing for himself), and Enid carries the manchet
bread in her veil, "old, and beginning to be worn out." All
Tennyson's own is the beautiful passage -

"And while he waited in the castle court,
The voice of Enid, Yniol's daughter, rang
Clear thro' the open casement of the hall,
Singing; and as the sweet voice of a bird,
Heard by the lander in a lonely isle,
Moves him to think what kind of bird it is
That sings so delicately clear, and make
Conjecture of the plumage and the form;
So the sweet voice of Enid moved Geraint;
And made him like a man abroad at morn
When first the liquid note beloved of men
Comes flying over many a windy wave
To Britain, and in April suddenly
Breaks from a coppice gemm'd with green and red,
And he suspends his converse with a friend,
Or it may be the labour of his hands,
To think or say, 'There is the nightingale';
So fared it with Geraint, who thought and said,
'Here, by God's grace, is the one voice for me.'"

Yniol frankly admits in the tale that he was in the wrong in the
quarrel with his nephew. The poet, however, gives him the right, as
is natural. The combat is exactly followed in the Idyll, as is
Geraint's insistence in carrying his bride to Court in her faded
silks. Geraint, however, leaves Court with Enid, not because of the
scandal about Lancelot, but to do his duty in his own country. He
becomes indolent and uxorious, and Enid deplores his weakness, and
awakes his suspicions, thus:-

And one morning in the summer time they were upon their couch, and
Geraint lay upon the edge of it. And Enid was without sleep in the
apartment which had windows of glass. And the sun shone upon the
couch. And the clothes had slipped from off his arms and his breast,
and he was asleep. Then she gazed upon the marvellous beauty of his
appearance, and she said, "Alas, and am I the cause that these arms
and this breast have lost their glory and the warlike fame which they
once so richly enjoyed!" And as she said this, the tears dropped
from her eyes, and they fell upon his breast. And the tears she
shed, and the words she had spoken, awoke him; and another thing
contributed to awaken him, and that was the idea that it was not in
thinking of him that she spoke thus, but that it was because she
loved some other man more than him, and that she wished for other
society, and thereupon Geraint was troubled in his mind, and he
called his squire; and when he came to him, "Go quickly," said he,
"and prepare my horse and my arms, and make them ready. And do thou
arise," said he to Enid, "and apparel thyself; and cause thy horse to
be accoutred, and clothe thee in the worst riding-dress that thou
hast in thy possession. And evil betide me," said he, "if thou
returnest here until thou knowest whether I have lost my strength so
completely as thou didst say. And if it be so, it will then be easy
for thee to seek the society thou didst wish for of him of whom thou
wast thinking." So she arose, and clothed herself in her meanest
garments. "I know nothing, Lord," said she, "of thy meaning."
"Neither wilt thou know at this time," said he.

"At last, it chanced that on a summer morn
(They sleeping each by either) the new sun
Beat thro' the blindless casement of the room,
And heated the strong warrior in his dreams;
Who, moving, cast the coverlet aside,
And bared the knotted column of his throat,
The massive square of his heroic breast,
And arms on which the standing muscle sloped,
As slopes a wild brook o'er a little stone,
Running too vehemently to break upon it.
And Enid woke and sat beside the couch,
Admiring him, and thought within herself,
Was ever man so grandly made as he?
Then, like a shadow, past the people's talk
And accusation of uxoriousness
Across her mind, and bowing over him,
Low to her own heart piteously she said:

'O noble breast and all-puissant arms,
Am I the cause, I the poor cause that men
Reproach you, saying all your force is gone?
I AM the cause, because I dare not speak
And tell him what I think and what they say.
And yet I hate that he should linger here;
I cannot love my lord and not his name.
Far liefer had I gird his harness on him,
And ride with him to battle and stand by,
And watch his mightful hand striking great blows
At caitiffs and at wrongers of the world.
Far better were I laid in the dark earth,
Not hearing any more his noble voice,
Not to be folded more in these dear arms,
And darken'd from the high light in his eyes,
Than that my lord thro' me should suffer shame.
Am I so bold, and could I so stand by,
And see my dear lord wounded in the strife,
Or maybe pierced to death before mine eyes,
And yet not dare to tell him what I think,
And how men slur him, saying all his force
Is melted into mere effeminacy?
O me, I fear that I am no true wife.'

Half inwardly, half audibly she spoke,
And the strong passion in her made her weep
True tears upon his broad and naked breast,
And these awoke him, and by great mischance
He heard but fragments of her later words,
And that she fear'd she was not a true wife.
And then he thought, 'In spite of all my care,
For all my pains, poor man, for all my pains,
She is not faithful to me, and I see her
Weeping for some gay knight in Arthur's hall.'
Then tho' he loved and reverenced her too much
To dream she could be guilty of foul act,
Right thro' his manful breast darted the pang
That makes a man, in the sweet face of her
Whom he loves most, lonely and miserable.
At this he hurl'd his huge limbs out of bed,
And shook his drowsy squire awake and cried,
'My charger and her palfrey'; then to her,
'I will ride forth into the wilderness;
For tho' it seems my spurs are yet to win,
I have not fall'n so low as some would wish.
And thou, put on thy worst and meanest dress
And ride with me.' And Enid ask'd, amazed,
'If Enid errs, let Enid learn her fault.'
But he, 'I charge thee, ask not, but obey.'
Then she bethought her of a faded silk,
A faded mantle and a faded veil,
And moving toward a cedarn cabinet,
Wherein she kept them folded reverently
With sprigs of summer laid between the folds,
She took them, and array'd herself therein,
Remembering when first he came on her
Drest in that dress, and how he loved her in it,
And all her foolish fears about the dress,
And all his journey to her, as himself
Had told her, and their coming to the court."


"Arms on which the standing muscle sloped,
As slopes a wild brook o'er a little stone,
Running too vehemently to break upon it,"

is suggested perhaps by Theocritus--"The muscles on his brawny arms
stood out like rounded rocks that the winter torrent has rolled and
worn smooth, in the great swirling stream" (Idyll xxii.)

The second part of the poem follows the original less closely. Thus
Limours, in the tale, is not an old suitor of Enid; Edyrn does not
appear to the rescue; certain cruel games, veiled in a magic mist,
occur in the tale, and are omitted by the poet; "Gwyffert petit, so
called by the Franks, whom the Cymry call the Little King," in the
tale, is not a character in the Idyll, and, generally, the gross
Celtic exaggerations of Geraint's feats are toned down by Tennyson.
In other respects, as when Geraint eats the mowers' dinner, the tale
supplies the materials. But it does not dwell tenderly on the
reconciliation. The tale is more or less in the vein of "patient
Grizel," and he who told it is more concerned with the fighting than
with amoris redintegratio, and the sufferings of Enid. The Idyll is
enriched with many beautiful pictures from nature, such as this:-

"But at the flash and motion of the man
They vanish'd panic-stricken, like a shoal
Of darting fish, that on a summer morn
Adown the crystal dykes at Camelot
Come slipping o'er their shadows on the sand,
But if a man who stands upon the brink
But lift a shining hand against the sun,
There is not left the twinkle of a fin
Betwixt the cressy islets white in flower;
So, scared but at the motion of the man,
Fled all the boon companions of the Earl,
And left him lying in the public way."

In Balin and Balan Tennyson displays great constructive power, and
remarkable skill in moulding the most recalcitrant materials. Balin
or Balyn, according to Mr Rhys, is the Belinus of Geoffrey of
Monmouth, "whose name represents the Celtic divinity described in
Latin as Apollo Belenus or Belinus." {14} In Geoffrey, Belinus,
euphemerised, or reduced from god to hero, has a brother, Brennius,
the Celtic Bran, King of Britain from Caithness to the Humber.
Belinus drives Bran into exile. "Thus it is seen that Belinus or
Balyn was, mythologically speaking, the natural enemy" (as Apollo
Belinus, the radiant god) "of the dark divinity Bran or Balan."

If this view be correct, the two brothers answer to the good and bad
principles of myths like that of the Huron Iouskeha the Sun, and
Anatensic the Moon, or rather Taouiscara and Iouskeha, the hostile
brothers, Black and White. {15} These mythical brethren are, in
Malory, two knights of Northumberland, Balin the wild and Balan.
Their adventures are mixed up with a hostile Lady of the Lake, whom
Balin slays in Arthur's presence, with a sword which none but Balin
can draw from sheath; and with an evil black-faced knight Garlon,
invisible at will, whom Balin slays in the castle of the knight's
brother, King Pellam. Pursued from room to room by Pellam, Balin
finds himself in a chamber full of relics of Joseph of Arimathea.
There he seizes a spear, the very spear with which the Roman soldier
pierced the side of the Crucified, and wounds Pellam. The castle
falls in ruins "through that dolorous stroke." Pellam becomes the
maimed king, who can only be healed by the Holy Grail. Apparently
Celtic myths of obscure antiquity have been adapted in France, and
interwoven with fables about Joseph of Arimathea and Christian
mysteries. It is not possible here to go into the complicated
learning of the subject. In Malory, Balin, after dealing the
dolorous stroke, borrows a strange shield from a knight, and, thus
accoutred, meets his brother Balan, who does not recognise him. They
fight, both die and are buried in one tomb, and Galahad later
achieves the adventure of winning Balin's sword. "Thus endeth the
tale of Balyn and of Balan, two brethren born in Northumberland, good
knights," says Malory, simply, and unconscious of the strange
mythological medley under the coat armour of romance.

The materials, then, seemed confused and obdurate, but Tennyson works
them into the course of the fatal love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and
into the spiritual texture of the Idylls. Balin has been expelled
from Court for the wildness that gives him his name, Balin le
Sauvage. He had buffeted a squire in hall. He and Balan await all
challengers beside a well. Arthur encounters and dismounts them.
Balin devotes himself to self-conquest. Then comes tidings that
Pellam, of old leagued with Lot against Arthur, has taken to
religion, collects relics, claims descent from Joseph of Arimathea,
and owns the sacred spear that pierced the side of Christ. But
Garlon is with him, the knight invisible, who appears to come from an
Irish source, or at least has a parallel in Irish legend. This
Garlon has an unknightly way of killing men by viewless blows from
the rear. Balan goes to encounter Garlon. Balin remains, learning
courtesy, modelling himself on Lancelot, and gaining leave to bear
Guinevere's Crown Matrimonial for his cognisance,--which, of course,
Balan does not know, -

"As golden earnest of a better life."

But Balin sees reason to think that Lancelot and Guinevere love even
too well.

"Then chanced, one morning, that Sir Balin sat
Close-bower'd in that garden nigh the hall.
A walk of roses ran from door to door;
A walk of lilies crost it to the bower:
And down that range of roses the great Queen
Came with slow steps, the morning on her face;
And all in shadow from the counter door
Sir Lancelot as to meet her, then at once,
As if he saw not, glanced aside, and paced
The long white walk of lilies toward the bower.
Follow'd the Queen; Sir Balin heard her 'Prince,
Art thou so little loyal to thy Queen,
As pass without good morrow to thy Queen?'
To whom Sir Lancelot with his eyes on earth,
'Fain would I still be loyal to the Queen.'
'Yea so,' she said, 'but so to pass me by -
So loyal scarce is loyal to thyself,
Whom all men rate the king of courtesy.
Let be: ye stand, fair lord, as in a dream.'

Then Lancelot with his hand among the flowers,
'Yea--for a dream. Last night methought I saw
That maiden Saint who stands with lily in hand
In yonder shrine. All round her prest the dark,
And all the light upon her silver face
Flow'd from the spiritual lily that she held.
Lo! these her emblems drew mine eyes--away:
For see, how perfect-pure! As light a flush
As hardly tints the blossom of the quince
Would mar their charm of stainless maidenhood.'

'Sweeter to me,' she said, 'this garden rose
Deep-hued and many-folded sweeter still
The wild-wood hyacinth and the bloom of May.
Prince, we have ridd'n before among the flowers
In those fair days--not all as cool as these,
Tho' season-earlier. Art thou sad? or sick?
Our noble King will send thee his own leech -
Sick? or for any matter anger'd at me?'

Then Lancelot lifted his large eyes; they dwelt
Deep-tranced on hers, and could not fall: her hue
Changed at his gaze: so turning side by side
They past, and Balin started from his bower.

'Queen? subject? but I see not what I see.
Damsel and lover? hear not what I hear.
My father hath begotten me in his wrath.
I suffer from the things before me, know,
Learn nothing; am not worthy to be knight;
A churl, a clown!' and in him gloom on gloom
Deepen'd: he sharply caught his lance and shield,
Nor stay'd to crave permission of the King,
But, mad for strange adventure, dash'd away."

Balin is "disillusioned," his faith in the Ideal is shaken if not
shattered. He rides at adventure. Arriving at the half-ruined
castle of Pellam, that dubious devotee, he hears Garlon insult
Guinevere, but restrains himself. Next day, again insulted for
bearing "the crown scandalous" on his shield, he strikes Garlon down,
is pursued, seizes the sacred spear, and escapes. Vivien meets him
in the woods, drops scandal in his ears, and so maddens him that he
defaces his shield with the crown of Guinevere. Her song, and her

"This fire of Heaven,
This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again,
And beat the cross to earth, and break the King
And all his Table,"

might be forced into an allegory of the revived pride of life, at the
Renaissance and after. The maddened yells of Balin strike the ear of
Balan, who thinks he has met the foul knight Garlon, that

"Tramples on the goodly shield to show
His loathing of our Order and the Queen."

They fight, fatally wound, and finally recognise each other: Balan
trying to restore Balin's faith in Guinevere, who is merely slandered
by Garlon and Vivien. Balin acknowledges that his wildness has been
their common bane, and they die, "either locked in either's arms."

There is nothing in Malory, nor in any other source, so far as I am
aware, which suggested to Tennyson the clou of the situation--the use
of Guinevere's crown as a cognisance by Balin. This device enables
the poet to weave the rather confused and unintelligible adventures
of Balin and Balan into the scheme, and to make it a stage in the
progress of his fable. That Balin was reckless and wild Malory bears
witness, but his endeavours to conquer himself and reach the ideal
set by Lancelot are Tennyson's addition, with all the tragedy of
Balin's disenchantment and despair. The strange fantastic house of
Pellam, full of the most sacred things,

"In which he scarce could spy the Christ for Saints,"

yet sheltering the human fiend Garlon, is supplied by Malory, whose
predecessors probably blended more than one myth of the old Cymry
into the romance, washed over with Christian colouring. As Malory
tells this part of the tale it is perhaps more strange and effective
than in the Idyll. The introduction of Vivien into this adventure is
wholly due to Tennyson: her appearance here leads up to her triumph
in the poem which follows, Merlin and Vivien.

The nature and origin of Merlin are something of a mystery. Hints
and rumours of Merlin, as of Arthur, stream from hill and grave as
far north as Tweedside. If he was a historical person, myths of
magic might crystallise round him, as round Virgil in Italy. The
process would be the easier in a country where the practices of
Druidry still lingered, and revived after the retreat of the Romans.
The mediaeval romancers invented a legend that Merlin was a virgin-
born child of Satan. In Tennyson he may be guessed to represent the
fabled esoteric lore of old religions, with their vague pantheisms,
and such magic as the tapas of Brahmanic legends. He is wise with a
riddling evasive wisdom: the builder of Camelot, the prophet, a
shadow of Druidry clinging to the Christian king. His wisdom cannot
avail him: if he beholds "his own mischance with a glassy
countenance," he cannot avoid his shapen fate. He becomes assotted
of Vivien, and goes open-eyed to his doom.

The enchantress, Vivien, is one of that dubious company of Ladies of
the Lake, now friendly, now treacherous. Probably these ladies are
the fairies of popular Celtic tradition, taken up into the more
elaborate poetry of Cymric literature and mediaeval romance. Mr Rhys
traces Vivien, or Nimue, or Nyneue, back, through a series of
palaeographic changes and errors, to Rhiannon, wife of Pwyll, a kind
of lady of the lake he thinks, but the identification is not very
satisfactory. Vivien is certainly "one of the damsels of the lake"
in Malory, and the damsels of the lake seem to be lake fairies, with
all their beguilements and strange unstable loves. "And always
Merlin lay about the lady to have her maidenhood, and she was ever
passing weary of him, and fain would have been delivered of him, for
she was afraid of him because he was a devil's son. . . . So by her
subtle working she made Merlin to go under that stone to let her wit
of the marvels there, but she wrought so there for him that he came
never out for all the craft he could do. And so she departed and
left Merlin." The sympathy of Malory is not with the enchanter. In
the Idylls, as finally published, Vivien is born on a battlefield of
death, with a nature perverted, and an instinctive hatred of the
good. Wherefore she leaves the Court of King Mark to make mischief
in Camelot. She is, in fact, the ideal minx, a character not
elsewhere treated by Tennyson:-

"She hated all the knights, and heard in thought
Their lavish comment when her name was named.
For once, when Arthur walking all alone,
Vext at a rumour issued from herself
Of some corruption crept among his knights,
Had met her, Vivien, being greeted fair,
Would fain have wrought upon his cloudy mood
With reverent eyes mock-loyal, shaken voice,
And flutter'd adoration, and at last
With dark sweet hints of some who prized him more
Than who should prize him most; at which the King
Had gazed upon her blankly and gone by:
But one had watch'd, and had not held his peace:
It made the laughter of an afternoon
That Vivien should attempt the blameless King.
And after that, she set herself to gain
Him, the most famous man of all those times,
Merlin, who knew the range of all their arts,
Had built the King his havens, ships, and halls,
Was also Bard, and knew the starry heavens;
The people call'd him Wizard; whom at first
She play'd about with slight and sprightly talk,
And vivid smiles, and faintly-venom'd points
Of slander, glancing here and grazing there;
And yielding to his kindlier moods, the Seer
Would watch her at her petulance, and play,
Ev'n when they seem'd unloveable, and laugh
As those that watch a kitten; thus he grew
Tolerant of what he half disdain'd, and she,
Perceiving that she was but half disdain'd,
Began to break her sports with graver fits,
Turn red or pale, would often when they met
Sigh fully, or all-silent gaze upon him
With such a fixt devotion, that the old man,
Tho' doubtful, felt the flattery, and at times
Would flatter his own wish in age for love,
And half believe her true: for thus at times
He waver'd; but that other clung to him,
Fixt in her will, and so the seasons went."

Vivien is modern enough--if any type of character is modern: at all
events there is no such Blanche Amory of a girl in the old legends
and romances. In these Merlin fatigues the lady by his love; she
learns his arts, and gets rid of him as she can. His forebodings in
the Idyll contain a magnificent image:-

"There lay she all her length and kiss'd his feet,
As if in deepest reverence and in love.
A twist of gold was round her hair; a robe
Of samite without price, that more exprest
Than hid her, clung about her lissome limbs,
In colour like the satin-shining palm
On sallows in the windy gleams of March:
And while she kiss'd them, crying, 'Trample me,
Dear feet, that I have follow'd thro' the world,
And I will pay you worship; tread me down
And I will kiss you for it'; he was mute:
So dark a forethought roll'd about his brain,
As on a dull day in an Ocean cave
The blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall
In silence."

We think of the blinded Cyclops groping round his cave, like "the
blind wave feeling round his long sea-hall."

The richness, the many shining contrasts and immortal lines in
Vivien, seem almost too noble for a subject not easily redeemed, and
the picture of the ideal Court lying in full corruption. Next to
Elaine, Jowett wrote that he "admired Vivien the most (the naughty
one), which seems to me a work of wonderful power and skill. It is
most elegant and fanciful. I am not surprised at your Delilah
beguiling the wise man; she is quite equal to it." The dramatic
versatility of Tennyson's genius, his power of creating the most
various characters, is nowhere better displayed than in the contrast
between the Vivien and the Elaine. Vivien is a type, her adventure
is of a nature, which he has not elsewhere handled. Thackeray, who
admired the Idylls so enthusiastically, might have recognised in
Vivien a character not unlike some of his own, as dark as Becky
Sharp, more terrible in her selfishness than that Beatrix Esmond who
is still a paragon, and, in her creator's despite, a queen of hearts.
In Elaine, on the other hand, Tennyson has drawn a girl so innocently
passionate, and told a tale of love that never found his earthly
close, so delicately beautiful, that we may perhaps place this Idyll
the highest of his poems on love, and reckon it the gem of the
Idylls, the central diamond in the diamond crown. Reading Elaine
once more, after an interval of years, one is captivated by its
grace, its pathos, its nobility. The poet had touched on some
unidentified form of the story, long before, in The Lady of Shalott.
That poem had the mystery of romance, but, in human interest, could
not compete with Elaine, if indeed any poem of Tennyson's can be
ranked with this matchless Idyll.

The mere invention, and, as we may say, charpentage, are of the first
order. The materials in Malory, though beautiful, are simple, and
left a field for the poet's invention. {16}

Arthur, with the Scots and Northern knights, means to encounter all
comers at a Whitsuntide tourney. Guinevere is ill, and cannot go to
the jousts, while Lancelot makes excuse that he is not healed of a
wound. "Wherefore the King was heavy and passing wroth, and so he
departed towards Winchester." The Queen then blamed Lancelot:
people will say they deceive Arthur. "Madame," said Sir Lancelot, "I
allow your wit; it is of late come that ye were wise." In the Idyll
Guinevere speaks as if their early loves had been as conspicuous as,
according to George Buchanan, were those of Queen Mary and Bothwell.
Lancelot will go to the tourney, and, despite Guinevere's warning,
will take part against Arthur and his own fierce Northern kinsmen.
He rides to Astolat--"that is, Gylford"--where Arthur sees him. He
borrows the blank shield of "Sir Torre," and the company of his
brother Sir Lavaine. Elaine "cast such a love unto Sir Lancelot that
she would never withdraw her love, wherefore she died." At her
prayer, and for better disguise (as he had never worn a lady's
favour), Lancelot carried her scarlet pearl-embroidered sleeve in his
helmet, and left his shield in Elaine's keeping. The tourney passes
as in the poem, Gawain recognising Lancelot, but puzzled by the
favour he wears. The wounded Lancelot "thought to do what he might
while he might endure." When he is offered the prize he is so sore
hurt that he "takes no force of no honour." He rides into a wood,
where Lavaine draws forth the spear. Lavaine brings Lancelot to the
hermit, once a knight. "I have seen the day," says the hermit, "I
would have loved him the worse, because he was against my lord, King
Arthur, for some time. I was one of the fellowship of the Round
Table, but I thank God now I am otherwise disposed." Gawain, seeking
the wounded knight, comes to Astolat, where Elaine declares "he is
the man in the world that I first loved, and truly he is the last
that ever I shall love." Gawain, on seeing the shield, tells Elaine
that the wounded knight is Lancelot, and she goes to seek him and
Lavaine. Gawain does not pay court to Elaine, nor does Arthur rebuke
him, as in the poem. When Guinevere heard that Lancelot bore another
lady's favour, "she was nigh out of her mind for wrath," and
expressed her anger to Sir Bors, for Gawain had spoken of the maid of
Astolat. Bors tells this to Lancelot, who is tended by Elaine.
"'But I well see,' said Sir Bors, 'by her diligence about you that
she loveth you entirely.' 'That me repenteth,' said Sir Lancelot.
Said Sir Bors, 'Sir, she is not the first that hath lost her pain
upon you, and that is the more pity.'" When Lancelot recovers, and
returns to Astolat, she declares her love with the frankness of
ladies in mediaeval romance. "Have mercy upon me and suffer me not
to die for thy love." Lancelot replies with the courtesy and the
offers of service which became him. "Of all this," said the maiden,
"I will none; for but if ye will wed me, or be my paramour at the
least, wit you well, Sir Lancelot, my good days are done."

This was a difficult pass for the poet, living in other days of other
manners. His art appears in the turn which he gives to Elaine's

"But when Sir Lancelot's deadly hurt was whole,
To Astolat returning rode the three.
There morn by morn, arraying her sweet self
In that wherein she deem'd she look'd her best,
She came before Sir Lancelot, for she thought
'If I be loved, these are my festal robes,
If not, the victim's flowers before he fall.'
And Lancelot ever prest upon the maid
That she should ask some goodly gift of him
For her own self or hers; 'and do not shun
To speak the wish most near to your true heart;
Such service have ye done me, that I make
My will of yours, and Prince and Lord am I
In mine own land, and what I will I can.'
Then like a ghost she lifted up her face,
But like a ghost without the power to speak.
And Lancelot saw that she withheld her wish,
And bode among them yet a little space
Till he should learn it; and one morn it chanced
He found her in among the garden yews,
And said, 'Delay no longer, speak your wish,
Seeing I go to-day': then out she brake:
'Going? and we shall never see you more.
And I must die for want of one bold word.'
'Speak: that I live to hear,' he said, 'is yours.'
Then suddenly and passionately she spoke:
'I have gone mad. I love you: let me die.'
'Ah, sister,' answer'd Lancelot, 'what is this?'
And innocently extending her white arms,
'Your love,' she said, 'your love--to be your wife.'
And Lancelot answer'd, 'Had I chosen to wed,
I had been wedded earlier, sweet Elaine:
But now there never will be wife of mine.'
'No, no' she cried, 'I care not to be wife,
But to be with you still, to see your face,
To serve you, and to follow you thro' the world.'
And Lancelot answer'd, 'Nay, the world, the world,
All ear and eye, with such a stupid heart
To interpret ear and eye, and such a tongue
To blare its own interpretation--nay,
Full ill then should I quit your brother's love,
And your good father's kindness.' And she said,
'Not to be with you, not to see your face -
Alas for me then, my good days are done.'"

So she dies, and is borne down Thames to London, the fairest corpse,
"and she lay as though she had smiled." Her letter is read. "Ye
might have showed her," said the Queen, "some courtesy and gentleness
that might have preserved her life;" and so the two are reconciled.

Such, in brief, is the tender old tale of true love, with the shining
courtesy of Lavaine and the father of the maid, who speak no word of
anger against Lancelot. "For since first I saw my lord, Sir
Lancelot," says Lavaine, "I could never depart from him, nor nought I
will, if I may follow him: she doth as I do." To the simple and
moving story Tennyson adds, by way of ornament, the diamonds, the
prize of the tourney, and the manner of their finding:-

"For Arthur, long before they crown'd him King,
Roving the trackless realms of Lyonnesse,
Had found a glen, gray boulder and black tarn.
A horror lived about the tarn, and clave
Like its own mists to all the mountain side:
For here two brothers, one a king, had met
And fought together; but their names were lost;
And each had slain his brother at a blow;
And down they fell and made the glen abhorr'd:
And there they lay till all their bones were bleach'd,
And lichen'd into colour with the crags:
And he, that once was king, had on a crown
Of diamonds, one in front, and four aside.
And Arthur came, and labouring up the pass,
All in a misty moonshine, unawares
Had trodden that crown'd skeleton, and the skull
Brake from the nape, and from the skull the crown
Roll'd into light, and turning on its rims
Fled like a glittering rivulet to the tarn:
And down the shingly scaur he plunged, and caught,
And set it on his head, and in his heart
Heard murmurs, 'Lo, thou likewise shalt be King.'"

The diamonds reappear in the scene of Guinevere's jealousy:-

"All in an oriel on the summer side,
Vine-clad, of Arthur's palace toward the stream,
They met, and Lancelot kneeling utter'd, 'Queen,
Lady, my liege, in whom I have my joy,
Take, what I had not won except for you,
These jewels, and make me happy, making them
An armlet for the roundest arm on earth,
Or necklace for a neck to which the swan's
Is tawnier than her cygnet's: these are words:
Your beauty is your beauty, and I sin
In speaking, yet O grant my worship of it
Words, as we grant grief tears. Such sin in words,
Perchance, we both can pardon: but, my Queen,
I hear of rumours flying thro' your court.
Our bond, as not the bond of man and wife,
Should have in it an absoluter trust
To make up that defect: let rumours be:
When did not rumours fly? these, as I trust
That you trust me in your own nobleness,
I may not well believe that you believe.'

While thus he spoke, half turn'd away, the Queen
Brake from the vast oriel-embowering vine
Leaf after leaf, and tore, and cast them off,
Till all the place whereon she stood was green;
Then, when he ceased, in one cold passive hand
Received at once and laid aside the gems
There on a table near her, and replied:

'It may be, I am quicker of belief
Than you believe me, Lancelot of the Lake.
Our bond is not the bond of man and wife.
This good is in it, whatsoe'er of ill,
It can be broken easier. I for you
This many a year have done despite and wrong
To one whom ever in my heart of hearts
I did acknowledge nobler. What are these?
Diamonds for me! they had been thrice their worth
Being your gift, had you not lost your own.
To loyal hearts the value of all gifts
Must vary as the giver's. Not for me!
For her! for your new fancy. Only this
Grant me, I pray you: have your joys apart.
I doubt not that however changed, you keep
So much of what is graceful: and myself
Would shun to break those bounds of courtesy
In which as Arthur's Queen I move and rule:
So cannot speak my mind. An end to this!
A strange one! yet I take it with Amen.
So pray you, add my diamonds to her pearls;
Deck her with these; tell her, she shines me down:
An armlet for an arm to which the Queen's
Is haggard, or a necklace for a neck
O as much fairer--as a faith once fair
Was richer than these diamonds--hers not mine -
Nay, by the mother of our Lord himself,
Or hers or mine, mine now to work my will -
She shall not have them.'

Saying which she seized,
And, thro' the casement standing wide for heat,
Flung them, and down they flash'd, and smote the stream.
Then from the smitten surface flash'd, as it were,
Diamonds to meet them, and they past away.
Then while Sir Lancelot leant, in half disdain
At love, life, all things, on the window ledge,
Close underneath his eyes, and right across
Where these had fallen, slowly past the barge
Whereon the lily maid of Astolat
Lay smiling, like a star in blackest night."

This affair of the diamonds is the chief addition to the old tale, in
which we already see the curse of lawless love, fallen upon the
jealous Queen and the long-enduring Lancelot. "This is not the first
time," said Sir Lancelot, "that ye have been displeased with me
causeless, but, madame, ever I must suffer you, but what sorrow I
endure I take no force" (that is, "I disregard").

The romance, and the poet, in his own despite, cannot but make
Lancelot the man we love, not Arthur or another. Human nature
perversely sides with Guinevere against the Blameless King:-

"She broke into a little scornful laugh:
'Arthur, my lord, Arthur, the faultless King,
That passionate perfection, my good lord -
But who can gaze upon the Sun in heaven?
He never spake word of reproach to me,
He never had a glimpse of mine untruth,
He cares not for me: only here to-day
There gleam'd a vague suspicion in his eyes:
Some meddling rogue has tamper'd with him--else
Rapt in this fancy of his Table Round,
And swearing men to vows impossible,
To make them like himself: but, friend, to me
He is all fault who hath no fault at all:
For who loves me must have a touch of earth;
The low sun makes the colour: I am yours,
Not Arthur's, as ye know, save by the bond."

It is not the beautiful Queen who wins us, our hearts are with "the
innocence of love" in Elaine. But Lancelot has the charm that
captivated Lavaine; and Tennyson's Arthur remains

"The moral child without the craft to rule,
Else had he not lost me."

Indeed the romance of Malory makes Arthur deserve "the pretty popular
name such manhood earns" by his conduct as regards Guinevere when she
is accused by her enemies in the later chapters. Yet Malory does not
finally condone the sin which baffles Lancelot's quest of the Holy

Tennyson at first was in doubt as to writing on the Grail, for
certain respects of reverence. When he did approach the theme it was
in a method of extreme condensation. The romances on the Grail
outrun the length even of mediaeval poetry and prose. They are
exceedingly confused, as was natural, if that hypothesis which
regards the story as a Christianised form of obscure Celtic myth be
correct. Sir Percivale's sister, in the Idyll, has the first vision
of the Grail:-

"Sweet brother, I have seen the Holy Grail:
For, waked at dead of night, I heard a sound
As of a silver horn from o'er the hills
Blown, and I thought, 'It is not Arthur's use
To hunt by moonlight'; and the slender sound
As from a distance beyond distance grew
Coming upon me--O never harp nor horn,
Nor aught we blow with breath, or touch with hand,
Was like that music as it came; and then
Stream'd thro' my cell a cold and silver beam,
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail,
Rose-red with beatings in it, as if alive,
Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed
With rosy colours leaping on the wall;
And then the music faded, and the Grail
Past, and the beam decay'd, and from the walls
The rosy quiverings died into the night.
So now the Holy Thing is here again
Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray,
And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray,
That so perchance the vision may be seen
By thee and those, and all the world be heal'd."

Galahad, son of Lancelot and the first Elaine (who became Lancelot's
mistress by art magic), then vows himself to the Quest, and, after
the vision in hall at Camelot, the knights, except Arthur, follow his
example, to Arthur's grief. "Ye follow wandering fires!" Probably,
or perhaps, the poet indicates dislike of hasty spiritual
enthusiasms, of "seeking for a sign," and of the mysticism which
betokens want of faith. The Middle Ages, more than many readers
know, were ages of doubt. Men desired the witness of the senses to
the truth of what the Church taught, they wished to see that naked
child of the romance "smite himself into" the wafer of the Sacrament.
The author of the Imitatio Christi discourages such vain and too
curious inquiries as helped to rend the Church, and divided
Christendom into hostile camps. The Quest of the actual Grail was a
knightly form of theological research into the unsearchable;
undertaken, often in a secular spirit of adventure, by sinful men.
The poet's heart is rather with human things:-

"'O brother,' ask'd Ambrosius,--'for in sooth
These ancient books--and they would win thee--teem,
Only I find not there this Holy Grail,
With miracles and marvels like to these,
Not all unlike; which oftentime I read,
Who read but on my breviary with ease,
Till my head swims; and then go forth and pass
Down to the little thorpe that lies so close,
And almost plaster'd like a martin's nest
To these old walls--and mingle with our folk;
And knowing every honest face of theirs
As well as ever shepherd knew his sheep,
And every homely secret in their hearts,
Delight myself with gossip and old wives,
And ills and aches, and teethings, lyings-in,
And mirthful sayings, children of the place,
That have no meaning half a league away:
Or lulling random squabbles when they rise,
Chafferings and chatterings at the market-cross,
Rejoice, small man, in this small world of mine,
Yea, even in their hens and in their eggs."'

This appears to be Tennyson's original reading of the Quest of the
Grail. His own mysticism, which did not strive, or cry, or seek
after marvels, though marvels might come unsought, is expressed in
Arthur's words:-

"'"And spake I not too truly, O my knights?
Was I too dark a prophet when I said
To those who went upon the Holy Quest,
That most of them would follow wandering fires,
Lost in the quagmire?--lost to me and gone,
And left me gazing at a barren board,
And a lean Order--scarce return'd a tithe -
And out of those to whom the vision came
My greatest hardly will believe he saw;
Another hath beheld it afar off,
And leaving human wrongs to right themselves,
Cares but to pass into the silent life.
And one hath had the vision face to face,
And now his chair desires him here in vain,
However they may crown him otherwhere.

'"And some among you held, that if the King
Had seen the sight he would have sworn the vow:
Not easily, seeing that the King must guard
That which he rules, and is but as the hind
To whom a space of land is given to plow
Who may not wander from the allotted field
Before his work be done; but, being done,
Let visions of the night or of the day
Come, as they will; and many a time they come,
Until this earth he walks on seems not earth,
This light that strikes his eyeball is not light,
This air that smites his forehead is not air
But vision--yea, his very hand and foot -
In moments when he feels he cannot die,
And knows himself no vision to himself,
Nor the high God a vision, nor that One
Who rose again: ye have seen what ye have seen."

'So spake the King: I knew not all he meant.'"

The closing lines declare, as far as the poet could declare them,
these subjective experiences of his which, in a manner rarely
parallelled, coloured and formed his thought on the highest things.
He introduces them even into this poem on a topic which, because of
its sacred associations, he for long did not venture to touch.

In Pelleas and Ettarre--which deals with the sorrows of one of the
young knights who fill up the gaps left at the Round Table by the
mischances of the Quest--it would be difficult to trace a Celtic
original. For Malory, not Celtic legend, supplied Tennyson with the
germinal idea of a poem which, in the romance, has no bearing on the
final catastrophe. Pelleas, a King of the Isles, loves the beautiful
Ettarre, "a great lady," and for her wins at a tourney the prize of
the golden circlet. But she hates and despises him, and Sir Gawain
is a spectator when, as in the poem, the felon knights of Ettarre
bind and insult their conqueror, Pelleas. Gawain promises to win the
love of Ettarre for Pelleas, and, as in the poem, borrows his arms
and horse, and pretends to have slain him. But in place of turning
Ettarre's heart towards Pelleas, Gawain becomes her lover, and
Pelleas, detecting them asleep, lays his naked sword on their necks.
He then rides home to die; but Nimue (Vivien), the Lady of the Lake,
restores him to health and sanity. His fever gone, he scorns
Ettarre, who, by Nimue's enchantment, now loves him as much as she
had hated him. Pelleas weds Nimue, and Ettarre dies of a broken
heart. Tennyson, of course, could not make Nimue (his Vivien) do
anything benevolent. He therefore closes his poem by a repetition of
the effect in the case of Balin. Pelleas is driven desperate by the
treachery of Gawain, the reported infidelity of Guinevere, and the
general corruption of the ideal. A shadow falls on Lancelot and
Guinevere, and Modred sees that his hour is drawing nigh. In spite
of beautiful passages this is not one of the finest of the Idylls,
save for the study of the fierce, hateful, and beautiful grande dame,
Ettarre. The narrative does little to advance the general plot. In
the original of Malory it has no connection with the Lancelot cycle,
except as far as it reveals the treachery of Gawain, the gay and
fair-spoken "light of love," brother of the traitor Modred. A
simpler treatment of the theme may be read in Mr Swinburne's
beautiful poem, The Tale of Balen.

It is in The Last Tournament that Modred finds the beginning of his
opportunity. The brief life of the Ideal has burned itself out, as
the year, in its vernal beauty when Arthur came, is burning out in
autumn. The poem is purposely autumnal, with the autumn, not of
mellow fruitfulness, but of the "flying gold of the ruined woodlands"
and the dank odours of decay. In that miserable season is held the
Tourney of the Dead Innocence, with the blood-red prize of rubies.
With a wise touch Tennyson has represented the Court as fallen not
into vice only and crime, but into positive vulgarity and bad taste.
The Tournament is a carnival of the "smart" and the third-rate.
Courtesy is dead, even Tristram is brutal, and in Iseult hatred of
her husband is as powerful as love of her lover. The satire strikes
at England, where the world has never been corrupt with a good grace.
It is a passage of arms neither gentle nor joyous that Lancelot
presides over:-

"The sudden trumpet sounded as in a dream
To ears but half-awaked, then one low roll
Of Autumn thunder, and the jousts began:
And ever the wind blew, and yellowing leaf
And gloom and gleam, and shower and shorn plume
Went down it. Sighing weariedly, as one
Who sits and gazes on a faded fire,
When all the goodlier guests are past away,
Sat their great umpire, looking o'er the lists.
He saw the laws that ruled the tournament
Broken, but spake not; once, a knight cast down
Before his throne of arbitration cursed
The dead babe and the follies of the King;
And once the laces of a helmet crack'd,
And show'd him, like a vermin in its hole,
Modred, a narrow face: anon he heard
The voice that billow'd round the barriers roar
An ocean-sounding welcome to one knight,
But newly-enter'd, taller than the rest,
And armour'd all in forest green, whereon
There tript a hundred tiny silver deer,
And wearing but a holly-spray for crest,
With ever-scattering berries, and on shield
A spear, a harp, a bugle--Tristram--late
From overseas in Brittany return'd,
And marriage with a princess of that realm,
Isolt the White--Sir Tristram of the Woods -
Whom Lancelot knew, had held sometime with pain
His own against him, and now yearn'd to shake
The burthen off his heart in one full shock
With Tristram ev'n to death: his strong hands gript
And dinted the gilt dragons right and left,
Until he groan'd for wrath--so many of those,
That ware their ladies' colours on the casque,
Drew from before Sir Tristram to the bounds,
And there with gibes and flickering mockeries
Stood, while he mutter'd, 'Craven crests! O shame!
What faith have these in whom they sware to love?
The glory of our Round Table is no more.'

So Tristram won, and Lancelot gave, the gems,
Not speaking other word than 'Hast thou won?
Art thou the purest, brother? See, the hand
Wherewith thou takest this, is red!' to whom
Tristram, half plagued by Lancelot's languorous mood,
Made answer, 'Ay, but wherefore toss me this
Like a dry bone cast to some hungry hound?
Let be thy fair Queen's fantasy. Strength of heart
And might of limb, but mainly use and skill,
Are winners in this pastime of our King.
My hand--belike the lance hath dript upon it -
No blood of mine, I trow; but O chief knight,
Right arm of Arthur in the battlefield,
Great brother, thou nor I have made the world;
Be happy in thy fair Queen as I in mine.'

And Tristram round the gallery made his horse
Caracole; then bow'd his homage, bluntly saying,
'Fair damsels, each to him who worships each
Sole Queen of Beauty and of love, behold
This day my Queen of Beauty is not here.'
And most of these were mute, some anger'd, one
Murmuring, 'All courtesy is dead,' and one,
'The glory of our Round Table is no more.'

Then fell thick rain, plume droopt and mantle clung,
And pettish cries awoke, and the wan day
Went glooming down in wet and weariness:
But under her black brows a swarthy one
Laugh'd shrilly, crying, 'Praise the patient saints,
Our one white day of Innocence hath past,
Tho' somewhat draggled at the skirt. So be it.
The snowdrop only, flowering thro' the year,
Would make the world as blank as Winter-tide.
Come--let us gladden their sad eyes, our Queen's
And Lancelot's, at this night's solemnity
With all the kindlier colours of the field.'"

Arthur's last victory over a robber knight is ingloriously squalid:-

"He ended: Arthur knew the voice; the face
Wellnigh was helmet-hidden, and the name
Went wandering somewhere darkling in his mind.
And Arthur deign'd not use of word or sword,
But let the drunkard, as he stretch'd from horse
To strike him, overbalancing his bulk,
Down from the causeway heavily to the swamp
Fall, as the crest of some slow-arching wave,
Heard in dead night along that table-shore,
Drops flat, and after the great waters break
Whitening for half a league, and thin themselves,
Far over sands marbled with moon and cloud,
From less and less to nothing; thus he fell
Head-heavy; then the knights, who watch'd him, roar'd
And shouted and leapt down upon the fall'n;
There trampled out his face from being known,
And sank his head in mire, and slimed themselves:
Nor heard the King for their own cries, but sprang
Thro' open doors, and swording right and left
Men, women, on their sodden faces, hurl'd
The tables over and the wines, and slew
Till all the rafters rang with woman-yells,
And all the pavement stream'd with massacre:
Then, echoing yell with yell, they fired the tower,
Which half that autumn night, like the live North,
Red-pulsing up thro' Alioth and Alcor,
Made all above it, and a hundred meres
About it, as the water Moab saw
Come round by the East, and out beyond them flush'd
The long low dune, and lazy-plunging sea."

Guinevere is one of the greatest of the Idylls. Malory makes
Lancelot more sympathetic; his fight, unarmed, in Guinevere's
chamber, against the felon knights, is one of his most spirited
scenes. Tennyson omits this, and omits all the unpardonable
behaviour of Arthur as narrated in Malory. Critics have usually
condemned the last parting of Guinevere and Arthur, because the King
doth preach too much to an unhappy woman who has no reply. The
position of Arthur is not easily redeemable: it is difficult to
conceive that a noble nature could be, or should be, blind so long.
He does rehabilitate his Queen in her own self-respect, perhaps, by
assuring her that he loves her still:-

"Let no man dream but that I love thee still."

Had he said that one line and no more, we might have loved him
better. In the Idylls we have not Malory's last meeting of Lancelot
and Guinevere, one of the scenes in which the wandering composite
romance ends as nobly as the Iliad.

The Passing of Arthur, except for a new introductory passage of great
beauty and appropriateness, is the Morte d'Arthur, first published in

"So all day long the noise of battle roll'd
Among the mountains by the winter sea."

The year has run its course, spring, summer, gloomy autumn, and dies
in the mist of Arthur's last wintry battle in the west -

"And the new sun rose, bringing the new year."

The splendid and sombre procession has passed, leaving us to muse as
to how far the poet has fulfilled his own ideal. There could be no
new epic: he gave a chain of heroic Idylls. An epic there could not
be, for the Iliad and Odyssey have each a unity of theme, a narrative
compressed into a few days in the former, in the latter into forty
days of time. The tragedy of Arthur's reign could not so be
condensed; and Tennyson chose the only feasible plan. He has left a
work, not absolutely perfect, indeed, but such as he conceived, after
many tentative essays, and such as he desired to achieve. His fame
may not rest chiefly on the Idylls, but they form one of the fairest
jewels in the crown that shines with unnumbered gems, each with its
own glory.

Andrew Lang

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