Read CHAPTER I - PRELUDE of Joyous Gard , free online book, by Arthur Christopher Benson, on

The Castle of Joyous Gard in the Morte D’Arthur was Sir Lancelot’s own castle, that he had won with his own hands.  It was full of victual, and all manner of mirth and disport.  It was hither that the wounded knight rode as fast as his horse might run, to tell Sir Lancelot of the misuse and capture of Sir Palamedes; and hence Lancelot often issued forth, to rescue those that were oppressed, and to do knightly deeds.

It was true that Lancelot afterwards named it Dolorous Gard, but that was because he had used it unworthily, and was cast out from it; but it recovered its old name again when they conveyed his body thither, after he had purged his fault by death.  It was on the morning of the day when they set out, that the Bishop who had been with him when he died, and had given him all the rites that a Christian man ought to have, was displeased when they woke him out of his sleep, because, as he said, he was so merry and well at ease.  And when they inquired the reason of his mirth, the Bishop said, “Here was Lancelot with me, with more angels than ever I saw men upon one day.”  So it was well with that great knight at the last!

I have called this book of mine by the name of Joyous Gard, because it speaks of a stronghold that we can win with our own hands, where we can abide in great content, so long as we are not careful to linger there in sloth and idleness, but are ready to ride abroad at the call for help.  The only time in his life when Lancelot was deaf to that call, was when he shut himself up in the castle to enjoy the love that was his single sin.  And it was that sin that cost him so dear, and lost the Castle its old and beautiful name.  But when the angels made glad over the sinner who repented, as it is their constant use to do, and when it was only remembered of Lancelot that he had been a peerless knight, the name came back to the Castle; and that name is doubtless hidden now under some name of commoner use, whatever and wherever it may be.

In the Pilgrim’s Progress we read how willing Mr. Interpreter was, in the House that was full of so many devices and surprises, to explain to the pilgrims the meaning of all the fantastic emblems and comfortable sights that he showed them.  And I do not think it spoils a parable, but rather improves it, that it should have its secret meaning made plain.

The Castle of Joyous Gard then, which each of us can use, if we desire it, is the fortress of beauty and joy.  We cannot walk into it by right, but must win it; and in a world like this, where there is much that is anxious and troublesome, we ought, if we can, to gain such a place, and provide it with all that we need, where we may have our seasons of rest and refreshment.  It must not be idle and selfish joyance that we take there; it must be the interlude to toil and fight and painful deeds, and we must be ready to sally out in a moment when it is demanded of us.  Now, if the winning of such a fortress of thought is hard, it is also dangerous when won, because it tempts us to immure ourselves in peace, and only observe from afar the plain of life, which lies all about the Castle, gazing down through the high windows; to shut out the wind and the rain, as well as the cries and prayers of those who have been hurt and dismayed by wrongful usage.  If we do that, the day will come when we shall be besieged in our Castle, and ride away vanquished and disgraced, to do what we have neglected and forgotten.

But it is not only right, it is natural and wise, that we should have a stronghold in our minds, where we should frequent courteous and gentle and knightly company - the company of all who have loved beauty wisely and purely, such as poets and artists.  Because we make a very great mistake if we allow the common course and use of the world to engulph us wholly.  We must not be too dainty for the work of the world, but we may thankfully believe that it is only a mortal discipline, and that our true life is elsewhere, hid with God.  If we grow to believe that life and its cares and business are all, we lose the freshness of life, just as we lose the strength of life if we reject its toil.  But if we go at times to our Joyous Gard, we can bring back into common life something of the grace and seemliness and courtesy of the place.  For the end of life is that we should do humble and common things in a fine and courteous manner, and mix with simple affairs, not condescendingly or disdainfully, but with all the eagerness and modesty of the true knight.

This little book then is an account, as far as I can give it, of what we may do to help ourselves in the matter, by feeding and nurturing the finer and sweeter thought, which, like all delicate things, often perishes from indifference and inattention.  Those of us who are sensitive and imaginative and faint-hearted often miss our chance of better things by not forming plans and designs for our peace.  We lament that we are hurried and pressed and occupied, and we cry,

    "Yet, oh, the place could I but find!"

But that is because we expect to be conducted thither, without the trouble of the journey!  Yet we can, like the wise King of Troy, build the walls of our castle to music, if we will, and see to the fit providing of the place; it only needs that we should set about it in earnest; and as I have often gratefully found that a single word of another can fall into the mind like a seed, and quicken to life while one sleeps, breaking unexpectedly into bloom, I will here say what comes into my mind to say, and point out the towers that I think I discern rising above the tangled forest, and glimmering tall and shapely and secure at the end of many an open avenue.