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’Mekely, lordynges gentyll and fre,
Lysten awhile and herken to me.’

ONCE upon a time, long long before the Venerable Bede had completed that famous last chapter in his cell at Jarrow, there lived in the ancient capital of Sampsiceramus, a holy man named Heliodorus. Now in his youth Heliodorus (as is not uncommon with the young) had turned his thoughts to worldly things; and being of a romantic nature, wearied by the eternal sameness of the books available to him, had conceived the extraordinary notion of writing an untrue book, a book that should never instruct or point a moral or show you where you are wrong, but should be all joyousness and enchantment. Possessed with this great idea, timidly yet sure of himself, he set to work.

The very first thing he did was sufficiently startling for those days. Instead of selecting some great man for his central figure and putting his dialogue into the mouths of learned men, fathers of the church, philosophers, orators, or famous poets, he chose deliberately a young and handsome man of no particular learning, and a woman! It was unheard of! A book, a voluminous roll closely written, containing nothing but the adventures of a pair of lovers! Monstrous! Yet it was done at last, and the roll, finding favour in the eyes of a bosom friend, was quickly passed from hand to hand. All were entranced by it. Here was a book that had characters one could understand, for whom one could even feel affection. The loves of dashing young Theagenes and his dear Chariclea found an echo in many a youthful breast.

Meanwhile Heliodorus disappears from view, and for many years we hear nothing of him until suddenly he reappears as a bishop in Thessaly! Now comes the sequel to his audacious design, but for which it is doubtful if we should ever have heard of him. A synod was convened, and Heliodorus was condemned because in his youth he had written a novel. He was given his choice between bishopric and book, to retain the one he must destroy the other by word as well as by deed.

At first sight the choice appears not difficult to make, for although so laical and original a work had proved to be popular, yet such popularity was hardly of a nature to appeal to so devout a Christian as one who had already attained episcopal rank. But to Heliodorus his work (which may well have been the employment of some years) stood for all that he held most dear. It was his conception of the ideal in worldly as opposed to spiritual life. Less austere, perhaps, than many of the fathers of the early Church whose works had seemed so tedious to him in his youth, his devoutness was tempered largely with a charity and forgiveness that were not unworthy of his creed. It was impossible to deny those principles of chivalric virtue and chastity which his novel preached, so he chose to stand by his book rather than by his benefice, and quitted Thessaly.

So runs the pleasing tale of Nicephorus. But alas! the relentless voice of modern research will have it that the real author was not the bishop at all, but a Sophist who lived in the third century of our era. Be it as it may, I for my part shall go on believing the old romantic tale until a better one is invented for the Sophist.

The work itself is called ‘Ten Books of Aethiopian History,’ for the first and last scenes are laid in Egypt, but it is better known by the name of its hero and heroine. Its popularity was immense, and it was soon translated into ‘almost all languages.’ Later Pere Amyot published a version in French for Francis I., who was so delighted with the result that he made the translator abbe of Belozane. Racine tells us it was this ancient romance that first fired his imagination with the desire to write. His tutor discovered him absorbed in its contents, and snatching it from his hand angrily consigned it to the fire. Racine bought another copy, which suffered a like fate. But so strong a hold upon him had the story, that he purchased a third, and devoured it in secret, offering it to his master with a smile when he had thoroughly mastered its contents.

It seems that this ancient Greek romance was lost for many centuries. At the sack of Buda in 1526, however, a manuscript of it was discovered in the royal library, where it had once formed part of the vast library amassed by Matthias Corvinus, the great King of Hungary. Matthias is said to have ‘spoken almost all the European languages,’ so doubtless he had passed many a pleasant hour with the tale. This manuscript (others have since been discovered) was printed at Basel ‘in officina Ioan Hervagii’ in 1534, a small quarto printed with Greek types.

That the early romances of chivalry possess a charm for the book-collector it is impossible to deny. They are ‘a series of books,’ writes Mr. John Ormsby, ’which, complete, would be a glory to any library in the world; which, in first editions, would now probably fetch a sum almost large enough to endow a college; and which . . . . is perhaps . . . . as worthless a set of books as could be made up out of the refuse novels of a circulating library.’ Times without number they have been derided and decried, even in the days when they were popular. The curate of La Mancha was not the only one who disapproved of them. ’In our fathers tyme,’ wrote old Roger Ascham, judging the flock by a few black sheep, ’nothing was red, but bookes of fayned cheualrie, wherein a man by redinge, shuld be led to none other ende, but onely to manslaughter and baudrye.’ Possevino, a learned Jesuit and famous preacher of the sixteenth century, used to complain that for the last five hundred years the princes of Europe had read nothing but romances. René d’Anjou listened to his chaplain inveighing against Launcelot, Amadis, and the romances of which he was particularly fond; but, says Villeneuve, while respecting the preacher for his boldness, the king continued to read them, and even composed new volumes in imitation of them.

Full of monstrous fictions some of these ancient stories undoubtedly are. It were foolish to expect that all of them should attain the high level of those great legends which centre about the Holy Grail. Good things have ever been imitated indifferently; and it was only the later series of tales which had to do chiefly with enchantments and fairies and ‘giaunts, hard to be beleeved.’ But alas! all alike have come under the ban of those who decry reading for recreation’s sake. Good and bad have been damn’d indifferently. One cannot help wondering however that so much has been written against them, and that so many have been at pains to point out their unreasonableness. One would have thought that the very fact of them all abounding with incidents that are not only impossible but preposterous, would have given these critics pause, and have urged them to ask themselves why and wherefore such things were repeated.

To anyone possessed of imagination the answer, of course, is obvious. The better tales all had the exaltation of the chivalric spirit in view, and sought to achieve this end by allegory as well as by parable. He must be a dullard indeed who fails to understand their symbolism. Malory, describing the entry of Tristram into the field, wishes to impress upon us the fact that he was indeed a ’preux chevalier, sans peur et sans reproche,’ the model of a Christian knight; so he mounts him on a white horse and arrays him in white harness, and he rides out at a postern, ‘and soo he came in to the feld as it had ben a bryght angel.’ Doubtless those to whom understanding has been denied would argue hotly as to whether there is any authority for a knight painting his armour white. What sane man, reading ‘The Faerie Queene,’ could think that it purported to depict actual scenes or incidents? Yet time and again the ’sheer impossibility’ of these stories has been urged in condemnation of them. Truly it is not every man who should turn to these ancient books which

’In sage and solemn tunes have sung Of Turneys and of Trophies hung, Of Forests, and inchantments drear, Where more is meant than meets the ear.’

Gavaudan, a troubadour of the twelfth century, meets the undiscerning critic more than half-way. Let none judge, he writes, till he be capable of separating the grain from the chaff; ’for the fool makes haste to condemn, and the ignorant only pretends to know all things, and muses on the wonders that are too mighty for his comprehension.’

‘Romances,’ says Sharon Turner, ’are so many little Utopias, in which the writer tries to paint or to inculcate something which he considers to be more useful, more happy or more delightful, more excellent or more interesting, than the world he lives in, than the characters he surveys, or the events or evils which he experiences.’ Yet Dunlop, who examined the romances of chivalry at some length in his ‘History of Fiction,’ seems never to have suspected that these tales were written with any other intention than to amuse or that the events which they related were looked upon by their readers as other than facts. For Arthur he has scant respect, ‘nor,’ says he, ’as we advance, do we find him possessed of a single quality, except strength and courage, to excite respect or interest.’ Surely the remark of one who must have been dead to all sense of imagination and romance although purporting to be an authority upon them! The teaching of the whole Arthurian cycle of romances was ’that noble men may see and lerne the noble actes of chyualrye, the Ientyl and vertuous dedes that somme Knyghtes vsed in tho dayes, by whyche they came to honour; and how they that were vycious were punysshed and ofte put to shame and rebuke.’ The quest of the Holy Grail, motive of the most exquisite series of mystic tales that has ever been written, was, we are expressly informed, ’the hygh way of our Lord Jhesu Cryst, and the way of a true good lyver, not that of synners and of mysbelievers.’ Godfrey de Bouillon, the hero of another cycle, was ’moult preudhomme et sage et moult aymant Dieu et gens d’esglise,’ as we read in ’Le Triomphe des Neuf Preux’ (folio, Abbeville 1487). Preposterous tales? Perhaps; yet, as regards their moral side, not suffering greatly by comparison with our modern fiction.

Those whose reading is confined to the literature of to-day can have no idea of the influence which these romances had upon the lives of our forefathers. It was not merely a system of morality which they taught, it was a civilisation of a very high order. When we are inclined to mock at these ‘preposterous tales’ we should never forget that to them we owe a debt so immense that we are lost in the contemplation of it. It cannot be gainsaid that it was as much by the study and teaching of these romances as it was by the spirit which gave them birth, that our ancestors came to mould their lives in such a sort as to influence the civilisation of the whole of the western world.

That the romances were the outcome of chivalry cannot be urged, though doubtless in a later age they helped to keep the spirit of knighthood alive. Edward the Black Prince, the very model of mediaeval chivalry, avowedly studied the ancient romances for patterns. When Pedro the Cruel had prevailed upon the prince to defend his cause, the princess bitterly bewailed her husband’s decision. ‘I see well,’ said the prince, to whom her expressions were related, ’that she wishes me to be always at her side and never to leave her chamber. But a prince must be ready to win renown and to expose himself to all kinds of danger, as in days of old did Roland, Oliver, Ogier, the four sons of Aimon, Charlemagne, the great Leon de Bourges, Juan de Tournant, Lancelot, Tristan, Alexander, Arthur and Godfrey whose courage, bravery, and fearlessness, both warlike and heroic, all the romances extoll. And by Saint George, I will restore Spain to the rightful heir.’

Occleve, a little later, has no doubt as to the beneficial effects of perusing the romances. Indeed he goes so far as to exhort his friend, Sir John Oldcastle, to leave off studying Holy Writ, and to read ’Lancelot de lake, Vegece, or the Siege of Troie or Thebes.’ ‘What do ye now,’ says Caxton in ‘The Order of Chivalry,’ ’but go to the baynes and playe atte dyse? . . . Leve this, lève it, and rede the noble volumes of Saynt Graal, of Lancelot, of Galaad, of Trystram, of Perseforest, of Percyval, of Gawayn, and many mo. Ther shalle ye see manhode, curtosye, and gentylnesse.’

What other system in this world could have bestowed that absolute serenity of mind which those who practised chivalry retained amid the tumults of their life? The Saracens, abashed by the tranquil spirit of their royal prisoner, Louis IX., mistook his humility for pride. In vain did they threaten him with torture: the king only replied ’Je suis prisonnier du Sultan, il peut faire de moi a son vouloir.’ And when at last the Sultan’s murderer rushed into his prison, his hands dripping with blood, and crying, ’What will you give me for having destroyed him who would have put you to death?’ the king was more struck with horror at the crime than with fear for his own safety, and remained motionless, disdaining to answer. Thereupon the Saracen, maddened by a tranquillity which he rightly attributed to the immense power of Christian chivalry, presented the point of his blood-stained sword to the king’s breast, crying, ‘Fais moi chevalier, je te tue.’ ‘Fais toi Chrestien,’ replied the intrepid king, ‘et je te ferai chevalier.’

We are accustomed nowadays to look upon chivalry merely as a knightly institution which had to do solely with tournaments, banquets, knight-errantry, and the rescuing of encastled maidens. The modern acceptance of the term omits all those gentle qualities of mind which go to make the true chivalric disposition. We associate chivalry with ’fair play’ combined with ‘manliness’; and humility has no part in it. Indeed it never enters into our mind that it was a system of ’humanyte, curtosye, and gentylnesse.’ More, it was a religion deeply ingrained in the hearts of men, a religion which spread through all grades of society, and one which consisted in the beatifying of the noblest qualities of human nature; and it has left an indelible mark upon our national character. Chivalry is not dead to-day as thoughtless people so often exclaim; it will never die so long as our national characteristics endure, though to-day it passes under a different name. ‘Sport’ we call it now, and we pride ourselves in being ‘sporting’ even in the hour of death witness the countless instances brought about by the late great war.

Bertrand du Guesclin, one of the greatest and most fearless exponents of the chivalric spirit, and the Black Prince’s most redoubtable enemy, fell at last into the hands of the English. One day at Bordeaux the Prince summoned him from his prison, and asked him how he fared. ’Par may foy, monseigneur,’ replied Bertrand, ’il m’ennuye de n’entendre que chant des Souris de Bourdeaux; je voudrois bien ouyr les Rossignols de nostre pais’; but he added that he loved honour better than aught else and never had anything brought him more glory than his prison, seeing that, as all the other prisoners had been ransomed, he was kept there only through fear of his prowess. The Prince of Wales, touched in his honour (or rather pride) at du Guesclin’s words, agreed to liberate Bertrand upon payment of seventy thousand florins of gold. ’But what was more extraordinary in this adventure,’ says a French chronicler, ’was that the Princess of Wales gave him thirty thousand, and Sir John Chandos, who had taken him prisoner, took upon himself to pay what was wanting to make the sum complete.’ ‘Sporting,’ was it not? Truly we are a marvellous race, and it is not to be wondered that other nations, from whom this spirit has long passed away, despair of ever being able to understand us.

England has always been the home of chivalry. La Colombiere in his ’Vray Theatre d’Honneur et de Chevalerie Miroir Héroïque de la Noblesse’ remarks that the greatest number of the old romances have been more particularly employed in celebrating the valour of the knights of this kingdom than that of any other; because, in fact, they have always loved such exercises in an especial manner. ‘The city of London,’ writes Francisco de Moraes in the ‘Palmerin de Inglaterra,’ ’contained in those days all, or the greater part, of the chivalry of the world.’ In Perceforest a damozel says to his companion ’Sire chevalier, I will gladly parley with you because you come from Great Britain; it is a country which I love well, for there habitually (coustumierement) is the finest chivalry in the world; c’est pays au monde, si comme je croy, plus remply des bas et joyeulx passetemps pour toutes gentilles pucelles et jeunes bacheliers qui pretendent a honneur de chevalerie.’

The entire cycle of legends which has the Holy Grail for its centre is concerned with Britain and Britain alone. Caerleon and Winchester, Tintagel and Glastonbury, these are the chief stages in this great romance of perfect knighthood; and whether related by a scribe of Hainault in the thirteenth century or sung by a Welsh bard before the Norman Conquest or praised at the court at Paris by the favourite troubadour of Philip Augustus, it is all one as regards the setting and the chief characters. ’Whether for goodly men or for chivalrous deeds, for courtesy or for honour,’ wrote the Norman chronicler Wace in the middle of the twelfth century, ’in Arthur’s day England bore the flower from all the lands near by, yea from every other land whereof we know. The poorest peasant in his smock was a more courteous and valiant gentleman than was a belted knight beyond the sea.’

There is a pleasing story which relates how Robert Bruce, marching with his army in the mountains of Ireland, heard a woman crying during one of the halts. He inquired immediately what was the matter, and was told that it was a camp-follower, a poor laundress, who was taken in child-bed; and as it was impossible to take her with them, she bemoaned her fate in being left behind to die. The king replied that he is no man who will not pity a woman then. He ordered that a tent should be pitched for her immediately, and that she should be attended at once by the other women; and there he tarried his host until she had been delivered and could be carried along with them. ‘This,’ says the Chronicler, ’was a full great courtesy.’ Chivalry? In the very highest sense of the word.

We must be careful lest, losing sight of the many attributes of chivalry, we incline towards the erroneous view that it was confined entirely to the upper classes. That the manuscript volumes of the romantic tales which were so eagerly purchased and treasured by the educated classes could never possibly come into the hands of the rude illiterate peasants is a fallacious argument. Scanty indeed would be our folk-lore had it all been transmitted graphically. Chaucer bears evidence of the widespread popularity of these heroic tales in his day:

’Alexaundres storie is so commune
That every wight that hath discrecioune
Hath herde somewhat or al of his fortune.’

The incidents of these immortal tales were as well known to the humblest as to the highest in the land. We have abundant evidence of their popularity when recounted in front of the fire in hostel or homestead. Even so late as Milton’s day it was the custom to recount knightly adventures and fairy tales about the evening fireside. When

the live-long daylight fail
Then to the Spicy Nut-brown Ale,
With stories told of many a feat,
How Faery Mab the junkets eat,
. . . . . .
Where throngs of Knights and Barons bold,
In weeds of Peace high triumphs hold,
With store of Ladies, whose bright eyes
Rain influence, and judge the prise,

until at length

Thus done the Tales, to bed they creep,
By whispering Winds soon lull’d asleep.

How great a part of the pleasures of this world have they missed whose pulses are never stirred by the Spirit of Romance! Content and Peace of Mind may be had by all who will offer up sacrifices to obtain them; but Imagination is not to be had at any price unless it be a part of our birthright. Content may yield a tranquillity of mind that refreshes the soul, but it is Imagination alone that can produce that spiritual exaltation which takes our minds from worldly things, carries us backwards or forwards through countless ages of the past or aeons of futurity, and enables us to ride in the chariot of Phoebus. It is a vast library in itself.

’He had small need of books; for many a tale
Traditionary round the mountains hung,
And many a legend, peopling the dark woods,
Nourished Imagination in her growth.’

It was the fortune of our book-hunter once to spend an afternoon in June upon the downs near Winchester. To southward of the old town there is a deep grassy hollow, crescent-shaped, its southern slope fringed with wood; and here in the shade he lay reading the ‘Morte d’Arthur’ of old Malory. Coming at length to the Noble Tale of the Sangreal, he read how King Arthur, having come ’unto Camelot by the houre of undorn on Whytsonday,’ and feasting with the fellowship of the Round Table, was told of the marvel wrought unto Balin’s sword by Merlin.

You will remember that Balin fought unbeknown with his brother Balan, that each wounded the other unto death, and that they were buried by Merlin in the same tomb. Then Merlin ’lete make by his subtylyte that Balyn’s swerd was put in a marbel stone standyng up ryght as grete as a mylle stone, and the stone hoved alweyes above the water, and dyd many yeres, and so by adventure it swam doun the streme to the Cyte of Camelot that is in Englysshe Wynchestre.’

To the west the downs slope steeply into the river valley, and set in the rich green meadows like a skein of silver threads the book-hunter could discern the Itchen with its attendant rivulets. So he gazed across to the stream and pondered over this marvellous stone which ‘hoved’ always above the water, a sword set in it so that the pommel alone could be seen, ’and in the pomel therof were precyous stones wrought with subtyle letters of gold.’ It was the symbol which was to prove the youthful Galahad the haut prince who should achieve the Sangreal.

That same evening, wandering along the river’s bank below the city, his head full of the wondrous tale, an adventure befell him. It was dusk, and he had crossed the stream at a ford, when suddenly he saw the stone. It was lying upon its side, not a dozen paces from the water. There was no doubt whatever about it. It was roughly five feet long, about half as wide and thick, and of a curious reddish-brown the colour of dried blood.

‘Sir,’ said the squire who brought the news to the King and his Knights, ’there is here bynethe at the Ryver a grete stone which I saw flete above the water, and therin I sawe styckyng a swerd. The Kynge sayde, I wille see that marveill. Soo all the Knyghtes went with hym. And whanne they came unto the ryver they fonde there a stone fletyng, as hit were of reed marbel, and therin stack a fair ryche swerd.’

I confess that not a little awe was mingled with delight as our book-hunter gazed upon the stone, walked round it, touched it! Then suddenly away in the old city a bell tolled, and he recollected that it was Whitsun Eve! That walk home in the twilight was something not easily to be forgotten, and neither supper nor a pipe could bring him back to earth and the twentieth century again. Next morning he was up early, anxious to see if any trace were left of the spot where this marvel had occurred, for it was scarcely possible that the whole adventure was other than a dream. But the spot was soon found, and sure enough there was the stone or peron, and he could examine it in the sunshine at his leisure. How it got there or whence it came it were impossible to guess; the chalk for miles around contains nothing but flints, and the peron was smooth and polished ‘as a mill-stone.’

That Winchester is not Camelot antiquaries have told us often enough. The city of the Knights may have been in the West Country or in Wales for aught our bookman cares; but until they can produce a likelier site and a better peron he will continue to take Sir Thomas’s word for it.

One other point. I have said that the stone lay some few paces from the water. You will notice when you pay a pilgrimage to the stone (it lies at the ford, hard by a church) that the ground about it is almost level with the water, so that when the river is in flood the stone must be almost submerged: in other words, it would then hove above the water. It is easy to see from the bank on the other side that the river has changed its course by a few yards, leaving the stone now high and dry. If you dispute this, why then I can only say that the stone, as ’by adventure it swam down the stream,’ must have been cast there by the river when in flood. That there is a cleft in the stone whence Galahad withdrew the sword I can neither affirm nor deny; it may have closed up, for with perons of this nature all things are possible, or the stone itself may have got turned over. At all events I for one shall not be so rash as to cast suspicion upon so historic a relic.

For those materialists who doubt that such an event ever took place, I will propound a theory. That the first twelve books of the ’Morte d’Arthur’ were translated from the French by Sir Thomas Malory seems probable. Caxton says as much in his Preface, and the Epilogue to Book XII. reads, ’Here endeth the second book of Syr Tristram that was drawen oute of Frensshe in to Englysshe. But here is no rehersal of the thyrd book. And here foloweth the noble tale of the Sancgreal that called is the hooly vessel.’ It has been shown that the stories of the Holy Grail are probably of Welsh origin, and Sir Thomas is said to have been a Welshman. Is it possible that he was ever at Winchester, that he wandered on Whitsun Eve (as did our book-hunter) along the Itchen, that he came to and roused over the stone (smooth and polished as a mill-stone), so different from any to be seen hereabout, and that as he wandered back to Camelot he wove the delicious romance about it? At all events, if he were ever there, it is at least possible that the spot was in his mind when adapting the Welsh legends for his book. Mark how well the events which I relate accord with the topography of the spot. The stone was ‘beneath at the river,’ the damozel who comes to view the marvel ’came rydynge doune the ryver . . . . on a whyte palfroy toward them,’ and there is mention of the river meads. It is hard to believe that Sir Thomas would definitely assert that Camelot ’is in English Winchester,’ and make it the chief scene of his romance, had he never visited the town.

The book was finished, Caxton tells us, ’the ix yere of the reygne of king edward the fourth,’ 1469; but was not ’chapytred and emprynted and fynysshed in th’abbey Westmestre’ until ’the last day of July the yere of our lord M.CCCC.LXXXV.,’ 1485. Three weeks later a fateful battle was fought that of Bosworth, which placed the crown upon Harry Tudor’s head. The facts that the new king was a great benefactor to Winchester, that he held the castle to have been built by King Arthur, and that he brought hither his queen to be delivered of his first-born (whom he named Arthur), point to something more than a chance connection between the city and the book.

Henry Tudor was also a Welshman, and possibly Malory was of the king’s acquaintance, if not actually of his retinue. Bale asserts that Malory was occupied with affairs of state. But conclusions are dangerous things. The preface to the ‘Morte d’Arthur’ ascribes the ordering of the book to Edward the Fourth. ’. . . I made a book unto th’excellent prynce and kyng of noble memorye kyng Edward the fourth. The sayd noble Ientylmen instantly requyred me t’emprynte thystorye of the sayd noble kyng and conquerour king Arthur and of his knyghtes, wyth thystorye of the saynt greal, and of the deth and endynge of the sayd Arthur; Affermyng that . . . there ben in frensshe dyvers and many noble volumes of his actes and also of his knyghtes.’ Which looks rather as if Edward the Fourth (who had no reason to love the Welsh you will remember that he had beheaded Owen Tudor, Richmond’s grandfather) had heard of or read Malory’s work, and was anxious to possess it in print, though unwilling to credit it to a follower of the Lancastrian party. It is a pleasant field for surmise, and, however wrongly, it is good to picture old Sir Thomas strolling along those pleasant meads beside the river, weaving his immortal cycle of tales.

There is a connection somewhere between Malory and Caxton too. In 1469 Malory finished his book, and in March of that year Caxton began to translate Fevre’s ‘Recueil des Histoires de Troyes.’ Where and when did Malory meet Caxton, who lived for some years about that time at Bruges, discovering that they possessed the same literary tastes? Did Malory hand the manuscript of his work to Caxton, in the service of the Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward the Fourth, and did the great printer (or the Duchess) show it to that king? We shall never know, and only Imagination can fill the gap.

But to continue. It was Whitsunday, and as the last notes of the voluntary echoed away among those ‘antick pillars massy proof’ of the great church, our book-hunter’s thoughts turned once more to King Arthur and his knights. For was it not upon this very day that the vision of the Holy Grail was vouchsafed to them as they sat at meat within the castle hall?

’And thenne the kynge and al estates wente home unto Camelot, and soo wente to evensonge to the grete mynster. And soo after upon that to souper. . . . Thenne anone they herd crakynge and cryenge of thonder, that hem thought the place shold alle to dryve. . . . Not for thenne there was no knyght myghte speke one word a grete whyle. . . . Thenne ther entred in to the halle the holy graile coverd with whyte samyte, but ther was none myghte see hit, nor who bare hit. . . . And whan the holy grayle had be borne thurgh the halle thenne the holy vessel departed sodenly, that they wyste not where hit becam: thenne had they alle brethe to speke.’

So the man of books climbed the hill and presently stood within the beautiful hall with its glorious black marble pillars, sole remnant of the ancient stronghold. The round table (barbarously painted) now hangs upon the western wall, but it needed little imagination to picture it set down in the midst, covered with a fair silken cloth (’the Kynge yede unto the syege Peryllous and lyfte vp the clothe, and fonde there the name of Galahad’), and on it set rich flagons and dishes, strangely wrought and worked with precious stones, and all about the table the famous knights in costumes strange to our eyes. . . . Launcelot upon the king’s left, now glancing with fatherly pride upon the youthful Galahad (occupying the Siege Perilous), now smiling up at Queen Guenevere seated in the gallery with her maidens . . . . the walls hung with coarse dull-red cloth and bundles of sweet-smelling herbs hanging here and there, the floor strewn with fresh green rushes, gathered early that morning in the meadows below . . . . by the king’s side a snow-white brachet, a golden collar about its neck . . . . and so on and so on. Imagination forsooth! He must be dull indeed who, reading the book and standing in the hall, cannot picture the scene for himself.

It is useless to declaim that the great hall of the castle was not completed until the time of Henry the Third, that it did not exist at all before the Norman Conquest, that the castle occupied by King Arthur is more likely to have been on the site of the more ancient one which stood near the river (now known as Wolvesey), and that the great round table (eighteen feet in diameter, of stout old English oak, cunningly bolted together) was made during the former king’s reign and was never used by Arthur at all. What are such crude exactitudes to us? As well object to the heavy plate-armour worn by the knights everybody knows this to be an anachronism of nigh a thousand years. Romantic phantasy and scientific data are as far apart as the poles, and none but a fool would try to reconcile them. King Arthur feasted in the castle hall, says Malory, and so far as our book-hunter is concerned he shall feast there as often and as long as he likes.

There is a romance, too, about the name of this older castle. Wolvesey its scanty ruins are called to-day, and the antiquarians tell us that this was originally WULF’S EY, or ‘the wolf’s isle.’ Was it once the scene of a battue by the young bloods of the tribe to drive out some wolves that had established themselves there, a fierce fight with axes and spears at close quarters whilst the rest of the tribe lined the opposite banks and prevented any escape? Or was it the scene of some homeric combat seul a seul? Perhaps some day a wolf’s skull will be dug up there, with a stone axe sticking in it. But the history of it has gone for ever, had gone, probably, long centuries before King Kynegils found it a strong site for his castle.

It was at Wolvesey that King Alfred himself is said to have penned some part of the Saxon Chronicle now treasured in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was a true book-lover, this great English king, and it is to the school of illuminators which arose later in the ‘new minster’ by St. Swithun’s that we are indebted for some of the most beautiful examples of mediaeval art that have come down to us. The Golden Book of Edgar, Bede’s ’Ecclesiastical History’ in the Cathedral library and the exquisitely illuminated ‘benedictional’ of St. AEthelwold possessed by the Duke of Devonshire, all these were produced before the end of the tenth century by the artists who laboured so patiently in the Scriptorium beside those peaceful meadows. For two centuries the Winchester school of illuminators was renowned throughout the western world.

It is a pleasant spot, this ancient city of Camelot, and I like to read that among the aldermen who assembled at the Tun Moot in bygone days were a pinder, a mole-catcher, and an ale-conner. A stout fellow, this last, for without his permission not a single barrel of beer could be broached. The business transacted at the Moot, we are told, was little more than to receive taxes, provide for the defence of the city, and settle disputes. After which the aldermen (with the permission of the ale-conner, it is to be presumed) proceeded to consume the ale allowed to them by custom immemorial at the rate of two gallons a man at each sitting. O témpora, O mores!

At one time, however, that kill-joy Edgar came near to causing an insurrection, for he ordained that all drinking-horns should have pegs set in them at regular intervals and that no man might drink below his peg. Thus were practically abolished those friendly drinking-bouts between Danes and English that did so much to rid the town of its northern intruders. Floreat Wintonia, and may it stand for ever to book-lovers and lovers of romance as the ideal of all that is knightly and kingly and romantic and hospitable.

It is to be feared, however, that the Spirit of Romance is now moribund if, indeed, it has not already passed away; and with it we are losing one of the most ennobling qualities in our nature. We pride ourselves nowadays in living in a ‘matter-of-fact’ age, by which we mean a practical, unromantic age. But is it a matter for so much pride after all? Granted that the benefits which have accrued to mankind during the past century and a half are worth all the Romance in the world; but is the relegation of Romance to the domain of History a sine qua non so far as progress is concerned? In our haste to get on we have tried to drive Romance and Progress in tandem, with steady-going Progress in the shafts; but having found that together they need skilful handling, we have unharnessed the leader and hitched him on behind, to be dragged along anyhow in our wake.

There must be many who regard the loss of romantic ideals as a matter for more than passing regret. Reverence, too, not only for our elders and betters but even for the great works of our predecessors, is going the way of its cousin, Romance. Recently, rambling over the Hampshire downs, our bookman toiled up the grassy bosom of this rolling land to a still loftier height whence on a clear day the Isle of Wight, nigh thirty miles away, can be distinguished. As he neared the top a mound came into view, one of those unmistakable monuments raised o’er the graves of the great chieftains of our ancient race. It was a most impressive spot, the highest point for many miles round, and the book-hunter wondered who he was that lay there in solemn majesty keeping watch through the long centuries over the land that once was his. On approaching closer the wayfarer was horrified to see that on the top of the mound, in the centre, there was a deep hole. Its import was obvious. The mortal remains of one who had lain for centuries in a grandeur befitting his lordly rank had been torn from their sepulchre, probably by some irreverent commoner, and were now doubtless exhibited to the vulgar gaze, in a glass case.

Doubtless the ghoul (for he that rifles tombs is none other) who perpetrated this enormity described himself as an archaeologist. Possibly he was of gentle birth and had received a University education. If so, so much the greater his crime, for he could not plead ignorance. Surely no seriously minded person can urge that the knowledge thus gained as to ancient methods of burial, age of the remains, and so on, warranted such sacrilege. We can only hope that the chieftain was granted five minutes with the archaeologist when that individual at length entered the land of shadows. Doubtless the archaeologist had no qualms whatever, and slept soundly in the belief that by his ‘researches’ he had wrought great things for mankind; but when he encountered the chieftain it is unlikely that they would see eye to eye. ’Happy are they who deal so with men in this world that they are not afraid to meet them in the next,’ and happier still are they who deal so reverently with the earthly memorials of the dead, that there may be many to speak in their favour when they approach the Great Tribunal.

This particular form of irreverence, however, has been a byword throughout all the ages; civilisation and education have done little to check it, possibly because the romantic spirit which forbids such crimes is born, not made. King Arthur’s bones were dug up in the twelfth century. ’Mummie is become Merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharoah is sold for balsoms,’ wrote Sir Thomas Browne five hundred years later. In 1788 the massive stone coffin which held the remains of our illustrious King Alfred was discovered facing the High Altar at Hyde Abbey, Winchester, whither they had been translated in 1110. The coffin was broken in pieces, the bones found in it were scattered, and the lead enveloping the remains was sold by the workmen. A stone from the wrecked tomb, bearing the name AELFRED, was carried off to Cumberland as a curio. Hyde Abbey was razed to make way for a county Bridewell. ’At almost every stroke of the mattock,’ relates an eye-witness, ’some antient sepulchre or other was violated.’ Examples of such desecrations can be multiplied without number. The Great Alaric was wise indeed when he had the course of a river changed so that his bones, when lying at the bottom of it, might never be disturbed.

Our ancient laws dealt sternly with this matter. ’If any man shall dig up a body that has already been buried,’ ruled Henry the First, ’he shall be WARGUS,’ that is, banished from his district as a rogue. ’Malice provoketh not to dig up tombes and graves,’ wrote an unknown Elizabethan scholar, commenting on this; ’and though it should, yet religion doth now restraine it, by reason it is counted sacriledge to violate anythinge in churches or churchyards. Covetousness made some to dig up the dead, because ornaments, jewels, or money, were in times past buried with many; but now that custome seasing, no man for desire of gaine is invited to commit this offence, and it now being generally reputed a most vile acte, no man will presume to transgresse these lawes, and every man is a law to himself therein.’ But in this ‘enlightened’ age, when we are held to be above the need of such legislation, there is nothing to prevent the archaeologist from practising his hobby where and when he please so long as he avoids the churchyards. ‘Tush,’ he cries, ’here lies an ancient heathen who was not even buried in consecrated ground. We may find some curious relics buried with him. Up with his bones.’

‘Freedom for all men’ may be a glorious motto, yet when we view these crimes (and the carved initials which deface so many of our most sacred monuments) we cannot but muse that there are many who should never be free at least from the restraint of discipline. ’None can love freedom heartily, but good men: the rest love not freedom, but licence.’