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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

King Arthur's fame is not dependent on his ancestry


What,

then, is this Arthur's character? Looking at him as he sits astride his steed, yonder at Camelot, with his visor up, he is seen manhood at its prime. A ruddy face, with beard of gold, holding the sun as harvests do. Tourneys done, the king is turned battleward, where he is to die; and a man's picture comes to have special value at his death. When the wounded king is borne by Bedivere across the echoing crags toward the black funeral barge, we see him again, full in the face, and remember him always.

King Arthur was a self-made man. His birth was held to be uncertain. "Is he Uther's son?" was on many a lip. So men yet sometimes hold to some poor question of ancestry when worth, evident as light, fronts them. Some there are who live in so narrow a mood as to ask always "Where?" and never "What?" when the latter is God's unvarying method of estimation. This quest for ancestry for Arthur is of service to us as showing he had not empire ready to his hand. His kingdom did not make him; he made his kingdom; or, to give the entire history, he made himself and his kingdom. And this is oft-repeated history. When a man makes a kingdom, he first made himself. He does two things. Might goes not single, loves not solitude, but makes itself company. Milton made himself before he made the Bible epic of the world. He wrought himself and his complex history into his Iliad of heavenly battle. Souls have, in a true sense, a beaten path to tread.

There is a highway worn to ruts and dust by travel of the great men's feet. And Arthur had much company, if he knew it not. Such men seem alone, though if they saw all their companionships they would know they walked on in a goodly company and great. Greatness has many fellowships, as stars have; and stars have fellowship of mountains and woods, and kindred stars, and waters where star-shadows lie, and oceans where galaxies tumble like defeated angels. All greatness is self-made. Names are bequeathed us, so much is borrowed. Character and value are self-made. Gold has intrinsic worth. Man has not, but makes his worth by the day's labor of his hands.

This provision is God's excellent antidote to dissatisfaction with one's estate. If worth could be handed down, like name or fortune, one might as well be a pasture-field, to pass from hand to hand as chattel, instead of man. Far otherwise God's plan. Each spirit works out, and must work out, his own destiny. Destinies are not ready-made but hand-made. King Arthur's fame is not dependent on his ancestry, but on himself. Ancestry we can not control; self we can. Tennyson, though part of a hereditary system, sees with perfect clearness how ancestry accounts for no man, and how every man must make his own room in the world; how nobility depends, not on a family's past, but on the individual's present; how wealth and service are the credentials of character society will accept, and the only credentials. This view is scarcely English, but is fully American. And Tennyson was not sympathetic with America. Democracies possessed not the flavor of the fruit he loved. When, however, the biography of greatness is to be written, who writes the story, if he write it truly, must tell a story of democracy. Tennyson is unconscious democrat when he writes Arthur's biography, because as poet he saw. His intuitions led him. He spoke, not as a lover of a certain social and political system, but as a discerner of spirits. The poet is not his best as a planned philosophizer; for in that role he becomes self-conscious; but is at his best when the wheel of his burning spirit, revolving as the planets do, throws off sparks or streams of fire. To the accuracy of this observation witness both Browning and Tennyson. When they were "possessed," as the Delphic oracle would say, they marched toward truth like an invincible troop. Truth seemed the missing half of their own sphere, toward which, by a subtle and lordly gravitation, they swung. When Tennyson's instincts speak, he is democrat; when his reason and his prejudice (for he was surcharged with both) speak, he is hot aristocrat. When he is biographer for royal Arthur, his instinct speaks, and his conviction holds that character and deeds do and shall count for more than blood; and this is no isolated idea advanced touching Arthur, but is prevalent throughout his verse. In "Lady Clara Vere de Vere," his heart speaks, full of eagerness, saying:


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