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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Then vice shows itself hideous vice

of earth's ills and increase

of earth's fairer provinces. Edward the Confessor was a monk, wearing a king's crown and refusing to discharge a king's offices, and thought himself a saint by such omission, when what God and the realm wanted and needed was a man to rule and suffer for the common weal. Arthur was not a thing "enskied and sainted;" rather a wholesome man, whose duty lay in working for men. Sir Percivale became a monk; other knights returned no mote, thus spilling the best blood of the table round. Meantime the king's enemies multiplied, and these visionaries decimated the ranks of opposition to the wrong; but come what would, King Arthur served. An appeal to him for help found answer, though treasons plotted at his back. As to his last battle, though his heart was breaking, he marched nor paused, perceiving, so long as he was king, he must uphold the order of the State. He was no dilettante. Great service called him, and he thought he heard the voice of God. Duty is a ponderous word in Arthur's lexicon. In "Lucretius," Tennyson shows the moral apathy of materialism by letting us look on at a suicidal death, and hear the cry, half-rage and half-despair, "What is duty?" and in that fated cry, atheism has run its course. Here it empties into its dead sea, and materialism finds its only possible outcome. This materialist of long ago is the mouthpiece for his fraters in these last days. There is one speech, and that a speech of dull despair, for those who say there is no God; and for them
who have no God, there is no duty, for duty is born of hold on God. King Arthur, sure of God, therefore never asking, "What is duty?" but in its stead urges the nobler query, "Where is duty?" and so infused himself into the blood of empire; aye, and more, into the spiritual blood of uncalendared centuries.

And King Arthur was pure. Vice is so often glorified and offers such chromo tints to the eye as that many superficial folks think virtue tame and vice exhilarating. Here lies the difficulty. They look on those parts which are contiguous to vice, but are really not parts of it. In the self of vice is nothing attractive. Lying, lust, envy, hate, debauchery,--which of these is not tainted? Penuriousness is vice unadorned, and who thinks it fair? Like Spenser's "false Duessa," it is revolting. Drunkenness, bestiality, spleen,--what roseate views shall you take of these? Who admires Caliban? And Caliban is vice, standing in its naked vileness and vulgarity. Man, meant for manhood, self-reduced to brutehood,--that is drunkenness. In an era when Dumas by fascinating fictions was making vice ingratiating, Tennyson was rendering virtue magnificent. Can any person of just judgment rise from reading "Idyls of the King" without feeling a repugnance toward vice, like a nausea, and a magnetism in virtue? An admiration for Arthur becomes intense. The poet draws no moral from his parable: doing what is better, he puts morals into one's blood. While never railing at Guinivere, he makes us ashamed of her and for her, and does the same with Lancelot. He makes virtue eloquent. King Arthur is neither drunkard nor libertine, therein contradicting the pet theories of many people's heroes. He loves cleanness and is clean. He demands in man a purity equal to woman's; setting up one standard of mortals and not two. The George Fourth style of king, happily, Arthur is not; for George was a shame to England and to men at large, while Arthur is a glory, burning on above the cliffs of Wales, like some brave sunrise whose colors never fade. To men and women, he is one law of virtue and one law of love. When the years have spent their strength, then vice shows itself hideous vice. The glamour vanished, no one can love or plead for wickedness. Virtue is wholly different; for to it the ages burn incense each year, rendering its loveliness more apparent and bountiful. Virtue grows in beauty, like some dear face we love. Heroism is virtue; manliness is virtue; devotion is virtue. Sum up those remembered deeds of which the centuries speak, and you will find them noble, virtuous. Seen as it is, and with the light of history on its face, vice is uncomely as a harlot's painted face. King Arthur is virile and he is noble, engaging and fascinating us like a romance written by a master, full of persuasive sweetness and enduring help.

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