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King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

KING ARTHUR

_and the Knights of the Round Table_

EDITED BY RUPERT S. HOLLAND

GROSSET & DUNLAP

_Publishers_ NEW YORK

_Copyright, 1919, by George W. Jacobs & Company_

_Printed in the United States of America_

[Illustration: "This girdle, lords," said she, "is made for the most part of mine own hair, which, while I was yet in the world, I loved full well."]

INTRODUCTION

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table! What magic is in the words! How they carry us straight to the days of chivalry, to the witchcraft of Merlin, to the wonderful deeds of Lancelot and Perceval and Galahad, to the Quest for the Holy Grail, to all that "glorious company, the flower of men," as Tennyson has called the king and his companions! Down through the ages the stories have come to us, one of the few great romances which, like the tales of Homer, are as fresh and vivid to-day as when men first recited them in court and camp and cottage. Other great kings and paladins are lost in the dim shadows of long-past centuries, but Arthur still reigns in Camelot and his knights still ride forth to seek the Grail.

"No little thing shall be

The gentle music of the bygone years, Long past to us with all their hopes and fears."

So wrote the poet William Morris in _The Earthly Paradise_. And surely it is no small debt of gratitude we owe the troubadours and chroniclers and poets who through many centuries have sung of Arthur and his champions, each adding to the song the gifts of his own imagination, so building from simple folk-tales one of the most magnificent and moving stories in all literature.

This debt perhaps we owe in greatest measure to three men; to Chretien de Troies, a Frenchman, who in the twelfth century put many of the old Arthurian legends into verse; to Sir Thomas Malory, who first wrote out most of the stories in English prose, and whose book, the _Morte Darthur_, was printed by William Caxton, the first English printer, in 1485; and to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who in his series of poems entitled the _Idylls of the King_ retold the legends in new and beautiful guise in the nineteenth century.

The history of Arthur is so shrouded in the mists of early England that it is difficult to tell exactly who and what he was. There probably was an actual Arthur, who lived in the island of Britain in the sixth century, but probably he was not a king nor even a prince. It seems most likely that he was a chieftain who led his countrymen to victory against the invading English about the year 500. So proud were his countrymen of his victories that they began to invent imaginary stories of his prowess to add to the fame of their hero, just as among all peoples legends soon spring up about the name of a great leader. As each man told the feats of Arthur he contributed those details that appealed most to his own fancy and each was apt to think of the hero as a man of his own time, dressing and speaking and living as his own kings and princes did, with the result that when we come to the twelfth century we find Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his _History of the Kings of Britain_, describing Arthur no longer as a half-barbarous Briton, wearing rude armor, his arms and legs bare, but instead as a most Christian king, the flower of mediaeval chivalry, decked out in all the gorgeous trappings of a knight of the Crusades.


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