The Story of Merlin by Unknown

Merlin was a King in early Britain; he was also an Enchanter. No one knows who were his parents, or where he was born; but it is said that he was brought in by the white waves of the sea, and that, at the last, to the sea he returned.

When Merlin was King of Britain, it was a delightful island of flowery meadows. His subjects were fairies, and they spent their lives in singing, playing, and enjoyment. The Prime Minister of Merlin was a tame wolf. Part of his kingdom was beneath the waves, and his subjects there were the mermaids. Here, too, everyone was happy, and the only want they ever felt was of the full light of the sun, which, coming to them through the water, was but faint and cast no shadow. Here was Merlin’s workshop, where he forged the enchanted sword Excalibur. This was given to King Arthur when he began to reign, and after his life was through it was flung into the ocean again, where it will remain until he returns to rule over a better kingdom.

Merlin was King Arthur’s trusted counselor. He knew the past, present, and the future; he could foretell the result of a battle, and he had courage to rebuke even the bravest Knights for cowardice. On one occasion, when the battle seemed to be lost, he rode in among the enemy on a great white horse, carrying a banner with a golden dragon, which poured forth flaming fire from its throat. Because of this dragon, which became King Arthur’s emblem, Arthur was known as Pendragon, and always wore a golden dragon on the front of his helmet.

Merlin was always fond of elfin tricks. He would disguise himself—now as a blind boy, again as an old witch, and once more as a dwarf. There was a song about him all over Britain, which began as follows:

“Merlin, Merlin, where art thou going
So early in the day, with thy black dog?
Oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi!
Oi! oi! oi! oi! oi!”

This is the way the early British explained the gathering and arrangement of the vast stones of Stonehenge. After a famous battle had been won there, Merlin said: “I will now cause a thing to be done that will endure to the world’s end.” So he bade the King, who was the father of King Arthur, to send ships and men to Ireland. Here he showed him stones so great that no man could handle, but by his magic art he placed them upon the boats and they were borne to England. Again by his magic he showed how to transport them across the land; and after they were gathered he had them set on end, “because,” he said, “they would look fairer than as if they were lying down.”

Now, strange to say, the greatest friend of Merlin was a little girl. Her name was Vivian; she was twelve years old, and she was the daughter of King Dionas. In order to make her acquaintance, Merlin changed himself into a young Squire, and when she asked him who was his master, he said: “It is one who has taught me so much that I could here erect for you a castle, and I could make many people outside to attack it and inside to defend it.”

“I wish I could thus disport myself,” answered Vivian. “I would always love you if you could show me such wonders.”

Then Merlin described a circle with his wand, and went back and sat down beside her. Within a few hours the castle was before her in the wood, Knights and ladies were singing in its courtyard, and an orchard in blossom grew about.

“Have I done what I promised?” asked Merlin.

“Fair, sweet friend,” said she, “you have done so much for me that I am always yours.”

Vivian became like a daughter to the old magician, and he taught her many of the most wonderful things that any mortal heart could think of—things past, things that were done, and part of what was to come.

You have been told in Tennyson that Vivian learned so many of Merlin’s enchantments that in his old age she took advantage of him and put him to sleep forever in the hollow of a tree. But the older legend gives us better news. He showed her how to make a tower without walls so they might dwell there together alone in peace. This tower was “so strong that it may never be undone while the world endures.” After it was finished he fell asleep with his head in her lap, and she wove a spell nine times around his head so that he might rest more peacefully.

But the old enchanter does not sleep forever. Here in the forest of Broceliande, on a magic island, Merlin dwells with his nine bards, and only Vivian can come or go through the magic walls. It was toward this tower, so the legends say, that, after the passing of King Arthur, Merlin was last seen by some Irish monks, sailing away westward, with the maiden Vivian, in a boat of crystal, beneath the sunset sky.