King Arthur

by William A. Quayle

Perhaps no reader of the world's literature would deny that letters and life had been indefinitely enriched by Alfred Tennyson.

How ideas affect life when once they have become participants therein is the bar at which all ideas must stand for judgment. Carbonic-acid gas enters the lungs, fills them, and blows out the lamp of life. Common air enters the lungs, crimsons the blood, exhilarates the spirit, gives elasticity to step and thought and pulse; is health, and pours oil into the lamp of life whereby the flame burns higher, like watch-fires on evening hills. One air brought death; one air brought more abundant life. What do ideas effect, and how do they affect him who entertains them is the final question and the final test. Now, our earth is always trying to grow men. Not harvests nor flowers nor forests, but man, is what the earth is proudest of. On transparent June days, standing upon the cliffs of the Isle of Man, I have seen the golden wheatfields on the hills of Wales; but heaven, looking earth's way, is oblivious to our tossing plumes of corn or tawny billows of the fields of wheat. Heaven's concern is in our crop of manhood; and ships that ply between the shores of earth and shores of heaven are never laden with gold or silver ingots, as Spanish galleons were, nor with glancing silks nor burning gems, but are forever freighted with elect spirits. Men and women are the commodity earth grows that heaven wants.

What helps the growth of man is good; what hurts the growth of man is bad. When one has become a shadow, lost to human eyes, test him with this acid. Did he do good? If he did evil, let his name perish; if he did good, let his name blaze in the galaxy among the inextinguishable stars. If he has made the growth of manhood easier and its method more apparent; if he has opened eyes to see the best, and spurred men to attempt the best they saw; if he has enamored them of virtue as aforetime they were enamored of vice,—trust me, that man was good. He will endure, and be passed from age to age, like rare traditions through centuries, till time shall die. Submit Alfred Tennyson to this test. Is virtue more apparent, more lovely, and of more luxuriant growth, like tropic forests, because of him? But one answer is possible, and that answer is, "King Arthur." To our moral riches, Victor Hugo added "Jean Valjean;" Dickens, "Sidney Carton;" Thackeray, "Colonel Newcome;" Browning, "Caponsacchi;" Tennyson, "King Arthur," who stands and will stand as Tennyson's vision of manhood at its prime.

The theme of this paper, then, is "King Arthur," being a philosophy of manhood as outlined by Alfred Tennyson; and the purpose of this essay is to bring into vital relation to King Arthur the totality of argument for manhood which Tennyson has constructed in his cycle of poems, thus taking into our field of vision, not simply "The Idyls of the King," adequate as they may be, but, in addition, "Enoch Arden," "Ulysses," "The Vision of Sin," "The Palace of Art," "Maud," "Columbus," "Locksley Hall," "The Lotos-Eaters," and "In Memoriam," and all poems which, by negation or affirmation, may suggest or enforce a thought regarding the furnishing of the soul.

In those idyls clustering about King Arthur, Tennyson has patently purposed painting the figure of a perfect man. How well he has executed his design depends on himself much, on the beholder much. Onlookers differ in opinion. Painters have their clientage. Poets are not omniscient; neither are we, a thing we are prone to forget. For myself, I confess not to see with those who deride the king, nor yet with those who think him statuesque, as if shaped, not out of flesh, but out of marble. He is not incredible, nor is he a shadow, stalking gaunt and battle-clad across the crags that fringe the Cornish sea. Not a few among us approximate perfection in character as blameless as Arthur's. I myself profess to have seen a King Arthur, and to have held high converse with him through many years. Whiteness of life is not an episode foreign to biography. There are many lives running white toward heaven as I have seen a path across the moonlit sea. Not to be credulous is well; not to be incredulous is better, when heavenly visions and heavenly incarnations are the theme. This is affirmed, that King Arthur is not more unreal than others Tennyson delineates. His art lacks the power to flood his people's veins with blood to plethora, with such bounding vitality as marks Shakespeare's creations. They lack, sometimes, color on the cheek and lip and sunlight in the eyes. His characters are as if seen in mist. Our failing is, we give credence to fleshly instinct and lust and failure in ideal more readily than to wise manliness and stalwart and heroic worth. But Enoch Arden is no dream. Arthur is no myth. I know a man whose heart is as pure, whose conduct as above reproach, and whose words are as big with charity, and thoughts as foreign to hypocrisy, as Arthur's were; for Arthur is not dead. They did not dream who said, "Arthur returns." He hides his name, lest he become spectacular, a raree-show, for mobs to follow and shout hoarse about; but he is here. I met him yesterday; and to-morrow I shall walk with him by the river, where the stream makes music, and the trees sing in minors, and the shadows darken on the grass.

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:

  "Howe'er it be, it seems to me,
    'T is only noble to be good.
  Kind hearts are more than coronets,
    And simple faith than Norman blood."

Nor is the Laureate's subsequent acceptance of the peerage a retraction of these earlier sentiments; for he did but accept the ribbon of an order which was part of the political system of his native land. Himself was self-made. Who were the Tennysons? Who are the Tennysons? He made a house. And in the list of lords, does any one think there is a name whose device one would rather wear than that of Lord Tennyson? Holland has this bit of verse, whose application is apparent:

  "Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
    But we build the ladder by which we rise
    From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,
  And mount to its summit round by round."

Genius does the same. The stairs each generation climbed are rotten at its death, so that no foot's weight can be borne upon them afterward. Man builds his own stairway greatnessward. In the Idyl of the King, entitled "Gareth and Lynette," is application of this thought of manhood above title or name or blood. Worth, the main thing, is the theme of the idyl.

Hear Gareth call, like voice of trumpets,

  "Let be my name; until I make my name
  My deeds will speak."

He seemed, and was not, a kitchen knave. He seemed not, and he was, a knight of valor and of purity and might, of purpose and of succor. Silly Lynette might rain her superficial insults on him like a winter's sleet—this hindered not his service. He knew to wait, and dare, and do. His fame was in him. A great life bears not its honors on its back, as mountains do their pines, but in his heart, as women do their love. In Tennyson's concept of manhood, worth counts, not rank. To this argument, words from "In Memoriam" are a contribution:

    "As some divinely-gifted man,
    Whose life in low estate began
  And on a simple village green;

  Who breaks his birth's invidious bar,
    And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
    And breasts the blows of circumstance,
  And grapples with his evil star;

  Who makes by force his merit known,
    And lives to clutch the golden keys,
    To mold a mighty State's decrees,
  And shape the whisper of the throne;

  And moving on from high to higher,
    Becomes on Fortune's crowning slope
    The pillar of a people's hope,
  The center of a world's desire."

Such words seem as if fallen from the lips of Lincoln in a dream. "Aylmer's Field" is a protest, written in grief and tears and blood against the iniquity of ancestry as divorced from the pure course of nobler love. God made of one blood all kindreds of the earth, and means to mix this blood till time shall die. Hearts give scant heed to heraldry. Life is wider than a baron's field. Arthur Hallam, whose epitaph is the sweetest ever written, and bears title of "In Memoriam,"—Arthur Hallam, so greatly loved and missed, was never nobleman in genealogy, but was full prince in youth and ideality and purity and genius and promise, worth more than all the ancestries of buried kings. More: Tennyson was as much self-made as King Arthur. He made a house which rose to the sound of poet's lute, rehearsing, in our days, the story of Orpheus in the remote yesterdays. So myths come to be history. And who would not rather be author of "The Lotos-Eaters," and "Oenone," and "Ulysses," and "Enoch Arden," and "In Memoriam" than to have been possessed, with Sir Aylmer Aylmer, of

        "Spacious hall,
  Hung with a hundred shields, the family tree
  Sprung from the midriff of a prostrate king?"

King Arthur's knights were novi viri. Whence came Lancelot and
Geraint and Sir Percivale? And how came they, save as

  "Rising on their dead selves
  To higher things?"

Arthur, at whose back march all the legions of Tennyson's poetry celebrative of manhood,—Arthur asserts the nobleness of manhood, irrespective of the accidents of wealth or birth. Many scenes in Tennyson are taken from the cottage. "The May Queen," "The Gardener's Daughter," "The Grandmother," "Rizpah," and, above all, "Enoch Arden," are poems showing how poetry dwells in the hearts of common folks. The verse of books they may not know; the verse of sentiment they are at home with. Birth is not a term in the proportion of worth; and I hold Arthur one of the strongest voices of our century assertive of the sufficiency of manhood. Self-made and greatly made was this king at Camelot.

King Arthur was optimist. He expected good in men, was not suspicious. "Interpreting others by his own pure heart," you interject, "He was duped." The harlot Vivien called him fool, and despised him; but she was fallen, shameful, treacherous, and, what was worse, so fallen as not to see the beauty in untarnished manhood, which is the last sign of turpitude. Many bad men have still left an honest admiration for a goodness themselves are alien to. Vivien was so lost as that goodness, manhood, knightliness, sweet and tall as mountain pines, made no appeal to her. Filth is dearer to some than mountain air. She was such. A fallen woman, given over to her fall, is horrible in depravity. Merlin saw that her estimate of Arthur was the measure of herself. Beatrix Esmond did not appreciate Henry Esmond; for the Pretender was her measure of soul. Though to her praise be it said that, in her old age, Esmond dead, she thought of him as women think of Christ. Arthur believed in men, supposing them to be transcripts of himself; and in so doing in details, he erred. His philosophy of goodness was erroneous; for he held to the theory of goodness by environment, fencing knights and ladies about with his own fine honor and chastity, supposing pure environment would make them pure, forgetting how God's kingdom is always within. Environment is not gifted to make men good. Arthur believed men pure, nor was he wholly wrong. The men about him gave the lie to his expectation; but these moral ragamuffins did not invalidate the king's faith. The road taken was not the world. Lancelot and Guinevere and Gawain and Modred, false? False! Pelleas, seeing Ettarre lustful and untrue, digging rowels into his steed and crying, "False! false!" was not wise as Arthur. The optimist is right. Some were false, 't is true; but others were true as crystal streams, that all night long give back the heavens star for star. There were and are true men and women. Our neighborhood, if so be it is foul, is not the earth. Enid, and Elaine, and Sir Galahad, and Sir Percivale, and Gareth, and others not designated, were pure. Snows on city streets are stained with soot and earth; snows on the mountains are as white as woven of the beams of noon. King Arthur, expecting the better of the world, in so doing followed the example of his Savior, Christ, who was most surely optimist. King Arthur, in his midnight hour, when knight and wife and Lancelot deserted him, when his "vast pity almost made him die," still kept the lamp of hope aflame and sheltered from the wind, lest it flame, flare, and die. His fool still loved him and clasped his feet; and bold Sir Bedivere staid with him through the thunder shock of that last battle in the west. Not all were false. Some friends abide. Though his application was not always wise, his attitude was justified. Having done his part, he had not been betrayed; for he was still victor. Lancelot and Guinevere were defeated, ruined, as were Gawain and Ettarre, who, as they wake, find across their naked throats the bare sword of Pelleas; then Ettarre knew what knight was knightly. Goodness wins in the long battle, though supposed defeated in the petty frays, Tennyson makes his ideal man an optimist. "Maud" is a study in pessimism. The lover's blood is tainted with insanity. He raves, is suspicious, is at war with all things and all men; rails at the social system, not from any broad sympathy with better things, but from a strident selfishness, rasping and self-proclamatory, lacking elevation, save as his love puts wings beneath him for a moment and lifts him, as eagles billow up their young; is weak, and tries to cover weakness up by ranting. We pity, then despise him, then pity him once more, and in sheer charity think him raving mad. Stand Maud's lover alongside King Arthur, and how splendid does King Arthur look! The lover was pessimist and wrong; Arthur was optimist and, in his temper, right. Though hacked at by the careless or vicious swords of cumulating hatreds, underestimations, selfishness, and lewdness of lesser and cruder souls, knowing, as he did, how God is on goodness' side, knew, therefore, who is on God's side keeps hope in good, believing better things. Those who, thinking themselves shrewd, and are perennially suspicious, do really lack in shrewdness, lacking depth. The far view is the serene view. Pelleas, too, is a study in lost faith. He was near-sighted in his moral life, and so, in losing faith in Ettarre, lost faith in womanhood, a conclusion not justified from the premises; and you hear him in the wild night, crying as beasts of the desert cry, and what he hisses as you pass is, "I have no sword." Arthur kept his sword till time came to give it back to the "arm clothed in white samite." He threw not his sword away until his hand could hold it no longer. Hands and swords must keep company while life and strength remain, and who breaks or throws sword away from sheer despair has lost sight of duty, in so far that our business is to do battle valiantly and constantly for righteousness, and keep the sword at play in spite of dubious circumstances. Battles are often on the point of being won when they look on the point of being lost, as was the case with Pelleas, whose hope died just at the hour when hope ought to have begun shouts befitting triumph; for that night when he lay his naked sword across Ettarre's naked neck, she, waking and finding whose sword was lying, like a mad menace, on her breast, recovered her womanhood, loved the knight, who came and went, and slew her not, as his right was, and loved him to her death; while he, the cause of her reformation, swung through the gloomy night with faith and courage lost. He should have held his faith, however his trust in one had been shamed and sunk. Faith in one snuffed out is not in logic to lose faith; for all are more than one. Trust Arthur; he was right. Pessimism is no sane mood. All history conspires to justify his attitude. Himself inspires optimism in us, and the three queens wait for him, and the black funeral barge that bears him, not to his funeral, but to some fair city where there seems one voice, and that a voice of welcome to this king; and besides all this, his name lights our nights till now, as if he were some sun, pre-empting night as well as day. Has not his optimism been justified a hundred-fold? Do those who view the present only, think to see all the landscape where deeds reap victories? Time is so essential in the propagandism of good. Time is the foe of evil, but sworn ally of good. God owns the future.

King Arthur considered life a chance for service. Life is no abstraction, no theoretical science; rather concrete, experimental. Magician Merlin's motto, too. We may think or act, though this of conduct. We may think or act, though this disjunctive is wrong, wholly wrong. [Transcriber's note: Something seems to have gone wrong with the typesetting of the previous three sentences. The first sentence makes no sense, and the second two both start with the same seven words.] There is no separation between act and thought in a wise estimate. They are not enemies, but friends. We are to think and act. We are, in a word, not to dream or do, but dream and do, the dreaming being prelude to the doing. Who dreams not is metallic. Dreams redeem deeds from being stereotyped, and make motions sinuous and graceful as a bird's flight across the sky; and when they impregnate conduct, deed becomes instinct with a melody thrilling and sweet as a wood-thrush note. Arthur was no mystic. He did not dwell apart from men; he was a part of men. "The Mystic" is an admirable conception of the soul, living remote from society and action, seeing our world as through a smoke. Mysticism has its truth and power. Many of us bluster and do, and do not stand apart and dwell enough with the unseen.

  "Always there stood before him, night and day,
  The imperishable presences serene,
  One mighty countenance of perfect calm,"

And

"Angels have talked with him and showed him thrones."

So much in him is needed to a soul hungry to be fortified for danger, duty, manliness. Despise not a mystic's brooding, but recall that brooding is not terminal; that he who broods alone has left life wearying around him as he found it, while his need was to change the circumambient air of thought and action into something better than it was; and for such change he must associate him with the lives he fain would help. Arthur brooded and dreamed, and saw the Christ, and then conceived his worthiest service to be to interpret the What he heard and Whom he saw to men; and in pursuance of such purpose he lived with knights, ladies, soldiers, and countrymen. Him they saw and knew. "St. Simeon Stylites" is an application of another side of the same thought. Heroism is in this pillar saint, but a mistaken heroism. He stands,

"A sign betwixt the meadow and the cloud."

But to what purpose? Hear him call,

"I smote them with the cross,"

and feel assured from such a word that he who spoke, had he been where the battle raged, had left his stroke on many a shield; for his words have the crash of a Crusader's ax. What a loss it was to men that St. Simeon came not down from his pillar, clothed himself, made himself clean and wholesome, instead of filthy and revolting, and dwelt with people for whom Christ died. A religious recluse is a religious ignoramus, since he does not know that the one-syllable word in the vocabulary of Christ is, "Be of use." The problem of living, as Arthur saw vividly, was not how to get yourself through the world unhurt, but how to do the most for some one besides yourself while you are in the world; and this attitude is otherness, altruism. Nurture strength to use. Pass your might on. Knighthood was to serve everybody else first, after the fashion of the Founder of knighthood, even Christ, "who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister." King Arthur served. Play battles stung him not to prowess, but, as Lancelot saw, in the actual battle, the hero was not Lancelot, but Arthur. May be a too deep seriousness was in him. I think it probable. He had been more masterful in wielding men had he been colored more by laughter and jest. We must not take ourselves, nor yet the world, with too continuous seriousness. There are intervals between battles when warriors may rest, and intervals in the stress of deeds and sorrow where room is given for the caress and wholesome jest. That arch-jester, Jack Falstaff, had much reason with him. We like him, despite himself, and despite ourselves, because there was in him such comradery. Though he was boisterous, yet was he jovial. All characters, save Christ, have limitations. Arthur had his. Lack of sprightliness was his mistake and lack. But the work to be done fills him with might unapproachable, so that,

          "Like fire, he meets the foe,
  And strikes him dead for thine and thee."

He is no play soldier, and foemen mark his sword as a thing to fear. A mutilated herdsman, rushing into Caerlaen, and shaking bloody story from his hideous wounds, which, Arthur hearing, though a tourneyment would blow its bugles on the plain erelong, forgets the coming joust, remembering only a wrong to be avenged, and evil-doers to be punished or destroyed, so they may no longer be a noxious presence in the land, and goes, and at tourney's close comes back, through the dark night, wet with rain; but he has cleansed the hostile land of villains on that day. In human nature is a bias to escape the world, to get out of the turmoil, to seek cloisters of quiet, which bias "The Holy Grail" attacks. Arthur was no friend to the pursuit of the grail; not that he loves not, with a passion white as sun's flame, the good and pure, but that he has sagacity to see such quest will scatter the round table and its fellowship, and would dispeople his forces, whose presence makes for peace and sovereignty in all his realm and compels the sovereignty of law. Him, their king, these errant knights heeded not, so enticing and noble seemed the warfare they espoused, and thought their sovereign cold and calculating, while, in fact, he knew them for visionaries. He was right. Without them he was bankrupt in strength to compel social betterment. The visionary, in so far as he is simply visionary, is foe to progress; for progress comes by battle and by association in affairs, and he who would be helper to the better life of man must mix with the currents of his time. Snowdrifts in the mountains and on the northern slopes that hold snows in their shadows for the summer's use; and dark mountain meadows, where fogs and rains soak every particle of sod, and waters percolate through the spongy root and soil to form bubbling streams; and the pines, whose shadows make a cool retreat where streams may not be drained dry by the sun; the silver threads of tributary brooks; the sponge of mountain mosses, which squeezes its cup of water into a larger laver,—all these seem remote from the broad river on whose flood merchants' fleets are slumbering, nor seem participants with these floodgates to the sea; yet are they adjuncts, though so far removed, and pay their tribute to the flood.

Their service was as pronounced and valuable as if they had been huge as Orontes. There is an absence which is presence, and there is a presence which is absence; and what is asked of all men, near or far, is that they be helpers to the general good. They must not, by intent or mistake, escape their share of the public burden.

A poet seems apart, and is not, but is to be esteemed a portion of this world's most turbulent life. To intend to have a share in this world's business is important. To shun the taking up your load when need is, is to be coward when your honor bids you be courageous. This means, be a citizen, neglect no office in that worthy relation; be not wandering knights, pursuing fire-flies, supposing them to be stars; but be as Arthur, who found the Holy Grail, and drained its sacramental wine in truest fashion, in "staying by the stuff;" in being statesman, soldier, defender of the weak, reformer, liver of a clean life in public place, builder of a State, negotiator of schemes which make for the diminution 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.

Besides, King Arthur was a religious man. This is the transparent explanation of his career. He is an attempted incarnation of the precepts and love of Christ. This long-vanished prince knew that if a king might but repeat the miracle of Jesus' life in his own history, he would have achieved kingship indeed. "Mea vita vota" was Dempster's motto,—a sentiment Arthur knew by heart. His life was owed to God, and right manfully he paid his debt. Arthur exalted God in his heart and court and on hard-fought field. So intense and vivid his sense of God, he reminds us of the Puritan; but the Puritan touched to beatific beauty by the interpretation of love God's Christ came to give. Tennyson always made much of God, saw Him immanent in every hope of human betterment, saying, as we remember and can not forget:

  "Our little systems have their day—
    They have their day and cease to be:
    They are but broken lights of thee;
  And thou, O Lord, art more than they."

"The Idyls of the King" and "In Memoriam" might felicitously be called treatises on theology written in verse. St. Augustine and Wesley were not more certainly theologians than this poet Laureate. The rest and help that come to men in prayer is burned into the soul in "Enoch Arden:"

  "And there he would have knelt, but that his knees
  Were feeble, so that falling prone he dug
  His fingers into the wet earth and prayed."

And

  "He was not all unhappy. His resolve
  Upbore him, and firm faith and evermore
  Prayer from a living source within the will,
  And beating up through all the bitter world,
  Like fountains of sweet water in the sea,
  Kept him a living soul."

And Arthur, dying, whispers:

        "More things are wrought by prayer
  Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
  Rise, like a fountain, for me night and day.
  For what are men better than sheep or goats
  That nourish a blind life within the brain,
  If knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
  Both for themselves and those that call them friend?
  For so the whole round world is every way
  Bound by gold chains about the feet of God."

No wonder is there if King Arthur was upheld: such faith makes impotence giant-strengthed. He does not tremble. The earth may know perturbations, but not he. To tournament or battle, or to death, he goes with smiling face. His trust upholds him. So good is faith. "In Memoriam" is the biography of doubt and faith at war. The battle waxes sore, but the day is God's. The battle ebbs to quiet. Calm after tempest. Tennyson could not stay in doubt. 'T is not a goodly land. If trepidation has white lip and cheek, 't is not forever. Living through an age of doubt, Tennyson, so sensitive to every current of thought as that he felt them all, and in that feeling and interpretation and strife for mastery over the doubt that kills, made his book, as Milton has it, "The precious life-blood of a master spirit;" and ends with:

  "Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me.

  For though from out our bourn of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
  I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
    When I have cross'd the bar."

"In Memoriam" is thought, King Arthur is action; and action is antidote for doubt. Charles Kingsley's advice,

"Do noble deeds, not dream them all day long,"

is always pertinent and reasonable. This is explanation of that profound saying of Jesus, "If any man will do my will, he shall know of the doctrine." Life is exegesis of Scripture. Who do God's will catch sight of God's face, and their hearts are helped. Lowell's "Sir Launfal" urges this same truth. He who, for weary and painful years, had haunted the world, seeking the Holy Grail and finding not the thing he sought, comes home discouraged to find in winter his castle had forgotten him, and he was left a wreck of what he had been in his better days; yet finds, in giving alms to a leprous beggar at his castle gate to whom he had denied alms in the spirit of alms when he set out to hunt the Holy Grail, that in so giving he found the Christ. Action helps God into the heart. Doubts are, many of them, brain-born and academical; and such, service helps to dispel. To Arthur, God was vital fact. To Him he held as tenaciously as to his sword; and he was comforted. All good things are included in religion, and all great things. If men become martyrs, they become at the same time functionaries in the palace of every worthy spirit. I suppose the hunger for discovery and knowledge are nothing other than the soul's hunger after God. He is the secret of great discontent. The soul wants God, and on the way to Him are astronomies, and literatures, and new-found hemispheres. Aspiration finds voice in Christianity. "Columbus," a poem of resonant music, speaks aspiration. Him—

  "Who pushed his prows into the setting sun,
  And made West East, and sailed the dragon's mouth,
  And came upon the mountain of the world,
  And saw the rivers roll from paradise,"—

him, God-inspired as himself holds, saying:

        "And more than once, in days
  Of doubt and cloud and storm, when drowning hope
  Sank all but out of sight, I heard His voice:
  Be not cast down. I lead thee by the hand;
  Fear not,—and I shall hear his voice again—
  I know that He has led me all my life,
  And I am not yet too old to work His will—
  His voice again."

And King Arthur finds God helps him into all things worth while.
Bravery, determination, kindness, purity, magnanimity, safe faith in
God's supremacy,—all spring about him as he walks as flowers about a
path in summer-time. Nothing good was foreign to him.

Christianity is the one philosophy of manhood in whose harness are no vulnerable parts. "The Palace of Art" presents the poet's perception of the failure of culture. Ethics, not aesthetics, compel manhood; and behind ethics, theology. God must live in life, if life shall put on goodness as a royal robe.

And such a man as Arthur has passed into the enduring substance of this world's best thought and purpose. We see him—not saw him. He is never past, but ever present. We see him dying, and with Sir Bedivere, who loved him, cry,

          "Thy name and glory cling
  To all high places, like a golden cloud,
  Forever!"