Sir Thomas Malory: The Critical Heritage

By Marylyn Parins | Go to book overview

Romance. Sir Thomas Malory, indeed, compiled, from various French authorities, his celebrated Morte d’Arthur, indisputably the best Prose Romance the language can boast.


10.

Early nineteenth-century scholars and bibliographers

A.


Joseph Ritson

1802

Joseph Ritson (1752-1803), a precise and careful editor and scholar, published several collections of early ballads and romances. In addition, he wrote a Life of Arthur, published posthumously in 1825, which examined the evidence for an historical Arthur. His brief comments on Malory appeared in the ‘Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy’, prefixed to Ancient Engleish Metrical Romanceës (London: William Bulmer & Company, 1802), pp. cv-cvi and cxlii-cxliv.

(a)

The fragment of a metrical romance, intitle’d Le Mort Arthure, preserve’d in the Harleian MSS. Num. 2252, and of which Humphrey Wanley has say’d that the writeër ‘useth many Saxon or obsolete words;’ and doctor Percy, fancyfully and absurdly, that ‘it seems to be quoted in Syr Bevis,’ is, in fact, nothing more than part of the Morte Arthur of Caxton turn’d into easey alternate verse, a very unusual circumstance, no doubt, in the time of Henry the seventh, to which Wanley properly allots it. The antiquateed words use’d by this versifyer are manifestly affected. Caxtons book is the onely one known by the name of La mort D’Arthur, which he took as he found it.

(b)

…Caxton, our first printer, had so little taste for poetry, that he never printed one single metrical romance, nor, in fact, any poetical

-81-

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