Sir Thomas Malory: The Critical Heritage

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F.J. Furnivall


Frederick James Furnivall (1825-1910) was the energetic editor of several Arthurian texts among a number of other medieval and Elizabethan editions. Founder of several literary societies including the Early English Text Society, he planned an edition of Caxton’s Malory for the EETS in the early 1860s, but the project was eventually abandoned. His references to Malory in the introductions to other Arthurian editions reflect typical attitudes of the period, dismissive of Malory’s constructional skills but admiring of tone and style. As may be seen in the second selection below, Furnivall was the first to point out in detail the verbal similarities between Malory’s concluding chapters and the stanzaic Morte Arthur and to suggest that Malory borrowed from the poem.

(a) Queste del Saint Graal (London: Roxburghe Club, 1864), pp. iii-vii

…Syr Thomas Maleore, in his most pleasant jumble and summary of the Arthur Legends, has, with a true instinct, abstracted the Quest at much greater length than the other portions of the story, rightly recognising its greater beauty and deeper spiritual meaning. Well does he—or Caxton rather, perhaps—finish it with these words, ‘Thus endeth thistory of the Sancgreal that was breuely drawen oute of Frensshe in to Englysshe, the which is a story cronycled for one of the truest and the holyest that is in this world, the whiche is the xvii book’ (chapter 29 to chapter 104 (both inclusive) of Part III. in the later editions).

I find this preference of his, and other men’s, wholly justified; for in the Quest is no question of exalting the Kelt above the Saxon, the Briton above the Roman, or of narrating the effort of an impure king to establish as a model for the world a Society in which his own incest has sown the seeds of corruption: not for these things does the Quest-writer strive: he sets before men the Lifeblood of God, and the light of His presence as the highest prizes for earthly


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