Sir Thomas Malory: The Critical Heritage

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to Lord Tennyson were we to condemn him for departing from the somewhat uncertain outlines of the ‘Morte d’Arthur.’ We must take the ‘Idylls of the King’ on their own merits. If the poet had been writing a tragedy on a theme that appears on the surface, at least, so admirably suited for tragedy, one cannot see that he would have gained anything by rejecting the incestuous birth of Mordred and its fatal consequences. But the ‘Idylls of the King’ are idylls; it is obvious that their greater simplicity is in accordance with the idyllic nature of the poetry. We are not distracted by bewildering mixtures of good and evil in the ‘Idylls of the King’: the king is blameless; Mordred is wholly vile, with no justification as an instrument of Nemesis, or a revenger of the inhuman attempts upon his own infant life; Lancelot and Guinevere are noble natures stained by one great sin. As the simple clearly outlined figures pass before us, we are not agitated by changing admiration and abhorrence; their first impression is ever deepened as they come and go by repeated strokes on the same spot of our moral vision. When the catastrophe comes, and death passes over them, we look back upon their lives without the conflict of emotion that appertains to tragedy. They affect us as visionary types, not as men and women of mixed passions.


Harriet W. Preston


‘The Arthuriad’, Atlantic Monthly, 38 (August 1876), 132-41.

Harriet Preston (1836-1911), an American author and translator of French and Latin works, made a speciality of Provençal literature. Besides scholarly editions and translations, she wrote several novels and contributed to periodicals, often to the Atlantic Monthly. The review below appeared in that magazine as the lead article for August 1876; the occasion was the recent publication in Boston (1875) of a newly organized collection of Tennyson’s Idylls. ‘Balin and Balan’


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