then, when the race of life seems crowded with competitors, and the world is ready to crown the victor, of whatever rank, the truth is preached to us in these old myths that by obedience men are made more than kings, and that faith is the substance—the very present possession—of things hoped for.
James T. Knowles (1831-1908), architect and editor, brought out in 1862 a ‘popular abridgement’ of Malory’s Morte Darthur, with a few additions from Geoffrey and elsewhere. The Story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was in an eighth edition by 1895. The book is not only abridged but heavily expurgated, and Knowles’s introduction points out the defects in the original that make these alterations obligatory. (London: Griffith & Farrow, 1862, pp. i-iii.)
The story of King Arthur will never die while there are English men to study and English boys to devour its tales of adventure and daring and magic and conquest.
King Arthur was to our forefathers what and more than what ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and ‘The Arabian Nights’ are to the present generation. They feasted on its legends for centuries, and never grew tired of the grand chivalry of the ‘blameless king,’ and the wanderings, feats, and dangers of his chosen band of knights. Caxton only ministered to the public appetite when he took it for one of the first printed books, and if in our own time it has disappeared from the popular literature and the boys’ bookshelves, the cause is, probably, that, since the days of cheap books, it has never been modernised or adapted for general circulation.
Concealed in antiquated spelling and quaint style, it has become a treat for scholars rather than for the general reader, who would find it too long, too monotonous, and too obscure. Still less is it fitted for boys, who would probably become the principal readers of the Arthur legends in a popular form.