Herbert Coleridge (1830-61), great-nephew of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was primarily a philologist and until his early death he was the general editor for the project to issue a New English Dictionary. His essay on Arthur was published posthumously by F.J. Furnivall twice, first in the introductory material to Lovelich’s Seynt Graal (Roxburghe Club, 1861, 1863) and again as part of the preface to his edition of the stanzaic Morte Arthur (London: Macmillan, 1864), pp. xxviii-lvi; these extracts from the 1864 publication show Coleridge’s sense of the dramatic unity of the Arthurian story as seen in Malory’s version.
Coleridge’s essay begins with a lengthy summary of the life and career of Arthur taken from Geoffrey with minor additions from Wace, Layamon, and the alliterative Morte Arthur.
Such is the legend of Arthur when stripped of all those adventures and marvels which have conferred on it as deep and undying a fascination as the venerable myths of Roman history have upon the earliest annals of imperial Rome; such is the tale which our ancestors not a century ago gravely received and repeated as historical truth. Many readers, however, will find this version quite as new to them as—indeed, perhaps more so, than—many of the more marvellous editions of the story.
We will now pass on to the account given us by Sir T. Malory in his great compilation made in the reign of Edward IV., and printed by Caxton in 1485; and this for the future, with several minor works—such as ‘The Romance of Arthur and Merlin,’ a second metrical Morte Arthur, a romance of Lancelot; ‘The Romance of the San Graal,’ and others—I shall refer to as the Legend, reserving the term ‘history’ to denote the version given by Geoffrey and his followers. It will of course be understood that I attach no more historical weight to the latter than to the former; and that the terms