Frederic Harrison (1831-1923), author, popular lecturer, professor of jurisprudence, wrote prolifically on a variety of historical and literary subjects. In The Choice of Books (1886), Harrison provides some commentary and background information for favourite works of literature; in the extract below, he briefly compares the Morte Darthur and The Cid and later justifies calling Malory’s work poetry.
Extracts are from The Choice of Books (London: Macmillan, 1925), pp. 43-5.
…Spain and the Celtic race of Western England and Western France have two great epic cycles, which cluster round the names of the Cid and of Arthur.
Whilst the Spanish Cycle is the more national, heroic, and stirring, the Arthurian Cycle is the best embodiment of chivalry, of romance, of gallantry. The vast cluster of tales which envelop King Arthur and his comrades is the expression of European chivalry and the feudal genius as a whole, idealising the knight, the squire, the lady, the princess of the Middle Ages. For all practical purposes, we English have it in its best form; for the compilation of Sir Thomas Malory is wrought into a mould of pure English, hardly second to the English of the Bible. 1 …
Methinks that the tale of the death of Arthur, Guinevere, and of Lancelot, as told by Malory, along with the death and last death-march of the Cid, as told in the Chronicle, may stand beside the funeral of Hector, which closes the Iliad— 2