Edward, Lord Russell (1834-1920), knighted in 1893 and elevated to the baronage in 1919, was the long-time editor of the Liverpool Post. In addition, he published a number of pamphlets on Shakespeare and essays on Marlowe, Garrick, Irving, and Ibsen. He was widely known for his lectures on these playwrights and actors as well, and contributed articles and reviews on these and other topics to numerous periodicals. His pamphlet The Book of King Arthur (Liverpool, 1889) was originally a paper read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool.
Russell finds that the Morte Darthur has charm but no great merit; his generally low rating of its appeal to the intellect of enlightened nineteenth-century man makes the more impressive his praise of the portrait of Lancelot.
Extracts are from The Book of King Arthur (Liverpool: D. Marples, 1889), pp. 4-7, 17-22, and 25-36. A number of pages of plot summary and lengthy quoting have been omitted.
…Caxton recognised in a Shakspearian spirit the mingled character of the scene and the personages: ‘chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue and sin. Do,’ said he, ‘after the good and leave the evil’….
To this admirable teaching must be at once appended the statement, afterwards to be attested more at large, that the sermon is not in every sense warranted by the text. While the finest and supreme ideal of the book, associated with the pursuit and achievement of the Holy Grail is uncompromisingly pure, almost to the edge of miracle, the ordinary and working standard hypothesis of virtue is in one point, most essential in human life, extremely low; much lower than is now professed or, it may be hoped, practised. Significantly enough King Arthur himself,