OUT of the least vital period in English letters, the fifteenth century, comes one vital book: the Morte Darthur of Sir Thomas Malory. Never completely forgotten even when the ages of romance were most discredited, its fascination for all classes of readers has increased ever since the romantic revival of the early nineteenth century. Poets and scholars have delighted in it no less than children, and its importance grows clearer as the importance of the Middle Ages becomes more recognized.
For the time has passed when the significance of mediæval literature to the modern world can be minimized. Again and again, men have tried to break with the great mediæval tradition. To the Revolution, the exalting of humanity involved the overthrow of all ancient things. To the eighteenth century, even Shakespeare was Gothicke, and the ages behind him were descried only to be flouted. The Renascence called a sharp About Face! from the epoch of mystery and romance, and turned enthusiasm toward the precise standards of classic antiquity. But all these reactions are now over. It is perceived that the Middle Ages are not a dark, half-barbarous interlude between two periods of ordered light, but a world illumined by beauty and by law, and this world has an increasing attraction for us. In proportion as we