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56 ] Le Morte Darthur1 A review of The Noble & Joyous Boke Entytled Le Morte Darthur . . . Whyche Boke Was Reduced in to Englysshe by the Well Dysposyd Knyghte Syr Thomas Malory Text prepared by A. S. Mott Oxford: Printed at the Shakespeare Head Press, and published for the Press by Basil Blackwell, 1933, 2 vols. The Spectator, 152 (23 Feb 1934) 278 This is the text of Le Morte Darthur, printed after Caxton, with no prefaces , introductions or notes, and a very beautiful rubricated piece of book-making indeed. It is for those who appreciate Malory and can afford to possess his book in as grand a form as anyone could wish; and those who enjoy Malory ought to be willing to pay him this honour if they can afford it. I mean no disrespect to this wholly admirable edition in suggesting that we need three more editions to follow it: (1) a cheap edition of the text; (2) a scholarly edition with a full commentary by some person as learned as Miss Jane Harrison or Miss Jessie Weston;2 and (3) a children’s edition. Such an edition was in my hands when I was a child of eleven or twelve. It was then, and perhaps has always been, my favourite book. I have not come across this, or any similar children’s edition, since.3 What we are, as a matter of fact, familiar with is a kind of children’s edition ; but it is a children’s edition edited according to the wrong principles. I should like to have an edition of the text made readable for children, and somewhat abbreviated; that with which Sir Edward Strachey of Sutton Court provided us is an edition meant to be safe for children.4 The most accessible and convenient text for everybody was actually prepared to this end.5† Sir Edward announces: I do not believe that when we have excluded what is offensive to modern manners there will be found anything practically injurious to the morals of English boys, for whom I have chiefly undertaken this work. [xxxv] [ 57 A review of Le Morte Darthur We observe the confusion of morals and manners. “Lord Tennyson,” says Sir Edward, “has shown us how we may deal best with this matter” [xxxv]. Sir Edward believed in the compulsory sterilization of literature. It is not irrelevant to call attention to the degraded moral conceptions of an age in which an editor of Malory could write: The morality of “Morte Darthur” is low in one essential thing, and this alike in what it says and in what it omits: and Lord Tennyson shows us how it should be raised. The ideal of marriage, in its relation and its contrast with all other forms of love and chastity, is brought out in every form, rising at last to tragic grandeur, in the Idylls of the King. It is not in celibacy, though spiritual and holy as that of Galahad and Percivale, but in marriage, as the highest and purest realisation of the ideal of human conditions and relations, that we are to rise above the temptations of a love like that of Launcelot or even of Elaine; and Malory’s book does not set this ideal of life before us with any power or clearness. [xxii] This, one may remark, is the result of the policy of Henry VIII. Sir Edward might as well have observed that the morality of St. Paul is low in this one essential thing.6 He does mention St. Paul in this very introduction. And what does he say of St. Paul? “In modern times,” he says, “St. Paul has been held to be the model of a gentleman” [lv]. There is nothing more that one can say. When one compares the present text with that of Sir Edward Strachey, it is perhaps the more trifling alterations of Sir Edward, just because they are trifling, that are the more irritating. One might mention, however, that hisbowdlerizingmakestheepisodeoftheknightwhomSirGarethbeheads on two different evenings in the hall of Dame Lioness, completely unintelligible . But there are places where his tampering is still more fatal. Let us take the birth of Mordred. The Strachey text reads: And thither came to him Lot’s wife of Orkney . . . and she was a passing fair lady, wherefore the king cast great love unto her, and so was Mordred born, and she was his sister, on the mother side Igraine . . . But all this time King Arthur knew not that...


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