THE Morte Darthur was finished, as the epilogue tells us, in the ninth year of Edward IV., i.e. between March 4, 1469 and the same date in 1470. It is thus, fitly enough, the last important English book written before the introduction of printing into this country, and since no manuscript of it has come down to us it is also the first English classic for our knowledge of which we are entirely dependent on a printed text. Caxton's story of how the book was brought to him and he was induced to print it may be read farther on in his own preface. From this we learn also that he was not only the printer of the book, but to some extent its editor also, dividing Malory's work into twenty-one books, splitting up the books into chapters, by no means skilfully, and supplying the ``Rubrish'' or chapter-headings. It may be added that Caxton's preface contains, moreover, a brief criticism which, on the points on which it touches, is still the soundest and most sympathetic that has been written.
Caxton finished his edition the last day of July 1485, some fifteen or sixteen years after Malory wrote his epilogue. It is clear that the author was then dead, or the printer would not have acted as a clumsy editor to the book, and recent discoveries (if bibliography may, for the moment, enlarge its bounds to mention such matters) have revealed with tolerable certainty when Malory died and who he was. In letters to The Athenaeum in July 1896 Mr. T. Williams pointed out that the name of a Sir Thomas Malorie occurred among those of a number of other Lancastrians excluded from a general pardon granted
If the Morte Darthur was really written in prison and by a prisoner distressed by ill-health as well as by lack of liberty, surely no task was ever better devised to while away weary hours. Leaving abundant scope for originality in selection, modification, and arrangement, as a compilation and translation it had in it that mechanical element which adds the touch of restfulness to literary work. No original, it is said, has yet been found for Book vii., and it is possible that none will ever be forthcoming for chap. 20 of Book xviii., which describes the arrival of the body of the Fair Maiden of Astolat at Arthur's court, or
Malory died leaving his work obviously unrevised, and in this condition it was brought to Caxton, who prepared it for the press with his usual enthusiasm in the cause of good literature, and also, it must be added, with his usual carelessness. New chapters are sometimes made to begin in the middle of a sentence, and in addition to simple misprints there are numerous passages in which it is impossible to believe that we have the text as Malory intended it to stand. After Caxton's edition Malory's manuscript must have disappeared, and subsequent editions are differentiated only by the degree of closeness with which they follow the first. Editions appeared printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1498 and 1529, by William Copland in 1559, by Thomas East about 1585, and by Thomas Stansby in 1634, each printer apparently taking the text of his immediate predecessor and reproducing it with modifications. Stansby's edition served for reprints in 1816 and 1856 (the latter edited by Thomas Wright); but in 1817 an edition supervised by Robert Southey went back to Caxton's text, though to a copy (only two are extant, and only one perfect!) in which eleven leaves were supplied from Wynkyn de Worde's reprint. In 1868 Sir Edward
SHE had delayed, because of the dew-wet grass, in order to put on her overshoes, and when she emerged from the house found her waiting husband absorbed in the wonder of a bursting almond-bud. She sent a questing glance across the tall grass and in and out among the orchard trees.
"He was here a moment ago." Walt Irvine drew himself away with a jerk from the metaphysics and poetry of the organic miracle of blossom, and surveyed the landscape. "He was running a rabbit the last I saw of him."
"Wolf! Wolf! Here Wolf!" she called, as they left the clearing and took the trail that led down through the waxen-belled manzanita jungle to the county road.
Irvine thrust between his lips the little finger of each hand and lent to her efforts a shrill whistling.