O.Wilde, Preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. (...)
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. (...)

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. (...)
All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself...

O. Wilde (1854-1900),
Preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

Saturday, January 08, 2011

William Caxton, Preface to Le Morte d'Arthur

William Caxton

c. 1422 - 1491

First English printer

William Caxton’s Preface to
Le Morte d’Arthur

In 1485 William Caxton printed Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur".
William Caxton began his preface by saying that he had been asked to print a history of the Saint Greal and of King Arthur by ‘many nobles and divers gentlemen of this realm of England’. He said that these people had reminded him that King Arthur ought to be remembered by Englishmen above all other Christian kings.
Caxton said that there had been nine heroes who corresponded to the literature that critics describe as ‘The Matter of Rome,   ‘The Matter of Franceand ‘The Matter of Britain’. They were:

‘Three paynims’ (= Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar),
‘Three Jews’ (= Joshua, David and Judas Machabeus),        and
‘Three Christian men’ (= King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon).

      Caxton then talked about the question of the historical existence of King Arthur. He said that he had discussed this with some of those who wanted him to produce a history of Arthur. He was told that there was clear proof, both in the form of archaeological remains and documentary references. Caxton listed the  principal  remains  associated with Arthur: his tomb at Glastonbury, his  seal  at  Westminster,   Gawain’s skull at Dover   and   the  Round Table at Winchester.   After mentioning these, he argued that there could be no doubt that king Arthur really existed. Still, it seems likely that Caxton did not take all this ‘evidence’ too seriously, because he commented that ‘to pass the time this book shall be pleasant to read in, but for to give faith and belief that all is true that is contained herein, ye be at your liberty.
Caxton told his readers that they would find ‘noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin’ in the book.

         William Caxton’s edition of Le Morte d’Arthur  divided Sir Thomas Malory’s material into twenty-one books. The discovery of a manuscript version of Malory’s stories  in 1934  made it clear  that Caxton edited the material quite substantially.
The manuscript showed that Sir Thomas Malory’s work was divided into eight groups of tales, most of which formed independent works, although Malory said that the 6th and 7th tales belonged together.

Malory’s original structure for the tales is shown in the chart which follows:

1.  The Tale of King Arthur

2.  The Tale of the Noble King Arthur that was
        Emperor Himself through the Dignity of his Hands.

3.  The Noble Tale of Sir Lancelot du Lake.

4.  The Tale of Sir Gareth of Orkney

5.  The Book of Sir Tristam de Lyones

6.  The Tale of the Sangrail

7.  The Book of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere

8.  The Most Piteous Tale of the Death of Arthur.

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