The Morte de Malory


[According to MT's own account, the event that precipitated Connecticut Yankee was his purchase of a book -- The Morte Darthur. As Alan Gribben has established, in November 1880 someone in the Clemens household ordered Sidney Lanier's recently published The Boy's King Arthur, from which the illustrations on this page were taken. MT's familiarity with Lanier is indicated by his reference in an 1883 letter to the episode he cites in the opening of Connecticut Yankee, the tale of Sir Launcelot in Sir Kay's armor. The purchase to which MT attributed his novel's genesis, however, took place in December 1884, when he and George Washington Cable ducked out of the rain and into a bookstore in Rochester, New York, and Cable recommended Malory to MT as a good book to take along for his personal reading on the public reading tour the two writers were embarked on.

[MT was delighted with Malory. Until the tour finished at the end of February 1885, Camelot became a part of the daily life he and Cable lived on the road. As MT told Livy in a letter dated 4 February, "we have all used the quaint language of [Malory's] book in the cars & hotels"; a telegram sent to their manager the day before, for example, had been signed "Sir Mark Twain" and "Sir Geo. W. Cable." It was probably while on this tour that MT entered into his journal the idea about dreaming of being a knight in armor, and by the spring he was actively planning the novel. What influence the reading tour, in which he was performing Huck Finn before live audiences, might have had on the story of Hank Morgan's elaborate performance as Sir Boss is a question that needs considering. The influence of Malory's book, on the other hand, is a less speculative subject.

[From the beginnings of his career as American humorist and realist, MT had often defined his project as a re-writing. Although in 1886 he wrote a letter to Mary Fairbanks to reassure her that he would treat the great heroes of Malory's world with the reverence they deserved, it is clear that a conscious animus for the novel is the desire to burlesque, parody and debunk the Morte Darthur's romantic account of aristocratic chivalry. Indeed, one of the most unusual and perhaps modern aspects of Connecticut Yankee as a novel is the extensive use it makes of quotation. In the novel's introductory frame chapter, "Mark Twain" is reading Malory and dreaming of the olden times when Hank Morgan begins telling his story, and at a number of points throughout the novel MT puts Hank's vernacular voice and irreverent temperament into direct contact with Malory's stately narrative.

[For a complete account of the passages from Malory's book that MT interpolates into his text, CLICK HERE. What follows below are Chapters 11, 12 and 13 from Book VI of the Morte Darthur. According the manuscript of Connecticut Yankee, MT originally planned to quote CHAPTER XIII as the textual bridge that would lead into Hank's story of "The Lost Land." As a second thought, he planned to use all three chapters reproduced here. Finally, however, he decided to use only most of CHAPTER XI. It's interesting to think about what attracted MT's attention to this section of Malory. Launcelot in Kay's armor makes him a kind of impostor, of course, and as "Mark Twain" Sam Clemens was fascinated by the figure of the impostor. Given how memorable the motif of sneaking out one's bedroom window is in both Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, it's also fun to note how the adventures of Sir Launcelot recorded here involve the same maneuver. The passage in blue below is the one that MT ended up using in Connecticut Yankee.]

From The Globe Edition: Morte Darthur
Sir Thomas Malory's Book of King Arthur and
of his Noble Knights of the Round Table

Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co, 1868


How Sir Launcelot slew two giants, and
made a castle free.

BOY'S KING ARTHUR ILLUSTRATION ANON withal came there upon him two great giants, well armed all save the heads, with two horrible clubs in their hands. Sir Launcelot put his shield afore him, and put the stroke away of the one giant, and with his sword he clave his head asunder. When his fellow saw that, he ran away as he were wood, for fear of the horrible strokes, and Sir Launcelot after him with all his might, and smote him on the shoulder, and clave him to the middle. Then Sir Launcelot went into the hall, and there came afore him threescore ladies and damsels, and all kneeled unto him, and thanked God and him of their deliverance. For, sir, said they, the most part of us have been here this seven year their prisoners, and we have worked all manner of silk works for our meat, and we are all great gentlewomen born, and blessed be the time, knight, that ever thou wert born; for thou hast done the most worship that ever did knight in the world, that will we bear record, and we all pray you to tell us your name, that we may tell our friends who delivered us out of prison. Fair damsels, he said, my name is Sir Launcelot du Lake. Ah, sir, said they all, well mayest thou be he, for else save yourself, as we deemed, there might never knight have the better of these two giants, for many fair knights have assayed it, and here have ended, and many times have we wished after you, and these two giants dread never knight but you. Now may ye say, said Sir Launcelot, unto your friends, how and who hath delivered you, and greet them all from me, and if that I come in any of your marches, shew me such cheer as ye have cause; and what treasure that there is in this castle I give it you for a reward for your grievance: and the lord that is the owner of this castle I would that he received it as is right. Fair sir, said they, the name of this castle is Tintagil, and a duke owned it some time that had wedded fair Igraine, and after wedded her Uther Pendragon and gat on her Arthur. Well, said Sir Launcelot, I understand to whom this castle belongeth. And so he departed from them and betaught them unto God. And then he mounted upon his horse, and rode into many strange and wild countries and through many waters and valleys, and evil was he lodged. And at the last by fortune him happened against a night to come to a fair courtelage, and therein he found an old gentlewoman that lodged him with a good will, and there he had good cheer for him and his horse. And when time was, his host brought him into a fair garret over the gate to his bed. There Sir Launcelot unarmed him, and set his harness by him, and went to bed, and anon he fell on sleep. So soon after there came one on horseback, and knocked at the gate in great haste. And when Sir Launcelot heard this he arose up, and looked out at the window, and saw by the moon-light three knights came riding after that one man, and all three lashed on him at once with swords, and that one knight turned on them knightly again and defended him. Truly, said Sir Launcelot, yonder one knight shall I help, for it were shame for me to see three knights on one, and if he be slain I am partner of his death. And therewith he took his harness and went out at a window by a sheet down to the four knights, and then Sir Launcelot said on high, Turn you knights unto me, and leave your fighting with that knight. And then they all three left Sir Kay, and turned unto Sir Launcelot, and there began great battle, for they alight all three, and strake many great strokes at Sir Launcelot, and assailed him on every side. Then Sir Kay dressed him for to have holpen Sir Launcelot. Nay, sir, said he, I will none of your help, therefore as ye will have my help let me alone with them. Sir Kay for the pleasure of the knight suffered him for to do his will, and so stood aside. And then anon within six strokes Sir Launcelot had stricken them to the earth.

And then they all three cried, Sir knight, we yield us unto you as man of might matchless. As to that, said Sir Launcelot, I will not take your yielding unto me, but so that ye yield you unto Sir Kay the seneschal, on that covenant I will save your lives and else not. Fair knight, said they, that were we loth to do; for as for Sir Kay we chased him hither, and had overcome him had not ye been; therefore to yield us unto him it were no reason. Well, as to that, said Sir Launcelot, advise you well, for ye may choose whether ye will die or live, for and ye be yielden it shall be unto Sir Kay. Fair knight, then they said, in saving our lives we will do as thou commandest us. Then shall ye, said Sir Launcelot, on Whitsunday next coming go unto the court of king Arthur, and there shall ye yield you unto queen Guenever, and put you all three in her grace and mercy, and say that Sir Kay sent you thither to be her prisoners. Sir, they said, it shall done by the faith of our bodies, and we be living. And there they swore, every knight upon his sword. And so Sir Launcelot suffered them so to depart. And then Sir Launcelot knocked at the gate with the pommel of his sword, and with that came his host, and in they entered, Sir Kay and he. Sir, said his host, I wend ye had been in your bed. So I was, said Sir Launcelot, but I arose and lept out at my window for to help an old fellow of mine. And so when they came nigh the light Sir Kay knew well that it was Sir Launcelot, and therewith he kneeled down and thanked him of all his kindness that he hath holpen him twice from the death. Sir, he said, I have done nothing but that I ought to do, and ye are welcome, and here shall ye repose you and take your rest. So when Sir Kay was unarmed he asked after meat, so there was meat fetched him, and he ate strongly. And when he had supped they went to their beds, and were lodged together in one bed. On the morn Sir Launcelot arose early, and left Sir Kay sleeping: and Sir Launcelot took Sir Kay's armour and his shield and armed him: and so he went to the stable and took his horse and took his leave of his host, and so he departed. Then soon after arose Sir Kay and missed Sir Launcelot : and then he espied that he had his armour and his horse. Now by my faith I know well that he will grieve some of the court of king Arthur: for on him knights will be bold, and deem that it is I, and that will beguile them: and because of his armour and shield I am sure I shall ride in peace. And then soon after departed Sir Kay, and thanked his host.


How Sir Launcelot rode disguised in Sir Kay's
harness, and how be smote down a knight.

NOW turn we unto Sir Launcelot that had ridden long in a great forest, and at the last he came into a low country full of fair rivers and meadows. And afore him he saw a long bridge, and three pavilions stood thereon of silk and sandal of divers hue. And without the pavilions hung three white shields on truncheons of spears, and great long spears stood upright by the pavilions, and at every pavilion's door stood three fresh squires, and so Sir Launcelot passed by them, and spake no word. When he was past the three knights said that it was the proud Kay, he weeneth no knight so good as he, and the contrary is ofttime proved. By my faith, said one of the knights, his name was Sir Gaunter, I will ride after him and assay him for all his pride, and ye may behold how that I speed. So this knight, Sir Gaunter, armed him, and hung his shield upon his shoulder and mounted upon a great horse, and gat his spear in his hand, and galloped after Sir Launcelot. And when he came nigh him, he cried, Abide thou proud knight Sir Kay, for thou shalt not pass quit. So Sir Launcelot turned him, and either fewtred their spears, and came together with all their mights, and Sir Gaunter's spear brake, but Sir Launcelot smote him down, horse and man. And when Sir Gaunter was at the earth his brethren said each one to other, Yonder knight is not Sir Kay, for he is bigger than he. I dare lay my head, said Sir Gilmere, yonder knight hath slain Sir Kay and hath taken his horse and harness. Whether it be so or no, said Sir Raynold the third brother, let us now go mount upon our horses and rescue our brother Sir Gaunter upon pain of death. We all shall have work enough to match that knight, for ever me seemeth by his person it is Sir Launcelot, or Sir Tristam, or Sir Pelleas the good knight. Then anon they took their horses and overtook Sir Launcelot, and Sir Gilmere put forth his spear and ran to Sir Launcelot and Sir Launcelot smote him down that he lay in a swoon. Sir knight, said Sir Raynold, thou art a strong man, and. as I suppose, thou hast slain my two brethren, for the which riseth my heart sore against thee; and if I might with my worship I would not have ado with thee, but needs I must take part as they do; and therefore knight, he said, keep thyself. And so they hurtled together with all their mights, and all to-shivered both their spears. And then they drew their swords and lashed together eagerly. Anon therewith arose Sir Gaunter, and came unto his brother Sir Gilmere, and bad him arise and help we our brother Sir Raynold, that yonder marvellously matcheth yonder good knight. Therewithal they lept on their horses, and hurtled unto Sir Launcelot. And when he saw them come, he smote a sore stroke unto Sir Raynold, that he fell off his horse to the ground, and then he struck to the other two brethren, and at two strokes he strake them down to the earth. With that Sir Raynold began to start up with his head all bloody, and came straight unto Sir Launcelot. Now let be, said Sir Launcelot, I was not far from thee when thou wert made knight, Sir Raynold, and also I know thou art a good knight, and loth I were to slay thee. Gramercy, said Sir Raynold, as for your goodness; and I dare say as for me and my brethren, we will not be loth to yield us unto you, with that we knew your name; for well we know ye are not Sir Kay. As for that be it as it may, for ye shall yield you unto dame Guenever, and look that ye be with her on Whitsunday, and yield you unto her as prisoners, and say that Sir Kay sent you unto her. Then they swore it should be done. And so passed forth Sir Launcelot, and each one of the brethren helped each other as well as they might.


How Sir Launcelot justed against four knights
of the Round Table, and overthrew them.

SO Sir Launcelot rode into a deep forest, and there by in a slade he saw four knights hoving under an oak, and they were of Arthur's court; one was Sagramour le Desirous, and Sir Ector de Maris, and Sir Gawaine, and Sir Uwaine. Anon as these four knights had espied Sir Launcelot they wend by his arms it had been Sir Kay. Now by my faith, said Sir Sagramour, I will prove Sir Kay's might, and gat his spear in his hand, and came toward Sir Launcelot. Therewith Sir Launcelot was ware, and knew him well, and fewtred his spear against him, and smote Sir Sagramour so sore that horse and man fell both to the earth. Lo, my fellows, said Sir Ector, yonder ye may see what a buffet he hath; that knight is much bigger than ever was Sir Kay. Now shall ye see what I may do to him. So Sir Ector gat his spear in his hand and galloped toward Sir Launcelot, and Sir Launcelot smote him through the shield and shoulder that horse and man went to the earth, and ever his spear held. By my faith, said Sir Uwaine, yonder is a strong knight, and I am sure he hath slain Sir Kay; and I see by his great strength it will be hard to match him. And therewithal Sir Uwaine gat his spear in his hand and rode toward Sir Launcelot, and Sir Launcelot knew him well, and so he met him on the plain and gave him such a buffet that he was astonied, that long he wist not where he was. Now see I well, said Sir Gawaine, I must encounter with that knight. Then he dressed his shield and gat a good spear in his hand, and Sir Launcelot knew him well, and then they let run their horses with all their mights, and either knight smote other in midst of the shield. But Sir Gawaine's spear to brast, and Sir Launcelot charged so sore upon him that his horse reversed up so down. And much sorrow had Sir Gawaine to avoid his horse, and so Sir Launcelot passed on a pace, and smiled, and said, God give him joy that this spear made, for there came never a better in my hand. Then the four knights went each one to other, and comforted each other. What say ye by this gest? said Sir Gawaine, that one spear hath felled us four. We command him unto the devil, they said all, for he is a man of great might. Ye may well say it, said Sir Gawaine, that he is a man of might, for I dare lay my head it is Sir Launcelot, I know it by his riding. Let him go, said Sir Gawaine, for when we come to the court then shall we wit. And then had they much sorrow to get their horses again.

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