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An Arthurian Miscellany at




Chapter I.

   Notwithstanding the great improvements of machinery in this rapidly improving age, which is so much wiser, better, and happier than all that went before it, every gentleman is not yet accommodated with the convenience of a pocket boat. We may therefore readily imagine that Miss Ap-Nanny and her sister Ellen, the daughters of the Vicar of Llanglasrhyd, were not a little astonished in a Sunday evening walk on the sea shore, when a little skiff, which, by the rapidity of its motion had attracted their attention while but a speck upon the waves, ran upon the beach, from which emerged a very handsome young gentleman, dressed not exactly in the newest fashion, who, after taking down the sail and hauling up the boat upon the beach, carefully folded it up in the size of a prayer-book and transferred it to his pocket. He did not notice the young ladies till he had completed this operation, and when he looked round and discovered them he seemed a little confused, but made them a very courteous bow in a fine but rather singular style of ancient politeness. From the moment of his first landing, and the commencement of the curious process of folding up his boat, Miss Ap-Nanny had been dying with curiosity, and had consulted her sister Ellen as to the propriety of addressing the stranger, having, however, fully made up her mind beforehand as usual with young ladies when they ask advice.
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   The inn was filled with picturesque tourists who had arrived in various vehicles by the help of those noble quadrupeds who confer so much dignity on the insignificant biped, that if he venture to travel without them and rest his reception on his own merits the difference of his welcome may serve to show him how much more of his imaginary importance belongs to his horse than to himself. Our traveller arriving alone and on foot was received with half a courtesy by the landlady, and shown into the common parlour where the incipient cold of the autumnal evening was dispelled by an immense turf fire, by which were sitting two elderly gentlemen of the clerical profession, recumbent in arm chairs, with their eyes half shut, and their legs stretched out so that the points of their shoes came in contact at the centre of the fender. Each was smoking his pipe with contemplative gravity. Neither spoke nor moved, except now and then as if by mechanism, to fill his glass from the jug of ale that stood between them on the table, and the moment this good example was set by one the other followed it instantaneously and automatically as the two figures at St Dunstan's strike upon the bell to the great delight of Cockneys, amazement of rustics, and consolation of pickpockets. The stranger made several attempts to draw them into conversation, but could not succeed in extracting more than a "hum" from either of them. At length one of the reverend gentlemen, having buzzed the jug, articulated, with slow and minute emphasis: "Will you join in another jug?" "Hum!" said the other. A violent rattling of copper ensued in their respective coat pockets; two equal quantities of half-pence were deliberately counted down upon the table; the bell was rung, and the little, round, Welsh waiting-maid carried out the money, and replenished the jug in silence. They went on as before till the liquor was exhausted, when it became the other's turn to ask the question, and the same eventful words, "Will you join in another jug?" were repeated, with the same ceremonies and the same results. Our traveller, in the meanwhile, looked over his tablets of instruction. These two reverend gentlemen were the Vicar of Llanglasrhyd and the Rector of Bwlchpenbach. The rector performed afternoon service at a chapel twenty miles from his rectory, and Llanglasrhyd lying half-way between them, he slept every Sunday night under the roof of Gwyneth Owen, where his dearest friend, the Vicar of Llanglasrhyd, met him to smoke away the evening. They had thus passed together every Sunday evening for forty years, and during the whole period had scarcely said ten words to each other beyond the usual forms of meeting and parting, and "Will you join in another jug?" Yet were their meetings so interwoven with their habitual comforts that either would have regarded the loss of the other as the greatest earthly misfortune that could have befallen him, and would never, perhaps, have mustered sufficient firmness of voice to address the same question, "Will you join in another jug?" to any other human being. It may seem singular to those who have heard the extensive form of Welsh hospitality that the vicar did not invite the rector to pass these evenings at his vicarage; but it must be remembered that the Rector of Bwlchpenbach was every week at Llanglasrhyd in the way of his business, and that the Vicar of Llanglasrhyd had no business whatever to take him on any single occasion to Bwlchpenbach; therefore the balance of the consumption of ale would have been entirely against the vicar, and as they regularly drank three quarts each at a sitting, or one hundred and fifty-six quarts in a year, the Rector of Bwlchpenbach would have consumed in forty years six thousand two hundred and forty quarts of ale, without equivalent or compensation, at the expense of the Vicar of Llanglasrhyd, a circumstance not to be thought of without vexation of spirit.
   Our traveller folded up his tablets, rung the bell, and inquired what he could have for supper, and what wine was to be had? The landlady entered with a tempting list of articles, and enumerated several names of wine. The stranger seemed perplexed, and at length said he would have them all, for he liked to see a well-covered table, having always been used to one. The landlady dropped a double courtesy, and the reverend gentlemen dropped their pipes; the pipes broke, and the odorous embers were scattered on the hearth.
   When the supper smoked, and the wine sparkled on the table, the stranger pressed the reverend gentlemen to join him. They did not indeed require much pressing, and assisted with great industry in the demolition of his abundant banquet: but still not a syllable could he extract from either of them except that the Vicar of Llanglasrhyd, when his heart was warmed with Madeira, invited the rector and the young stranger to breakfast with him the next morning at the vicarage, which the latter joyfully accepted, as he very well by this time understood that his lively and jovial companion was the father of the beautiful creature who had charmed him on the sea-shore. He sate from this time in contented silence, contemplating the happy meeting of the following morning while the reverend gentlemen sipped the liquid so far and only till with their usual felicitous sympathy they vanished at the same instant under the table. The landlady and her household were summoned to their assistance. The Vicar of Llanglasrhyd was carried home by the postillions, and the Rector of Bwlchpenbach was put to bed by the ostler.
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   Allow me to hand you some toast: you must have had a very pleasant sail yesterday.--Very pleasant!--Did you come far? Very far.--From Ireland perhaps.--Not from Ireland.--Then you must have come a long way in such a small boat, such a very small boat.--Not so very small: it is one of our best sea boats.--Do you carry your best sea boats in your waistcoat pockets? Then I suppose in your great-coat pockets you carry your ships of the line.--But, dear me, sir, you must come from a very strange place.--I come from a part of the world which is known to the rest by the name of Terra Incognita. I am not at liberty to say more concerning it.--But, sir, if it is a fair question, what has brought you to Wales?--I have landed on this shore by accident. My present destination is London. I am to remain in this island twelve months, and return with a wife and a philosopher.--God bless me! what can Terra Incognita want with a philosopher, and how are you to take them away?--In the same boat that brought me.--Why, who do you think will trust herself? You would like some more tea?--Ellen, my dear, do you think any lady would trust herself?--If she had love enough, said Ellen.--Cream and sugar, said Miss Ap-Nanny.--The boat is perfectly safe, said the stranger, looking at Ellen. I could go through a hurricane with it.--Love, to be sure, will do anything, said Miss Ap-Nanny, but, Lord bless me! I may take an egg, and to be sure it would be worth some risk just in the way of curiosity to see Terra Incognita. They must be very strange people, but what they can want of a philosopher I cannot imagine.--I hope if you bring him this way you will keep him muzzled, for my papa says they are very terrible monsters, fiends of darkness and imps of the devil. I would not trust myself in a boat with one for the world. Would you, Ellen, my dear?--I should not be much afraid, said Ellen, smiling, if he were in the hands of a safe keeper.--We have a philosopher or two among us already, said the stranger, and they are by no means such formidable animals as you seem to suppose.--But my papa says so, said Miss Ap-Nanny.--I bow acquiescence, said the stranger, but perhaps the Welsh variety is a peculiarly fierce breed.--I am happy to say there is not one in all Wales, said Miss Ap-Nanny.--I hear they run tame in London, said Ellen..--Then you are not so much afraid of them as your sister, said the stranger.--Not quite, said Ellen, smiling again, I think I would venture into the same room with one even if he were not in an iron cage.--Oh, fie, Ellen, said Miss Ap-Nanny, that is what you call having liberal opinions. I cannot imagine where you got them. I am sure you did not learn them from me. Do you know, sir, Ellen is very heterodox. My papa actually detected her in the fact of reading a wicked book called "Principles of Moral Science," which, with his usual sweet temper, he put, without saying a word, behind the fire. He says liberal opinions are only another name for impiety.--Dear, good man! said Mrs AP-Nanny, opening her mouth for the first time, he never was guilty of a liberal opinion in the course of his life.
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   Sir, what can a young man of your figure--you look like a courtier--mean by making love at first sight to my daughter? What can you mean, sir? Perhaps you have heard that she will have a thousand pounds, and that may be a temptation.--Money, said the stranger, is to me mere chaff; and producing a bag from his pocket, and shaking it by one corner, he scattered on the floor a profusion of gold. The Vicar, who had seen nothing but paper money for twenty years, was astonished at these yellow apparitions, and picking up one inspected it with great curiosity. On one side was the phenomenon of a crowned head with a handsome and intelligent face, and the legend ARTHURUS REX. On the reverse, a lion sleeping at Neptune's feet, and the legend REDIBO.--Here is a foreign potentate, said the Reverend Dr Ap-Nanny, whom I never remember to have heard of. Pray, is he legitimate by the grace of God, or a blasphemous and seditious usurper whom the people have had the impudence to choose for themselves?--He is very legitimate and has an older title than any other being in the world.--Then I reverence him, said the Vicar. Old Authority, sir, old Authority, there is nothing like old Authority. But what do you want with my daughter?--Candidly, sir, said the stranger, I am on a quest for a wife, and am so far inspired by the grace of Venus, Cupid, and Juno, that I am willing my quest should end where it begins--here.--On a quest, exclaimed the Vicar; Venus, Cupid, and Juno! Ah! I see how it is. Rich, humoured, and touched in the head. Pray, what do you mean by Juno?--Juno Pronuba, said the stranger, the goddess of marriage.--I see, sir, you are inclined to make a joke of both me and my daughter. Sir, I must tell you this very unbecoming levity.--My dear sir, I assure you.--Sir, it is palpable. Would any man make a serious proposal to a man of my cloth for his daughter, and talk to him of the grace of Venus and Cupid and Juno Pronuba, the goddess of marriage?--I swear to you, sir, said the stranger, earnestly, by the sacred head of Pan.
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   When they approached the destinied island they were delighted to perceive that its aspect presented a most promising diversity of mountain, valley, and forest reposing in the sunshine of a delicious climate. Two very singular persons were walking on the seashore; one in the appearance a young and handsome man with a crown of vine-leaves on his head; the other a wild and singular figure in a fine state of picturesque roughness with goat's horns and feet and a laughing face. As the vessel fixed its keel in the shore and King Arthur and his party landed, the two strangers approached and inquired who they were, and whence they came?--This, replied Merlin, is the great King Arthur; this is his fair queen, Guenevere: and I am the potent Merlin: these are the illustrious knights of the round table: and this is the King's butler, Bedevere. The butler, said the first stranger, shall be welcome. And so shall the ladies, said the second. But as to the rest of you, pursued the first, we must know you a little better before we accord you our permission to advance a step in this island. I am Bacchus, and I, said the other, am Pan. So, said Sir Launcelot, I find we have to contend with the evil powers. If you mean us by that appellation, said Bacchus, you will find us too strong for you. This island is the retreat of all the gods and goddesses, genii and nymphs, who formerly reigned in Olympus, and dwelt in the mountains and valleys of Greece and Italy. Though we had not much need of mankind, we had a great affection for them, and lived among them on good terms and in an interchange of kind offices. They regaled us with the odours of sacrifice, built us magnificent temples, and especially showed their piety by singing and dancing, and being always social and cheerful, and full of pleasure and life, which is the most gratifying appearance that man can present to the gods. But after a certain time they began to change most lamentably for the worse. They discontinued their sacrifices; they broke our images, many of which we had sate for ourselves; they called us frightful and cacophonous names--Beelzebub and Amaimon and Astaroth: they plundered and demolished our temples, and built ugly structures on their ruins, where, instead of dancing and rejoicing as they had been used to do, and delighting us with spectacles of human happiness, they were eternally sighing and groaning, and beating their breasts, and dropping their lower jaws, and turning up the whites of their eyes, and cursing each other and all mankind, and chaunting such dismal staves that we shut our eyes and ears, and, flying from our favourite terrestrial scenes, assembled in a body among the clouds of Olympus. Here we held a council as to what was to be done for the amendment of these perverted mortals; but Jupiter informed us that necessity, his mistress, and that of the world, compelled him to acquiesce for a time in this condition of things, that mankind, who had never been good for a great deal, were now become so worthless, and withal so disagreeable, that the wisest course we could adopt would be to leave them to themselves and retire to an undisturbed island for which he had stipulated with the fates. Here, then, we are, and have been for ages. That mountain on which the white clouds are resting is now Mount Olympus, and there dwell Jupiter and the Olympian deities. In these forests and valleys reside Pan and Silenus, the Fauns and the Satyrs, and the small nymphs and genii. I divide my time between the two, for though my home is Olympus, I have a most special friendship for Pan. Now I have only this to say, that if you come here to make frightful faces, chaunt long tunes, and curse each other through the nose, I give you fair warning to depart in peace: if not, we shall find no trouble in expelling you by force, as Jupiter will testify to you. Jupiter gave the required testification by a peal of thunder from Olympus.
   Merlin and King Arthur fell on their knees, and the rest of their party followed the example. Great Bacchus and mighty Pan, said Merlin, pity our ignorance and take us under your protection, for if you banish us from this happy shore, our vessel must wander over the seas for ever, like the Flying Dutchman that is to be, and we are very ill victualled for such a navigation.
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   The first object of Calidore on arriving in London was to change some of his gold Arthurs into the circulating medium of the country, and on making inquiry at his hotel, he was directed, for this purpose, to a spacious stone building with high walls and no windows. Alighting from his hackney-coach, with a money-box in his hand, he wandered through a labyrinth of paved courts and spacious rooms filled with smoky-faced clerks and solid globes of Jews, through some of which he had great difficulty in forcing his way. After some time, he discovered the office he wanted, presented his gold, which was duly tried, weighed, and carefully removed from his sight. The sum was enounced with very distinct articulation, and a piece of paper was given to him, with which he was sent to another place. How would you like it, sir? said a little sharp-nosed man with a quill behind his ear.--In the circulating medium of this city, said Calidore.--But I mean, sir, in what portions?--In no portions: I wish to have it all at once.--Thousands, sir? said the little man.--The specified sum, sir, said Calidore.--The little man put into his hand several slips of paper.--Well, sir! said Calidore, what am I to do with these?--Whatever you please, sir, said the little man, smiling. I wish I could say as much for myself.--I am much obliged to you, said Calidore; and I have no doubt you are an exceedingly facetious and agreeable person; but, at the same time, if you would have the goodness to direct me where I can receive my money.--Sir, said the little man, that is your money.--This!--Certainly, sir; that. What would you have?--Gold coin, to be sure, said Calidore.--Gold coin! I am afraid, sir, you are a disaffected man and a Jacobin, or you would not ask for such a thing, when I have given you the best money in the world. Pray, sir, look at it--you are a stranger, perhaps--look at it, sir; that's all.--Calidore looked at one of the pieces of paper, and read aloud: I promise to pay to Mr Henry Hare--One Thousand Pounds--John Figginbotham.--Well, sir; and what have I to do with John Figginbotham's promise to pay a thousand pounds to Henry Hare?--John Figginbotham, sir, having made that promise, and put it upon that paper, makes that paper worth a thousand pounds.--To Henry Hare, said Calidore.--To any one, said the little man. You overlook the words: or bearer. Now, sir, you are the bearer.--I understand. John Figginbotham promises to pay me a thousand pounds.--Precisely.--Then, sir, if you will have the goodness to direct me to John Figginbotham I will thank him to pay me directly.--But, good God, sir! you mistake the matter.--Mistake, sir!--Yes, sir! John Figginbotham does not pay; he only signs. We pay: we, who are here; I and my chums.--Very well, sir; then why can you not pay me without all this circumlocution?--Sir, I have paid you.--How, sir?--With those notes, sir. Sir, these are promises to pay, made by one Figginbotham. I wish these promises to be performed. You send me round in a circle from Hare to Figginbotham, and from Figginbotham to yourself, and I am still as much in the dark as ever, as to where I am to look for the performance of their very liberal promises.--Oh! the performance, sir,--very true sir,--as you say; but, sir, promises are of two kinds, those which are meant to be performed, and those which are not, the latter being forms used for convenience and dispatch of business.--Then, sir, these promises are not meant to be performed.--Pardon me, sir, they are meant to be performed, not literally, but in a manner. They used to be performed by giving gold to the bearer, but that having been found peculiarly inconvenient has been laid aside by Act of Parliament ever since the year Ninety-Seven, and we now pay paper with paper, which simplifies business exceedingly.--And pray, sir, do these promises to pay pass for realities among the people?--Certainly they do, sir; one of those slips of paper which you hold in your hand will purchase the labour of fifty men for a year.--John Figginbotham must be a person of very great consequence, there is not much trouble I presume in making one of these things.--Not much, sir.--Then I suppose, sir, John Figginbotham has all the labour of the country under his absolute disposal. Assuredly this Figginbotham must be a great magician, and profoundly skilled in magic and demonology; for this is almost more than Merlin could do, to make the eternal repetition of the same promise pass for its eternal performance, and exercise unlimited control over the lives and fortunes of a whole nation, merely by putting his name upon pieces of paper. However, since, such is the case, I must try to make the best of the matter: but if I find that these talismans of the great magician Figginbotham do not act upon the people as you give me to understand they will, I shall take the liberty of blowing my bugle in his enchanted castle, and in the meantime, sir, I respectfully take leave of your courtly presence.--Poor, deranged gentleman! exclaimed the little man after Calidore was gone, did you ever hear a man talk so in all your life, Mr Solomons?--Very much cracked, said Mr Solomons, very much cracked in the head; but seems to be sound in the pocket, which is the better part of man.

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