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have made June dearer, and immortalized the frostwork of our northern winters. Mr. Stedman thinks the poem "owed its success quite as much to a presentation of nature as to its misty legend. It is really a landscape-poem, of which the lovely passage, 'And what is so rare as a day in June?' and the wintry prelude to Part Second are the specific features." Much of its vitality is due to the fact that these are no fancy pictures, but studies from life. In December, 1848, Lowell wrote to his friend, C. F. Briggs, "Last night I walked to Watertown over the snow, with the new moon before me. . . . Orion was rising behind me, and, as I stood on the hill just before you enter the village, the stillness of the fields around me was delicious, broken only by the tinkle of a little brook which runs too swiftly for Frost to catch it. My picture of the brook in Sir Launfal was drawn from it."
The criticism "faultless but soulless " can never be applied to Lowell, for he wrote usually at the direct call of inspiration. It was his opinion that,
"If a poet
Beat up themes, his verse will show it;
I wait for subjects that hunt me,
By day or night won't let me be."
But he wrote too easily and was too impatient of
revision to be perfect in form and melody; and his work taken as a whole is somewhat unequal. After finishing the Fable for Critics, he complained that he could not write slowly enough. If we compare him with great lyrists like Coleridge or Shelley, we shall find that he lacks something of their subtle musical quality; if we compare him with himself, we shall see that he often falls below his best.
Judged by the lofty spiritual vision of his serious verse, Lowell would rank high among the poets of all time. He often places us
"So nigh to the . . . heart of God,
You almost seem to feel it beat
Down from the sunshine and up from the sod."
In the exquisite stanzas of Sir Launfal's Vision or the swelling music of the great odes, we must recognize the distinctive gifts of a true poet,- beauty and melody. His best poems have that "incalculably magis note" which belongs only to great song. Some of his early lyrics, The Changeling, My Love, She Came and Went, the people will not willingly let die.
Lowell's prose writings would alone give him a high place in the literature of the century. He is our greatest critic, and the "fineness of his quality" is obscured by
the fact that "there are none to compare with him.” His critical papers are of such range and of such value as would suffice for an education in literary taste. They are written in a style at once individual and racy, full of quaint humor and delightful personal experiences among his favorite books. He teaches us to enjoy and appreciate. His essays of nature and travel have much of the same charm as his poetry; and his addresses on public questions, always forceful and timely, something of the old-time ring of the Present Crisis and the Sonnet to Phillips.
THE QUEST OF THE HOLY GRAIL.
The Grail Legend, which gave Lowell the inspiration for The Vision of Sir Launfal, has been a favorite theme of the poets from the romancers of the Middle Ages to Wagner and Tennyson. The tradition belongs to a series of romances known in literary history as the Arthurian Saga.
The existence of such a person as King Arthur has often been questioned; but modern research seems to have settled that a British prince of that name lived early in the sixth century. So many legends cluster about his name, however, that it is impossible to separate fact from romance. All that we know of him
with any certainty is that he was a Christian prince who fought against the Saxon invaders. But all of these stories, whether real or fictitious, are pictures of chivalry and adventure that embody, quite as truthfully as any chronicle of actual battles and customs could do, the ideals of a race.
As you may read in The Boy's King Arthur or in Tennyson's Idylls of the King, it was the practice of the knights of Arthur's court to ride forth in quest of adventures such as could be found in plenty in those wild times. It might be to slay a dragon, to rescue some hapless knight held in vile dungeon by the aid of unholy magic, or to succor some fair maiden who had appealed to the king to redress the wrongs done to her aged father. In any case it was the knight's duty to protect the weak, his aim to win honors at the risk of life. There was one quest, however, which might not be undertaken in the spirit of self-glory. It was the Quest of the Holy Grail.
According to the legend, of which there are many variations, the Holy Grail was the bowl, sometimes described as a cup made from one great sapphire, from which Christ ate the Last Supper, and in which Joseph of Arimathæa received the blood from Christ's wounds when His body was taken from the cross. After Joseph was cast into prison, Christ appeared
to him, bearing the Holy Grail wreathed in glorious radiance, and entrusted it to him and his descendants forever as a symbol of His death. During his imprisonment of two and forty years, Joseph was fed and comforted by the miraculous power of the holy vessel. Either Joseph or some of his descendants bore the Grail into England, and there for many years it remained in the family, bringing both spiritual and temporal blessings to its keepers.
At length, the guardian having fallen into sin, the Grail disappeared, and could be recovered only by a young knight pure in word and deed. Thus the Holy Cup became a favorite quest with the knights of the Round Table, who were all eager for dangerous endeavor. But this highest quest of all, which required not only valor, but a high degree of spiritual and moral perfection, only Galahad was found pure enough to achieve.
The legends of Arthur and the knights of the Table Round were probably sung in ballads by bards and minstrels, and told around the firesides of the Welsh and their first cousins, the Bretons of northern France. The first known collection of these stories was made by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welshman, who wrote them out in Latin about 1135 A.D. The Grail Legend, however, which the earlier forms
of the Saga did