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SWORD OF AVALON
Fairy Tales of Wales
Many of the Welsh tales are about fighting and wars and no country as
small as Wales has so many castles. Yet these are nearly all in ruins
and children play in them. This is because men got tired of battles
Everybody knows that after King Arthur's knights had punched and
speared, whacked and chopped at each other with axe and sword long
enough, had slain dragons and tamed monsters, and rescued princesses
from cruel uncles, and good men from dark dungeons, even the plain
people, such as farmers and mechanics, had enough and wanted no more.
Besides this, they wished to be treated more like human beings, and
not have to work so hard and also to keep their money when they earned
Even King Arthur himself, towards the end of this era, saw that
fashions were changing and that he must change with them. Hardware was
too high in price, and was no longer needed for clothing. He was wise
enough to see that battle axes, maces, swords, lances and armor had
better be put to some better use, when iron was getting scarce and
wool and linen were cheaper. Even the stupid Normans learned that
decency and kindness cost less, and accomplished more in making the
Welshery loyal subjects of the king.
So when, after many battles, King Arthur went out to have a little war
of his own, and to enjoy the fight, in which he was mortally wounded,
he showed his greatness, even in the hour of death. In truth, it is
given to some men, like Samson, to be even mightier when they die,
than when following the strenuous life. So it was with this great and
good man of Cymry. His love for his people never ceased for one
moment, and in his dying hour he left a bequest that all his people
have understood and acted upon.
Thus it has come to pass that the Welsh have been really
unconquerable, by Saxon or Norman, or even in these twentieth century
days by Teutons. Though living in a small country, they are among the
greatest in the world, not in force, or in material things, but in
soul. When Belgium was invaded, they not only stood up in battle
against the invader, but they welcomed to their homes tens of
thousands of fugitives and fed and sheltered them.
Brave as lions, their path of progress has been in faithfulness to
duty, industry, and patience, and along the paths of poetry, music and
brotherhood. Their motto for ages has been, "Truth against the World."
Now the manner of King Arthur's taking off and his immortal legacy was
on this fashion:
After doing a great many wonderful things, in many countries, King
Arthur came back to punish the wicked man, Modred. In the battle that
ensued, he received wounds that made him feel that he was very soon to
die. So he ordered his loyal vassal to take his sword to the island of
Avalon. There he must cast the weapon into the deep water.
But the sword was part of the soul of Arthur. It would not sink out of
sight, until it had given a message, from their king to the Welsh, for
After it had been thrown in the water, it disappeared, but rose again.
First the shining blade, and then the hilt, and then a hand was seen
to rise out of the flood.
Thrice that hand waved the sword round and round.
This was the prophecy of "the deathless from the dead." King Arthur's
body might be hid in a cave, or molder in the ground, but his soul was
to live and cheer his people. His beloved Cymric nation, with their
undying language, were to rise in power again.
And the resurrection has been glorious. Not by the might of the
soldier, or by arms or war--though the Welsh never flinch from duty,
or before the foe--but by the power of poet, singer and the narrator
of stories, that touch the imagination, and fire the soul to noble
deeds, have these results come.
Arthur's good blade, thus waved above the waters, became a veritable
sword of the Spirit.
Men of genius arose to flush with color the old legends. Prophets,
preachers, monks, missionaries carried these all over Europe, and made
them the vehicles of Christian doctrine. In their new forms, they
fired the imagination and illuminated, as with ten thousand lamps,
many lands and nations, until they held every people in spell. In
miracle and morality play, they reappeared in beauty. They attuned the
harp and instrument of the musician and the troubadour, and these sang
the gospel in all lands, north and south, while telling the stories of
Adam, and of Abraham, of Bethlehem, and of the cross, of the Holy
Grail, and of Arthur and his Knights. All the precious lore of the
Celtic race became transfigured, to illustrate and enforce Christian
truth. The symbolical bowl, the Celtic caldron of abundance, became
the cup of the Eucharist and the Grail the symbol of blessings
By the artists, in the stained glass, and in windows of the great
churches, which were built no longer of wood but of stone, that
blossomed under the chisel, the old legends were, by the new currents
of truth, given a mystic glow. As wonderful as the rise of Gothic
architecture and the upbuilding of cathedrals, as glorious as the
light and art, that beautify the great temples of worship, was this
re-birth of the Arthurian legends.
For now, again, the old virtues of the knightly days--loyalty,
obedience, redress of wrongs, reverence of womanhood, and the
application of Christian ethics to the old rude rules of decency,
lifted the life of the common people to a nobler plane and ushered in
the modern days.
Then, after seven hundred years, a host of singers, Tennyson leading
them all, attuned the old Celtic harp. They reset for us the Cymric
melody and colorful incidents in "the light that never was on sea or
land." The old days live again in a greater glory.
Lady Guest put the Mabinogion into English, and Renan, and Arnold, and
Rolleston, and Rhys, in prose, competed in praise of the heritages
from the old time. Popular education was diffused. The Welsh language
rose again from the dead. Cardiff holds in pure white marble the most
thrilling interpretation of Welsh history, in the twelve white marble
statues of the great men of Wales. The Welsh people, by bloodless
victory, have won the respect of all mankind.
They set a beacon for the oppressed nations. In the World War of
1914-1918, they helped to save freedom and civilization. They were in
Long may the sword of Arthur wave!