Malory, Thomas (DNB00)

MALORY, Sir THOMAS (fl. 1470), author of ‘Le Morte Arthur’ was, according to Bale, a Welshman. Bale, quoting Leland's ‘Syllabus et Interpretatio Antiquarum Dictionum,’ 1542, mentions a place called ‘Mailoria, on the boundaries of Wales, near the River Dee.’ The spot has not been identified. The theory of Malory's Welsh origin is doubtless due to his choice of subject. At least four families of the name were long connected with the English Midlands, but none of the pedigrees seem to include the writer. In the fifteenth century William Malore or Malory of Hutton Conyers acquired, by marriage with the daughter of Sir Richard Tempest, the estate of Studley Royal, near Ripon, and a member of the family is buried in Ripon Cathedral, but none of this family bore the name of Thomas. The manor of Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire, belonged for at least two centuries to another family of the name. It was sold in 1377 by Sir Ankitell Malory. Sir Ankitell's son, Sir Thomas, was a large landowner in Leicestershire and Warwickshire, but is of too early a date to be identified with the writer; he left an only child, Elizabeth, wife of Sir Robert Ever, and she died in 1482 (Nichols, Leicestershire, iv. 761; Burton, Leicestershire). A third family was of Walton-on-the-Wolds, and its chief, John Malory (d. 1490), had a son John who was slain at Terouenne in 1512; while another John Malory, of a fourth—a Northamptonshire—family, held the manor of Lichborow until he was attainted of high treason in 1518, but on his death in 1522 the property was restored to a son, Thomas, who, dying in 1552, is of too late a date to be connected with the writer (Bridges, Northamptonshire, i. 76, 234). Bale says that the author was occupied with affairs of state, but there is no definite information respecting him outside his book.

In the preface to his edition of ‘Le Morte Arthur,’ Caxton writes that he ‘emprised to imprint a book of the noble histories of the said King Arthur and of certain of his knights after a copy unto me delivered, which copy Sir Thomas Malory did take out of certain book of French, and reduced it into English.’ Malory concludes his text with the words: ‘all gentlemen and gentlewomen that read this book of Arthur and his knights from the beginning to the ending, pray for me while I am on live that God send me good deliverance, and when I am dead I pray you all pray for my soul; for this book was ended the ninth year of the reign of King Edward the Fourth by Sir Thomas Mallore, knight, as Jesu help him for his great might, as he is the servant of Jesus both day and night.’ Malory's translation was therefore finished between 4 March 1469 and 4 March 1470. In the colophon Caxton again mentions Sir Thomas as the reducer of the work into English, but adds that it was by himself ‘divided into xxi books chapitred, and enprinted and finished in the Abbey Westminster, the last day of July the year of our Lord mcccclxxxv.’ Malory's description of himself as ‘the servant of Jesu both day and night’ has been assumed to imply that he was a priest, but his description of himself as ‘knight’ confutes the suggestion. Pious ejaculation at the conclusion of their labours is characteristic of mediæval authors.

Malory's work ‘is a most pleasant jumble and summary of the legends about Arthur.’ The legends which he ‘reduced’ mainly come from French romances, and fifty-six times in the course of his work he informs his reader that the ‘Frensshe booke’ is his authority. But he at the same time occasionally adapted English poems on the same theme, and was capable, not only of abridging and altering his authorities, but of making original interpolations. He was not critical in the choice of his originals, and at times accepted the least attractive of extant versions of the legends. But although derived from sources of varying literary interest, the whole work is singularly homogeneous in style and sentiment.

The sources of his twenty-one books have been identified thus: Books I–IV. are based partly on the ‘Romance of Merlin’ in French verse by Robert de Borron, and partly on a prose French rendering of Borron, with continuations. Book V. is from ‘La Morte Arthure,’ an English metrical romance in the Thornton MS. in Lincoln Cathedral library (printed by Early English Text Soc. in 1865 and 1871). Book VI. is from the French ‘Romance of Lancelot.’ The sources of book VII., ‘The Adventures of Gareth,’ have not been traced. Books VIII., IX., and X. follow the French prose ‘Romance of Tristan’ assigned to the fictitious Luce de Gast [q. v.], but chapters xxi. to xxviii. of book x. (the ‘Adventures of Alysanader le Orphelyn’ and the ‘Great Tournament of Surluse’) come from the French ‘Prophecies of Merlin’ (see Sommer, iii. 295–333).

Books XI. and XII., like books XIII. to XVII. (‘The Quest of the Holy Grail’), are mainly drawn from ‘Lancelot;’ but the last three chapters of book xii. (the fight between Tristram and Palomydes) are an interpolation from another source, which it is difficult to identify. Malory, at the close of book xii., writes, ‘Here ends the second book of Syr Trystram that was drawen oute of Frensshe.’ ‘But,’ he adds, ‘here is no rehersal made of the thyrd book;’ no ‘third book’ of Tristram seems now known, nor does any extant version of the French ‘Romance of Tristram’ deal with any of the incidents noticed by Malory in book xii.

Book XVIII. is a rifacimento of ‘Lancelot’ and the English metrical ‘Le Morte Arthur,’ but Malory's arrangement seems original. Chapters xx. (‘How the corps of the Mayde of Astolat arryued tofore Kyng Arthur, and of the buryeng, and how Syr Lancelot offryd the masse peny’) and xxv. (‘How true love is likened to summer’) are original interpolations by Malory. Book XIX. again depends on ‘Lancelot,’ with some help from an unidentified romance. Books XX. (except chap. i., which seems in part original) and XXI. render into prose the English metrical ‘Le Mort Arthur,’ which Dr. Furnivall edited from Harl. MS. 2252 in 1864.

Malory's style is characterised by the simplicity and perspicuity of his French originals, and although latinised words are not uncommon, and he connects his sentences with particles like ‘and,’ ‘then,’ and ‘so,’ his best effects are produced by the use of monosyllables. No effort in English prose on so large a scale had been made before him, and he did much to encourage a fluent and pliant English prose style in the century that succeeded him. In the nineteenth century, interest in his work was revived after a long interval. Tennyson's ‘Idylls of the King,’ Mr. William Morris's ‘Defence of Guinevere,’ Mr. Swinburne's ‘Tristram of Lyonesse,’ and Mr. Matthew Arnold's ‘Death of Tristram,’ were all suggested by Malory's book.

The morality of Malory's work has been questioned. Ascham, in his ‘Scholemaster,’ 1568, first denounced it as tending to immorality. ‘The whole pleasure of [the] book,’ Ascham wrote, ‘standeth in two special points, in open manslaughter and bold bawdry: In which booke those be counted the noblest knights that do kill most men without any quarrel, and commit foulest adulteries by subtlest shifts: as Sir Lancelot with the wife of King Arthur his master; Sir Tristram with the wife of King Mark his uncle; Sir Lamerocke with the wife of King Lote that was his aunt’ (ed. Mayor, pp. 81–2, 224–5). According to Tennyson, Malory's book hovers ‘between war and wantonness, and crownings and dethronings.’ But despite the frequency with which Malory deals with sinful passion, he honestly reprobates it, and enforces the doctrine which Caxton claimed to be characteristic of the work, ‘Do after the good and leave the evil.’ Scenes of violence were essential to a romance of chivalry, but Malory improves on many of his predecessors by intermingling with barbarous combats ‘many noble and renowned acts of humanity and courtesy.’ Occasionally, as in book xviii. chap. xxv., Malory digresses into reflective sentiment of incontrovertible beauty.

Of the first edition, printed by Caxton in folio in 1485, the sole perfect copy, formerly in the Osterley Park Library, now belongs to Mrs. Abby E. Pope, of Brooklyn, U.S.A. The only other copy known is in the Althorp collection, now at Manchester, and has eleven leaves supplied in facsimile. Reprints by Wynkyn de Worde appeared in 1498 and 1529. An unique copy of the former, with illustrations, is in the Althorp collection, and a unique copy of the latter is in the Grenville collection at the British Museum. Other early editions are by William Copland, 1557 (Brit. Mus., two copies); by Thomas East about 1585, fol. (ib.) and 4to; and by William Stansby in 1634. The book was not reissued again until 1816, when Stansby's edition was twice somewhat carelessly reprinted: by Haslewood, in three vols., and in ‘Walker's British Classics’ (2 vols.). Southey edited, from Caxton's edition at Althorp, another reprint in 1817. Thomas Wright, in 1856, re-edited Stansby's edition, and Sir Edward Strachey, in 1868, issued Caxton's version ‘revised for modern use.’ A very scholarly reprint of Caxton, fully edited by Dr. Oskar Sommer, was published in 1889. Two vols. of critical apparatus appeared respectively in 1890 and 1891.

[Dr. Sommer, in the edition noticed above, has collected the available information (see especially ii. 1–17, iii. 335 seq.); an Essay on the purely Literary Aspects of Malory's Work, by Mr. Andrew Lang, appears in vol. iii. pp. xiii seq., of Dr. Sommer's work. Bale vaguely notices Malory in his Scriptores, 1548.]

S. L.