Famous Prefaces.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

William Caxton

AFTER that I had accomplished and finished divers histories, as well of contemplation as of other historical and worldly acts of great conquerors and princes, and also certain books of ensamples and doctrine, many noble and divers gentlemen of this realm of England came and demanded me many and oft times wherefore that I have not done made and printed the noble history of the Saint Graal, and of the most renowned Christian King, first and chief of the three best Christian and worthy, Arthur, which ought most to be remembered among us Englishmen before all other Christian Kings. For it is notoyrly known through the universal world that there be nine worthy and the best that ever were; that is to wit three Paynims, three Jews, and three Christian men. As for the Paynims, they were to-fore the Incarnation of Christ, which were named—the first, Hector of Troy, of whom the history is come both in ballad and in prose—the second, Alexander the Great; and the third, Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome, of whom the histories be well known and had. and as for the three Jews, which also were before the Incarnation of our Lord of whom the first was Duke Joshua, which brought the children of Israel into the land of behest; the second, David, King of Jerusalem; and the third Judas Maccabæus; of these three the Bible rehearseth all their noble histories and acts. and since the said Incarnation have been three noble Christian men, installed and admitted through the universal world into the number of the nine best and worthy, of whom was first the noble Arthur, whose noble acts I purpose to write in this present book here following. The second was Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, of whom the history is had in many places both in French and English; and the third and last was Godfrey of Boulogne, of whose acts and life I made a book unto the excellent prince and king of noble memory, King Edward the Fourth. The said noble gentlemen instantly required me to print the history of the said noble king and conqueror, King Arthur, and of his knights, with the history of the Saint Graal, and of the death and ending of the said Arthur, affirming that I ought rather to print his acts and noble feats than of Godfrey of Boulogne or any of the other eight, considering that he was a man born within this realm, and king and emperor of the same; and that there be in French divers and many noble volumes of his acts, and also of his knights. to whom I answered that divers men hold opinion that there was no such Arthur, and that all such books as be made of him be but feigned and fables, because that some chronicles make of him no mention, ne remember him nothing ne of his knights; whereto they answered, and one in special said, that in him that should say or think that there was never such a king called Arthur, might well be aretted great folly and blindness; for he said that there were many evidences of the contrary. First ye may see his sepulchre in the monastery of Glastonbury; and also in ‘Polychronicon,’ in the fifth book, the sixth chapter, and in the seventh book, the twenty-third chapter, where his body was buried, and after found and translated into the said monastery. Ye shall see also in the history of Boccaccio, in his book ‘De casu principum,’ part of his noble acts and also of his fall. Also Galfridus in his British book recounteth his life, and in divers places of England many remembrances be yet of him, and shall remain perpetually, and also of his knights. First in the Abbey of Westminster at Saint Edward’s shrine remaineth the print of his seal in red wax closed in beryl, in which is written ‘Patricius Arthurus, Britanniae Galliae Germaniae Daciae Imperator.’ Item, in the castle of Dover ye may see Gawain’s skull and Caradoc’s mantle; at Winchester the round table; in other places Lancelot’s sword, and many other things. Then all these things considered, there can no man reasonably gainsay but here was a king of this land named Arthur; for in all places, Christian and heathen, he is reputed and taken for one of the nine worthy, and the first of the three Christian men. and also he is more spoken of beyond the sea; more books made of his noble acts than there be in England, as well in Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and Greek as in French; and yet of record remain in witness of him in Wales in the town of Camelot the great stones and marvellous works of iron lying under the ground, and royal vaults, which divers now living hath seen. Wherefore it is marvel why he is no more renowned in his own country, save only it accordeth to the word of God, which saith that no man is accepted for a prophet in his own country. Then all these things aforesaid alleged, I could not well deny but that there was such a noble king named Arthur, and reputed one of the nine worthy, and first and chief of the Christian men; and many noble volumes be made of him and of his noble knights in French, which I have seen and read beyond the sea, which be not had in our maternal tongue, but in Welsh be many, and also in French, and some in English, but nowhere nigh all. Wherefore such as have lately been drawn out briefly into English, I have, after the simple cunning that God hath sent to me, under the favour and correction of all noble lords and gentlemen, 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 books of French and reduced it into English. and I, according to my copy have down set it in print, to the intent that noble men may see and learn the noble acts of chivalry, the gentle and virtuous deeds that some knights used in those days, by which they came to honour, and how they that were vicious were punished and oft put to shame and rebuke; humbly beseeching all noble lords and ladies and all other estates, of what estate or degree they be of, that shall see and read in this said book and work, that they take the good and honest acts in their remembrance and to follow the same, wherein they shall find many joyous and pleasant histories and noble and renowned acts of humanity, gentleness, and chivalry. For herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardyhood, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue and sin. Do after the good and leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renown. and for to pass the time this book shall be pleasant to read in; but for to give faith and believe that all is true that is contained herein, ye be at your liberty. But all is written for our doctrine, and for to beware that we fall not to vice ne sin, but to exercise and follow virtue, by which we may come and attain to good fame and renown in this life, and after this short and transitory life to come unto everlasting bliss in heaven; the which He grant us that reigneth in Heaven, the Blessed Trinity. Amen.

Then to proceed forth in this said book which I direct unto all noble princes, lords and ladies, gentlemen or gentlewomen, that desire to read or hear read of the noble and joyous history of the great conqueror and excellent king, King Arthur, sometime King of this noble realm then called Britain, I, William Caxton, simple person, present this book following which I have emprised to imprint. and treateth of the noble acts, feats of arms, of chivalry, prowess, hardihood, humanity, love, courtesy, and very gentleness, with many wonderful histories and adventures. and for to understand briefly the contents of this volume, I have divided it into 21 books, and every book chaptered, as hereafter shall by God’s grace follow. The first book shall treat how Uther Pendragon begat the noble conqueror, King Arthur, and containeth 28 chapters. The second book treateth of Balyn the noble knight, and containeth 19 chapters. The third book treateth of the marriage of King Arthur to Queen Guinevere, with other matters, and containeth 15 chapters. The fourth book how Merlin was assotted, and of war made to King Arthur, and containeth 29 chapters. The fifth book treateth of the conquest of Lucius the emperor, and containeth 12 chapters. The sixth book treateth of Sir Lancelot and Sir Lionel, and marvellous adventures, and containeth 18 chapters. The seventh book treateth of a noble knight called Sir Gareth, and named by Sir Kay ‘Beaumains’, and containeth 36 chapters. The eighth book treateth of the birth of Sir Tristram the noble knight, and of his acts, and containeth 41 chapters. The ninth book treateth of a knight named by Sir Kay, ‘Le cote mal taillé,’ and also of Sir Tristram, and containeth 44 chapters. The tenth book treateth of Sir Tristram, and other marvellous adventures, and containeth 83 chapters. The eleventh book treateth of Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad, and containeth 14 chapters. The twelfth book treateth of Sir Lancelot and his madness, containeth 14 chapters. The thirteenth book treateth how Galahad came first to King Arthur’s court, and the quest how the Sangreal was begun, and containeth 20 chapters. The fourteenth book treateth of the quest of the Sangreal, and containeth 10 chapters. The fifteenth book treateth of Sir Lancelot, and containeth 6 chapters. The sixteenth book treateth of Sir Boris and Sir Lionel his brother, and containeth 17 chapters. The seventeenth book treateth of the Sangreal, and containeth 23 chapters. The eighteenth book treateth of Sir Lancelot and the Queen, and containeth 25 chapters. The nineteenth book treateth of Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot, and containeth 13 chapters. The twentieth book treateth of the piteous death of Arthur, and containeth 22 chapters. The twenty-first book treateth of his last departing, and how Sir Lancelot came to revenge his death, and containeth 13 chapters. The sum is 21 books, which contain the sum of five hundred and seven chapters, as more plainly shall follow hereafter.