ROMANCES OF ARTHUR
"For there was no man knew from whence he came;
But after tempest, when the long wave broke
All down the thundering shores of Bude and Boss,
There came a day as still as heaven, and then
They found a naked child upon the sands
Of wild Dundagll by the Cornish sea;
And that was Arthur."
Idylls of the King --TENNYSON.
THE scarcity of traditions connected with King Arthur is not a little remarkable in Cornwall, where he is said to have been born, and where we believe him to have been killed. In the autumn of last year (1863) I visited Tintagel and Camelford. I sought with anxiety for some stories of the British king, but not one could be obtained The man who has charge of the ruins of the castle was very sorry that he had lent a book which he once had, and which contained many curious stories, but he had no story to tell me.
We hear of Prince Arthur at the Land's-End, and of his fights with the Danes in two or three other places. Merlin, who may be considered as especially associated with Arthur, has left indications of his presence here and there, in prophetic rhymes not always fulfilled; but of Arthur's chieftains we have no folk-lore. All the rock markings, or rock peculiarities, which would in West Cornwall have been given to the giants, are referred to King Arthur in the eastern districts.
Jack the Giant Killer and Thomas Thumb--the former having been tutor, in his own especial caning, to King Arthur's only son,[a] and the latter the king's favourite dwarf [b]--are, except in story books, unknown. Jack Hornby, [c] if he ever lived near the Land's. End, unless he is the same with "Little Jack Horner,"--has been so long a stranger, that his name is forgotten.
The continuance of a fixed belief in the existence of Arthur is easily explained. The poets and the romance writers have made the achievements of a British chieftain familiar to all the people; and Arthur has not only a name, but a local habitation, given to him equally in Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland.
Mr Campbell, in his "West Highland Tales," gives a "Genealogy Abridgment of the very ancient and noble family of Argyle, 1779." The writer says this family began with Constantine, grandfather' to King Arthur; and he informs us that Sir Moroie Mor, a son of King Arthur, of whom great and strange things are told in the Irish Traditions--who was born at Dumbarton Castle, and who was usually known as "The Fool of the Forest" -- was the real progenitor of "Mac Callen Mor." From this Moroie Mor was derived the mighty Diarmaid, celebrated in many a Gaelic lay--"to whom all popular traditions trace the Campbell clan."
"Arthur and Diarrmaid," writes Mr Campbell, "primeval Celtic worthies, whose very existence the historian ignores, are thus brought together by a family genealogist."
"Was the Constantine grandfather to Arthur one of the five, tyrants named by Gildas ? "--I quote from Camden [d] and Milton [e]
Constanlinus, son of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, Arthur's haIf-brother by the mother's side, "a tyrannical and bloody king."
Aurelius Conanus, who "wallowed in murder and adultery."
Vorlpore, "tyrant of the Dimeta."
Cuneglas, "the yellow butcher."
Maglocunes, "the island dragon."
It is curious to find a Scotch genealogist uniting in one bond the Arthur of Dundagel and the ancestors of the Argyles of Dumbarton.
May we not after this venture to suggest that, in all probability, the parish of Constantine (pronounced, however, Cus-ten-ton), between Helstone and Penryn, may derive its name from this Constantinus, rather than from the first Christian emperor ?
Again, the family of Cossentine has been often said to be offsets from Constantine, the descendant of the Greek emperors, who was buried in Landulph Church. Seeing that the name has been known for so long a period in Cornwall, may not this family rather trace their origin up to this Constantine the Tyrant ?
[a] "Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales," by James O. Halliwell.
[b] See "Thomas of the Thumb, or Tómas na k'ordaig," Tale lxix. "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," by J. F. Campbell.
[c] "Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales," by James O. Halliwell
[d] Camden's "Britannica," by Gough, vol. i., p. 539. From this author we do learn much. Indeed he says--"As to that Constantine, whom Gildas calls 'that tyrannical whelp of the impure Danmonian lioness,' and of the disforesting of the whole country under King John, before whose time it was all forest, let historians tell--it is not to my purpose." -- Vol. i. p. 5.
[e] Miltons "History of Britain," edit. 1678, p. 155