Here to return to
THIS is Tintagel, the castle which no man has ever seen. Many centuries ago there was on this spot a castle so built that one portion rested upon a splintered cliff standing up by the sea; and upon the causeway which connected the splinter with the mainland one good knight could defy the whole chivalry of England. It may be that you have stood between the sea and the cliffs to observe how the causeway became a gap, and the gap a chasm. You may have walked amidst the ruins of the castle. But it was not Tintagel.
The Knight’s bones are dust,
Perhaps you thought of Igraine the mother of Arthur, hiding in Tintagel, to whom, by the magic of Merlin, came Uther Pendragon during the dark night in which her husband perished in the shock of battle. Or you thought of the great combat waged upon the strand between Sir Marhaus, Knight of Ireland, and Sir Tristram of Lyonesse. Or you heard the harp of Tristram in the ruined tower, and the voice of Iseult la Belle, the sad Queen of Cornwall, whose love for the knight of Lyonesse was once the theme of song and romance.
But if the broken walls upon the cliffs reminded you of Arthur, you did not see Tintagel. You may, however, have seen the castle drawn with skill in an illuminated book of the Middle Ages. You may have seen it while you read Layamon, or Wace, or Geoffrey of Monmouth. For Tintagel was always the castle of the mind’s eye, the castle in the air.
Tintagel was the Utopia of chivalry. It did not raise proud battlements above the earth, but rather it hung marvellously from heaven. Upon its shimmering towers Galahad and Arthur walked. From its unshadowed gates came the cavalcades of perfect knighthood. Portcullis and moat and drawbridge were as nothing in the path of good men, but for a man who wore his spurs without honour they were impassable.
We know now that the ideal of perfect chivalry was incapable of realization. Men were barbaric, irreligious, greedy for lands and power, more apt to abduct the damsel in distress than to rescue her. But it is enough that the ideal ever existed, that Tintagel was ever seen, even in imagination. Perhaps there was some knight in those dark days — St. Louis the true Roi Soleil of France, shall we say? — who translated into action the whole knightly code. At least Arthur and Tintagel in romance, Louis and his good seneschal de Joinville in history, are enough to shame our complacency. With all our philanthropists, our district visitors, our earnest workers, we are not the first to conceive an ideal and clothe it in actions.
None of the great fortresses — Dover, Corfe, Nottingham, Pontefract, and the rest — were made of anything but common stone. They were inhabited by men of clay; and Time the despoiler, Man the destroyer, now and always beleaguer them. Visitors gape at their dungeons and drop pebbles into the echoing depths of their wells. Proud Dover was captured by a handful of townsfolk during the Civil Wars; Corfe is a struggling ruin, Nottingham and Pontefract are only names. But, if men die and stones decay, legends are cherished. It may be that the ideal Arthur will arise to rescue England in the hour of greatest need. It may be that Tintagel will be built up once more, not stone by stone, but ideally in the minds of men.