Prince Arthur: an Allegorical Romance.

Prince Arthur: an Allegorical Romance. The Story from Spenser. In Two Volumes.

Alexander Bicknell

An anonymously-published prose adaptation of the first two books of The Faerie Queene, with substantial essays prefacing each of the two volumes.

Rendering the story complete involved writing a new ending, described in the Table of Contents: "The three Knights arrive at the Court of Gloriana — They are admitted to her presence, where the Red Cross Knight, and Sir Guyon, give an account of the commissions with which she had intrusted them — The British Prince, at the request of the Queen, relates the cause of his travels — Merlin arrives at the court, and discloses the steps he had taken to bring about an union between Gloriana and the Prince — He reveals to him his birth and genealogy — The Queen accepts his hand, and they are, at length, united, to their mutual satisfaction and happiness" 2:xii.

Town and Country Magazine: "This poetical romance will afford pleasure to such of the admirers of Spenser who would chuse to see him in a modern dress" 11 (February 1779) 101.

Monthly Review: "He has wrought up the principal incidents in Spenser's Fairy Queen into an allegorical romance, in which he has closely followed the track of the original; and to render the story complete, he has, with tolerable success, attempted to supply the loss of the last books of the poem" 60 (1779) 324.

Richard Frushell: "Donald Cheney has determined that aside from title page differences this is the same work as Una and Arthur 2 vols. in 1 (Cambridge 1779)" Edmund Spenser in the Early Eighteenth Century (1999) 218.


In the sixth century there lived a powerful queen, whose name was Gloriana: her fame extended throughout all the west, and she was not only beloved by her own subjects, but respected or feared by all the neighbouring powers. According to the custom of the age in which she flourished, she usually celebrated an annual feast, during which many gallant knights, came from all parts, at once, to give proofs of their skill in chivalry, to behold the splendour of her court, and to enjoy the pleasures of the festival.

On one of these occasions, a tall, well-shaped, but unpolished young stranger, presented himself before the queen, and, as the manner then was, craved of her a boon. During the feast it was not in her power to refuse supplications of this kind, such being then the rules of chivalry. The request of the stranger was, that he might be permitted to undertake the first adventure which should happen whilst the festival continued; for at this time the injured and distressed came from far to solicit her protection or assistance. This being granted by the queen, he immediately retire to some distance, and seated himself, with great humility, on the ground; a situation that seemed most fitted to his uncourtly appearance.

He had not remained there long, before a lovely lady, drest in mourning weeds, entered the court of the palace, mounted on a white ass; she was followed by a dwarf, leading a warlike steed, richly caparisoned, which bore the armour of a knight. Having alighted at the inner gate of the palace, she approached the throne with an air which declared her quality; and falling on her knees, informed the queen that her royal parents, after having long reigned the sovereigns of an extensive empire, had been confined, by a destructive dragon, many years in a brazen castle, to which they were obliged to retreat to avoid his fury: she then humbly besought Gloriana to commission one of her knights, of whose valour and prowess she was well assured, to attend her to this far distant country, that through him her parents might be restored to their kingdom.

The young stranger, hearing this request, instantly arose, and again prostrating himself before the queen, claimed her promise, and begged that he might be permitted to undertake the adventure: Gloriana greatly wondered at the presumption of her unknown petitioner, as he seemed unused to arms; but, having before given her irrevocable promise, she readily confirmed it. The lady, also, prejudiced by his appearance, for some time refused to trust her cause in such unpromising hands, but he still continued his importunities with so much fervour, and assurance of success, that she at length told him, if the armour she had brought with her, would exactly suit him, (and unless it did so, he vainly flattered himself with succeeding in the enterprize) she would accept him for her Knight. With unabated confidence the stranger submitted to the test; and being accoutered in it, and adorned with all the usual embellishments, he appeared the most graceful person in the whole company. The lady, astonished at the alteration in his manner and deportment, (for in a moment he seemed to have received a courtly polish) no longer refused to accept him for her champion: and after he had received the honour of knighthood, and the recreations of the festival were at an end, they took leave of the queen, and set out together on their journey, to the castle in which her royal parents were confined.

The new-made Knight wore upon his breast a bloody cross; the same device was also wrought upon his shield, as cognizances of his faith, and denoting the cause in which he was engaged. His port was now noble; and he gracefully bestrid his stately steed, which seemed impatient of the curb. Though he was equally unconscious of guilt or fear, yet a solemn sadness, unsuited to his years, had spread itself over his manly countenance, that could only be attributed to the importance of his present undertaking; for he had not only bound himself to release from their captivity the royal parents of his fair companion, but, like a true knight, he had resolved to avenge the cause of the injured, wherever he found them, and to redress every grievance that presented itself, as he proceeded.

The lovely Una, for that was the lady's name, rode by his side, upon her humble beast, leading, in a silken line, a milk-white lamb, an emblem of her own innocence. Equally pure was she herself; nor was she unschooled in every virtuous lore: yet a melancholy sat upon her brow, which shewed that some hidden care rankled in her heart. At a distance behind, impelled by no desires or fears, lagged her lazy dwarf, bearing on his back, such necessaries for the journey, as his strength would allow.

One evening as they proceeded in this manner, beguiling the time with innocent and instructive converse, a gathering storm obliged them to seek for shelter in the covert of an adjacent grove, whose lofty trees, clad in all their summer's pride, rendered it impervious to the tempest. The spacious path and alleys, with which it was interspersed, appeared to be much trodden by the feet of men, and each of them to lead towards the centre; but, unsuspicious of any danger, they drew no inference, from the observation. Pleased with the beauty of the place, and charmed with the music of the birds, of which an infinite number filled every spray, the Knight and damsel forgot, for a moment, their more important concerns, and roved, enraptured, through many different avenues, admiring the beauties of the various trees which composed their asylum. The sailing pine, the cedar proud and tall, the vine-propped elm, the knotted oak king of the forest, the mournful cypress, the laurel meed of conquerors and poets, the weeping fir, the willow worn by love-lorn paramours, the yew obedient to the bender's will, the myrrh sweet bleeding at each bitter wound, the fruitful olive, and the warlike beech, by turns attract their notice, and engage their admiration.

Thus delightfully employed, they passed their time away till the blustering storm was over blown; when, intending to pursue their journey, they sought to recover the plain from which they had been driven by it: but so many different paths and turnings presented themselves, that they were soon bewildered, and wandered still farther from the wished-for track.

Whilst they thus sought, in vain, for some clue to extricate them from their entanglement, they penetrated into the centre of the labyrinth; where they perceived a hollow cave, at the foot of a rock, which appeared to be large and capacious, but dark and horrible. Saint George, by which denomination the Knight was afterwards known, determined to explore the secrets of the cavern, dismounted from his horse, and gave his needless spear to the dwarf: when the lady, who already found her heart interested in the life of her champion, endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose. "Be well aware, (said she) Sir Knight, of what you do, lest you too rashly provoke unneeded mischief: the danger hid, the path unknown and dark, (forgive my fears) doubts must arise in every prudent mind; we often see, that though no smoke appears, yet fire lies concealed; so peril oft is found where it is least expected; therefore, brave Knight, withhold your desperate design, till you have cautiously examined this dark abode of unknown foes, and prudence warrants the attempt." "In vain you urge me to desist, fair lady, (returned the valiant stranger) honour forbids that I should shrink from shadowy foes, because they lie in darkness:"

"Virtue can see to do what virtue should,
By her own radiant light, though sun and moon
Were in the flat sea sunk."

When he had said this, impelled by his natural valour, and ambitious of proving to his fair companion, that he was not unequal to the undertaking in which he was employed by Gloriana, he advanced to the mouth of the cavern; but Una, unable to suppress her anxiety, again stopped him.

"Hear me once more, (she cried) Sir Knight, e'er my admonitions become useless. I better know than you, the perils of this place; and now perceive, though, alas, too late, that we are entangled in the wily wood of Error, a monster vile, hated, with justice, by God, and all good men. This is her den wherein she lies concealed, but spreads her noxious vapours all around. Wisdom warns you, although your foot is at the portal, to stay your step, and, whilst you can, to fly away, without thus rashly hazarding a dubious encounter."

The youthful knight, full of fire, and unexperienced hardiness, could not be staid by aught the lady said, but rushed at once into the darksome hole. His glittering armour cast around the cave a faint and gloomy light, which just sufficed to give him a view of the foul mishapen creature that inhabited it; one half of which was like a loathsome serpent, the other had the resemblance of a woman; and, thus conjoined, formed a most foul and horrid being. As she lay upon the dirty ground, her huge long tail, pointed with a mortal sting, spread itself over the whole den, although rolled up in many winding folds.

The monster no sooner perceived the approach of so formidable a foe, armed at all points, than she started up, and, hurling her dreadful tail around her head, endeavoured to gain the mouth of the cave; but the light, to which she bad a natural distaste, darting with uncommon effulgence on her eyes, drove her back to seek her former dreary, station. When the Knight saw her design, fearing to lose the first opportunity that had offered of proving his valour, like a fierce lion, he leapt upon his flying prey, and prevented her retreat. Compelled to act upon the defensive, the enraged fiend suddenly turned, and rearing her enormous body high above the ground, fixed her horrid talons on his shield, and wound her scaly train about his body: Thus enveloped, he strove in vain to move either his hands or feet, and was nearly sinking under this dreadful burden, which was augmented by his vexation at being thus surprized.

The lady, seeing her champion in this distressful situation, endeavoured to support his courage, and to animate him to the fullest exertion of his strength: to this purpose, she cried out, "Now, Sir Knight, shew me how well you are qualified to accomplish, with honour, the adventure you are yet to undertake in my behalf; be not then faint; add resolution to your force, and strive to strangle your inexorable enemy, or she will soon put a stop to all your arduous undertakings."

Saint George, aroused at these incitements, and vexed to find his first valorous attempt thus baffled, making one vigorous effort, got his right arm free, with which he instantly grasped her throat, and forced her to relinquish her hold: then raising his trenchant blade, before she could repeat her attack, with more than manly force he severed her hateful head from her unnatural body. A stream of black gore gushed from the corse, and deluged the adjacent ground.

No sooner did the lady see herself freed from those anxious fears, which had distracted her during the combat, than, with a chearful countenance, she hastened to the victor, and thus greeted him on his success. "I now see, brave Knight, that you are not unworthy of the armour which you have this day worn. It was no despicable enemy that you have thus laid low, and the glory you have won by this your first adventure, would grace a more experienced cavalier; may the same success crown all your future attempts, and aid your progress in the road of chivalry and honour!" The Red Cross Knight received with pleasure these flattering encomiums of his fair companion, but they generated not in his mind any sparks of pride or vanity; he only lowly bowed, and then remounted his steed.

They now, once more, strove to regain the road which they had left; to this purpose they entered the most beaten track, and pursued it, without deviation, till they reached the end; by which means they again found themselves on those plains from whence they had been driven by the storm.

Having thus resumed their journey, they travelled many days without encountering any new adventure. At length they met an aged man, clad in long black weeds, with his feet bare, and a hoary beard that hung down to his girdle; in his countenance appeared a sadness, tinctured with sagacity, his eyes, as he walked, were humbly fixed on the ground, and all the way he prayed, striking his breast with fervent marks of penitence and contrition. As he passed, the Knight courteously saluting him, enquired whether he knew of any strange adventures; to which the thus replied: "Alas, my son, how should a silly old man, who lives sequestered from the world, in a retired cell, and employs every hour in prayer and penitence, be able to tell you any tidings of foreign wars or worldly troubles? these things engage not the attention of a holy father; but if you desire to hear of an home-bred evil, a danger that exists hard by, I can inform you of a strange man, who has lately wasted all this country, far and near." "After such, (returned the Knight) I chiefly do enquire; tell me but where he lives, that I may search him out, to avenge the cause of the injured, and I will reward thee liberally." Not far from hence, (replied the sage) in a dreary wilderness, his dwelling is, near which none can pass, but at the hazard of their lives."

Night now approaching, the lady interrupted the old man's story, and thus addressed her fellow traveller. "As I doubt not but you must be weary, from the fatigue you have undergone, in your late encounter with the monster, let us seek out some place of rest: the sun that measures heaven during the day, baits his steeds at night, and rests his head in Thetis' lap; therefore, with the sun take your accustomed rest, and with new day begin a new adventure; untroubled night, they say, gives counsel best." "The lady advises well, (rejoined the old man) the way to win, is wisely to advise; therefore, as the day is nearly spent, take up your abode with me to night; and in the morning, proceed as you think proper." The Knight readily accepted the invitation, for who could have mistrusted such an hospitable offer, from lips so holy? and they went together to the godly father's home.

A little lowly hermitage it was, down in a dale, hard by a forest side, far from the resort of men: near it there stood a chapel, in which the hermit duly said, each morn and eventide, his prayers; and close beside it ran a chrystal stream, which from a fountain flowed, meandering, as it passed this rural spot. What pity that so sweet a habitation should contain nothing but fraud and foul deceptions! The recluse set before them such homely food as his retired situation afforded, of which the strangers partook with chearfulness; for the noblest mind is most content. The evening passed away in pleasing converse, the old man having store of artful words, and knowing full well to fashion his discourse to those he sought to win. The hour of rest, at length, approached, when he led his guests each to a small apartment, and left them to their repose.

No sooner were the eyelids of the unsuspicious travellers closed, than the old sorcerer (for such he was) entered into his study, and there, urged by the natural rancour which the hypocrite ever bears towards the virtuous, amidst his magic books and arts, sought out potent charms, to trouble their sleepy minds. With words most horrible, and cursed spells, he called around him legions of evil spirits, which fluttered about his head like little flies, and awaited his commands, either to aid his friends, or to annoy his enemies. Of these he chose out two, from their superior malignity, the fittest for his purpose; one of which, by his charms and hidden arts, he transformed into a lady; and having clad her in similar vestments, she appeared the perfect resemblance of his sleeping guest, fair Una. The other he sent to the cave of drowsy Morpheus for a dream, with which he might delude the slumbering Knight, by imprinting on his imagination, unchaste ideas, and such idle fancies as he had hitherto been a stranger to.

Having given each their proper instructions, he hastened them to the chamber of the Knight, who soundly slept, devoid of every evil thought; where the spirit instilled into his ear the dream he had brought, which had instantly the desired effect. He thought his fair companion, laying aside that chastity which was her greatest ornament, and in which no virgin could more justly pride herself, partook of his bed, and solicited his embraces: disturbed to find himself deceived in the opinion he had formed of her virtue and chaste demeanour, and, at the same time, agitated by a mistrust of some secret ill, or hidden foe, he suddenly started up. It is not in language to express his astonishment, when he discovered, that these perturbations were not imaginary, but that the lovely cause of them really sat beside him.

The phantom, who personated the injured virgin, acted, with propriety, the part assigned her. Lifting up her veil, she endeavoured, by gentle blandishments and smiles, intermingled with affected blushes, to tempt the virtuous Knight to unlawful love. Her arts, however, were exerted in vain; for, enraged at her shameless conduct, and the disappointment of his friendly hopes, he snatched his sword, and was on the point of avenging the cause of female delicacy, by putting an end, at once, to her imprudence, and her life: but, moderating his rage, he staid his hand; determined, before he executed so desperate a purpose, to try whether his senses were not still deceived. Whilst he was yet in doubt, the counterfeit lady wrung her hands, and made use of every female art to soften his obduracy: but finding these ineffectual, she at last tried what soothing language would do. "Hear me, (she cried) my lord, my love, hear me unfold a tale, that rends my virgin heart to disclose: it was for your sake, though hitherto this truth has been concealed, that I first left my father's kingdom; for you have I long indulged a hopeless love; pity, therefore, my wretched state, and let me no longer languish. Pardon the steps I take to gratify this love, but the blind god impels me to it, and if I meet not a return, I die." Here the flowing tears interrupted her speech, her bosom violently heaved, and her swoln heart seemed bursting.

Unconscious of deceit, and unexperienced in the concerns of love, the Knight concluded, that the violence of his fair companion's passion, had caused her thus to break through the rules of prudence, and, in this improper manner, to reveal her flame; he, therefore, assured her, he was not insensible of her charms, but from the first moment he saw her at the court of Gloriana, he entertained an affection for her: however, as his love was founded on virtue and honour, he determined to wait till he had finished the adventure, in which he was engaged, and had restored her parents to their throne, if so much good fortune was in store for him, before he either disclosed his passion to her, or desired their consent for a lasting union. He begged she would now retire to her chamber, and wait, with patience, the result of their present undertaking.

The false female, finding his heart impenetrable to her wiles, retired, with seeming reluctance, and feigned tears; and the knight, as it yet wanted some hours of day, betook himself to his pillow, to ruminate on what had passed; for this extraordinary interruption of his rest, had banished sleep from his eye-lids.