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suming at the same moment to avow his love for her, and to claim a return, on the pretext of being unrivalled in the field, Arthur, unable to repress his indignation, rushes forward to repel the boast, and a deadly combat between the two chiefs and their followers would immediately have ensued, had not the intervention of the knights and marshals repressed their fury; when Uther, rising from his seat, and exclaiming against the breach of hospitality, in assaulting the invited guest, banishes Arthur from his court. In fact, astonished at the unequalled prowess of the Saxon king, and trembling for his son, he was happy to avail himself of this plea, in order, as his affectionate fears suggested, to save the life of the latter. In the meanwhile he offers to Hengist, whilst the festival lasts, the liberty of preferring his suit, declaring, at the same time, that should the maid contemn his love, no force shall be put upon her inclinations. Inogen, as may be concluded, is unable to conceal her aversion for the Saxon; and Hengist, in the spirit of his haughty character, not only avenges himself on Uther and the Britons, by behaving towards them with insolence, but, by daily increasing around him the circle of his friends and followers, seems to menace a more serious aggression. Uther, alarmed, secretly issues his orders to recall his son and absent knights, determined that if a mild intimation failed to induce Hengist to leave Carlisle, force should compel him to retire. It was in this state of affairs that one evening, whilst Merlin sate in his bower, pensive and absorbed in thought, Cador, a kinsman and bosom friend of Arthur, suddenly enters and informs him, that from motives of affection, and in the hope of lightening the anguish of the prince, he had followed his steps shortly after he had quitted his father's court, and had found him, after long search, on the shores of the Humber, where, with ten of his bravest knights, he saw him embark for the desert isle of Ligon, at which place Hengist, to whom he had sent a defiance, had promised to meet him with a similar force, in order to decide their pretensions to Inogen by combat. He adds, that Arthur refusing to allow his accompanying their expedition, he had returned, at his express desire, with a message offilial piety to his father, and with assurances of fidelity and protection to Inogen; but that on his way he had learnt, to his inexpressible
parts by the Danes and Saxons; that Hengist, regardless of his honour, had forfeited his engagement to meet Arthur; that he was, in fact, preparing to besiege Carlisle; and, to aggravate these misfortunes, that Uther, worn out with age and sorrow, was actually dying.
Under these circumstances, he and Lancelot, who had been left by Arthur to aid and support the venerable monarch, urge Merlin instantly to seek safety for himself and daughter in flight, leaving them to defend the walls of the city. With this advice, conscious that age and beauty can be of no avail in such an emergency, he willingly complies, and he and Inogen regain, under the friendly shades of night, their former retreat. The sentiments, however, with which they re-enter this abode are widely different from those which they had once entertained beneath its shelter, and the effect of this change on the objects around them is most feelingly and beautifully expressed in the following lines:
Through various toils our calm retreat we found,
As sweet the blushing flowers perfumed the air;
The narrative now proceeds to inform us, that one morning, lost in deep reflection, Merlin wandered a considerable distance from his abode, when at length, the heat of the noontide sun having compelled him to seek for shade, he enters a forest; an incident of which the poet has availed himself to introduce an admirable picture of the locality of a Druidical circle, and of the awful rites which were wont to accompany that sanguinary form of religion: Before my view a gloomy forest rose: To quench my thirst, and in the shades repose, I thither bent my way; for thence the sound Of waters struck my ear: th’ untrodden bound I slowly pierce, and now their view obtain, As from th’ impending cliff they pour'd amain. The cooling wave the pangs of thirst allays, And round my head the breeze refreshing plays.
An aged oak beside the torrent stood,
O'er the green dell its boughs were wildly thrown,
Scarcely had he yielded to repose, when he beholds, in a vision, the trunk of this gigantic oak divide, whilst, rising from its centre, appears the genius of his native island, and thus addresses him :
'Twas thine, directed by the powers above,
* “The oak was considered as sacred in the earliest ages. The misletoe is a plant of the parasite kind, which sometimes, but not frequently, grows on it. In gathering it the Druids used many ridiculous ceremonies, which are described by Pliny in his Natural History, I. xvi. c. 44. He there says, that it was never gathered but on the sixth day of the moon, which was so highly esteemed by them, that all their religious festivals were held on it; and their months, years, and ages, which consisted of the revolution of thirty years, took their commencement from that day.”—Hole.