Merry Old Soul Vs. Lord of Camelot

BACK when I entertained the desire to become president of Mount Holyoke College, I was told that before I made application I should arrange to have a thesis published to establish my erudition. Everybody in education, I was told, strives to be published, and the length of an applicant's bibliography is persuasive when he is being considered. I looked into this and accordingly prepared an exegesis. I never did become president of Mount Holyoke, and my scholarly paper was rejected by the Colby College Library Quarterly, which makes a specialty of such academic contributions. But several friends, among them Doodie Gemsbart, the plumber, and Rodney Whitcomb, who shaves shingles at Weeks Mills, read my paper and suggested it be used as a sample of style for all professorial literature. It runs thus:

A Comparative Analysis of Royal Morality

In the Arthurian and Colesterol Reigns

Monarchial individualities were never more effectively demonstrated than in the lives of two of England's most important kings. Of King Cole, we have a clear, straightforward, somewhat terse delineation of his philosophies:

Old King Cole was a merry old soul

And a merry old soul was he ...

Given to frivolity and pleasure, he conducted his regal affairs in a context of hilarity and mirth, passing his time in personal gratification and paying little heed to political, social, and economic needs of his time. King Arthur, on the other hand, devoted himself to public weal and was always kind and generous.

Ballpoint (1769) says the use of ``good'' and ``goodly'' in the following stanza is an error. The ``goodly'' was originally rendered as ``godly,'' attesting Arthur's resemblance to deity in his character. This is not substantiated by another authority.

When good King Arthur ruled this land

He was a goodly king;

He stole three bags of barley meal

To make a bag pud-ding.

The imputation of a crime, as conveyed in the word ``stole,'' has been variously interpreted by scholars. Since in Arthur's time all property was vested in the king, it would be unnecessary for him to steal, and Plopkin (1538) suggests that the word is intended humorously. Bonfelos (1644) thinks the poet or troubadour considered thievery a leveling attribute, thus bringing Arthur down to the gastronomic situation of his subjects. This would make Arthur appear a regular fellow, beloved of his people, rather than leaving him exalted, as with King Cole. Further, Hookums (1724) says that the word ``stole'' is used to emphasize the ultimate salutary ultilization of the barley meal:

A bag pud-ding the king did make

And stuffed it well with plums;

And in it put great lumps of fat

As big as my two thumbs.

The generosity of Arthur is shown by the amount of fat used, whereas King Cole merely summoned his varlets with orders to perform and fetch his desires, and King Cole clearly was under no disposition to be generous or to forego his royal prerogatives. King Cole remains enthroned, while King Arthur is humanizing in the kitchen. As a thief, Arthur mitigates his felony by performing as a benevolent friend:

The King and Queen did eat thereof,

And noblemen beside;

And what they did not eat that night

The Queen next morning fried.

By no means as selfish as Cole, Arthur bids everybody to attend, and the feast continues well into the evening. Frugality in the palace, rather than the wanton dissipation of King Cole, would be popular with the taxpayers, and Arthur is seen to be shrewd in his choices. None of the bag pudding went to waste, and there is a homey scene when Her Majesty arises at cock-crow to descend with her ladies-in-waiting, setting the frying pan on the palace hearth to make breakfast. This domesticity would create good feeling throughout Camelot, whereas vis-`a-vis King Cole, there would be contumely and vituperation. We find no evidence that King Cole cared about his public image.

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