from the “Pendragon” works by
T. H. White

T. H. White

This page:

The Sword in the Stone

The Book of Merlyn


modern Arthurian literature
my favorites

index pages:

The Sword in the Stone, extensively revised and incorporating parts of “The Book of Merlyn,” became the first book of The Once and Future King. I enjoy both. I have a page of notes comparing the two versions.

Quotes from both versions appear below; the sources are identified as follows:

My sources are printed in different styles: spelling, capitalization, and punctuation vary accordingly.

The Sword in the Stone

Copyright © 1939 by T. H. White

“The Sword in the Stone”

first book of The Once and Future King:

Copyright © 1939, 1940 by T. H. White
Copyright © 1958 by T. H. White

[SitS] He did not like the grown-ups who talked down to him like a baby, but the ones who just went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned. He had the glee of the porpoise then, pouring and leaping through strange seas.



[both] “Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.”

“Love is a trick played on us by the forces of evolution. Pleasure is the bait laid down by the same. There is only power. Power is of the individual mind, but the mind’s power is not enough. Power of the body decides everything in the end, and only Might is Right.”

[SitS only]

“The fare is lowly,” she said. “No doubt it is not what you would be accustomed to eating, and so naturally such highly born ones would not care to partake.”

Kay’s strongly developed feeling for good form gave way at this. He was an aristocratic boy always, and condescended to his inferiors so that they could admire him.


“And I should live out of doors all the year round in a pavilion, and never do anything but joust and go on quests and bear away the prize at tournaments, and I should not ever tell anybody my name.”

“Your wife will scarcely enjoy the life.”

“Oh, I am not going to have a wife. I think they are stupid.

“I shall have to have a lady-love, though,” added the future knight uncomfortably, “so that I can wear her favour in my helm, and do deeds in her honour.”

[both] “Nobody with any go needs to do their education twice.”

“Do you mean to say that Castor and Pollux did blow you to Bermuda?”

“Let this be a lesson to you,” replied Merlyn, “not to swear. I think we had better change the subject.”




[SitS only]

Chocolates, prince, oh chocolates!

You can eat them and fill up your pockets.

They squish in the mouth, oh chockets!

They also squish in the pocolates.


Silly poetry





[BkM, ch. 9]

A. We are more numerous than they are, therefore we have a right to their mash.

B. They are more numerous than we are, therefore they are wickedly trying to steal our mash.

C. We are a mighty race and have a natural right to subjugate their puny one.

D. They are a mighty race and are unnaturally trying to subjugate our inoffensive one.

E. We must attack them in self-defence.

F. They are attacking us by defending themselves.

G. If we do not attack them today, they will attack us tomorrow.

H. In any case we are not attacking them at all. We are offering them incalculable benefits.



[OaFK] It has never been an economic proposition for an owner of cattle to starve his cows, so why should an owner of slaves starve them? The truth is that even nowadays the farm labourer accepts so little money because he does not have to throw his soul in with the bargain—as he would have to do in a town—and the same freedom of spirit has obtained in the country since the earliest times.





It was Christmas night in the Castle of the Forest Sauvage, and all around the castle the snow lay as it ought to lie. It hung heavily on the battlements, like extremely thick icing on a very good cake, and in a few convenient places it modestly turned itself into the clearest icicles of the greatest possible length. It hung on the boughs of the forest trees in rounded lumps, even better than apple-blossom, and occasionally slid off the roofs of the village when it saw a chance of falling on some amusing character and giving pleasure to all.



God save King Pendragon,

May his reign long drag on,

  God save the King.



[SitS only] Being invisible is not so pleasant as it sounds. After a few minutes of it you forget where you last left your hands and legs—or at least you can only guess to within three or four inches—and the result is that it is by no means easy to make your way through a brambly wood. You can see the brambles all right, but where exactly you are in relation to them becomes more confusing. The only guide to your legs, for the feeling in them soon becomes complicated, is by looking for your footprints—these you can see in the neatly flattened grass below you—and, as for your arms and hands, it becomes hopeless unless you concentrate your mind to remember where you put them last. You can generally tell where your body is, either by the unnatural bend of a thorn branch, or by the pain of one of its thorns, or by the strange feeling of centralness which all human beings have, because we keep our souls in the region of our liver.




“If I were to be made a knight,” said the Wart, staring dreamily into the fire, “I should insist upon my doing my vigil all by myself, as Hob does with his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there should be none left, while if I were defeated, it would be I who would suffer for it.”

“That would be extremely presumptuous of you,” said Merlyn, “and you would be conquered, and you would suffer for it.”

“I shouldn’t mind.”

“Wouldn’t you? Wait till it happens and see.”

“Why do people not think, when they are grown up, as I do when I am young?”

“Oh, dear,” said Merlyn. “You are making me feel confused. Suppose you wait till you are grown up and know the reason?”

“I don’t think that is an answer at all,” replied the Wart, pretty justly.




“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”



“ ‘As for you, Man, you will be a naked tool all your life, though a user of tools. You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful. Run along then, and do your best. And listen, Man, before you go . . .’

“ ‘Well?’ asked Adam, turning back from his dismissal.

“ ‘We were only going to say,’ said God shyly, twisting Their hands together. ‘Well, We were just going to say, God bless you.’ ”

[OaFK only]

“I should have liked the banners and the trumpets, the flashing armour and the glorious charges. And oh, I should have liked to do great deeds, and be brave, and conquer my own fears. Don’t you have courage in warfare, Badger, and endurance, and comrades whom you love?”

The learned animal thought for a long time, gazing into the fire.

In the end, he seemed to change the subject.

“Which did you like best,” he asked, “the ants or the wild geese?”



[both] Everybody sent presents to the Wart, for his prowess in having learned to pull swords out of stones, and several burghers of the City of London asked him to help them in taking stoppers out of unruly bottles, unscrewing taps which had got stuck, and in other household emergencies which had got beyond their control.

text checked (see note) Mar 2005

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The Book of Merlyn

Copyright © 1977 by Shaftesbury Publishing Company

 1 “To disbelieve in original sin, does not mean that you must believe in original virtue. It only means that you must not believe that people are utterly wicked. Wicked they may be, and even very wicked, but not utterly. Otherwise, I agree, it would be no use trying.”



Original Sin

He began to feel the greatest affection, which was even mixed with awe, for his tutor’s ancient courage: which could go on believing and trying with undaunted crankiness, in spite of ages of experience. He began to be lightened at the thought that benevolence and valour could persist.





“When I was a third-rate schoolmaster in the twentieth century—or was it in the nineteenth—every single boy I ever met wrote essays for me which ended: Then he woke up. You could say that the Dream was the only literary convention of their most degraded classrooms. Are we to be this? We are the Matter of Britain, remember. And what of oneirocriticism, I ask? What are the psychologists to make of it? Stuff as dreams are made of is stuff and nonsense in my opinion.”

“Yes,” said the king meekly.

“Do I look like a dream?”




“It is hopeless doing things for people—it is often very dangerous indeed to do things at all—and the only thing worth doing for the race is to increase its stock of ideas. Then, if you make available a larger stock, the people are at liberty to help themselves from out of it. By this process the means of improvement is offered, to be accepted or rejected freely, and there is a faint hope of progress in the course of the millenia. Such is the business of the philosopher, to open new ideas. It is not his business to impose them on people.”



“Men’s brains,” he explained in the end, “seem to get petrified as they grow older. The surface becomes perished, like worn leather, and will no longer take impressions.”




For happiness is only a bye-product of function, as light is a bye-product of the electric current running through the wires. If the current cannot run efficiently, the light does not come. That is why nobody finds happiness, who seeks it on its own account.

“Believe me, the so-called primitive races who worshipped animals as gods were not so daft as people choose to pretend. At least they were humble. Why should not God have come to the earth as an earth-worm? There are a great many more worms than men, and they do a great deal more good.”




“Neither force, nor argument, nor opinion,” said Merlyn with the deepest sincerity, “are thinking. Argument is only a display of mental force, a sort of fencing with points in order to gain a victory, not for truth. Opinions are the blind alleys of lazy or of stupid men, who are unable to think.”




“We find that at present the human race is divided politically into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become ‘politicians’; the wise man stands out, because he knows himself to be hopelessly out-numbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off behind the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare.”



 6 “In the course of a long experience of the human race, I have learned that you can never make them understand anything, unless you rub it in.”
There were a lot of kisses on the bottom of it, and, on the back, some notes for a poem to be addressed to the sender. These were in Merlyn’s writing, and said: Hooey? Coué? Chop-suey? The poem itself, which began
was erased.


Bad poetry


11 He knew suddenly that nobody, living upon the remotest, most barren crag in the ocean, could complain of a dull landscape so long as he would lift his eyes. In the sky there was a new landscape every minute, in every pool of the sea rocks, a new world.
19 “The speciality of man, as much developed in him as the neck is in the camelopard, is his neopallium. This is the part of the brain which, instead of being devoted to instinct, is concerned with memory, deduction and the forms of thought which result in recognition by the individual of his personality. Man’s top-knot makes him conscious of himself as a separate being, which does not often happen in animals and savages, so that any form of pronounced collectivism in politics is contrary to the specialisation of man.”



“I am an anarchist, like any other sensible person. In point of fact the race will find that capitalists and communists modify themselves so much during the ages that they end by being indistinguishable as democrats: and so will the fascists modify themselves, for that matter. But whatever may be the contortions adopted by these three brands of collectivism, and however many the centuries during which they butcher each other out of childish ill-temper, the fact remains that all forms of collectivism are mistaken, according to the human skull.”




“You will fail because it is the nature of man to slay, in ignorance if not in wrath. But failure builds success and nature changes. A good man’s example always does instruct the ignorant and lessens their rage, little by little through the ages, until the spirit of the waters is content: and so, strong courage to Your Majesty, and a tranquil heart.”

text checked (see note) Mar 2005

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