Idylls of the King "Face-flatterer And Backbiter Are The Same"

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"Face-flatterer And Backbiter Are The Same"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Vivien, the beautiful, wily, and malignant daughter of a man killed fighting against King Arthur, leaves Tintagel, the court of Mark of Cornwall, to go to Camelot. There she intends to sow seeds of suspicion concerning the honor and purity of Lancelot's devotion to Guinevere. While in Camelot, she sets out to win the heart of the aging wizard, Merlin. Even while doubting Vivien's honesty, Merlin "felt the flattery and at times/ Would flatter his own wish in age for love." Foreseeing the doom poised to fall on Camelot, Merlin leaves the court, consumed with melancholy. Vivien accompanies him to Broceliande where she attempts to extract from him a charm which ensnares its victim forever. Merlin agrees that he owes her a boon for breaking his melancholy, but he asserts that this particular charm should not be shared. He fears that Vivien might, in a sudden fit of anger or jealousy, use the charm against him or one of the Round Table. Mention of the knights irritates Vivien; she accuses them of breaking their vows of chastity. In her spite, she even says Arthur is cowardly and foolishly selfdeceived. Merlin proves her accusations to be groundless slander. As a result of Vivien's fit of anger, Merlin swears not to tell her the secret of the charm, in spite of all her previous flattery. He says:

I know the Round Table, my friends of old;
All brave, and many generous, and some chaste.
She cloaks the scar of some repulse with lies.
I will believe she tempted them and failed,
Being so bitter. . . .
. . .
I will not let her know; nine tithes of times
Face-flatterer and backbiter are the same.
And they, sweet soul, that most impute a crime
Are pronest to it, and impute themselves,
Wanting the mental range, or low desire
Not to feel lowest makes them level all; . . .
. . .