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very much outside the more intimate concerns of the
at once secured the success of the Quest in sufficient accordance with the original idea and the presence of abundant purely romantic interest as well. And at the same time by connecting the sin which disqualifies Lancelot with the catastrophe of Arthur, and the achieving of the Quest itself with the weakening and breaking up of the Round Table (an idea insisted upon no doubt, by Tennyson, but existent in the originals), a dramatic and romantic completeness has been given to the whole cycle which no other collection of mediaeval romances possesses, and which equals, if it does not exceed, that of any of the far more apparently regular epics of literary history. It appears, indeed, to have been left for Malory to adjust and bring out the full epic completeness of the legend: but the materials, as it was almost superfluous for Dr Sommer to show by chapter and verse, were all ready to his hand. And if (as that learned if not invariably judicious scholar thinks) there is or once was somewhere a Suite of Lancelot corresponding to the Suite de Merlin of which Sir Thomas made such good use, it is not improbable that we should find the adjustment, though not the expression, to some extent anticipated. At any rate, the idea is already to hand in the original romances of our present period; and a wonderfully Nature of this great and perfect idea it is. Not the much * and justly praised arrangement and poetical justice of the Oresteia or of the story of OEdipus excel the Arthuriad in what used to be called “propriety” (which has nothing to do with prudishness), while both are, as at least it seems to me, far inferior in varied and poignant interest. That the attainment of the Graal, the healing of the maimed king, and the fulfilling of the other “weirds” which have lain upon the race of Joseph, should practically coincide with the termination of that glorious reign, with which fate and metaphysical aid had connected them, is one felicity. The “dolorous death and departing out of this world" in Lyonnesse and elsewhere corresponds to and completes the triumph of Sarras. From yet another point of view, the bringing into judgment of all the characters and their deeds is equally complete, equally natural and unforced. It is astonishing that men like Ascham, unless blinded by a survival of mediaeval or a foreshadowing of Puritan prudery, should have failed to see that the morality of the Morte d'Arthur is as rigorous as it is unsqueamish. Guinevere in her cloister and Lancelot in his hermitage, Arthur falling by (or at any rate in battle against) the fruit of his incestuous intercourse—these are not exactly encouragements to vice: ' while at the same time the earlier history may be admitted to have nothing of a crabbed and jejune virtue. But this conclusion, with the minor events which lead up to it, is scarcely less remarkable as exhibiting in the original author, whoever he was, a sense of art, a sense of finality, the absence of which is the great blot on Romance at large, owing to the natural, the human, but the very inartistic, craving for sequels. As is well known, it was the most difficult thing in the world for a mediaeval romancer to let his subject go. He must needs take it up from generation to generation; and the interminable series of Amadis and Esplandian stories, which, as the last example, looks almost like a designed caricature, is only an exaggeration of the habit which we can trace back through Huon of Bordeaua and Guy of Warwick almost to the earliest chansoms de geste. But the intelligent genius who shaped the Arthuriad has escaped this danger, and that not merely by the No one, simple process which Dryden, with his * placid irony, somewhere describes as “leaving scarce three of the characters alive.” We have reached, and feel that we have reached, the conclusion of the whole matter when the Graal has been taken to Heaven, and Arthur has gone to Avalon. Nobody wants to hear anything of the doubtless excellent Duke and King Constantine. Sir Ector himself could not leave the stage with more grace than with his great discourse on his dead comrade and kinsman. Lancelot's only son has gone with the Graal. The end is not violent or factitious, it is necessary and inevitable. It were even less unwise to seek the grave of Arthur than to attempt to take up the story of the Arthurians after king and queen and Lancelot are gone each to his and her own place, after the Graal is attained, after the Round Table is dissolved. It is creditable to the intelligence and taste of the average mediaeval romance-writer that even he did not yield to his besetting sin in this particular instance. With the exception of Ysaie le Triste, which deals with the fortunes of a supposed son of Tristan and Yseult, and thus connects itself with the most outlying part of the legend—a part which, as has been shown, is only hinged on to it—I cannot remember a single romance which purports to deal with affairs subsequent to the battle in Lyonesse. The two latest that can be in any way regarded as Arthurian, Arthur of Little Britain and Cleriodus, avowedly take up the story long subsequently, and only claim for their heroes the glory of distant descent from Arthur and his heroes. Meliadus de Lyonnois ascends from Tristram, and endeavours to connect the matter of Britain with that of France. Giron le Courtois deals with Palamedes and the earlier Arthurian story; while Perceforest, though based on the Brut, selects periods anterior to Arthur." There was, however, no such artistic constraint as regards episodes of the main story, or romans Latin d'aventures celebrating the exploits of single * knights, and connected with that story by a sort of stock overture and dénoîtment, in the first of which an adventure is usually started at Arthur's court, while the successful knight is also accustomed to send his captives to give testimony to his prowess
* This curious outburst, referred to before, may be found in the Schoolmaster, ed. Arber, p. 80, or ed. Giles, Works of Ascham, iii. 159.
* I have a much less direct acquaintance with the romances mentioned in this paragraph than with most of the works referred to in this book. I am obliged to speak of them at second-hand (chiefly from Dunlop and Mr Ward's invaluable Catalogue of Romances, vol. i. 1883; vol. ii. 1893). It is one of the results of the unlucky fancy of scholars for re-editing already accessible texts instead of devoting themselves to anecdota, that work of the first interest, like Perceforest, for instance, is left to black-letter, which, not to mention its costliness, is impossible to weak eyes; even where it is not left to manuscript, which is more impossible still.