Imagens das páginas

If, as I think may fairly be done, the glory of the Legend be chiefly claimed for none of these, 1, p.m.,,, but for English or Anglo-Norman, it can Anglo-Norman be done in no spirit of national pleomewia, ” but on a sober consideration of all the facts of the case, and allowing all other claimants their fair share in the matter as subsidiaries. From the merely a priori point of view the claims of England—that is to say, the Anglo-Norman realm—are strong. The matter is “the matter of Britain,” and it was as natural that Arthur should be sung in Britain as that Charlemagne should be celebrated in France. But this could weigh nothing against positive balance of argument from the facts on the other side. The balance, however, does not lie against us. The personal claim of Walter Map, even if disproved, would not carry the English claim with it in its fall. But it has never been disproved. The positive, the repeated, attribution of the MSS. may not be final, but requires a very serious body of counter-argument to upset it. And there is none such. The time suits; the man's general ability is not denied; his familiarity with Welshmen and Welsh tradition as a Herefordshire Marcher is pretty certain; and his one indisputable book of general literature, the De Nugis Curialium, exhibits many—perhaps all—of the qualifications required: a sharp judgment united with a distinct predilection for the marvellous, an unquestionable piety combined with man-of-the-worldliness, and a toleration of human infirmities. It is hardly necessary to point out the critical incompetence of those who say that a satirist like Map could not have written the Quest and the Mort. Such critics would make two Peacocks as the simultaneous authors of Nightmare Abbey and Rhododaphne—may, two Shakespeares to father the Sonnets and the Merry Wives. If any one will turn to the stories of Gerbert and Meridiana, of Galo, Sadius, and the evil queen in the Nuga”, he will, making allowance for Walter's awkward Latin in comparison with the exquisite French of the twelfth century, find reasons for thinking the author of that odd book quite equal to the authorship of part—not necessarily the whole—of the Arthurian story in its co-ordinated form. Again, it is distinctly noticeable that the farther the story goes from England and the English Continental possessions, the more does it lose of that peculiar blended character, that mixture of the purely mystical and purely romantic, of sacred and profane, which has been noted as characteristic of its perfect bloom. In the Percevale of Chrestien and his continuators, and still more in Wolfram von Eschenbach, as it proceeds eastwards, and into more and more purely Teutonic regions, it absorbs itself in the Graal and the moonshiny mysticism thereto appertaining. When it has fared southwards to Italy, the lawlessness of the loves of Guinevere and Iseult preoccupies Southern attention. As for Welsh, it is sufficient to quote the statement of the most competent of Welsh authorities, Professor Rhys, to the effect that “the passion of Lancelot for Guinevere is unknown to Welsh literature.” Now, as I have tried to point

[ocr errors][merged small]

out, the passion of Lancelot for Guinevere, blended as it is with the quasi-historic interest of Arthur's conquests and the religious - mystical interest of the Graal story, is the heart, the life, the source of all charm and beauty in the perfect Arthur-story. I should think, therefore, that the most reasonable account of the whole matter may be somewhat as follows, using imagination as little as possible, and limiting hypothesis rigidly to what is necessary to connect, explain, and render generally intelligible the historical facts which have been already summarised. And I may add that while this account is not very different from the views of the earliest of really learned modern authorities, Sir Frederic Madden and M. Paulin Paris, I was surprised to find how much it agrees with that of one of the very latest, M. Loth. In so far as the probable personality and exploits, and the almost certain tradition of such exploits and Attempted such a personality, goes, there is no reason * for, and much reason against, denying a Celtic origin to this Legend of Arthur. The best authorities have differed as to the amount of really ancient testimony in Welsh as to him, and it seems to be agreed by the best authorities that there is no ancient tradition in any other branch of Celtic literature. But if we take the mentions allowed as ancient by such a careful critic as Professor Rhys, if we combine them with the place-name evidence, and if we add the really important fact, that of the earliest literary dealers, certain or probable, with the legend, Geoffrey, Layamon, and Walter Map were neighbours of Wales, and Wace a neighbour of Brittany, to suppose that Arthur as a subject for romantic treatment was a figment of some nonCeltic brain, Saxon or Norman, French or English, is not only gratuitous but excessively unreasonable. Again, there can be no reasonable doubt that the Merlin legends, in at least their inception, were Celtic likewise. The attempt once made to identify Merlin with the well-known “Marcolf,” who serves as Solomon's interlocutor in a mass of early literature more or less Eastern in origin, is one of those critical freaks which betray an utterly uncritical temperament. Yet further, I should be inclined to allow no small portion of Celtic ingredient in the spirit, the tendency, the essence of the Arthurian Legend. We want something to account for this, which is not Saxon, not Norman, not French, not Teutonic generally, not Latin, not Eastern; and I at least am unable to discover where this something comes from if it is not from the Celtic fringe of England and of Normandy. But when we come to the Legend proper, and to its most important and most interesting characteristics, to its working up, to that extraordinary development which in a bare half-century (and half a century, though a long time now, was a very short one seven hundred years ago) evolved almost a whole library of romance from the scanty faits et gestes of Arthur as given by Geoffrey, then I must confess that I can see no evidence of Celtic forces or sources having played any great part in the matter. If Caradoc of Lancarvan wrote the Vita Gilda — and it is pretty certainly not later than his day, while if it was not written by him it must have been written by some one equally well acquainted with traditions, British and Armorican, of St Gildas—if he or any one else gave us what he has given about Arthur and Gildas himself, about Arthur's wife and Melvas, and if traditions existed of Galahad or even Percivale and the Graal, of the Round Table, most of all of Lancelot, why in the name of all that is critical and probable did he not give us more ? His hero could not have been ignorant of the matter, the legends of his hero could hardly have been silent about them. It is hard to believe that anybody can read the famous conclusion of Geoffrey's history without seeing a deliberate impishness in it, without being certain that the tale of the Book and the Archdeacon is a tale of a Cock and a Bull. But if it be taken seriously, how could the “British book” have failed to contain something more like our Legend of Arthur than Geoffrey has given us, and how, if it existed and gave more, could Geoffrey have failed to impart it ! Why should the Welsh, the proudest in their way of all peoples, and not the least gifted in literature, when they came to give Arthurian legends of the kind which we recognise, either translate them from the French or at least adapt and adjust them thereto ? On the other hand, the supposition that the fashioning, partly out of vague tradition, partly it may be K

« AnteriorContinuar »