Imagens das páginas
PDF

of Arthur should have been least rife. That Gildas should say nothing is more surprising and more difficult of explanation. For putting aside altogether the positive testimony of the Vita Gilda, to which we shall come presently, Gildas was, again ca, hypothesi, a contemporary of Arthur's, and must have known all about him. If the compound of scolding and lamentation known as De Eccidio Britanniae is late and a forgery, we should expect it to contain some reference to the king; if it is early and genuine, it is difficult to see how such reference could possibly be omitted. At the same time, mere silence can never establish anything but a presumption; and the presumption is The four wit. in this case rebutted by far stronger onesses. probabilities on the other side. The evidence is here drawn from four main sources, which we may range in the order of their chronological bearing. First, there are the Arthurian place - names, and the traditions respecting them; secondly, the fragments of genuine early Welsh reference to Arthur; thirdly, the famous passage of Nennius, which introduces him for the first time to probably dated literature; fourthly, the curious references in the above-referred-to Vita Gilda of, or attributed to, Caradoc of Lancarvan. After this last, or at a time contemporary with it, we come to the comparatively detailed account of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the beginning of the Legend proper. To summarise this evidence as carefully but as briefly as possible, we find, in almost all parts of Britain beyond the range of the first Saxon conquests, but especially in West Wales, Strathclyde, and Lothian, certain place-names connecting themselves either with Arthur himself or with the early catalogue of his battles." We find allusions to him in Welsh poetry which may be as old as the sixth century—allusions, it is true, of the vaguest and most meagre kind, and touching no point of his received story except his mysterious death or no-death, but fairly corroborative of his actual existence. Nennius—the much-debated Nennius, whom general opinion attributes to the ninth century, but who may be as early as the eighth, and cannot well be later than the tenth—gives us the catalogue of the twelve battles, and the exploits of Arthur against the Saxons, in a single paragraph containing no reference to any but military matters, and speaking of Arthur not as king but as a duw bellorum’ commanding kings, many of whom were more noble than himself.

The first authority from whom we get any personal

Their testimony.

ate Mr Skene, with great learning and ingenuity, endeavoured Ancient Books of Wales to claim all or almost all these for Scotland in the wide sense. This can hardly be inted: but impartial students of the historical references and admitte nces together will observe the constant introduction of the o Ca ities in the latter, and the express testimony in the northern o effect that Arthur was general of all the British forces. former to ot rob Cornwall to pay Lothian. For the really old We need n elsh poetry see, besides Skene, Professor Rhys, op.cit. references is' ennius (but not the Vita Gildae) will be found conGildas and s d, with Geoffrey himself, in a volume of Bohn's veniently o.y, Six Old English Chronicles. The E.E.T.S. edition Historical . ins a very long excursus by Mr Stuart-Glennie on the of Merlin CO

lace-name questio"

1 The 1 in his Fou” place-name*

[ocr errors]

account of Arthur is Caradoc, if Caradoc it be. The biographer makes his hero St Gildas (I put minor and irrelevant discrepancies aside) contemporary with Arthur, whom he loved, and who was king of all Greater Britain. But his brother kings did not admit this sovereignty quietly, and often put him to flight. At last Arthur overthrew and slew Hoel, who was his major natu, and became unquestioned rew universalis Britanniae, but incurred the censure of the Church for killing Hoel. From this sin Gildas himself at length absolved him. But King Melvas carried off King Arthur's queen, and it was only after a year that Arthur found her at Glastonbury and laid siege to that place. Gildas and the abbot, however, arranged matters, and the queen was given up. It is most proper to add in this place that probably at much the same time as the writings of Caradoc and of Geoffrey (v. infra), or at a time not very distant, William of Malmesbury and Giraldus Cambrensis give us Glastonbury traditions as to the tomb of Arthur, &c., which show that by the middle of the twelfth century such traditions were clustering thickly about the Isle of Avalon. All this time, however, it is very important to notice that there is hardly the germ, and, except in Caradoc, not even the germ, of what makes the Arthurian Legend interesting to us, even of what we call the Arthurian Legend. Although the fighting with the Saxons plays an important part in the Merlin branches of the story, it has extremely little to do with the local traditions, and was continually reduced in importance by the men of real genius, especially Mapes, Chrestien, and, long afterwards, Malory, who handled them. The escapade of Melvas communicates a touch rather nearer to the perfect form, but only a little nearer to it. In fact, there is hardly more in the story at this point than in hundreds of other references in early history or fiction to obscure kinglets who fought against invaders. And it is again very important to observe that, though under the hands of Geoffrey of Monmouth the story at once acquires more romantic proportions, it is still not in the least, or only in the least, the story that we know. The advance is indeed great. The wonder-working of Merlin is brought in to help the patriotism of Arthur. The story of Uther's love for Igraine at once alters the mere chronicle into a romance. Arthur, the fruit of this passion, succeeds his father, carries on victorious war at home and abroad, is crowned with magnificence at Caerleon, is challenged by and defeats the Romans, is about to pass the Alps when he hears that his nephew Mordred, left in charge of the kingdom, has assumed the crown, and that Guinevere (Guanhumara, of whom we have only heard before as “of a noble Roman family, and surpassing in beauty all the women of the island”) has wickedly married him. Arthur returns, defeats Mordred at Rutupiae (after this battle Guinevere takes the veil), and, at Winchester, drives him to the extremity of Cornwall, and there overthrows and kills him. But the renowned King Arthur himself was mortally wounded.

The version of
Geoffrey

and “being carried thence to the Isle of Avallon to be cured of his wounds, he gave up the crown to his kinsman Constantine.” And so Arthur passes out of Geoffrey's story, in obedience to one of the oldest, and certainly the most interesting, of what seem to be the genuine Welsh notices of the king—“Not wise is it to seek the grave of Arthur.” A few people, perhaps, who read this little book will need to be told that Geoffrey attributed the new and striking facts which he sprung upon his contemporaries to a British book which Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, had brought out of Armorica: and that not the slightest trace of this most interesting and important work has ever been found. It is a thousand pities that it has not survived, inasmuch as it was not only “a very ancient book in the British tongue,” but contained “a continuous story in an elegant style.” However, the inquiry whether Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, did or did not belong to the ancient British family of Harris may be left to historians proper. To the specially literary historian the chief point of interest is first to notice how little, if Geoffrey really did take his book from “British" sources, those sources apparently contained of the Arthurian Legend proper as we now know it. An extension of the fighting with Saxons at home, and the addition of that with Romans abroad, the Igraine episode, or rather overture, the doubtless valuable introduction of Merlin, the treason of Mordred and Guinevere, and the retirement to Avalon — that is practically all. No Round Table; no knights (though

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »