Imagens das páginas

were the common property of baron and serf, and which survive in place names all over Britain, were the best possible means of touching the medieval imagination and effecting what the philosophic cant of our own day would call a transvaluation of values. The Norman would look back, not upon Rollo, but upon Arthur, whose career would exactly realize what he must have conceived as his ideal man of action. The Saxon would no longer think of himself as the member of a crushed race, but, illogically enough, as the countryman of the great king, and the descendant of Trojan Brutus, one of a people who "In everything are sprung,

From earth's first blood, have titles manifold."

The Poitevin Coeur de Lion had scoffed at the name of Englishman, but the time would come when the victor of Cressy would deliberately order his Court at Windsor in imitation of the Table Round. Geoffrey's book won an immediate popularity among all classes. Even Henry II was not behind-hand in taking advantage of this new method of appealing to the pride of his subjects, and ordered investigations to be made at Glastonbury in order to discover Arthur's body, which, we need hardly say, were successful.

The subsequent history of the Arthurian legend is chequered and manifold. Geoffrey's conception of a patriotic hero was too novel to obtain universal favour, and as the story was soon translated into French, it became one of the stock tales of medieval romance, and the fame of the King is overshadowed by that of individual knights, Launcelot and Tristram and Gawain. Of such a nature was the romance of which Francesca speaks, and indeed, in these tales Arthur had well-nigh ceased to have any connection with Britain, and had become a purely romantic figure, to while away the long bookless tedium of winter nights. The Church, too, with the spirit of the crusades glowing in her bosom, grafted upon the original

legend the High History of the Holy Grail, which has equally little connection with patriotism. And in the Celtic tradition the old dream king lives on, and is even brought into direct relationship with Oberon.

But the English tradition was not allowed to die. Shortly after the date of Geoffrey's chronicle, we hear of what is perhaps the most touching of all the Arthurian legends, to the effect that the great king might not, after all, be dead, but waiting at Avalon for the hour of England's need. Had not Merlin prophesied that his death should be doubtful? And just after the fall of ChâteauGaillard had finally separated England from Normandy, appeared the "Brut" of Layamon, translating the "matter of Britain" into the English tongue. The legend had been firmly enough established to survive, in its patriotic form, all the embroidery of dream and romance, and we find it being continually amplified down to the end of the Middle Ages. We need not look with too severe an eye upon those, who like honest old Layamon, set down these dreams as sober fact. To the medieval mind, the border line between symbol and fact was not always distinct, and it is remarkable how these traditions appealed to the greatest of English symbolists in a later age, to him who wrote as a kind of refrain to his most inspired vision :

"All things begin and end in Albion's ancient, Druid,

rocky shore.”

Arthur and the line of Brutus were not the only heroes whose romances were kept green by the children of the Conquest. The Saxon worthies are not allowed to fall into oblivion. The proverbs of Alfred are preserved or invented, and Athelstan occurs in one of the feudal romances, whose theme is distinctly patriotic, in spite of the rather tedious love-story with which it is interwoven. This is called "Guy of Warwick" and culminates in a duel between the hero and a gigantic Dane called

Colbrand. Guy declares that he fights for God in Trinity and the freedom of England, for by the conditions of the fight, if the Dane wins, the Danes are to rule the land. We need hardly say that after a keen struggle, Guy is victorious, and the Danes, "with sorrow and care," get them out of the land. The Church also played her part in keeping bright the fame of Saxon England. The Norman Conquest was powerless to decanonize the saints, and some of these were kings too. Readers of Carlyle will know the extraordinary veneration excited by the remains of the blessed St. Edmund. Edward the Confessor, weak and incompetent though he had been during his life, was specially beloved after his death, and we frequently hear of his mild laws being appealed to against the rule of the Normans. In the "Golden Legend" we have a pathetic account of the traditions that must have gathered, in an iron age, about the good king's reign. "O good Lord! what joy and gladness was then in England. For when the old felicity of this land was almost despaired, then it was kindled again by the coming of the blessed King Edward. Then had the commons rest and peace, and the lords and gentlemen rest and honour, and then holy Church received all her liberties again. Then was the sun lifted up, and the moon shined in his order, that is to say, priests shined in wisdom and in holiness, the monasteries flourished in devotion by holy religion. The clerks gave light and prospered in their offices to the pleasure of God. The common people were content and were joyful in their degree, and in the King's days there was no venom that might then corrupt the earth with pestilence, and in the sea none outrageous tempests, and the land plenteous of all manner of fruits; and in the clergy nothing inordinate; and among the common people there was no grudging." This vision of rest and plenty bears witness, like the dreams of the early Christians, to the desolation out of which it must have sprung.

But the time of utter darkness was passing. Gradually, painfully, but all the more surely for that, England was beginning to feel her soul, and though her self-consciousness was for long to be imperfect and hindered, though it seemed at one time as if she were to reel back into darkness and lose her being, her progress was never really delayed, even though she had to be purged seven times in the fire.

We cannot do better than conclude this chapter by a glance at our first great naval triumph off Dover, under the staunch Hubert de Burgh. "If this folk lands," he cried to those around him, "England is lost; so let us meet them boldly, for God is with us and they are excommunicated." His men protested that they were only poor fishermen, and not sea-warriors or pirates; whereupon their leader, nothing daunted, stiffened their resolution by swearing that they might hang him if he surrendered the key of England. The honest fellows were moved to tears, one exclaimed that if Monk Eustace landed all would be laid waste; and then another cried, "Who is ready to die for England?" Whereupon a third said, "Here am I." And so the little fleet put forth, hopelessly inferior in numbers, beating up towards Calais to get the weather gage, and then, while the enemy at once derided and misunderstood the manœuvre, turning northeastward and swooping upon the rear of the French fleet, grappling and boarding in the true spirit of Nelson, overwhelming them with showers of arrows and quicklime, and in the end all but annihilating the proud armada, which had put forth under the dreaded Monk Eustace, to reduce London and bring Arthur's land under the heel of a Louis.



HE student of patriotism must not expect to find an emotion easily gauged and always the same, something of which he can say definitely that a nation has or has it not at any given time. If this were the case, as one might gather from the language of more than one writer, his task would be devoid alike of difficulty and interest. He is treating of a love which is fitful and crude in its beginnings, and which, only after many vicissitudes, becomes deep and general. Perfect and unalloyed he will never find it, for the consummation of love is not within the power of any creature.

Hence it comes that the growth of patriotism never proceeds with a smooth, uninterrupted gait, but like the year, fitfully. On some morning, early in April, it might seem as if the spring had come to fruition, when all the ground is argus-eyed with the celandine and starflower, and the gardens flushing with almond blossom and wild currant, and yet a few days afterwards all the blossoms are hidden and the bushes weighed down beneath the returning snow. To the case of patriotism we have a close parallel in the formation of the human character. It is common knowledge to those who are skilled in the training, whether of infants or grown men, that this is the order of spiritual progression. The violent fits of excitement, the illuminations and conversions, are inevitably succeeded by a proportionate reaction, and even

« AnteriorContinuar »