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from thence they passed into France, and took deepest root in Brittany. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Chronicle, the earliest form of these tales with which the learned of his day had made acquaintance, he considers to consist entirely of Arabian fancies. Even if the giants and dragons of romance were introduced into southern Europe more immediately by the Skalds, still he would assert that the northern poets themselves owed them in the first place to immigrations from the East. Others, again, have seen in the tales of chivalry only a new development of the classic legends of Greece and Italy. As Christianity unquestionably borrowed and modified to its own use many of the outward ceremonies of Paganism, so they held that the Christian trouveur only adopted and transmuted the heroes of classical poetry. There certainly is some apparent foundation for this theory. It is not hard to trace in the incidents of Arthurian romance the same kind of resemblance, real or fanciful, which has been remarked by those who love to find in the legends of heathendom types or foreshadowings of Christian truth. The knights errant have their classic prototypes in Hercules, Bacchus, and Theseus; the sorceress is Circe or Calypso; the giant is Polyphemus; the rescued maiden, Andromeda; monsters like the "Twrch Trwyth," and the "questing beast," are cognate genera to Scylla and the Minotaur. Nay, even the personal characters of the Romaunt, viewed in this light, seem only reproductions; Merlin is Proteus; the tale of Uther and Iguerne is the old story of the loves of Jupiter and Alcmena; and Arthur's death and disappearance is but a modern copy of Sarpedon's. There is also a marked resemblance in the moral tone of these two great cycles of fiction. It is scarcely higher, we are sorry to say, in the romance of Christendom than in the heathen myths. Robbery is accounted honourable; illegitimacy, instead of being a moral bar sinister, is rather an augury of the hero's future fame; and maidens, by the grace of supernatural lovers, enjoy the privileges of mater
nity without compromising their reputation.
But whatever there may be in the romances of chivalry which is common to Skald, or Arab, or ancient Pagan, there can be no reasonable doubt but that the true theory as to their origin is that originally advanced by Leyden, maintained by Douce, Sharon Turner, and others, and lately reduced to all but demonstration by Lady Charlotte Schreiber and the Count Villemarqué. They are Cymric or Armorican, or both. With a selfdenying honesty which is too seldom a characteristic of literary antiquarians, M. de la Villemarqué gracefully concedes the honour of parentage to the Britons of Wales, as the elder branch of the great Cymric race; while the fair champion, to whom the Welsh are so deeply indebted, appears willing to share the claim on their behalf with their brethren across the Channel. But the claim thus made seems indisputable; the only wonder is that it should have been in abeyance so long. The explanation lies in the fact, that the wealth of the old Cymric literature in this particular respect was never even suspected, except perhaps by a few enthusiastic Welsh antiquaries; and they, with some honourable exceptions, were usually too busy in crowning each other at Eisteddfodau, and writing Englynion in each other's praise (when they were not quarrelling) under unpronounceable bardic names, to turn their attention to a question which was of real interest to the literature of Europe, and to the solution of which they really held the key. It was not until Lady Charlotte Schreiber, with the aid of an eminent Welsh scholar,* brought to light in their original form, accompanied by an English version, the collection of early Cymric tales, known as the Mabinogion, contained chiefly in an ancient manuscript"the Red Book of Hergest"-belonging to the national College in Oxford, that the true sources of the romances of the Round Table were disclosed, and what had been heretofore one of many plausible
*The late Rev. Thomas Price.
conjectures became a certainty. Even now the evidence on this point is probably very incomplete. Not to speak of unnoticed Welsh manuscripts which may exist elsewhere, it is known that a collection of earlier date, and probably equal value with the "Red Book" of Jesus College (which appears to be a copy from it), exists in the library of the Vaughans at Hengwrt, to which the editor of the Mabinogion was unfortunately unable to obtain access. Dr Owen is said to have seen an ancient Welsh manuscript containing the story of Sir Tristram (who does not appear in the published Mabinogion), but which he was unable to obtain;t and a version of the "Quest of the San Graal," in the same language, is said to have been known to exist, and may probably exist still. M. de la Villemarqué, for his own side of the Channel, not only confirms Lady C. Schreiber's evidence, which he seems, indeed, in some degree to have anticipated, but brings forward additional items of proof, slight, but sufficiently convincing, from fragments of Breton songs and poems, that the roots of these renowned fictions lie deep in their literature also. Their very formthe eight-syllabled rhyme, in which the French metrical version is written-he claims, and apparently with justice, as Cymric.
It is true-it would be impossible to suppose that it could be other wise that these original materials were greatly modified and amplified by the successive hands through which they passed. In the first place, the new faith, while it adopted in this as in other cases the work of the heathen, moulded it as far as possible to its own type. The result in the Arthurian romances is, as we shall endeavour to show hereafter, the strangest conceivable mixture of Pagan sentiment with the formal language of Christianity, and sometimes with some of its most mystical doctrines. All the glitter of mediævalism spread itself by de
grees over the old rude metal of British fable; but there it lay still beneath, to be recognised hereafter by those who had sufficient curiosity and penetration to look deep enough. The mysterious Arthur, the demigod of the Cymric bards, thus became in the hands of his adopters the preux chevalier of the romancier; while to form his court the spirit of chivalry made knights of the old Cymric robber-chieftainsfor we fear these early heroes were little better. Assuredly none would have been more startled to recognise them under their new dress, than the old British or Armorican poet who had first made them the subjects of song.
The central figure, round whom all the heroes of this cycle of romance revolve, is Arthur, King or Pendragon of Britain. His court it is from which all the champions set out upon their adventures, or to which they finally repair; his dominions and his conquests are limited rather by the fancy of the narrator than by any geographical probabilities. So dazzling, indeed, is the halo which romance has shed round his name, that, by a not uncommon result, his actual personality has become obscured. Historians, unable to distinguish satisfactorily the myth from the fact, have come to doubt whether there be any groundwork of fact at all. Arthur has been the hero of fable so generally, that he has become little more than a shadow in history. Bede seems to deny his existence; Milton doubts it; and these were ages in which critical scepticism had not yet taken rank as a fashionable science. Gildas and Aneurin, who should have been his cotemporaries, make no mention of him; and his earliest appearance in the page of history is in Nennius, A.D. 850, where his exploits and his attributes are largely tinged with the marvellous, and are referred to as a "traditio veterum." Of his Welsh compatriots, Dr Owen Pugh considers him altogether mythological,
These MSS., on the death of Sir Robert Vaughan, passed into the possession of W. W. E. Wynne, Esq. of Peniarth.
+ VILLEMARQUÉ, Romans de la Table Ronde, p. 78.
Myryrian Archeology, i. 178.
and to be identical with the constellation Ursa Major; for which, indeed, he appears to have some authority in the Welsh triads,-which, after good classical precedents, carry their hero as a star into the heavens after his disappearance from earth, -and in the still popular name of Arthur's Wain; others have considered him to be identical with Nimrod, or, with more probability, Belus or Apollo; the latter opinion being also supported by a fact in astronomical nomenclature, the star Lyra being known to the Welsh as "Arthur's Harp."* This theory of his exclusively mythological existence, and his identity with Apollo Belenus, has been supported by very ingenious arguments, and at the expense of some considerable researches in the unpromising fields of bardic history by the author of Britannia after the Romans.t Mr Rees, though conceding him a place in history, repudiates him as a countryman; he holds him to have been a native of Devon or Cornwall (which is made the seat of his kingdom in the older Mabinogi), and his connection with the Cymry of Wales and of North Britain to have been wholly of an intrusive kind.‡ A great difficulty in the attempt to separate the mythic from the historic in the traditions of the Great King arises from the fact that Welsh literature seems to recognise, as M. de Villemarqué shows (and as has been before noticed), both a mythological and a real Arthur; and that in the triads of later date the latter has been tricked out in some of the ornaments of the former. This apparent plurality has made some conjecture that the name Arthur was an appellative only, and that even in history there may have been more Arthurs than one. Probably Lord Bacon was as near the truth on this point as we are now likely to arrive-"There was truth enough in his story to make him famous, besides that which was fabulous." If he lived at all, he was probably a prince of the Silures, who became king of Britain, and was cotemporary with Clovis of France.
* Telyn Arthur.
REES'S Welsh Saints, p. 185.
The most circumstantial statement of his date and history, and perhaps as little suspicious as any, is that which will be found quoted in the Appendix to the Liber Landavensis, as from an MS. Chronicon Ecclesia Landavensis in the British Museum; where he is said to have been crowned king at Cirencester, A.D. 506, in the fifteenth year of his age, by Dubricius, Bishop of Caerleon, and to have afterwards kept Whitsuntide with great pomp at Caerleon.
He is said to have been the son of Uther or Uter, the Pendragon of Britain, and to have defeated the Saxons in thirteen pitched battles, the last on Mount Badon. That zealous herald Upton goes so far as to give us Uther Pendragon's armorial bearings: "Vert, a plain cross argent; in the dexter quarter an image of the B. V. Mary, holding the image of her blessed Son in her right hand, proper. Also he gave for his cognisance of Britain, d'or, deux dragons verds, couronnés de goules, contréles, or endorsed." Arthur himself, in testimony of his thirteen victories, bore also, in a field azure, thirteen imperial crowns; or, with the motto, "Moult de couronnes, plus de vertus."
It is remarkable, however, that nowhere in the cycle of fiction does Arthur appear as the champion of the Britons against the invading Saxons. We find him traversing half Europe as a conqueror, rather than defending his own shores. In the Welsh legends of the Mabinogion, his enemies, when they are not supernatural, have no very definite national or geographical relations. If it be the Arthur of history, he preserves little besides the name. It is perhaps this very indistinctness of the hero as a historical personage that explains the ready adoption of his name and reputed exploits by the poets of another race. The trouveurs of southern Christendom might not have cared to hand on from generation to generation the fame of the mere national champion of a defeated people. Arthur and his deeds might still have been sung
+ Attribute to the Hon. Algernon Herbert.
in the mountain-fastnesses of Wales, on the hills and moors of Cumberland, or on the kindred shores of Cornwall and Brittany; but the tale would scarcely have found favour in the eyes of a Frank or Norman king; still less would the Celtic prince and his court have become the centre point of their national fiction. But in the glories and triumphs of Arthur there is no element of race; there is no national vanity to be flattered, or national jealousies to be stirred. This alone can account for the fact, that while the French romancers built all kinds of fancies of their own on the foundations of these Celtic stories, they uniformly retained both the name and the nationality of the central hero. Always he is Arthur of Britain. Wherever he is said to hold his court, it is always somewhere within those limits where the Celtic race still predominated. Whether he reigns, as in the earlier Welsh legends, at "Kelliwig in Dyfnaint" (Devon),* or at Caerleonon-Usk-far north as merry Carlisle, or far south as Kerduel in Brittany -all these three last claiming to be the "Carduel" of the romances-he still stands on ground occupied by some of the branches of that great race, which, whether Cymric, Breton, or Gael, is still of common origin. Driven as they were by the northern conquerors from the lordship of the soil, and only holding on by an unquenchable vitality to such corners of the earth as Cambria, and Cumbraland, and Little Britain across the Channel,-in one sense, like Greece in her decline, they took their conquerors captive; their songs and their traditions were the material out of which sprang what was for nearly four centuries the literature of Christian Europe. It seems strange that the writers who have shown so much interest in investigating the sources of this body of fiction, should not have been led at once, by ob
serving this invariable limitation of the Arthurian story in all its forms to a few special localities all known to be Celtic, to the conclusion which we now recognise as the truth.
The repute in which these romances were held throughout all Christendom, from 1150 to 1500, can hardly be measured by our modern notions of popular poets, or popular writers of fiction. If the trouveur found a less profitable trade in those days than in ours, at least he could depend upon a less critical and far more enthusiastic audience. Before what Mr Carlyle calls "the miraculous art of reading and writing" had ceased to be a miracle, when as yet publishers were not, and a printer ran an even chance of being burnt for a wizard,-to be a favourite with the reading, or rather the listening, world, was fame indeed. To be read in lady's bower, to be chanted at feast and watchfire, to be conned in studious chamber by churchman and philosopher,-such was the glorious meed of those bards whose names and memories had perished, but who lived still in those lays, which, however changed and modified, were still known as Tales of Arthur. They were most popular in France, but their sound was in all lands. They were translated into nearly every language in Christendom. There is said to be an MS. in Hebrew of "King Arthur's History," out of the Spanish version, existing to this day in the Vatican. There is also a version in modern Greek.t "Norunt Arabes Bosphorus exclusa non tacet" ("the Arabians and the Bosphorus had heard of him"), saith Alan de l'Isle. However that might be, we have evidence enough of the enthusiastic admiration in which they were held in our own island. David, Abbot of Valle Crucis (1450), sends a poetical epistle to a friend, to ask the loan of the book that he "loved more than gold or gems,"
Myryrian Arch. i. 175. Gelli wic, or Kelliwig, has been supposed to le Callington, or Kellington, in Cornwall.
+ Warton quotes Crusius to the effect that at Padua there was a work in modern Greek called Adaxai Regis Arturi; but he seems to have been misled by the title of a book of homilies, Adaxai Rarturi.-See Quarterly Review, No. xxiii. p. 158, note. But there is in the Vatican a poem of the twelfth century in that language, apparently a translation from the Italian.-Price's Remains, i. 271.
VOL. LXXXVIII.—NO. DXXXIX,
"the goodly Graal, the book of the heroes." "I know," says Roger Ascham, "when God's Bible was banished the court, and Morte d'Arthur received into the prince's chamber." How much the modern poets have borrowed from them has been frequently remarked, and we may take occasion to point out some of the chief instances hereafter.
M. de la Villemarqué considers, and certainly shows good ground for his opinion, that the original legends of Arthur found their way across the channel to the Britons of Armorica. There they were collected with others into the Brut y Brenhined ("Legend of the Kings"), sometimes known as Brut Tysilio, from having been erroneously attributed to the saint of that name. Of the original Armorican collection no copy is known to exist; but in the year 1125 they were translated into Welch, and a few years later Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who claimed descent by his mother's side from the British kings, appears as the patron of a Latin translation, made by Geoffrey of Monmouth - Gruffydd ap Arthur - under the title of Historia Britonum. This purports to contain the history of the Welsh kings from Brutus, greatgrandson of Eneas of Troy, down to Cadwallader, the Saxon Ceadwalla, in 688. What is more to our present purpose, it contained the history of Arthur and his knights, modified no doubt from the old British legends, and still more to be modified by the inventions of subsequent writers, but still the same Arthur who charmed the world in both. In its new form, the story acquired at once the greatest interest and popularity, and appears to have been immediately versified, under different forms, and with considerable licence, by cotemporary poets. Henry II. was enamoured of it, and it is said to have been at his request that Robert or Richard Wace, in 1155, gave to the world his Brut d'Angleterre, in rhymed octo-syllabic French, or rather romance verse, which appears to be the earliest in date of the French Romances of the Round Table. From that time forth it took all shapes and languages.
Taking Wace's poem as the original of the Anglo-Norman metrical versions of the central Romance, we find there the main facts in the history of Arthur; the strange story of his birth, his magic sword, his conquests of Ireland, Denmark, Norway, and France, his invasion of Italy at the head of 183,000 knights, the renown of his court, to which every "good knight" of Christendom held himself bound to resort, the treason of Mordred, the falsehood of Guenever, the battle of Camlan, and the mysterious transportation to the Isle of Avalon. M. de la Villemarqué quotes from the Welsh bard Taliesin, and from other remains of Welsh literature of earlier date than the Brut y Brenhined, fragments which tell the same story with but little variation; and though the Armorican ballads and legends which he has collected afford a narrower field for comparison, they bear witness to the existence of the same traditions amongst this younger branch of the Cymric family.
The form, however, in which these romances are far more accessible to general readers than Welsh MSS. or Norman fabliaux, is that which stands at the head of this article as "Mort d'Arthure," or "The Booke of King Arthur," as Wynkyn de Worde more correctly entitles it-a compilation made in the year 1469 by a Sir Thomas Mallory "out of certayne bookes of Frensshe," as he tells us, and first printed by Caxton in 1485 at the request of "noble and dyvers gentlymen." Who this Sir Thomas Mallory was is not known; the Welsh antiquaries of course claim him as a countryman. His work is but a piece of patchwork, not always very cleverly put together; but its terse idiomatic language has been said to be the purest English extant, next to the Bible. It appears to have been founded chiefly on the great prose romances of Merlin and the St Graal, written by Robert de Borron aforesaid-the "Mort Artus," "Lancelot du Lac," and the "Queste de St Graal," all commonly ascribed to Walter Mapes
and the two romances of "Sir Tristram," by Lucas de Gast and Helie de Borron. These three last sources are said by Southey to have supplied