A minute inquiry into the materials, and their sources, of a moving and stately legend is opposed to the purposes and interests of the general reader, though to him I speak accidentally, and apart from any sense of election I must in honesty commend him to abstain, resting satisfied that for him and his consanguinities the Graal has two epochs only in literature--those of Sir Thomas Malory and the Idylls of the King. As Tennyson was indebted to Malory, except for things of his own invention, so it is through his gracious poems that many people have been sent back to the old book of chivalry from which he reproduced his motives and sometimes derived his words. But without entering into the domain of archæology, even some ordinary persons, and certainly the literate reader, will know well enough that there are branches of the legend, both old and new, outside these two palmary names, and that some of them are close enough to their hands. They will be familiar with the Cornish poet Robert Stephen Hawker, whose "Quest of the San Graal" has, as Madame de Staël once said of Saint-Martin, "some sublime gleams." They will have realised that the old French romance of Perceval le Gallois, as translated into English of an archaic kind, ever beautiful and stately, by Dr. Sebastian Evans, is a gorgeous chronicle, full of richly painted pictures and endless pageants. They will know also more dimly that there is a German cycle of the Graal traditions--that Titurel, Parsifal, Lohengrin, to whom a strange and wonderful life beyond all common teachings of Nature, all common conventions
of art, has been given by Wagner, are also legendary heroes of the Holy Graal. In their transmuted presence something may have hinted to the heart that the Quest is not pursued with horses or clothed in outward armour, but in the spirit along the via mystica.
There are therefore, broadly speaking, three points of view, outside all expert evidence, as regards the whole subject, and these are:--
(1) The Romantic, and the reversion of literary sentiment at the present day towards romanticism will make it unnecessary to mention that this is now a very strong point. It is exemplified by the editions of the Morte d’Arthur produced for students, nor less indeed by those which have been modified in the interests of children, and in which a large space is given always to the Graal legend. Andrew Lang's Book of Romance and Mary McLeod's Book of King Arthur and his Noble Knights are instances which will occur to several people, but there are yet others, and they follow one another, even to this moment, a shadowy masque, not excepting, at a far distance, certain obscure and truly illiterate versions in dim byways of periodical literature.
(2) The Poetic, and having regard to what has been said already, I need only for my present purpose affirm that it has done much to exalt and spiritualise the legend without removing the romantic element; but I speak here of modern invention. In the case of Tennyson it has certainly added the elevated emotion which belongs essentially to the spirit of romance, and this saved English literature during the second half of the nineteenth century. But taking the work at its highest, it may still be that the Graal legend must wait to receive its treatment more fully by some poet who is to come. The literary form assumed by the Graal Idyll of the King--a tale within a tale twice-told--leaves something to be desired. Many stars rise over many horizons, including those of literature, but there is one star of the morning,
and this in most cycles of books is rather an expected glory than a dawn now visible
(3) The Archæological, and this includes naturally many branches, each of which has the character of a learned inquiry calling for special knowledge, and, in several instances, it is only of limited interest beyond the field of scholarship.
Outside these admitted branches of presentation and research, which lie, so to speak, upon the surface of current literature, there is perhaps a fourth point of view which is now in course of emerging, though scarcely into public view, as it is only in an accidental and a sporadic fashion that it has entered as yet into the written word. For want of a better term it must be called spiritual. It cares little for the archæology of the subject, little for its romantic aspects, and possibly something less than little for the poetic side. It would scarcely know of Hawker's Quest--not that it signifies vitally--and would probably regard the Graal symbol as I have otherwise characterised it--as one of the legends of the soul--I should have said again, sacramental legends, but this point of view is not usual, nor is it indeed found to any important extent, among those who hold extreme or any Eucharistic views. In other words, it is not specially a high Anglican or a Latin interest; it characterises rather those who regard religious doctrine, institute and ritual, as things typical or analogical, without realising that as such they are to be ranked among channels of grace. So far as their conception has been put clearly to themselves, for them the Graal is an early recognition of the fact that doctrinal teachings are symbols and are no more meant for literal acceptance than any express fables. It is also a hazardous inquiry into obscure migrations of doctrine from East to 'West, outside the Christian aspects of Graal literature. This view appreciates, perhaps, only in an ordinary degree the evidence of history, nor can history be said to endorse it in its existing forms of presentation. At the same time it is much too loose
and indeterminate to be classed as a philosophical construction of certain facts manifested in the life of a literature. It is a consideration of several serious but not fully equipped minds, and in some cases it has been impeded by its sentimental aspects; but the reference which I have made to it enables me to add that it should have reached a better term in stronger and surer hands. No one, however indifferent--or, indeed, of all unobservant--can read the available romances without seeing that the legend has its spiritual side, but it has also, at the fact's value, that side which connects it with folk-lore. No further afield than the Morte d’Arthur, which here follows the great French Quest among many antecedents, it is treated openly as an allegory, and the chivalry of King Arthur's Court passes explicitly during the Graal adventures into a region of similitude, where every episode has a supernatural meaning, which is explained sometimes in rather a tiresome manner. I say this under the proper reserves, because that which appears conventional and to some extent even trivial in these non-metaphrastic portions might prove, under the light of interpretation, of all truth and the grace thereto belonging.
Superfluities and interpretations notwithstanding, it is directly, or indirectly, out of the recent view, thus tentatively designated, that the consideration of the present thesis emerges as its final term, though out of all knowledge thereof.
It has been my object to remove a great possibility from hands which are worthy, and that certainly, but unconsecrated by special knowledge, and it is my intention to return it thereto by a gift of grace after changing the substance thereof.
In searching out mysteries of this order, it must be confessed that we are like Manfred in the course of an evocation, for, in truth, many things answer us; amidst the confusion of tongues it is therefore no light task to distinguish that which, for my part, I recognise as
the true voice. The literature does, however, carry on its surface the proof rather than the suggestion of a hidden motive as well as a hidden meaning, and three sources of evidence can be cited on the authority of the texts: (a) Confessed allegory, but this would be excluded, except for one strong consideration. The mind which confesses to allegory confesses also to mysticism, this being the mode of allegory carried to the ne plus ultra degree. (b) Ideological metathesis, the presence of which is not to be confused with allegory. (c) Certain traces and almost inferential claims which tend to set the custodians of the Holy Graal in a position superior to that of the orthodox church, though the cycle is not otherwise hostile to the orthodox church.
It must be understood that the critical difficulties of the Graal literature are grave within their own lines, and the authorities thereon are in conflict over issues which from their own standpoint may be occasionally not less than vital. This notwithstanding, the elements of the Graal problem really lie within a comparatively small compass, though they are scattered through a literature which is in no sense readily accessible, while it is, for the most part, in a language that is not exactly familiar to the reader of modern French. It has so far been in the hands of those who, whatever their claims, have no horizon outside the issues of folk-lore, and who, like other specialists, have been a little disposed to create, on the basis of their common agreement, a certain orthodoxy among themselves, recognising nothing beyond their particular canons of criticism and the circle of their actual interests. To these canons there is no reason that we should ourselves take exception; they are more than excellent in their way, only they do not happen to signify, except antecedently and provisionally, for the higher consequence with which we are here concerned. The sincerity of scholarship imputes to it a certain sanctity, but in respect of this consequence most scholarship has its eyes bandaged.
The interpretation of books is often an essay in enchantment, a rite of evocation which calls, and the souls of the dead speak in response in strange voices. To those who are acquainted with the mysteries, perhaps there are no books which respond in the same manner as these old sacraments of mystic chivalry. They speak at the very least our own language. I conclude, therefore, that the most decorative of quests in literature is that of the things that are eternal; God is the proper quest of the romantic spirit, and of God moveth not only the High History of the Holy Graal, but the book of enchantment which I have proposed to myself thereon.
And even now, as if amidst bells and Hosannahs, a clear voice utters the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus--because by this undertaking we have declared ourselves on God's side.