THE beginnings of literature are like the beginnings of life--questions of antecedents which are past finding out, and perhaps they do not signify vitally on either side, because the keys of all mysteries are to be sought in the comprehension of their term rather than in their initial stages. Modern scholarship lays great and almost exclusive stress on the old Celtic antecedents of the Graal literature, and on certain Welsh and other prototypes of the Perceval Quest in which the Sacred Vessel does not appear at all. As regards these affiliations, whether Welsh, English or Irish, I do not think that sufficient allowance has been made for the following facts: (a) That every archaic fiction and every legend depends, as already suggested, from prior legend and fiction; (b) that the antecedents are both explicit and implicit, intentional or unconscious, just as in these days we have wilful and undesigned imitation; (c) that the persistence of legends is by the way of their transfiguration. We have done nothing to explain the ascension of the Graal to heaven and the assumption of Galahad when we have ascertained that some centuries before there were myths about the Cauldron of Ceridwen or that of the Dagda, any more than we have accounted for Christianity if we have ascertained, and this even
indubitably, that some ecclesiastical ceremonial is an adaptation of pre-Christian rites. Here, as in so many other instances, the essence of everything resides in the intention. If I possess the true apostolical succession, then, ex hypothesi at least, I do not the less consecrate the Eucharist if I use the Latin rite, which expresses the words of institution in the past tense; or some archaic oriental rite, by which they are expressed in the future, and to which there is added at some point the Epiclesis clause, being the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
There is, in any case, no question as to the Graal antecedents in folk-lore, and I should be the last to minimise their importance after their own kind, just as I should not abandon the official Church because I had been received into the greater Church which is within. I believe personally that the importance has been magnified unduly because it has been taken by scholarship for the all in all of its research. But there is plenty of room for every one of the interests, and as that which I represent does not interfere with anything which has become so far vested, I ask for tolerance regarding it. My position is that the old myths were taken over for the purposes of Christian symbolism, under the influence of a particular but not an expressed motive, and it was subsequently to this appropriation that they assumed importance. It is, therefore, as I have said, simply to clear the issues that I place those of my readers who may feel concerned with the subject in possession of the bare elements which were carried from pre-Christian times into the Graal mythos, as follows:--
1. We hear of an Irish legend concerning the Cauldron of the Dagda, from which no company ever went away unsatisfied. It was one of the four talismans which a certain godlike race brought with them when they first came into Ireland. As the particular talisman in question, though magical, was not spiritual, it is useless to our purpose; but it connects with the palmary
[paragraph continues] Hallow of the Graal mystery, because that also is reputed to have been food-giving, though this property was the least of its great virtues, just as the stone of transmutation by alchemy was classed among the least possessions of the Rosicrucian Fraternity.
2. There is the Cauldron of Bendigeid Vran, the son of Llyr, in one of the old Welsh Mabinogion, the property of which, says one story, is that if a man be slain to-day and cast therein, to-morrow he will be as well as he ever was at the best, except that he will not regain his speech. He remains, therefore, in the condition of Perceval when that hero of the Graal stood in the presence of the mystery with a spell of silence upon him. It follows that the Druidic Mysteries, as we find them in Welsh legend, are like other initiations: the candidate is passed through the experience of a mystical death and is brought back, as, for example, by the Cauldron of Ceridwen, to a new term of existence; but although in this sense the dead are raised, they are not, or at least in this case, restored with the gift of tongues--life, but no word of life. In other language, the silence of the great pledges is henceforth imposed upon them. The dead rise up, but they do not begin to speak. Except in so far as the Cup of the Graal legend concerns a mystery of speech and its suppression, it is difficult to trace its correspondence with this cauldron, which I should mention, however, came into Wales from Ireland. If these things can be considered as so much raw material out of which the Graal legend in fine issued, the fact extends rather than reduces the transformation which so operated that the Holy Vessel of Christian symbolism was brought forth from a Druidic cauldron, which is sometimes that of Ceridwen and sometimes of Bendigeid, being at once the fountain of Bardic inspiration and the provider of a feast of good things. In this connection we may remember further that the chief mystic hero of Wales was not so much King Arthur as Cadwaladr Fendigeid. Paulin Paris was the first who attempted to identify this
chieftain with Galahad, but one essential distinction is that in the Welsh myth Cadwaladr is destined to return, whereas in the romance Galahad comes no more.
It so happens that institutions of analogy are made occasionally by scholarship on warrants which they would be the first to repudiate if the object, let us say, were to establish some point advanced by a mystic. I do not reject them exactly, and I do not intend to use similar comparisons on evidence which appears so slight; but I must place on record that the derivations here mentioned, if true, are unimportant, even as it is also unimportant that Adam, who received the breath of life from the Divine Spirit, had elements of red earth which entered into his material composition. The lights which shine upon the altar are not less sacramental lights because they are also earthly wax; and though the externals are bread and wine, the Eucharist is still the Eucharist.
In addition to analogies like those which I have just cited, there are two versions of the quest or mission of Perceval into which the mystery of the Graal does not enter as a part. In their extant forms they are much later than any of the Graal literature in Northern French. One is the story of Peredur, the son of Evrawc, in the Welsh Mabinogion, and the other is the English metrical romance of Syr Percyvelle. Scholars have compared both to the Lay of the Great Fool, and I think that the analogy obtains not only in the Welsh and English fables, but even in such masterpieces of nature-born poetry as the work of Chrétien de Troyes. On the other hand, the English poem is a thing of no importance except in respect of its connections, its perfect form as a narrative, and its high literary value. These claims notwithstanding, it will be sufficient to say that even scholarship values it chiefly for its doubtful traces of some early prototype which is lost.
The scholarship of Dr. Evans is thought to account for certain opinions which he holds regarding the high importance of the Longer Prose Perceval, but he is correct
at least in his instinct by the consequence of its comparison with other quests outside the Parsifal of Wolfram and the Quest of Galahad. The Welsh Mabinogi is like the wild world before the institution of the sacraments, and from any literary standpoint we shall see that it is confused and disconcerting; the poem of Chrétien is like the natural world with its interdict just beginning to be removed; it is also like the blind man in part restored to sight, seeing all things inverted and devoid of their normal proportions. The Longer Prose Perceval occupies a middle position between the Great Quest and Wolfram; the enchantment of Britain--as if Logres were this visible Nature--has dissolved partly; Grace is moving through Nature; the Great Mystery is being declared and testified to everywhere. In the Parsifal the things which are without have suffered a certain renewal, and yet the German epic is not the nearest correspondence and equivalent of the Galahad Quest.
It follows from these considerations, so far as they have now proceeded, that the folk-lore antecedents of the Graal are Celtic; but I should mention that it has not been determined finally by scholarship whether we should look to Wales through Norman-French poets or to Armorica through poets of Northern France for the primordial matter of romance in respect of the literature. Such a question, except as a preliminary gleaning leading up to another concern, is a little outside our horizon, but the concensus of opinion in England and France favours the first alternative. To direct our attention thither is by no means to set for our consideration a clear vista or to open an easy pathway. It happens, unfortunately, that as regards Wales there is as yet no certain canon of criticism to distinguish the genuine memorials of archaic literature from the vast mass of false seeming which wears only the vestures and mask of antiquity. It is now many years since M. Villemarqué, the Breton, illustrated what it was possible to do in the production and extension of Armorican remains, and in
the Principality there have been more than one Villemarqué fabulatores famosi--whose results obtained, if they have not been calculated to deceive even the elect, have at least made the specialist wary, sometimes about rejecting, but always of accepting anything in the definite and absolute degree. Having regard to my own limitations as one who has observed the strife scarcely, much less shared therein, I seek only to note a single question of parallel. The antecedents of folk-lore passed into the literature of the Graal undergoing great transmutations, and so also did certain elements of old Druidism merge into Christianity; Rite and Myth and Doctrine were tinged by Tradition and Doctrine and Rite; for things which co-exist tend to dovetail, at least by their outer edges; and there are traces, I think, of a time when the priest who said mass at the altar was not only a Druid at heart, but in his heart saw no reason also for the Druid to be priest any less. Long after the conversion of the Celt, enigmatical fables and mystical Rites lingered in Gaul and Britain, and if one could say that the Cauldron of Ceridwen was a vessel of pagan doctrine, then in an equal symbolical sense it became a vessel of hotch-potch under the strange ægis of the Celtic Church. There were masters of mysteries and secret science, whose knowledge, it is claimed, was perpetuated under the shadow of that Church and even within the pale thereof. The Bardic Sanctuary, by the evidence of some who claimed to speak in its name, opposed no precious concealed mysteries, and perhaps on its own part the Church received into its alembic much that was not of its matter expecting to convert it therein and turn it out in a new form. In the fourth century there were professors at Bordeaux who had once at least been Druids, and for the doctrines of their later reception the heart of their old experience may have been also an alembic. St. Beuno in his last moments is recorded to have exclaimed: "I see the Trinity and Peter and Paul, and the Druids and the Saints!"--a choir invisible,
the recognition of which would, if known, have imperilled his canonisation, supposing that its process had been planned in Rome. At a much later period, even in the twelfth century, we have still the indication of perpetuated mysteries, and there is no doubt that the belief in these was promoted generally by the bards. The twelfth century saw also the beginning of a great revival of literature in Wales. There are certain Iolo manuscripts which are late and of doubtful authenticity, but accepting their evidence under all necessary reserves, they refer the revival in question to Rhys ap Twdur, who assumed the sovereignty of South Wales, bringing with him "the system of the Round Table, as it is with regard to minstrels and bards." And when the time came for the last struggle between the Celtic and Latin Rites for the independence of the British Church, I can well believe that all which remained, under all transformations, of that old mixed wisdom of the West was also fighting for its life. When pseudo-Taliesin prophesied the return of Cadwaladr, who had passed into the unmanifest, like Arthur, and, like Arthur, was destined to return, I believe also that this allegory of rebirth or resurrection, if it referred on one side to the aspirations of the Celtic Church, did not less embody on another the desired notion of a second spring for the mysteries which once dwelt in Wales, which even after many centuries were interned rather than dead.
We can imagine--though perhaps at a far distance--what kinds of medley resulted from such interpenetration of mysteries as I have here indicated: the sacrifice of human victims in the ceremonial rites, on the one side; the eternal sacrifice of the Victim who was divine and human, on the other; the renovation of the candidate as the term of symbolical ritual, and the Resurrection of Christ as the first-fruits of the redeemed in the signal degree. With these as the analogies of opposites, there were meeting-points and enough in the Lesser Mysteries, while encircling all as an atmosphere there were, on the
one hand, the presages, the signs, the omens, the vaticinations, the inspirations, dark and strange, of seers and bards; but, on the other, there were the great consecrations, the holy objects, the sacred traditions, the inspired writings and all the annals of sanctity. In fine, against the solemn pageants of pagan ceremonial performances there was the Great Mystery of the faith of Christ, the white sacrifice and the clean oblation of the Eucharist. I confess that if there were otherwise any evidence, I can imagine that secret words, exceeding ex hypothesi all words of institution in the Ordinary of the official Mass-Book, and strange claims of a priesthood which had never been seen at Rome, might well issue from so enigmatic and dubious a sanctuary.
From all this matter of fact, matter of speculation and high matter of dream, we can infer that wherever the cradle may be of the true legend of the Graal--Gaul, Armorica, or Wales, but the last as a probability apart--there was at work, less or more everywhere in the Celtic world, what I have called the alembic of transmutation. I care not what went therein--Cauldron of Ceridwen, Cauldron of the Dagda, head of Bran and poisoned spear which smote him, Lay of the Great Fool, Expulsion and Return Formula, Visitations of the Underworld, and so forward for ever and ever--but that which came out was the Mystery of Faith manifested after a new manner, and the search for that sanctuary wherein, among all waste places of the world, the evidence of things unseen became palpable to the exalted senses of the great Quest. Little and less than little it matters how that began which ends at this high point, and for us, therefore, who "needs must love the highest when we see it," we can only bless the beginning which brought the term we find; but its work is done, and it is not a concern of ours.
In our childhood we passed through the realm of fables from Bidpai to Lafontaine, but these were not everlasting dwellings. In our youth there may still have been some
of us who looked to see great lights in L’Origine de tous les Cultes and in The Ruins of Empires, but again there was no abiding place. At this day it seems weariness, as it is indeed idleness, to go back to the solar mythologies, or otherwise than with great caution to folk-lore, when in far different flights we have touched the hem of His garment. I do not propose to include the study of folklore in the same category as the imaginings of Dupuis, Volney and Godfrey Higgins; but unless we can presuppose a certain enlightenment, it proves a morass sometimes rather than a pathway. However this may be regarded, in establishing a new scheme of interpretation, it is perhaps necessary rather than desirable that a beginning should be made by doing justice to old schemes, the office of which is at once recognised and reduced by the entrance of an overlord into his proper patrimony. I wish, therefore, to say that the appeal of scholarship to the derivation of the legends from folklore and the anxious collection of fresh data from this source have acted in the past upon several groups of students like the head of Braid's lancet-case on his hypnotic subjects. They are pretexts which have entranced them. There was never an occasion in which folk-lore was more important at the beginning and mattered in finality so little; it is a land of enchantment, withal somewhat dreary, and through it the unspelling quest passes laboriously to its term.
An old metaphorical maxim of one of the secret sciences once said: "The stone becomes a plant, the plant an animal, and the animal a man"; but it did not counsel its students to consult the stone that it might better understand a man, though the stone remains a proper subject of investigation within its own limit. I leave it to readers who are after my own heart and within the classes of my proper school to apply this little parable to the question which is here at issue in respect of the Graal in folk-lore. It remains to be said that one field of Celtic research has been so far neglected
by scholarship, and it is that precisely which throws light on the Christian aspects of the Graal legend apart from the aspects of old non-Christian myth. If there are analogies in the root-matter between the Hallows of Cup and Lance and folk-lore talismans, there are others which are far more intimate between the lesser matters of the literature and Celtic Christian hagiology. But this is a point which I note only, because it belongs to the close rather than the beginning of our research. It seems a commonplace to add at the moment that particular Christian tradition has for its environment the general traditions of Christianity, and, for explanatory purposes, that may be best which lies the nearest to hand, but at least it enters reasonably into the full consideration of the whole subject.
Apart from the fixed purpose in the direction which I have specified--that purpose which having exhausted, and this too easily, the available fields of evidence, begins to imagine new--apart from the thousand and one things which, by the hypothesis, would be referable to folk-lore if the wreckage of that world had not been disintegrated so thoroughly by the mills of the centuries, the antecedents of the Graal legend in folk-lore have been a wide field for patient research, nor is that field exhausted; it has also offered an opportunity for great speculations which go to show that the worlds of enchantment are not worlds which have passed like the Edomite kings; but as I know that there was a king afterwards in Israel, I have concluded at this point to abandon those quests which for myself and those whom I represent are without term or effect, and to hold only to the matter in hand, which is the development of a sacramental and mystical cosmos in literature out of the strange elements which strove one with another, as in the time of chaos so also in pre-Christian Celtic folk-lore.