This is one of the two texts which have been held to offer independent traces of a pre-Christian and pre-Graal period of the Quest, but in their present state they are among the latest documents of the literature. It is perhaps more difficult to speak of the Mabinogi concerning Peredur, the Son of Evrawc, than of anything in the Graal literature; its elements are simple, its dimensions small, but its difficulties seem almost insuperable. The Red Book of Hergest, of which it forms one of the stories, is found in a Welsh manuscript which belongs probably to the end of the thirteenth century, but the contents of the collection are held to have existed in a much earlier form, and this is now unknown. The voice of criticism concerning the Peredur has become less assured of late years, but in matter and manner the story exhibits some elements which, even to the unversed mind, might suggest its correspondence in essentials with the claim which is made concerning it--or that it is among the oldest of the quests. On the other hand, there is little to support the unimaginative and frigid criticism which, because the plot turns on a conventional and not very purposeful vendetta, terms the narrative logical and straightforward. I have intimated already that it is really confused and disconcerting. It is, indeed, the idlest of all stories, and it leaves several of its episodes unfinished. We can accept, however, the alternative construction which criticism has placed upon the document; it may be either an intermediate between folk-lore and Graal literature, or otherwise a chaotic reflection from French sources. Probably it is a combination of both. The question is very interesting from some points of view, but hereto it matters little. The Mabinogi contains in any case the root-matter of the Perceval
legend, and it includes, therefore, some part of those elements which were taken over by the Graal literature and were perpetuated through all the Graal-Perceval quests, though some part was abandoned when that quest was carried into transcension. For example, the personal history of the hero has certain uniform elements which persist throughout; the Peredur is, moreover, a pure vengeance legend, which characteristic prevails in the Conte del Graal, but has been eliminated from the Longer Prose Perceval. I should add that the Didot Perceval stands apart from the other texts not only by the absence of any vengeance motive, but by the fact that its early history of the hero must be held to differ in totality.
Whether regarded as a sacrament or a talisman, it is understood that there is nothing in the Welsh Perceval which answers to the Holy Graal, but it enters into the category of the literature for three palmary reasons: (1) Because it embodies the idea of a quest; (2) because this quest is connected with asking a conventional question concerning certain talismans; (3) because these talismans are in the house of a king or lord who is maimed and whose healing would have resulted from the question. Outside these specific correspondences, it is obvious that Peredur of Wales is the Perceval le Gallois of the Conte del Graal and the other Graal romances, while, all variations notwithstanding, the history of the one, in a broad sense, is also the history of the other. Some important details on these several points may be scheduled as follows: (1) The motive of the Quest does not enter into the story until nearly its very end; (2) the question is never asked; (3) there is no record that the king is ever healed; (4) the one accredited talisman of the whole story does not figure as that weapon which caused the maiming of the story.
It should be noted, however, with due consideration for what has been said to the contrary by criticism, that shadows of the characteristic Graal Hallows are to
be found in the story, but they serve no real purpose therein. (a) THE CUP: there are, in fact, two cups, both filled with wine and presented with their contents to Perceval, on condition that he fights with their bearers. (b) THE BOWL, also filled with wine, and this passes on similar conditions. Perceval slays the bearers, and we shall see that he is afterwards entertained by an Empress for fourteen years. This incident has no analogy with anything in the other documents. (c) THE STONE, which is guarded by a serpent and is carried on the tail of the reptile. The virtue of this stone is that whosoever possesses it and holds it in one hand may have in the other as much gold as he desires. The analogy is therefore rather with the purse of Fortunatus than with a Feast of Good Things, but incidentally it recalls the latter. (d) THE SPEAR: this is of mighty size, with three streams of blood flowing from its point to the ground. It is the only so-called talisman of the story, and its purpose is to occasion the question which, if answered, will lead to the king's healing. Why it is a spear and why it distils blood the story does not explain. It has either been transferred from some other legend, as, for example, a genuine Graal romance, and placed without much reason in its present setting, or there is no better instance of such an alleged transfer in the whole cycle. The spear is seen once only, and on that occasion is accompanied by a large salver in which is a man's head surrounded with a profusion of blood.
The question which Perceval should have asked was the meaning and the cause of these wonders. He is cursed the next morning by his foster-sister, but it is not because he forbears at the instance of his maternal uncle. It is only after long years that his silence is denounced by a boy disguised as a laidly woman, but at the end of the whole business the question is never asked. Apparently it is too late, and Perceval had only a single chance, as he had in the poem of Heinrich and, after another sense, in the Longer Prose Perceval. The penalty of his
failure is that "the lame king will have to endure battles and conflicts, and his knights will perish, and wives will be widows, and maidens will be left portionless." It does not appear that any of these disasters come to pass, but certain sorceresses of Gloucester, who caused the king's lameness among other misdeeds, are destroyed, which does not heal the king, so that the vendetta is a vain affair.
The father of Peredur was Evrac, who owned the earldom of the North and had seven sons, with six of whom he was slain, for they began in the folly of tournaments and so ended. Peredur, the surviving and youngest son, was taken by his mother into the wilderness, where he could see neither horses nor arms, lest he also should become a great warrior before the face of the Lord, and die in battle, with all that violence which signified the perfection of valour in those days of harsh adventure. His companions were the women of his mother, with some boys and spiritless men. In spite of such precautions he was destined, however, to depart from the house of his childhood in the wild and solitary ways, where the life which he led was like that of a savage hermit. He was the cutting of a fruit-tree and was sadly in need of grafting: grafted he was in the end on the great tree of Knighthood, yet he behaved throughout with the thoughtlessness of the impassioned man. It is only in the Graal romances that he puts forth many blossoms, and sometimes splendidly, but even then he does not bear the good fruit after its own kind in anything but the latest texts.
One day Peredur saw three knights, but his mother said that they were angels. He decided to become an angel, but the questions which he put to them subsequently having obtained a more reliable account, he resolved further to follow their vocation. Finding that she could not dissuade him, his mother gave him some notable instructions, as, for example, that he should pay court to a fair woman, whether she
would or no, and that if he obtained anything precious he should bestow it, and so earn fame for his largesse. In fine, she told him to repair to the court of King Arthur. He mounted a sorry hackney and began a long journey. Arriving at a rich tent, he mistook it for a church and repeated his Pater noster, for he had little knowledge of religion; but the tent contained a beautiful lady, who gave him refreshment and allowed him to take a ring from her hand. Now, the lord of the glade became angry because of Peredur, and said that the lady, who was his wife, should not rest two nights in the same house till he had visited vengeance upon him.
As the youth drew towards the court of King Arthur, a Red Knight entered the palace, and seeing how the Queen was served with wine by a page from a golden goblet, he dashed the liquor in her face and smote her on the face also; but, despite his challenge, such was the unknightly condition of the Round Table that all present feared to avenge the insult, believing that the aggressor had magical protection; and so he retired with the vessel. Peredur then rode in, and asked for the honour of knighthood; but because of his outlandish appearance, he was treated with indignity by Kay and others of the household. A male and female dwarf, who had dwelt in the palace for a twelvemonth, uttering no word, found their tongues suddenly to praise him as the flower of chivalry, for which they were beaten by Kay. When Peredur demanded the accolade, he was told jeeringly to follow the Red Knight, recover the goblet, and possess himself of his horse and armour. He found no difficulty in obeying, and by slaying the Knight he accomplished 'his first mission of vengeance, which contains a more important implicit than the vindication of Arthur's Queen; for, unknown to himself, the Red Knight was he who had slain his father. The removal of the armour he could not accomplish till Sir Owain of the Round Table came to his help, after which he assumed it and mounted the dead man's horse. He
restored the goblet to Owain; but to return and receive knighthood at the King's hands he refused until he had punished Kay for the insult which he had offered to the dwarfs. In this manner he began his second mission of vengeance, the implicit whereof involved his own vindication, because he, too, had been treated injuriously. After various encounters, the result of which is that many are sent to place themselves at King Arthur's mercy, on account of the dwarfs, he met with an ancient man, richly vested, whose attendants were fishing on a lake, and who was therefore the substituted Rich Fisher of the Graal stories.
It does not seem to follow that the servants caught anything, but if they did it was not to our purpose. The ancient man was lame, and he is therefore an alternative of the maimed king. He retired into a castle at hand, whither Peredur followed, and being there welcomed he learned that the host was his own uncle. By him he was taught chivalry, was cautioned, for no apparent reason, against asking questions, and was assured that any reproach involved by his silence should not fall on the boy but on himself only. It was as if this uncle said: "Do not explore the concealed mysteries I will account." He accounts so badly, however, that the disgrace is ultimately on Peredur.
The next day the youth reached another castle, where he found a second uncle, at whose bidding he smote a great staple three times with a sword, and both things were shattered. The first and second time he rejoined the pieces of the sword, and the staple was also made good, as if automatically. The third time neither would unite, and we thus have an alternative of the Broken Sword in the Graal legends; but nothing follows in the Welsh story, nor is the weapon heard of afterwards. What next occurred at the castle was a Rite as of a Lodge of Mourning. Two youths entered the hall bearing the mighty spear, from which poured torrents of blood, and at the sight of this all the company
fell into grievous lamentation. Two maidens followed carrying a large salver, whereon was the man's head; and this, which was swimming in blood, as we have heard, caused another great outcry. Peredur, however, had been well counselled, and he asked nothing concerning these marvels, which fact constitutes the great mystery of the voided question and the prolonged sorrow of the lord. Now, either the two uncles are distinct persons inhabiting two castles, in which case (a) the story afterwards identifies them, although vaguely, and (b) the relations are working one against the other, unless there was some cryptic understanding between them; or they are one person strangely confused, while the castles are one castle, in which case the lame uncle himself issues that decree of silence which will delay his healing indefinitely and testifies to his separate existence as the brother first seen by his guest. Whatever alternative is chosen, the story rests distracting.
On the morning which followed these occurrences Peredur rode away from the castle, and while still in its vicinity he came upon a beautiful maiden, who was watching by the side of her dead husband. She told the youth that she was his foster-sister, that he was responsible for his mother's death because of his desertion, and that he had therefore become accursed.
We shall see in the sequel that he was under interdict after two manners, but in neither case does it appear to carry a consequence. After this meeting, in which he does everything to assist the distressed lady, and to recognise a relationship for which there is nothing to account in the story, he continued his journey and reached a castle, wherein was another maiden, also in stress and besieged by an earl whom she would not consent to wed. The unwelcome suitor was vanquished by Peredur, who sent him to the court of King Arthur, restored all her possessions to the despoiled lady, and after the space of three weeks again rode away. It should be noted that this maiden is the Blanchefleur of the Perceval-Graal
romances, the bride-elect of the hero in some parts of the Conte del Graal, his wife in the conclusion of Gerbert, and so also in the Parsifal of Wolfram.
The distress of damsels is a lesser keynote of the story, and Peredur met now for a second time the lady of the tent and pavilion, only to find her in sorry straits through her lord's treatment, owing to the intrusion of the youth in the early part of the story. He overcame the knight in due course, enforced the usual pilgrimage, and pledged him to deal loyally with the lady in future, she having been at fault in nothing. In the adventure which next followed, he found that a whole country had been wasted by nine sorceresses of Gloucester, and they were now attacking the sole remaining castle. Over one of them Peredur prevailed, and she--though aware from of old of all that they must suffer at his hands--invited him to their palace. During three weeks he led a hidden life among them for the ostensible purpose of learning chivalry, which he knew already by its practice and otherwise by the instruction of his uncle; it is thus certain that they could teach him little thereof, and of sanctity nothing. The episode remains so unreasonable that almost surely it must have followed some prototype embodying another motive. By this time Peredur had sent so many knights as hostages to Arthur's court, in part to justify the dwarfs, that the king determined to seek for him. The search began accordingly, and after he had taken leave of his imputed instructors, the youth was found by the companions of the Round Table at the moment when he was wrapped in a love-trance, thinking of the lady of his heart. This incident, so trivial in itself, is included here because all the romances repeat it in one or another form. Kay, among others, disturbed Peredur rudely, and was chastised with violence. In this manner was accomplished the second mission of vengeance, or rather its implied part. Gwalchmai, who is Gawain, approached Peredur gently and courteously, and so brought him to the king. All went to Caerleon,
and there Peredur, who, by inference from his trance and a certain period of tarrying, may be supposed to have loved previously the lady of the castle, became deeply enamoured of another maiden; but seeing that she failed to respond, he vowed himself to silence in all Christendom till she should love him above every man. He left King Arthur's court and passed through various adventures, from which little follows in respect of the other romances. The time came when he yearned to revisit Caerleon and again have the maiden's society, besides that of the knighthood. At the court on account of his silence he suffered further indignity, still on the part of Kay; but after many signal examples of chivalry, the lady of his affections, although she did not recognise him, confessed that if only he could speak, she should love him best of all men, as she did indeed already, his dumbness notwithstanding. So was his vow fulfilled; and as he had sent many living gifts to the male and female dwarfs, after a votive manner, it is to be inferred that his second vengeance was further and fully accomplished by the disgrace which his deeds reflected upon the unworthy Kay.
At a later period, he being again on his travels, Peredur arrived at a castle, where the lord was a black man who had lost one of his eyes, and it was his custom to destroy every visitor who went to the place unasked. One of the lord's daughters interceded vainly, for he who at the time of need neglected to question his own uncle now demanded an explanation of the circumstances under which his present host had been deprived of his eye. For this he was informed that he should not escape with his life. However, in due course, he conquered the Black Master of the House and slew him, after learning his secret. That secret caused him to visit another castle, the knights in which rode out daily to do battle with an obscure monster, which is termed an Addanc in the story; their bodies were brought back by the horses, and they themselves were raised up again
nightly by the women of the household. Peredur, as will be expected, went forth to destroy the monster and, in return for the pledge of his future love, he was presented by a strange woman with a stone which ensured his success. As regards the covenant between them, he was told when he next sought her to seek in the East--that is to say, in India. Omitting an intermediate episode on which nothing depends, he came to the Mound of Mourning, where three. hundred nobles guarded a serpent until the time should come for it to die. The explanation is that the tail of the serpent contained that mysterious stone to which I have referred already--the stone of wealth inexhaustible--and the intent of the whole company was to compete for this jewel. Peredur destroyed the serpent, which they did not dare to attempt, and, having compensated the other seekers, he bestowed the prize on a knight who had been in his service, thus fulfilling one behest of his mother. He next reached a galaxy of tents, gathered about the pavilion of the Empress Cristinobyl, who was resolved to wed the most valiant man in the world, and him only. This was the unknown enchantress by whose aid he was enabled to conquer the Addanc. The place was filled with competitors for her hand, but Peredur overcame them all, and was entertained by the Empress for fourteen years, as the story is said to relate; it is the only appeal to some antecedent source which occurs in the whole text. In this way the hero's variable affections find their rest for a period--by inference, in such a fairyland as was visited by Ogier the Dane.
Peredur came back at length to the Court of King Arthur, without having attracted apparently any surprise at his absence; and, almost immediately after, the palace was visited by a laidly damosel, through whom it transpired what misery followed the failure to ask the question at the Castle of the Lame King. It is to be noted that so only, almost at the end of the story, does the hero learn anything concerning his omission and the fatality which it involved. He was
reproached, as we have seen, bitterly by his foster-sister, but not about this matter; and the inference is that so far he had only reason for satisfaction in having followed the counsel of his first uncle--until the time came when he forgot the injunction at the castle of the one-eyed lord. Being now undeceived, he vowed to rest never until he knew the story of the Lance. He departed accordingly, while, at the suggestion of the same visitant, Gawain went in quest of a castle on a high mountain, wherein it is said that there was a certain maid in prison, and the fame of the world was promised to him who released her. This is the only instance, and a shadow at that, in which any quest is allotted to the hero of all gallantry in this story, though his adventures occupy so large a space in other romances of Perceval. We hear nothing, however, as to the term reached by Gawain. Peredur, after long wanderings in search of the laidly maiden, whom he seems to have regarded as a guide, was accosted by a hermit, who upbraided him for bearing arms on so holy a day as Good Friday. Recalled to that sense of religion which he had forgotten apparently, he responded in a becoming manner and received some directions which brought him ultimately to the Castle of Wonders. The first marvel which he saw therein was a chess-board, whereon automatic pieces were playing the game by themselves. The side which he favoured was defeated, and in his anger he cast both board and men into a lake. The laidly maiden appeared thereupon and reproached him. He was set certain tasks, under the pretext of recovering the playthings; they included that adventure of stag and hound with which we shall be concerned later; but the term of all was to bring him for a second time to the castle of his maimed uncle and to the end of his quest. Thither Gawain had preceded him, and in this manner, as in several of the Graal romances, the knight of earthly courtesy is somehow connected with the
quest--whether he has undertaken it himself, or by accident, as in this instance.
Peredur found no Lance and he asked no questions, but he was told by a yellow-haired youth, who begged the boon of his friendship since, they two were cousins, that it was he who in the far past carried the ensanguined talisman, that he bore also the salver, and at the end of long years of adventure, long years of faerie life, that he appeared as the laidly maiden. As the question had passed into desuetude and, all his vow notwithstanding, as he learned nothing concerning the Lance, it is possible, as I have suggested, that the opportunity of asking and of receiving knowledge was not granted a second time to the seeker. With these things also the head in the dish of blood passed into the limbus of desuetude, like the foster-sister of Peredur and his dubious alternative uncle; no one thought further about them, though the seeker did learn that the head was that of another cousin, who was killed by the sorceresses of Gloucester. It was they also who lamed his uncle, and for this he was to wreak vengeance upon them. Here, therefore, was the third and final vendetta which Peredur accomplished, with the assistance, curiously enough, of Arthur and all his household, by the destruction of the nine priestesses of evil magic. Whether this healed his uncle or relieved the land and the people is not told in the story, nor do we learn anything further concerning the hero, or what, in fine, became of him. Perhaps in the castle of his uncle he completed a third period of hidden life.
I have not entered into the Quest of the Holy Graal for the unsatisfying purpose of reproducing the romances in synopsis, and those more especially which are outside the high issues of my real concern. But in respect of the claims which have been and are still advanced concerning it, as the last reflection of some primordial type of quest, the Welsh Perceval seems to call for presentation adequately, that my readers may understand, firstly,
the scope of the points of contact, and, secondly, may thus appreciate the better those greater points of divergence between this text and the true traditional tales of the Holy Vessel. The same motive will occasion the same treatment of the next and more excellent version, which is now posed for our consideration.