It is certain that the poet who took up the thread of the story which was left by Chrétien had antecedent texts to go upon outside the work of his predecessor, and that one at least of these is not to be identified with purely folk-lore materials. It is considered that the metrical romance of De Borron was not one of his documents, and on the hypothesis--or perhaps I should say on the theory--of a primordial non-Graal Quest--as reflected into the Welsh Mabinogi and the English Syr Percyvelle--it would follow that he had seen this. Now, there are traces in the Mabinogi of an intention which might have led up to the marriage of Perceval and Blanchefleur, if his enchantment by the empress had not extended over a period which put such a possibility out of the question. In the English metrical story the marriage is a natural conclusion, and we have seen that it takes place accordingly. In Chrétien there are the same traces, and they reappear more strongly in Gautier, but the term of his intention is unmanifest because he failed to conclude. The common consent of scholarship would hold probably that the prototype of both poets celebrated a bridal at its end. It contained also the widely diffused story of the maiden and the hound, or brachet, which I have held over from the Welsh story to speak of in this place. Finally, in some form it had the curious episode of the chessboard. But, fully developed as they are in the long extension of Gautier, these things are of his accidents only, while of the essence is his zeal of the Graal Quest, which overrules all things else in his ingarnering of diverse memorials. Of that quest he has practically two heroes, and though a superior success attends the search of Perceval the adventures of his alternate Gawain are recounted at still greater length. This latter part, taken over from the first poet of the Conte, at once so extended
and so important in its Graal elements, is postponed for consideration separately, registering here the bare fact only that in the section of Gautier and in the additamenta thereto belonging, Gawain appears most expressly as one of the heroes connected with the vision of the Holy Vessel. Of their comparative merits there need be no question, as the grace of sanctity had not entered into the heart of the poet who began or of him who extended the Graal story. The Sacred Vessel was glorieus and the Sacred Vessel was sains, but the election thereto was that of the best Knight in the world, or his nearest co-heritor in chivalry, and not of him who was resplendent in the arms of spiritual achievement. Gawain was therefore, in this sense, scarcely less eligible than Perceval, and the ground of his comparative failure was either an implied incapacity from the fact that he was not of the Keepership lineage or that for some reason it had been decided to regard Perceval as the more elect hero among two exotic flowers of Knighthood.
Of Perceval himself, however, who for the purpose of introducing Gawain had been left far behind in the narrative of Chrétien, we hear no single word till nearly half the work has been accomplished by Gautier. His story is then resumed at the point when the hero has departed from the hermitage of that uncle who has brought him into a tolerable state of repentance, purging him by the offices of the Church, and has communicated, as if it were in secret Mass or sacred Eucharist, the first mysteries of the Graal. Perceval had been denounced previously for the omission which he had almost covenanted to make, and no hope had been extended that he should yet act as repairer in fine, so that from initial point to term, as he could then perceive it, some blind and implacable fatality appeared to have been at work alone. Now, on the other hand, and if not all too plainly, it looked as if there followed by inference that a high hope of achievement was held out to him by his uncle's words; he resolved therefore that he would not return to King
[paragraph continues] Arthur's court till he had revisited the Fisher King's Castle and inquired concerning the Graal. But all without that secret fastness was not only beset by perils and hard encounters, but it turned in a glass of strange vision and great deception. Once more, I am not concerned in summarising the story to take in all its details, because, as usual, several of its episodes are idle and extrinsic in respect of our proper purpose. The Castle of all Desire moved near or far upon the confused horizon of adventure, and at a certain point Perceval reached a river, beyond which he was assured that the bourne rose up grandly, in a rich and peopled land; but he could find no means of crossing. The day passed from noon to vespers, and still on the further side he came to a vacant palace, beautiful exceedingly in situation, moult bien séant, but now standing drearily in ruins. There he found a maiden who was prepared to show him a place of crossing and mounted her mule for the purpose, but her intention was only to drown him. Unless we can connect this incident with something which will follow presently, I find nothing therein except an unmeaning hindrance, and the same may be said of an episode which occurs hereabouts in certain manuscripts, being the meeting between Perceval and a huntsman who reproached him for the fatality of the unasked question at the Graal Castle. It shows only that the rumour of the ill-starred visit had gone about the district, which was acquainted otherwise, and too well, with the sorrows of the Holy House and their effects beyond the precincts. As regards the maiden and the mule, I would note further that in the Conte del Graal there is a curse on Logres which occupies a middle term between times of adventure and times of enchantment, and one inference may be that Perceval had fallen into the hands of a water-fairy, belonging to the kelpie type, as the malice of an earthly maiden could be assumed scarcely in connection with such a meeting between complete strangers; or--that which is still more probable--the brief occurrence may be
due only to the sporadic invention of the writer. In any case, the Knight, having been better counselled, learned of a ford, and so entered presumably on the direct road which led, by the hypothesis, to the desired House of Great Hallows. Yet he was still far from his term, and many adventures in the vicinity intervened without him reaching the goal. First among these was a visit to another deserted castle--such desolation being perhaps a part of the curse--and therein he found the chess-board of which we have heard something in the metamorphoses and adventures of the Welsh Peredur. Here it was no hideous damosel who came in to upbraid him, but a maid of great beauty, who rose from the midst of the lake into which Perceval had proposed to cast the board and pieces. The fact that she held his hands substituted another quest for that of their recovery in the alternative story. A white stag ranged in the park of the castle, and if the knight would receive those favours which her beauty led him to demand he must bring her the head of this animal, to facilitate which she lent him a hound with express injunctions to return it. I do not propose to follow the adventures which arise out of this undertaking. The favours involved by the covenant had unhappily been granted to Perceval in the case of Blanchefleur, though not perhaps when her distress, at their first meeting, had brought her to his bedside, and into his arms afterwards, through the whole night. Her true love was to follow her liberation by him from the violence of an undesired suitor. But it was granted indubitably in the plenary sense when he reached her castle unexpectedly for the second time. Still it was under circumstances which do not occur commonly in romances of chivalry unless the consummation of marriage is intended at the close of all. That she was a bride elect is clear beyond all in the poem, and in yielding, it was to her husband that she yielded only, which makes one later episode in Perceval's story the more iniquitous for this reason. That Perceval was self-devoted to
[paragraph continues] Blanchefleur follows from the episode of the love-trance, but his inclinations are variable in the Conte, as they are in the Welsh story; for the love of the Lady of the Chess-board he goes through long-enduring quests which so end that at length he attains his desires. In all this there are only two points that concern us--firstly, that the attainment involves the desertion of Blanchefleur under circumstances that for the knight are disgraceful; and, secondly, that the prolongation of the adventures which follow the slaying of the stag are due to the daughter of the Fisher King, or at least in part, and are designed to punish Perceval for not having asked the question.
I have said that the locality of the Graal Castle is as if it were a place in flux; there is nothing in the opening of the story to lend colour to the supposition that the Sacred Vessel and the Mystery and the House of these were close to the manorial residence and rural retreat wherein Perceval passed his childhood; hence it is doubtless by reason that the Castle was here to-day and gone to-morrow that they are brought suddenly into comparative proximity. Perceval was still in the course of his stag adventures and still seeking the prize which was to follow their completion; still also he was hearing casually concerning the Graal, or at least was in occasional speculation regarding its whereabouts; when he found himself, without expectation and without intention, at the door of his old home, for the first time only in ten years. There he entered, there he tarried but too briefly, and there he met with his sister--of whom Chrétien knows nothing, even as Gautier elects to ignore entirely the cousin-german of the earlier poet. He seems, however, to have been following some earlier stage of the legend, to which the Longer Prose Perceval and the Great Quest also conform, and in that last and glorious text the personality of the sister is exalted to a high grade of sanctity, of which we find nothing but the first traces--for the first traces are present--in the account of Gautier.
[paragraph continues] Herein she is a spirit of recollection and a meditative recluse--
[paragraph continues] But she is clothed richly withal and encompassed by a fair retinue, so living sad and unfriended in the woodland, lamenting the loss of her brother, of whose fate she had heard nothing. When Perceval declared himself there was great joy between them, and of her he learned the particulars of their mother's death, through the love and the loss of him. Together they visited a hermit uncle who is not to be identified with the former, being on the father's side; to him Perceval made his confession--though of all prayers he knew only the Pater noster--heard at his celebration a Mass of the Holy Ghost, knelt at the tomb of their mother, and of his uncle prayed piteously that he might learn concerning the Graal and the other Hallows. But his uncle would tell him nothing at that time, though he gave him high instruction regarding holy mysteries of religion. That the heart of Perceval was not reached, his reverence notwithstanding, was too soon made evident by the fact that he bequeathed his sister to renewed isolation, with a mere promise to return which is never fulfilled, and soon or some time afterwards he was in a position--as we shall see--to claim and receive his dues from the Lady of the Chess-board.
Neither sin of concupiscence nor sin of desertion have disqualified him for the Quest of the Graal in the opinion of Gautier, and he was still less or more on that Quest when he came to a Castle of Maidens, who were reputed to have raised the beautiful edifice with their own hands--
[paragraph continues] Of these things he heard the story, though he was weary and looked rather for rest. So was he delivered to his
slumber, but the place was all work of faerie, and he reposed in enchantment that night. Faerie houses are, however, like faerie gold--dead leaves and dry in the morning, or mere shadow and rainbow semblance which dissolve in the eastern light. So Perceval woke in a meadow with an oak murmuring above him. From all this there follows nothing, but it is designed that the next adventure should take him a further step in the direction of his term. It seems that in the neighbourhood of the Graal Castle there was always a river to cross, and as on the first occasion he met with a lady and a mule from whom followed his destruction almost, so now there was another maiden with a similar beast in her charge, thus creating a kind of equilibrium between false and true assistance. The story is very long, and much of it is outside the object, but it may be reduced under three heads: (1) Perceval was riding with the lady, whom he lost at night in the forest. Alone and so lost, he beheld a great light--very clear and very resplendent--but it was followed by tempest. (2) In the morning he recovered the damosel, who said that it was the light of the Graal, which the Rich King Fisher was accustomed to carry in the forest, so that no infernal temptation should have power over him. In the Conte therefore, as in the Quest of Galahad, the Graal goes about, but it is not for the same reason. (3) The maiden described the Vessel as that which contained the glorious blood of the King of Kings which was received therein as He hung upon the cross. This is rather the account of the Vulgate Merlin than of Robert de Borron, but the distinction is one of detail, and it follows that the Early History which was known to Gautier was that of a relic of the Passion. (4) More than this the lady would not reveal, because it was a thing too secret for dame or damosel to recount; it was also a tale of terror, though a man of holy life might express the marvels. (5) That which she could do she would do, however--namely, lend him her white mule--the beast which another romance declares to be on God's
side--and she would lend him also her ring, by which the mule was governed. Thus assisted, he would be able to cross a certain bridge of glass, from which he might travel direct to the King's Castle. Thereafter the mule would return of itself. He was not all the same destined to continue the journey far beyond the waterside. He was riding the mule, and leading his horse by the bridle, when he encountered a knight who gave him news of a tourney about to be held by King Arthur, and--ignoring his original resolve--he turned aside from the straight path to attend it. The digression delayed his achievement, but it left him the best knight of the world, and this was a condition of the achievement. It did not, however, meet the views of the damosel who was owner of the mule and the ring, for she reappeared and demanded their return, on ascertaining that his Quest was not achieved. They were both delivered, and thereafter--without salutation or farewell--he was left to shift as he might on the way, now all unknown, to the Holy House. It was at this time, as if once more without God in the world, that his road took him to the Castle of the Chess-board, for during all these scenes and times he had carried the stag's head and the dog of the damosel. The term of this foolish business should have increased the difficulties of his Quest, but--on the contrary--the lady was to a certain extent his conductress in place of the maiden of the mule, for she it was who took him again to the waterside and to a great boat there at hand which carried him--horse and all--to the opposite shore, beyond which stretched that broad way which led to the Court of King Fisher.
The subsequent occurrences are all intended to connect intimately with his arrival thereat and with the Rite of Questioning which is his prime object, but we shall see in their later understanding that they are fantastic rather than important, which also appears on their surface. He found a child of apparently five years old, clothed in rich vestments and seated on a branch of a tree
higher than any lance could reach. Of him Perceval, now full of his mission, inquired concerning the Fisher King but was told only that if he would learn news which might prove good and pleasant he must go to the Mount Dolorous, after which the speaker put a period to further questioning by ascending higher in the tree and thence vanishing. Perceval reached the mountain and met with a maid coming down on a palfrey who counselled him against the adventure, but he began the ascent and at the summit found fifteen crosses, of which five were white, five red and five blue. These encircled a pillar, to which he must fasten his steed. To fail was to lose reason. The achievement seems childish, but it was a proof of valour devised of old by Merlin in order that the flower of chivalry should alone serve King Arthur, and the maid who told this story was Merlin's daughter, of whom we find nothing otherwise in the canonical romances of the Graal. Seeing that very few knights of the Round Table ever heard of Mount Dolorous and much less of the testing, the account seems an idle invention, but it is regarded as important for early Arthurian history. Perceval being still on his journey, at the conclusion of this adventure, came next to a great tree which was illuminated by innumerable candles, like a high altar at the exposition of the Most Holy Sacrament. It was the spectacle of a moment only, for the lights vanished on his approach, and he found himself at a wonderful chapel, where a dead knight lay in repose on the altar and a black hand, appearing behind the altar, extinguished one great light thereon. The significance of these things appears in the sequel and does not signify especially. In fine, Perceval arrived at the Graal Castle, wherein he found the King and told him of his latest adventures, namely, those on his way to the Castle. The Hallows appeared, and for the first time in the poem the expression Saint Greal is used in connection with the actual vision of the object. When the procession had passed
and repassed, Perceval asked, as we know, the required questions, whereat the King told him that these were great matters, and in the first place he recounted the meaning of the child seated on the branch of that tree which the knight passed on his way thither. Perceval did not learn what he wanted, because of his sins, and the episode as a whole indicated that the thought of man should be raised towards his Creator--an allegorical trifle which is after the manner of Masonic teaching, as this appears on the surface, or much ado about little. Before he could hear further Perceval was invited to piece the broken sword together, which he did, apparently by the power of his magnetism as the best knight in the world. He left only a slight crevice at the point of junction, which I should account for as signifying that other point in time at which the sin of sense entered into his life--but this is without prejudice to the explanation provided in one of the sequels which stand over for consideration. The partial success led the Keeper of the Hallows to hail Perceval as one of the lords of the House, though he was told at the same time that the Quest was yet unfinished. As Gautier dwells more especially on the resoldering of the Broken Sword, it may be inferred that what still remained was the perfect completion of this work. The next teller of the story will be found, however, to import another element, which so far may have been an implicit of the poem but has not been explicated. For the rest, Gautier explains nothing concerning that withdrawn and abdicated king, of whom we hear something in Chrétien, nor does he make more than the one reference, which I have cited, to the daughter of the Rich Fisher, except that to all appearance she continued her office as Bearer of the Holy Graal.