There are many questions, and some of them may be insoluble, which are concerned with or arise out of the legend of Merlin, but there is perhaps one only which enters at all deeply into the collateral legend of the Graal; it is why the British prophet, partly magician and enchanter, but in part also God's messenger, with his consequent strange mixture of motives, should have been selected in the mind of romance, or in any more withdrawn mind, as the promulgator of the Graal Mystery in Great Britain--perhaps more correctly--as the semi-supernatural power which was at work in connection therewith; why also it was he who brought about the institution of the Third Symbolical Table, and set up that Siege Perilous which was, in the first place, to terminate the enchantments of Britain, and, in the second, by the alternative intervention of the adventurous times, to make void--but this is long after he has himself passed away--the high mystery of chivalry so far as the Round Table was concerned. The Didot Perceval intervened in respect of the latter vocation, with results which we have seen already, but in this respect it is scarcely the voice of the literature.
There are those who maintain that the late prophecies
of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries attributed to Merlin were produced with a political object; but the object of the Graal was, speaking broadly, mystical, and as regards the literature which embodies it, this is either the reflection at a distance of secret sanctuary doctrine, or it stands in some dubious manner for the aspirations of the Celtic Church, and admits therefore a political object to the extent that such aspirations responded to particular ambitions which we know to have been cherished by English kings at or about the period during which the literature was developed. There are those who look to Armorica for the original book of the legend, and say that this was latinised by Geoffrey of Monmouth; but the question as to the origin of the romance elements is too complicated for so simple a settlement, and if it had ever a single source in writing, it was at a period when it was apart from romance, and personally I do not question that it was in the Latin tongue. There are those who consider that Scotland was the home of the Arthurian myth, but the land of second sight is not really that of the Mysteries, and though the old Cumbrian kingdom may have contributed to the story of Merlin, the latter must have been enriched from other sources. It was transported, we have been told, into Brittany, and there it may have undergone an express transformation; but, in common with so much of the Arthurian cycle, it was codified, extended and enriched by the process of late editing in some particular, though unexplained, interest, the method adopted by which was the collection of all the great texts of Arthurian literature about the Holy Graal. The hypothetical book of that legend was the central sacred point, and all the extant texts stand about it like subsidiary Hallows.
The break between the Early History of Merlin, which ends by saying that King Arthur held his land and kingdom long in peace, and the Vulgate Merlin, which begins by reciting how the nobles who had acknowledged him unwillingly went against him into prolonged rebellion,
is sufficient in itself to open a new branch of the literature. My classification, however, does not make it impossible that the later text should reflect something from the Lesser Chronicles, two of the texts in which are by necessity the root-matter of all the Greater Chronicles; but its more important derivations are from the Book of the Holy Graal and the appurtenances thereof, including the prose Lancelot. We are only concerned with the text in respect of its Graal references, and of its content otherwise it will be sufficient, therefore, to say that it embodies an exhaustive account of King Arthur's wars with the Saxons, a certain group of adventures of the less indubitably romantic kind, and thereafter the various circumstances which led up to the internment of Merlin. In this manner it is the close of the prophet's chronicle, though it is still only the early history of Arthur.
Here, as elsewhere, the re-editing of romances in the Graal interest is to be distinguished from the innumerable alterations made otherwise by intelligent and pother transcribers, but to which no ulterior motive need be attributed. Perhaps the most signal instance of all the major editing is the production of two, if not three, sequels, executed independently, to the Merlin of Robert de Borron, both of which were less or more exclusively made in the interest which I have mentioned, while both are also ascribed falsely to Robert de Borron. We could better understand the Vulgate Merlin and the Huth Merlin could one of them be accepted as carrying further forward the De Borron tradition, and thus leading up to a Perceval Quest, A whether that of the Didot manuscript or another; but the derivatives of both texts make insuperable difficulties in respect of this course. At the same time the process of codification is nowhere complete in the literature. We must assume, for example, on the basis of textual criticism, that the prose Lancelot had in some form already enriched the cycle when the Vulgate Merlin came into existence, but in several particulars the Merlin allusions
in the Lancelot do not correspond with anything in those later Merlin stories with which we are here concerned. These, on the other hand, when they reflect elements which are particular to the Lancelot, may be reproducing in summary merely, or they may offer new materials by way of variation over details.
The Vulgate Merlin says that God has given to the prophet that skill and discretion which he possesses so to assist him that he shall in fine accomplish the adventures of the Holy Graal, which adventures are predestined to take place in the time of King Arthur, and Blaise, the hermit and scribe, shall live to behold the end. This is true in respect of the Didot Perceval, but not of the other quests, in which this personage is forgotten, or is lost, at least, among many recording clerks. But as it follows from the reference, by implication, that Merlin will not himself survive, the Vulgate text cannot be said to lead up to that document. In the interminable account of the wars with the King Rion, there is some stress laid on the achievements of Nasciens, who is the second of that name, and was a young knight at the time in question. He was a cousin of Perceval le Gallois, and was of near kinship to Joseph of Arimathæa, as also a cousin of Celidoine. Here the derivation is from the Book of the Holy Graal, but the genealogy is a little distracted. Subsequently Nasciens had Galahad in his keeping, which statement is reflected into the Welsh Quest. When he left chivalry, Nasciens became a hermit and was taken by the Holy Ghost into the Third Heaven, where he beheld unveiled the Divine Persons of the Trinity. He had subsequently the story in his charge, and by the ordinance of the Great Master he announced that which he had read therein--that is to say, in the Record of Blaise. It follows that the secret chronicle which, according to the Book of the Holy Graal, had been written by Christ Himself, was in reality the work of the hermit performed under the dictation of Merlin, and that the anonymous author of the Book of the Holy
[paragraph continues] Graal is here identified by the device of another author, who is himself also anonymous.
There is one reference to Helayn, the daughter of King Pelles, of the Castle Corbenic, the niece of King Fisher and of Alain who was wounded through both thighs by the avenging spear. She was the fairest lady in the land, and had the Blessed Vessel in her keeping till the time of Galahad's conception. After what manner Helayn was dispossessed of her high office the text covenants to declare at a later time, but seeing that it fails herein, it is reserved on my own part for the branch which belongs to Galahad. We learn also concerning a son of King Pelles, who--as in the romance of Lancelot--is named Eleazar. At the age of fifteen years he told his father that he would never be made a knight till the best knight of the world should give him his arms and the accolade after three years of service. In return for the dignity of chivalry, he believes that he shall take the knight to the country of King Pelles and the place of the Graal. At this time the king's daughter, though the bearer of the Sacred Vessel, is only seven years old. Seeing that Galahad during his brief career of knighthood does not confer the high degree on any squire of his service, save only Melyas de Lyle, the son of the King of Denmark, and much less on one who would be his uncle according to the flesh, whom also he was destined to meet in the Graal Castle at the term of all, we have here the source of a legend which differs in certain respects from any extant chronicle of the perfect knight. But it should be understood that, in the end, Eleazar serves Gawain and receives the accolade from him.
I do not know what construction is to be placed upon the position of King Pelles; to all intents and purposes he is the Warden-in-chief of the Graal in the Quest of Galahad, but neither there nor in the Vulgate Merlin is he called the Rich Fisher, which is the characteristic title of the Warden. The romance with which we are here and now concerned tells us, this notwithstanding, that he
is spoken of as the Rich King, which seems by way of alternative; he is also a full noble king and a true one. But there is under his charge King Pellenore of the Welsh Lands, that is to say, Pellehan, who is sick and will never be healed till he is manifested who shall bring to an end the adventures of the Holy Graal. This comes to pass at the close of the times of Galahad. But there is another brother, who is Alain of the Forayn Lands; he is in sickness also, and will never be cured till the best knight of all Britain shall ask him why he is stricken by that malady and what it is that will help him. It follows that there is here the analogy of Perceval's question, but it is never asked in the sequel, nor do we hear further of Alain.
In the Vulgate Merlin the place of the Graal is Corbenic; it is situated in the realm of Lytenoys, which might signify Lyonesse; and just as we know that the Castle is one of perilous and even fatal adventure, so the kingdom to which it belongs is in nowise a region of peace, and I have said already that its ruler is a king in warfare. The great romance contains few other references to the Sacred Vessel and the history or the quest thereof. The tidings of the Graal in Britain are still tidings only; the Quest is still not a search after the place of the Hallows, but of knights who are proper to undertake it. On matters of so-called early history we hear that Joseph of Arimathæa received the blood from the side of Christ into the Sacred Vessel when the body was still hanging on the Cross--representing a tradition that differs from the Lesser Chronicles, though it is reflected from one of the visions in the Book of the Holy Graal. We hear further that the Graal came from heaven above into the city of Sarras, which may be a description by inadvertence, or it may represent a reflection from some source which corresponds to the antecedents of Wolfram. The spear which opened the side of Christ was brought to Logres, presumably--for it is not stated--by him who was the first to consecrate
and offer the Eucharist, that is to say, by the second Joseph.
So far in fine as the Vulgate Merlin can be said to end at all--seeing that it stops or breaks off without redeeming its pledges--the close is taken soon after the enchantment of Merlin by arts of his own instruction given to the Lady of the Lake; the record of Blaise ceases for want of materials; but in the meantime the clerks of the court of King Arthur have taken up the story in a sense, though their task is confined to the registration of the prowess exhibited by those who are admitted newly to the fellowship of the Round Table, and are therefore at once postulants of earthly chivalry spiritualised and possible seekers for the Graal.