I speak under correction in respect of all matters which are not in the kinship of near consanguinity with my proper subject, but there is one thing, I think, which may occur to many who make acquaintance with the Merlin sub-cycle in the original texts, and this is, that despite all the archaism of its language and the consequent difficulties which it must cost to the English reader, the method and the atmosphere of the whole seem modern in comparison with the books of the Lesser Chronicles. The devices and conventions suggest a later period, all which may perhaps seem to follow from its express attempt to codify a number of traditions and weld them into a harmonious whole. The Huth manuscript is for our purpose one of considerable and occasionally of great importance. Criticism speaks of it in much the same strain as it has spoken once or twice of the Longer Prose Perceval, which is equivalent to saying that it misses some vital points in a judicial appreciation of its merits on grounds that are within measure of the literary order or in respect of the claims put forward concerning its authorship. As regards the second point, there are two false
[paragraph continues] Roberts de Borron, being him of the Vulgate and him of the Huth Merlin, but the claim of the latter is interesting from my standpoint perhaps for the very reason which makes it suspected by the official critic. The inexpress collaboration which it indicates between its unknown author and another who is also unknown, though not indeed unnamed--that is, Hélie de Borron--is exactly after the manner of codifications of this kind at that period, thus providing us with a putative concordat on the external side of the literature as an equipoise to the mystical concordat between Merlin and Blaise. In this manner it suggests more than it expresses, but in virtue of their supposed understanding the Graal Mystery was more especially in the charge of that other artist Elias of whom the later Paracelsus had not dreamed. The date to which the work is assigned somewhat speculatively is between 1225 and 1230, and it is divisible for our purpose into four sections: (1) the prose version of De Borron's Joseph of Arimathæa; (2) the constituents of what is held to be the prose version of De Borron's metrical romance of Merlin; (3) that later history of Merlin which is exclusive to this manuscript; (4) a Quest of the Holy Graal, but this has not come down to us--at least in the French language. We know that it was a Quest of Galahad, and we are enabled to follow some of its variations from the extant Galahad romance by the allusions in the Huth Merlin, and not by these only, for it is supposed that the Vulgate Merlin also borrowed therefrom, that it was consequently an anterior document, so that the two later competitive Merlin codices had texts which were identical at the beginning and a text which was the same at the end. As regards the intermediate portions which differ so completely, their distinction is without prejudice to the fact that the prime inspiration of both is the Book of the Holy Graal, and that both in a subsidiary sense are indebted to the Lancelot.
The express purpose which has been noticed in the Vulgate Merlin is present in the alternative text, and is
indeed marked more strongly. It may be accepted that the first part, as we have agreed to call it, offers no deviation of importance from other texts of the Lesser Holy Graal, and that it therefore reflects almost literally the metrical romance of De Borron. It has not, however, been printed. In the second part there are also no really important deviations, but when Blaise is engaged by the prophet to write the history of Joseph, and therewith to incorporate his own proposed records, it appears that the custodians of the Graal had their independent memorials, to which access was apparently possible, and these also were to be embodied by the scribe. In other words, he kept the minutes of the Mystery, and the claim is that there was therefore a great Graal book in the form of a general prototype. As regards the third part, with which we are concerned henceforward in the present section, it may be said generally that, in place of the unending, sanguinary battles with so-called Saxon Saracens, we are brought into the world of romance, high enchantments and pageants marshalled gorgeously; after what manner this distinction appealed to those who came after is evident from the use which was made of the text by Malory.
We are concerned as before only with the intimate things of the Sacred Vessel and the appurtenances thereof, but as to the latter the undivided text might be embodied almost in any complete schedule. Merlin moves through the story as the ambassador rather than the messenger of those who are the custodians of the Graal, but the advertisements concerning it are still as of a Parnassus which is remote. About the time of a certain tourney held in Logres, a great rumour passed over the land regarding the Sacred Vessel and its location in Britain. Where it abode was unknown--for if Merlin spoke in season, he told little--but the grace of its discovery and the limit of the adventurous times were reserved for the best knight of the world. The Companions of the Round Table set themselves--as they do also in the Vulgate--to
follow the Quest, and--as again they do therein--to report concerning any Good Knight unknown heretofore among them. If such were found, he was straightway led to the Court, his chivalry was proved--as if a stranger knocked for admission at a lodge of the craft degrees--and on withstanding the tests, he was received into the great company. Each Knight who returned from the Quest recited his adventures, and these were reduced into writing by four clerks retained in the service of the Queen. In this manner they were transmitted to later times. It was an age of secret chronicles, of their sealing and the breaking of the seals. On the pre-viewed approach of his doom, and before finally parting from Blaise, Merlin indited that prophecy concerning the times of the Quest, to which I have referred previously. It opened as follows: "This is the beginning of the adventures in the land of Britain, whereby the mighty Lion shall be overthrown: these adventures shall be taken to their term by a King's son, who shall be chaste, and the best Knight of the world." After this manner did he who instigated the Quest seem thereby to encompass rather than foresee the destruction of the Round Table, its king also and its chivalry. It is said further--and still on the ground that he had not much longer to remain in the world--that Merlin engaged King Arthur to record all the occurrences which took place at the royal Court, and that fifty clerks were set aside for this office. Finally, as regards such memorials, another book was written by the own hand of the prophet, giving before the event an account of the death of Arthur and of Gawain. It was in the keeping of Morgan le Fay, but with its contents she was not acquainted, and it was presumably therefore a cipher manuscript.
The Hidden Life of the Holy House is a prolonged mystery of the ages through all the literature, and if one corner of the veil is lifted for a few moments by the Vulgate Merlin in its unconcerted allusions to King Pelles, the Huth manuscript does not compete with
even this vague quality of candour, nor is there any certain ray of light cast upon the Graal itself. It is only the two great texts of transubstantiation in the days of quest which claim to have drawn aside the curtains of the Temple and to have manifested the secret things, though they continue to say that these should be kept covertly, and thus even in the unveiling they suggest that there is a deeper hiding. In the Book of the Holy Graal Corbenic is not more accessible because it is portrayed so openly, and it is not perhaps more withdrawn because it is in nowise named by the Huth Merlin. This text has allusive and hinting methods which are particular to itself, and there is one among them which seems to suggest a wilderness of strange meaning behind its simple words. When Bademagus, like other of the knights to whom no attainment was destined, was concerned for a period in the Quest, he found a branch of an holy herb, which was a sign of the San Greal, and no knight came upon such token unless his life was good.
The tradition of the Third Table is carried over from the Early History of Merlin, in which Robert de Borron is credited with inventing, rather idly, its institution by Uther; but all discrepancy notwithstanding, the Huth text, following the prose Lancelot, refers it to King Leodegan of Carmelide, the father of Guinevere, in which case it would seem to be independent of the prophet and of all logical Graal connections. The apparent discrepancy is explained, however, by the Vulgate Merlin, which says that the Knights of the Round Table, being weary of the evil estate into which all the country had fallen, retired to the realm of King Leodegan. It does not say what appears to follow from the text of the Huth Merlin, namely, that the material table itself is in the palace of the King of Carmelide. The story of the Siege Perilous is given much after the usual manner, and stress is laid upon the fact that each Knight on rising from the table finds his name inscribed miraculously upon the seat to him belonging--an incident which, according to the mind
of the romance, exhibits the high pleasure taken by God in the institution of the Round Table.
Among the signs and tokens which go before, or are conterminous with the Quest, there is the appearance of a strange, nondescript animal, which is a combination of many creatures, and because within her there is the noise of hounds baying, she is called the Questing Beast. In the Huth Merlin she appears, as if it were out of due season, during the reign of Uther, who is told by his great counsellor that she concerns one of the adventures of the Graal, which will be explained to him by Perceval le Gallois, who will be the son of the knight that at that time is chasing the beast in question. As Perceval is therefore unborn, and as Uther dies on his day, the prophecy does not come to pass, but it serves to introduce Pellinore, who is now represented as a king and again as a knight, and he it is who follows the Questing Beast. After his death, we know from Malory that she was long followed by Palamedes, in both cases, to no purpose apparently, for nothing comes therefrom. It is only in the Longer Prose Perceval that the mystical interpretation of the interminable pursuit is given to Perceval himself. At this time I have said that Pellinore had not begotten Perceval, and though on his first introduction in the days of Arthur, his jousting seems to have constituted a kind of guerilla warfare against the chivalry of the Court, he is married ultimately to one of the King's sisters, and when the Round Table is sent by Leodegan of Carmelide as his daughter's dowry, he is chosen by Merlin to fill one of two vacant seats which were left thereat by the prophet's ordinance. Moreover, when other seats fall vacant, owing to death, he assists the king to fill them, and he serves him also in warfare. Pellinore was in fine slain by Gawain, whose father had fallen at his hands. It will be seen that the genealogy of Perceval, according to this romance, makes void that of the Lesser Chronicles, as it does also the corresponding account in the Longer Prose Perceval.
These things connect with the Holy Graal, though it
is in the subsidiary sense only, but the root and centre of the story is the great device by which the Huth Merlin brings war upon the House of the Hallows, devastation on the surrounding country, and a living death upon one of the Hereditary Wardens by means of the Dolorous Stroke. Of this fatality I have given some account already in a previous section, and I must speak of it here without covering precisely the same ground. The romance shows that the Secret Powers of Avalon were hostile in respect of King Arthur even from the beginning. From those realms of dream and faerie the Lady Lilith or Lylle brought a mysterious sword to the royal court, then being held at London. The weapon was her great encumbrance, but she was condemned to carry it till some knight should succeed in unsheathing it. Arthur and all his companions made the attempt in vain, but the poor Knight Balyn, who had just been released from prison, fulfilled the task easily. He refused to restore the sword to the damosel, and though he was told that it would cause his own destruction, he agreed to take the risk. Thereupon a Lady of the Lake entered and demanded either the head of the knight who had won the sword or that of the maiden who brought it. Balyn, however, cut off her own head, saying that he had been in quest of her these three years past, she having slain his mother by her arts of enchantment. In this manner he saved the other damosel, though Merlin showed that she was of evil ways and life, never appearing for good, but for great harm only. So begins the story of Balyn and Balan, as a tale of dole from the first, and such it remains to the end. But the Dolorous Stroke itself came about through a knight who had the power to ride invisible, and thus had others at his mercy. Balyn was in chase of this knight, to put an end to his evil deeds, and after the episode of the sword he overtook him in the castle of his brother, who is the King Pellehan. There he destroyed him in open court at a festival, and he was pursued by the king from room to room of the building to avenge what
appeared to be an act of wanton murder. They met in a richly dight bedchamber, where there was a table of gold on four pillars of silver, and on the table a marvellous spear strangely wrought. Therewith Balyn smote his pursuer, who fell down in a swoon. The castle roof and walls broke and caved in. Merlin appeared and prophesied that the King Pellehan would remain sorely wounded for many years--that is to say, until Galahad healed him in the Quest of the Holy Graal. Merlin said also that there was preserved in the castle a part of the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which Joseph of Arimathæa had brought into this land, while the spear was that of Longinus, and the king himself was nearly of Joseph's kindred. Balyn rode subsequently through fair lands and cities, of which many inhabitants were slain on all sides, while those who remained cried out piteously against him. Such was the visitation of the Graal--a strange and unheard of enchantment. The story continues, multiplying dole and doom, with greater doom foretold, till the two brethren, Balyn and Balan, destroy one another unwittingly--truly adventurous times, from which all might pray to be delivered.
The opening incidents of this story are found in the Chevalier aux deux épées, and, so far as these are concerned, it may have drawn from some unknown source which is common to both. On the other hand, the passing of Merlin through the arts of Vivien or Nivienne, that Lady of the Lake who was the foster-mother of Lancelot, owes something to the great romance which is concerned with his story. When of his entombment the story ceases to speak, it promises henceforth to be concerned with the Graal only, but in the imperfect state that we possess the text it ceases to speak at all. As a final word on my own part, the fact may be cited that the Knight Pelleas is said to be one of great, worship, and one also of those four who achieved the Holy Graal. It follows herefrom that the missing Quest of the Huth Merlin had grave variations from that with which we are
acquainted, because it is not to be assumed that he was one of the nine knights, mostly unknown, who presented themselves, demanding and receiving admission, in the Graal Castle at the term of the Holy Quest.