The implicit, I must suppose, of each succeeding quest was that the earlier singer of le meilleur conte qui sot conté en cour royale had told the wrong story, and that some far higher flight of pure romance must justify the material which came into the hands of each. The most interesting contrasted instance is the Longer Prose Perceval put forward as an alternative to the Quest of Galahad, as if by one who cleaved to the old tradition concerning the hero of the achievement and yet had every intention of profiting by the high light of sanctity which overshone the symbol of Galahad. The least comprehensible contrasted instance is the competition instituted in the name of Gawain by Heinrich von dem Turlin in his poem of Diu
[paragraph continues] Crône. The ambition seems so impossible after the Parsifal of Wolfram, but that poem was not appreciated--on account of its setting chiefly--by the general profession of minstrelsy. The instance further was, in its way, a certain justification of Chrétien, who was followed in several respects and often appealed to by Heinrich. Diu Crône owes something also to the lost poem of Guiot, but whether by derivation through Wolfram or in a more direct manner is uncertain. That it justifies any claim to existence I do not think, but this notwithstanding it is a very curious romance, so much under the veils of enchantment that the whole action seems transferred into a land of faerie, while the gifts and dotations which are offered to the elect hero might have made any quest of the Graal almost a work of superfluity on his part. In place of the Castle of Maidens there is pictured a wandering island of the sea wherein dwell virgins only, and the queen of this wonderful people, exercising a royal privilege, offers the possession of herself in marriage and the rule of her kingdom to Gawain as her chosen knight; yet if this be incompatible with his purpose, she will tolerate their parting at need and will bestow upon him, as her token of goodwill, an elixir of unfading youth. The hero exercises his admitted power of choice in favour of the second alternative, and with good reason probably, since the island was doubtless one of those dreaming places where a thousand years are even as a single day, and after a moon of sorcery he might have issued bearing on his shoulders an age past all renewing, even by the Holy Graal.
The keynote of the story is in one sense the disqualification of Perceval, who--because he had failed once--had forfeited his vocation forever. The opportunity is transferred to Gawain, and Heinrich is indebted to Chrétien for the substance of those inventions by which he is covenanted to enter on the Quest of the Holy Graal. We, on the other hand, may be indebted to his own imagination for the aids that the powers of Fairyland
combine to provide by means of telesmas and other wonder-working objects which safeguard the way of the Quest. Seeing that the failure of Perceval to ask the all-important question is held insufficient as a warning in the case of Gawain, when he seeks to follow in his footsteps, he is reinforced by a particular caution at the Castle of Wonders. What he receives is indeed a dual counsel: he is not only to ask and to learn, but, in order that he may behold the Graal, he is urged to abstain at the table from all refreshment in wine. The maiden who proffers this advice proves to be her who carries the Sacred Vessel in the pageant at the Castle thereof. The analogy by opposition hereto is Gautier's story of the trick played upon Perceval by the Daughter of the Fisher King when she carries off the stag's head and brachet to punish Perceval for not asking the question.
We have had full opportunity to appreciate Gawain's share in the great adventurous experiment within the horizon of Wolfram's poem; we have seen also in Chrétien how and why, as a part of his own vindication, he set forth to seek the Bleeding Lance, but the quest proved a failure. Except the promiscuous proposal and fleeting undertaking in the Galahad Quest, Gawain does not figure as a knight in search of the Graal in the French romances till we come to the period of the Longer Prose Perceval. Even in Gautier the fullest account of his visit to the Castle of Hallows is apart from all notion of intention, as he is simply a gallant of the period in attendance on Guinevere, who herself is awaiting the return of King Arthur after the reduction of Castle Orguellous. On the other hand, Heinrich's Diu Crône pictures him expressly, and as if in real earnest, seeking to achieve the Graal, enduring also many adventures because of it. After the poem of Wolfram, his success does not seem to improve upon his failure in the other stories it is by way of superfluity, and it may be said almost that Heinrich takes him for another, as he was also hailed for a moment in Gautier's poem.
In the course of his progress Gawain arrived at a bountiful and smiling land, as if it were the precincts of an earthly paradise, and on the further borders thereof he beheld a vast fiery sword keeping the entrance to a fortress with walls translucent as glass. I do not know, because it is difficult always to adjudicate in his case, why he should have regarded this wonder in the light of an evil omen, but this is how it impressed him, and he missed perhaps one among the greatest adventures when he retired so incontinently--whether it was a way of entrance into the higher Eden or into the fascination of a false paradise. Great as are the accomplished enterprises of Graal literature, I think that greater still are some of those which therein are hinted only, remaining unachieved or unrecorded. It seems clear that this fortress, at no indefinite distance from the Graal Castle, is that which Perceval would have entered in Gerbert's poem, and his incontinent eagerness contrasts favourably with the terror and the flight of Gawain. The Knight continued to traverse a land flowing with milk and honey, and he rode for yet twelve days, when he came upon Lancelot and Calogreant--another companion of the Round Table--both in a manner on the Quest. So these three shadows of those who should finish the experiment in utter reality came at last to their bourne. It may have been a region of sorcery which encompassed that abode, which we know to have been the House of the Dead, but it was assuredly like the intermediate region between the life of this world and the life A everlasting. There are few things in literature which savour so strangely of that visionary astral region, full of great simulations and full of false joy, which does not attempt to conceal the bitter heart of sorrow. The knightly company depicted on the meadow without the burg, performing evolutions in pastime, was like the "midnight host of spectres pale "which "beleaguered the walls of Prague." But the places of death are not places of silence; the burg itself had a noisy throng within it, and so had the castle or palace--that Ghost's
[paragraph continues] House and House of the Dead alive. The companions Were brought under safe guidance into the hall in chief, which was like the Kabalistic sphere of Venus--a pomp of external splendour, heavy with the crushed-out fragrance of heaped roses--as some mansion in an eastern fairyland. In the Hall of Roses there was seated the host who was to receive them--another patient sufferer of the ages, diverted in his pitiful weariness by youths playing chess at his feet. That game is a feature which in one or another form is inevitable in all the stories till the highest of the high quests intervenes and makes void so many of the old elements. It is played elsewhere by pieces having self-moving powers, but here it is played by the dead amidst shadowy sport and raillery; betwixt the one and the other there is perhaps suggested some vaguely mystic side of the old war in mimicry.
The questing knights had not been received to no purpose; there was a work which they were required to perform, supposing that they were properly prepared; for the unspelling quest is followed even to the grave. Lord or prince of the Castle, it is not said till the close whether the host is old or young; he is not termed the Rich Fisher and his genealogy is unknown. So also are most antecedents of the Hallows. The guests were treated royally and were entertained at a banquet, but at that time the Master of the House neither ate nor drank. On his part, remembering the warning which he received, Gawain ate only, and this in spite of solicitations on his entertainer's side, the doom of whom seems to have been working strongly, seeing that it drew to its term, and he was compelled to entreat that which would operate against his salvation. Lancelot and the other companion quenched their thirst with wine, which overcame them immediately, as if it were nepenthe devised for that express purpose, and they fell asleep. The lord of the Castle fulfilled his office zealously, and again tempted Gawain; but, finding no better success, he desisted, and thereafter began the high pageant, the foremost in
which were maidens, and she who was fairest among all--the crowned priestess who carried the Most Holy Reliquary--was recognised as her who had counselled him previously in the Quest--counselled him above all, as did other wandering messengers in the romances of Perceval--not to forget the question did ever he come to the place. If he could not be compelled therefore, he could at least be prompted, and the convention recalls that indicible word which ex hypothesi cannot be spoken or written and yet is communicated to the initiate of many mysteries, when he finds that he has been acquainted always therewith.
Before the company--which was numerous within as without--had taken their places at the table, a page of the chambers brought in the Hallow of the Sword and laid it at the feet of the Master. The inference is that this was the fatal weapon which, in the midst of the strife of kinsmen, had somehow brought woe on the Castle, but the particulars are not given, and of itself the weapon would be nothing to our purpose, except that it is the antithesis of other swords in the legends. Not only was it perfect then but would so remain for ever; it was adjudged to the successful quester and would break in no peril--an office of relaxed observance which shortened and simplified the Quest.
Now, the company in the Castle had feasted gallantly, like the guests who sat with the Master; though dead, they yet spoke--and that, it would seem, volubly--interchanging questions and answers, as if in mockery of the real question; but the strong wine of the banquet had no effect on them, and the Lord of the plenty meanwhile, as I have said, had fasted. But the appearance of the Graal procession was the signal that he was to receive a certain shadow of nourishment--as if, after some necromantic supper, a disqualified Eucharist were communicated to one who had not partaken previously. We know already that the Reliquary contained the semblance of a Host, as from the Lance there exuded blood--
neither more nor less, in this case, than those three mystic drops which ensanguine all the legends and connect them, as if undesignedly, with other and older mysteries. In the story of Wolfram the first nourishment drawn from the Graal at the banquet in the Castle Hall is described as bread, and Heinrich--following the prototype of Guiot or profiting by a caution in respect of the Feeding Dish--converts the sacred object into a simple ciborium. The Master of the Castle received therefore in bread and in the colouration of wine; but of the bread he took only a third part, as if it were the efficient oblation at the sacrifice of the Mass. There is no reason to think that these were consecrated elements, but there seems to have been a substituted Eucharist, in which the dead might be supposed to share, so that, prince or lord--or whatever it is right to term him--he was fed sacramentally and super-substantially in some sense, for this his only nourishment was administered once in a year. Therefore Gawain arrived at a happy season, to see and to speak; and on seeing these things, he overflowed in himself with the wonder and the mystery of it all, so that, acting on the spur of the moment, importunately he asked that which was vital to those who were suffering from death in life--the mystic question, the most conventional of all formulæ: What does it mean? There was no effect to begin with--no sudden change, I mean, as from life to death or from death to life; but if before there was the chaffer and traffic of light talk at a feasting, now it was the hubbub of a joy beyond suppression, as if the closing at last were taken in a great grade of long sorrow.
Gawain has asked indeed, but as regards the secrets of the Graal he is not told anything; it has come forth out of mystery and it passes away therein. It is said to be God's mystery--one of the Secrets of the King, and Heinrich has written about it--abscondere bonum est. Of the woe, the wasting and the endurance, when brother warred upon brother, he learned something, and we have
heard enough; of Perceval's failure and the deepened misery therefrom he was told also, and the condition of release resident in the question. But the king himself was guiltless, and so also were the maidens; he, however, was dead with all the men of his household, but they were alive in the flesh and they would go forth in the morning. When that dawned presently, the released speaker vanished, the Graal also with him, and its mystery, never to be seen more.
The following points may be noticed in conclusion of this part: (a) There is no question anywhere of feeding properties in the Sacred Reliquary, except as regards the king--and him it feeds sacramentally; (b) the Spear does not distil blood until it is laid on a table, with the head apparently over the salver; (c) the recession of the Graal seems to have been adjudged because it has performed its work of feeding the dead Master, keeping him in the semblance of life, and once this office was perfected it went like a ghost. After what manner the variations which are introduced thus into the shifting pageant of the legend can be said to elucidate its object will not be determined easily. The doom that involves the dwellers in the Castle changes the symbolism but certainly does not exalt it. The romance, for the rest, is the work of one who has resolved to give the palm to Gawain at the express expense of Perceval, to the knight of this world in place of the knight celestial. It is the experiment of an inventor who has adapted some old materials to another purpose, at once indeterminate and undesirable.
The date ascribed to the poem is about 1220, and its ingarnering as a whole is regarded as a little chaotic. It reaches some 30,000 verses, and though we hear generally concerning King Arthur's Court and the Round Table, Gawain is the hero-in-chief. After his completion of the Graal Quest, various pageants of chivalry bring him back to his uncle and the fellowship, the story in this manner reaching its natural close.