We have seen, in considering the claim of the Celtic Church to recognition as a possible guiding and shaping spirit of the Graal literature, that one speculation regarding it was the existence in concealment of a particular book, a liturgy of some kind, preferably a Book of the Mass. I have no definite concern in the hypothesis, as it is in no sense necessary to the interpretation which I place upon the literature; but the existence of one or more primordial texts is declared so invariably in the romances that, on the surface at least, it seems simpler to presume its existence, and it becomes thus desirable to ascertain what evidence there is otherwise to be gleaned about it. As it has been left so far by scholarship, the question wears almost an inscrutable or at least an inextricable aspect, and its connection with the mystic aspects of the Holy Graal may be perhaps rather adventitious than accidental, but it is introduced here as a preliminary to those yet more abstruse researches which belong to the ninth book.
We must in the first place set aside from our minds the texts which depend from one another, whether the earlier examples are extant or not. The vanished Quest of Guiot--priceless as its discovery would be--is not the term of our research. We must detach further those obviously fabulous chronicles by the pretence of which it is supposed that the several quests and histories were perpetuated for the enlightenment of posterity. No one is wondering seriously whether the knightly adventures of the Round Table were reduced into great chronicles by the scribes of King Arthur's court, for which assurance we have the evidence of the Huth Merlin--among several deponents. There are other source's which may be equally putative, but it is these which raise the question,
and I proceed to their enumeration as follows: (1) That which contained the greatest secret of the world, a minute volume which would lie in the hollow of a hermit's hand--in a word, the text presupposed by the prologue to the Book of the Holy Graal; (2) that which is ascribed to Master Blihis--the fabulator famosus--by the Elucidation prefixed to the Conte del Graal; (3) that which is called the Great Book by Robert de Borron, containing the Great Secret to which the term Graal is referred, a book of many histories, written by many clerks, and by him communicated apparently to his patron, Walter Montbéliard; (4) that which the Count of Flanders gave to Chrétien de Troyes with instructions to retell it, being the best story ever recited in royal court; (5) that which the Hermit Blaise codified with the help of the secret records kept by the Wardens of the Graal; (6) that which the author of the Longer Prose Perceval refers to the saintly man whom he calls Josephus; (7) that which the Jew Flegitanis transcribed from the time-immemorial chronicles of the starry heavens.
The palmary problem for our solution is, whether in the last understanding a mystery book or a Mass book, these cryptic texts can be regarded as "seven and yet one, like shadows in a dream"--or rather, as many inventions concerning one document. If we summarise the results which were obtained from them, we can express them by their chief examples thus: (1) From the prototype of the Book of the Holy Graal came the super-apostolical succession, the ordination of Joseph II., the dogma of transubstantiation manifested arch-naturally, and the building of Corbenic as a Castle of Perils and Wonders girt about the Holy Graal; (2) from the prototype of the Elucidation we have the indicible secret of the Graal, the seven discoveries of its sanctuary, the account of the Rich Fisherman's skill in necromancy and his protean transformations by magical art; (3) from the prototype of Robert de Borron we
have the Secret Words, by him or subsequently referred to Eucharistic consecration; (4) from the prototype of Chrétien we have the history of Perceval le Gallois, so far as it was taken by him; (5) from the putative chronicle of Blaise and his scribes, antecedent and concurrent, we have all that which belongs to the history of Merlin, the foundation of the Round Table and the Siege Perilous; (6) from the prototype of the Longer Prose Perceval we have Perceval's later history, his great and final achievements--unlike all else in the literature, more sad, more beautiful, more strange than anything told concerning him; (7) from the prototype of Guiot, we have the Graal presented as a stone, and with an ascribed antecedent history which is the antithesis of all other histories. Had I set up these varying versions in the form of seven propositions on the gates of Salerno or Salamanca and offered to maintain their identity in a thesis against all corners, I suppose that I could make out a case with the help of scholastic casuistry and the rest of the dialectical subtleties; but in the absence of all motive, and detached as regards the result, I can only say in all reason that the quests and the histories as we have them never issued from a single quest or a single history. We may believe, if we please, that the hook of the Count of Flanders was really the Quest of Guiot, reducing the sources to six, and a certain ingenuity--with courage towards precarious positions--may help us to further eliminations, but the root-difficulty will remain--that the Quests, as we have them, exclude one another and so also do some of the histories. It follows that there were many prototypes, or alternatively that there were many inventions in respect of the sources. In respect of the Perceval legends there was the non-Graal folk-lore myth, which accounts for their root-matter but not for their particular renderings and their individual Graal elements; the nearest approximation to these myths and their nearest issue in time may have been the Quest of Guiot. One general
source of De Borron was transparently the Evangelium Nicodemi, complicated by later Joseph legends, including the tradition of Fécamp, but more than all by another source, of which he had heard at a distance and of which I shall speak at the close. The Quest of Galahad makes no claim to a prototype, but it reflects extant manuscripts of the Greater Chronicles; for the rest, its own story was all important; it cared nothing for antecedents, and it is only by sporadic precaution, outside its normal lines, that it registers at the close after what manner it pretended to be reduced into writing. The prototypes of this text are in the annals of sanctity, except in so far as it reflects--and it does so indubitably--some rumours which Robert de Borron had drawn into romance. As regards Galahad himself, his romance is a great invention derived from the prose Lancelot. The Longer Prose Perceval is an invention after another manner; there is nothing to warrant us in attaching any credit to the imputed source in Josephus, but the book drew from many places and transmuted that which it drew with a shaping spirit; it is an important text for those rumours to which I have referred darkly. It works, like the Quest of Galahad, in a high region of similitude, and its pretended source is connected intimately with the second Joseph of the Greater Chronicles.
We are now in a position to deal with a further ascription which is so general in the literature and was once rather widely accepted--namely, that of a Latin source. It will be noted that this is a simple debate of language and it leaves the unity or multiplicity of the prototypes an open question. It is worth mentioning, because it enters into the history of the criticism of Graal literature. There is no need to say that it is now passed over by scholarship, and the first person to reject it was Robert Southey in his preface to the edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d’Arthur which passes under his name, though he had no hand in the editing of the text
itself. "I do not believe," he says, "that any of these romances ever existed in Latin,--by whom, or for whom, could they have been written in that language?" For the romances as romances, for Meliadus de Leonnois, Gyron le Courtois, and so forth, the question has one answer only, the fact notwithstanding that the prologue to Gyron draws all the prose tales of the Round Table from what it terms the Latin Book of the Holy Graal. There is one answer also for any version of the Graal legend, as we now know it. Even for that period, the Comte de Tressan committed a serious absurdity when he affirmed that the whole literature of Arthurian chivalry, derived by the Bretons from the ancient and fabulous chronicles of Melkin and Tezelin, was written in Latin by Rusticien de Pise, who was simply a compiler and translator into the Italian tongue and was concerned, as such, chiefly with the Tristram cycle. At the same time it is possible to take too extreme a view. In his preface to another work, Palmerin of England, Southey remarks that "every reader of romance knows how commonly they were represented as translations from old manuscripts," and that such an ascription, "instead of proving that a given work was translated, affords some evidence that it is original." The inference is worded too strongly and is scarcely serious as it stands, but the fact itself is certain; and indeed the Graal romances belong to a class of literature which was prone to false explanations in respect both of authorship and language. Still, there is something to be said for the middle ground suggested, now long ago, on the authority of Paulin Paris, that while it is idle to talk of romances in the Latin language, there is nothing impossible in the suggestion that the sacramental legend of Joseph of Arimathæa and his Sacred Vessel may have existed in Latin. From his point of view it was a Gradual, and he even goes so far as to speculate (a) that it was preserved at Glastonbury; (b) that it was not used by the monks because it involved schism with Rome; and (c) that, like the Jew of Toledo's
transcript, it was forgotten for three centuries--till it was recalled by the quarrel between Henry II. and the Pope. This is, of course, fantasy, but the bare supposition of such a Latin legend would account in a natural manner for an ascription that is singularly consistent, while it would not pretend to represent the lost imaginary prototypes of the whole complex literature.
In this connection we might do worse than take warning by one lesson from the literature of alchemy. The early writers on this subject were in the habit of citing authorities who, because they could not be identified, were often regarded as mythical; but all the same they existed in manuscript; they might have been found by those who had taken the trouble; and they are now familiar to students by the edition of Berthelot. In matters of this kind we do not know what a day may bring forth, and from all standpoints the existence of a pious legend--orthodox or heretical, Roman or Breton--concerning Joseph and his Hallow would be interesting, as it must also be valuable. Unfortunately, the Quest of the Holy Graal in respect of its missing literature is after the manner of a greater enterprise, for there are many who follow it and few that come to the term of a new discovery. There are authorities now in England to whom the possibility of such a text might not be unacceptable, though criticism dwells rightly upon the fact that there is no mention of the Holy Vessel in the earliest apocryphal records of the evangelisation of Britain by Joseph. We have heard already of one Latin memorial among the archives of Fécamp, but of its date we know nothing, and its conversion legend does not belong to this island.
Having thus determined, as I think, the question of a single prototype accounting for all the literature, we have to realise that everything remains in respect of the mystery of origin--now the wonder element of things unseen and heard of dimly only, sometimes expressed imperfectly in Nature poems, which have no concern
therein; now what sounds like a claim on behalf of the Celtic Church; now sacramental legends incorporated by Latin Christianity into the great body of romances. But I speak here of things which are approximate and explicable in an atmosphere of legend married to a definite world of doctrine. There is nothing in these to explain (a) the report of a secret sanctuary in all the texts without any exception whatever, for even the foolish Crown of all Adventures allocates its house of ghosts to the loneliest of all roads; (b) the Secret Words of Consecration; (c) the arch-natural Mass celebrated in three of the texts; (d) the hidden priesthood; (e) the claim to a holy and hidden knowledge; (f) the removal of this knowledge from concealment to further concealment, because the world was not worthy. These are the rumours to which I have alluded previously, and I have attached to them this name, because there is nothing more obvious in the whole cycle of literature than the fact that those who wrote of them did not--for the most part--know what they said. Now, it is a canon of reasonable criticism that writers who make use of materials which they do not understand are not the inventors thereof. It had never entered into the heart of Robert de Borron that his Secret Words reduced the ordinary Eucharist to something approaching a semblance; to the putative Walter Map that his first Bishop of Christendom put the whole Christian apostolate into an inferior place; to any one of the romancers that his Secret Sanctuary was the claim of an orthodoxy in transcendence; to the authors in particular of the Longer Prose Perceval and the Quest of Galahad that their implied House of the Hallows came perilously near to the taking of the heart out of Christendom. So little did these things occur to them that their materials are mismanaged rather seriously in consequence. Had the first Bishop of Christendom ordained those whom he intended to succeed him, I should not bring this charge against the author of that text which presents the consecration of
the second Joseph in all its sanctity and wonder. But, as a matter of fact, the custody of the Holy Graal passed into the hands of a layman, and we are offered the picture of a priest anointed by Christ who does not even baptize, a hermit on one occasion being obtained to administer this simplest of all the sacraments. And yet this first bishop of Christendom had ordained many and enthroned some at Sarras. There is a similar crux in the Lesser Holy Graal and its companion poem. One would have thought that the possession of the Secret Words would be reserved to those bearing the seal of the priesthood; but it is not suggested that Joseph of Arimathæa was either ordained by Christ or by any bishop of the Church; his successor, Brons, was simply a disciple saved out of rejected Jerusalem; and Perceval, the tiers bons, was a knight of King Arthur's court. Of two things, therefore, one: either the makers of romance who brought in these elements knew not what they said, and reflected at a far distance that which they had heard otherwise, or the claims are not that which they appear on the surface; beneath them there is a deeper concealment; there was something behind the Eucharistic aspect of the mysterious formula and something behind the ordination in transcendence; there was in fine a more secret service than that of the Mass. I accept the first alternative, but without prejudice to the second, which is true also, as we shall see later, still on the understanding that what subtended was not in the mind of romance.
If it is necessary or convenient to posit the existence of a single primordial book, then the Sanctum Graal, Liber Gradalis, or Missa de Corpore Christi contained these elements, and it contained nothing or little of the diverse matter in the literature. It was not a liturgy connected with the veneration of a relic or of certain relics; it did not recite the legend of Joseph or account in what manner soever for the conversion of Britain. It was a Rite of the Order of Melchisedech and it communicated
the arch-natural sacrament ex hypothesi. The prologue to the Book of the Holy Graal has what one would be inclined to call a rumour of this Mass, after which there supervened an ecstasy as a foretaste of the Divine Rapture. The term thereof was the Vision which is He, and the motive of the dilucid experience is evaded--consciously or not, but, I say, in truth unconsciously--by the substitute of reflections upon difficulties concerning the Trinity. No Graal writer had ever seen this book, but the rumour of it was about in the world. It was held in reserve not in a monastery at Glastonbury, but by a secret school of Christians whose position in respect of current orthodoxy was that of the apex to the base of any perfect triangle--its completion and not its destruction. There was more of the rumour abroad than might have been expected antecedently, as if a Church of St. John the Divine were planted somewhere in the West, but not in the open day. There was more of the rumour, and some makers of texts had heard more than others. We know that in the prologue to the Book of the Holy Graal there is what might be taken as a reference to this company, the members of which were sealed, so that they could recognise one another by something which they bore upon their persons. When, in the Quest of Galahad, the nine strange knights came from the East and the West and the North and the South to sit down, or to kneel rather, at the Table of the Graal, they entered without challenge, they took their proper places and were saluted and welcomed, because they also bore the seal of the secret order. King Pelles went out because he was not on the Quest, because his part was done, because he had attained and seen, for which reason he departed as one who says: Nunc dimittis Servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace: quia viderunt oculi mei--elsewhere or earlier--salutare tuum. The minstrels and romancers knew little enough of these mysteries, for the most part, and on the basis of the rumours of the book they superposed what they had heard otherwise--the
legend of Joseph, the cultus of the Precious Blood, clouds of fables, multiples of relics, hoc genus omne. But it is to be noted in fine that the withdrawal into deeper concealment referred more especially to the company as a hidden school, which would be sought and not found, unless God led the quester. And perhaps those who came into contact by accident did not always ask the question: Who administers the Mysteries? Yet, if they were elected they were brought in subsequently.
It will be observed that in this speculation the existence of the rumours which were incorporated does not in a strict sense involve the existence of any book to account for their comparative prevalence.