By many ways do all the antecedent texts of the Greater Chronicles lead up, in the hands of their editors, to the romance of Lancelot. Therefrom, or therein, all reflect, according to their respective measures, and itself is the great text which goes before the romance of Galahad, as a royal prince may herald the king of all. The prototype of the story in respect of early Graal history is the Book of the Holy Graal, but some of its references have no authority in that document. In comparison with its vast extent, the allusions to the Sacred Vessel are rare and brief. I will take all the necessary points in their order, beginning with two pregnant statements, the first of which is conclusive as to the historical source, for it is said that the Holy Graal was that Dish in which Christ ate the Paschal Lamb with His disciples. But the story is late chronologically in the sequence; it reflected much; its ambition was to include all Arthurian chivalry in its province; and none knew better than the successive authors, who are thought to have welded it into one whole, that the true service of the Sacred Vessel took place at no festival of earthly meats, but at an arch-natural mass. It is haunted therefore with the same idea as we shall find in the Longer Prose Perceval--that what besides it was, the Graal was also a chalice, and it is so described accordingly in one of the later branches. In evidence of this it may be noted that it is apparently the dove's censer in the story of Lancelot which brings the good meat and drink. The second statement occurs in a printed codex, and scholarship, which
misses so little within its own province, has somehow overlooked this: the book says, however, that the natural Graal is to be distinguished from that which is supernatural, and this I take to mean that on the one side there is the festival of the Feeding Dish and on the other the Feast mystical of Transubstantiation, at the revelation of the whole mystery in the Quest of Galahad, foreshadowed, as a thing done out of due season, at the ordination of Joseph II. in the old time of Sarras.
It will not be found, otherwise than as I have here specified, that the Graal elements differ so much from the earlier versions as the actuating sentiments regarding the heroes of the Quest and the qualifications thereto belonging. A certain new spirit has entered--perhaps even a higher quality of the secret life of the Church--and it has moderated, among other things, the final aim regarding the Stewards of the Graal and the persons with and for whom it is represented as sojourning on earth. Speaking of the romance as a whole, it may be said that it is a Wonder-Book rather than a Book of Initiation, though at certain points it embodies very high mysteries. According to its own description, it is a branch of the great book of the Holy Graal, but the implied reason is that Lancelot was the father of Galahad. Make as it may for confusion, it is just to add here that, in this connection, one of the unprinted manuscripts speaks of Perceval as the leader and term of all stories told about other knights; it was he who achieved the Great Quest, but his story also is a branch of the high story concerning the Graal, which is the head and crown of all stories. This would seem to indicate that Galahad was not the final hero of the Quest, so far as this codex is concerned, but it may also and more probably mean that he had his own great place at the last consummation, or that he was an intermediate seeker, as were Lancelot also and Gawain.
We have seen in the Huth Merlin, firstly, that it has allusions to various occurrences in the Quest of Galahad which are not found in the extant romance, and, secondly,
that much of its material is derived from the Great Prose Lancelot; so also in this text there are references to the succeeding branch of the Quest which we have now no means of checking, but they are not identical throughout with those in the Huth Merlin. It is said (a) that the story will recur in this part to the Knight Meliadus, but we hear nothing concerning him; (b) that it will speak of Helain the White, who became Emperor of Constantinople, but this it does not do; (c) that many marvels concerning the Tower of Merlin will be recounted therein, but we hear nothing; (d) that Orpheus, a certain enchanter, is doomed to remain in the Castle of the Holy Graal, with two snakes about his neck, until the Quest has been achieved, but he is forgotten entirely therein. These items may be contrasted with those which have been specified in respect of the Vulgate and the Huth Merlin; if there are others, as a more exhaustive analysis would find, and this assuredly, I believe that my purpose has been served within the measure of reason, and I will turn therefore to some further Graal references found in the Lancelot, and of which we hear otherwise.
There are several intimations concerning the close of the adventurous times in Great Britain, and the occupation of the Siege Perilous at the Round Table; the commencement of these times was on the occasion of the war declared by Uther Pendragon against King Urien. There is also a certain knight, named Elias, who carried two swords, after the manner of Balyn; one of them was enclosed in a priceless scabbard, and is said to be that in the old days which pierced the loins of Joseph of Arimathæa and was broken therein, as narrated in the Book of the Holy Graal. It was destined not to be re-soldered except by the Lord of Chivalry, who was to put an end to the adventurous times, with all the wonders and mysteries of the Holy Vessel.
A few other points will be best taken with the personal history of Lancelot, though it is not within my province to provide a formal analysis of the romance
itself. Lancelot was the son of King Ban of Benoic, and his mother Helen was of the race of Joseph of Arimathæa, through whom she was of the line of King David. It is therefore said that, through his mother, Lancelot had the same blood in his veins as the King of Heaven Himself had deigned to take.
His baptismal name was Galahad, and, according to the Huth Merlin, Lancelot was that which he received in confirmation, though I find no record concerning this sacrament in his own romance. He was carried away in his infancy by one of the Ladies of the Lake; she is really that Vivien who deceived Merlin, and who, under a cloud of poetic modernism, is familiar to the readers of Tennyson. The part which she plays through all the tale of chivalry is out of true kinship with what we have been disposed to conceive as she is pictured in the laureate's glass of vision. By the knowledge which she derived from Merlin she entered that unincorporated hierarchy of fairyland of which we hear in the books of chivalry; she became a fay-lady, which signifies not an extra-human being of some minor or elemental order, but a woman proficient in magic. It should be noted here that whereas, in the ordinary acceptation, a fairy may correspond either to male or female, the term is never used in the Arthurian books except with reference to a woman. For example, the Fountain of Fairies, which is mentioned once in the Lancelot, received that name because beautiful unknown ladies had been seen thereat. The Lake into which the child was carried was therefore a Lake of Magic, concealing from public view the palace or manor in which his guardian dwelt, and the great park-land about it. The account of the region within this water of enchantment recalls one of the romantic episodes in the Le Roman de Jaufre, and, speaking generally, there are distinct analogies between this comparatively unknown Provençal poem and other tales of the Round Table.
Lancelot remained in the charge of the Lady of the
[paragraph continues] Lake until he was eighteen. About this period she told him the story of his ancestor Joseph, and also of Joseph's son, the first Galahad, who became the King of that country which was afterwards called Wales. She referred to King Pelles of Lytenoys and his brother, a second and later Alain le Gros, who had never ceased to maintain themselves in high honour and glory before the world and in the sight of God. As regards his own future course, she told him that he was called to carry to their term many wonderful adventures, while those which he did not achieve would remain over for a knight who was yet unborn, that is to say, for the last and true Galahad. But of the Graal she did not tell him, though at a later time he heard of the tomb of Lucan, connected with a house of religion, wherein was buried the godson of Joseph of Arimathæa, who was once charged with the guardianship of the Sacred Vessel. The Huth Merlin says, however, that it was a granddaughter of the First Keeper, which seems to accord better with the general tradition.
Before parting with Lancelot, the Lady of the Lake gave him a wand or ring--for the codices differ--which had the power of dissolving enchantments, presumably other than her own, and it served him in good stead at many junctures. Thus equipped, he went forth into the world, followed by her secret providence, and repaired to the Court of King Arthur, where, in due time, he was entered as a Companion of the Round Table, a reception which was characterised by considerable ceremonial grandeur. So passed he into the world of chivalry, but through the glory of his after-life, and through the scandal of his unhappy, over-measured, too faithful love, we have no call to follow him. Before we come--in another section--to the great event of his history, outside these particular vocations, there are only three further points to be noted. On one occasion he has a vision of his ancestors, namely, Nascien, Celidoine, the second Nascien, Alain le Gros and Jonas, who begot the
first Lancelot, who was himself father to King Ban of Benoic; but it will be observed that this is on the male side, and is therefore without prejudice to his derivation on the mother's side from the radix Jesse. On another occasion Lancelot visited the tomb of the first Galahad, King of Wales. He saw also the burning sepulchre of Simeon, and spoke with that victim of the centuries, who told him that the knight who should deliver him would be of his own kindred, and as nearly as possible the very flesh of Lancelot. It is said in explanation that Simeon was the father of Moses and the nephew of Joseph, all which is in opposition to Robert de Borron, though it reproduces literally the Book of the Holy Graal. Moses was tormented in a similar tomb, but owing to the prayers of Lancelot both experienced a certain mitigation, and their delivery in thirty years was insured further. Lancelot removed the body of the first Galahad, which was transported to Wales and reinterred with great honour. The third point concerns the visit of Gawain and Hector to a graveyard which they are counselled not to enter unless one of them is the recreant knight whose evil living has caused him to forfeit the honour of achieving the adventures of the Graal. The reference is to Lancelot, and the graveyard is said to contain Simeon, Canaan and the twelve brothers whom they immolated. But this does not seem to correspond with the previous account of Simeon's tomb. It is conclusive, however, as to the disqualification of Lancelot for the Great Quest. Had he never loved the Queen, he would not have begotten Galahad, for whom no office would have remained, seeing that he himself was the exotic flower of chivalry, palm of faith and cedar of purity. But, as things were, the great light of Lancelot was clouded deeply, nor ever shone freely until that term of all when he was received into the priestly sanctuary of the official church and was clothed at last in incense. It is certain that, speaking generally of the Greater Chronicles, there was no true light of Gawain, though some of the romances issued
from the ministry of Nature have pictured him in glowing colours. Subject to one great and cryptic exception, the day of Chrétien and Gautier had given way to the day of the prose Lancelot, and Gawain had been stripped of nearly all his graces, a process first begun in the Romance of Tristram. Perhaps it may be said that although he saw something according to the Conte del Graal, therein is an episode of personation, on which I have dwelt shortly, though it was not consciously to the hero himself. In Heinrich's poem he enters only into a world of ghosts. In the prose Lancelot he is characterised by a constitutional incapacity, to which the Galahad Quest adds impenitence in evil-doing. The picture of Sir Bors is one of great beauty, but it does not carry with it any particular significance, except that of a witness on his way back into the world. Among the Graal heroes we are therefore reduced, as we have seen and shall otherwise see further, to Perceval and Galahad. Of these two there is little doubt that Perceval was the first in time, or that in a certain sense Galahad was an afterthought. I use the expression so that I may introduce the more probable theory that this elect knight represents a later but exceedingly express intention, as if it were the design of the legend to say that a day would come when that Arthurian sacrament of which I have spoken previously, would not only be communicated at last to the world without, but that the official church would receive also, on its knees, acknowledging that there are great consecrations. If, without seeming too fantastic, I may refer to an old symbol which has no special connection with the present order of ideas, Galahad is like the horn of the quintessence in the microcosmic and alchemical star, and the four other horns are the four aspects of the symbolical legend of Perceval, being (a) the Didot Perceval; (b) the Conte del Graal; (c) the Longer Prose Perceval; and (d) the Parsifal of Wolfram. It does no real outrage to the order of time if I say that these aspects represent, symbolically speaking, the growth
of the tradition. The Didot Perceval may be doubtless later than Chrétien, and from him may have borrowed something, but the two texts are near enough in time to make the question of priority, at least to an extent, unimportant. Let me endeavour to compare for a moment the intention of this strange pentagram in literature. Collectively or individually its documents are best taken in connection one with another, and in conjunction also with those which lead up to them. It is only the Longer Prose Perceval which stands to some extent alone in the Northern French cycle, though it has certain connections with the Book of the Holy Graal. In the German cycle the Parsifal is by no means without antecedents, for we can trace the hand of Guiot up to a certain point, and we can trace also the analogies with Chrétien, though Wolfram scouted his version. Finally, we have the Galahad legend, as if the closing were taken in a superlative grade of romance.
As in the Conte del Graal, so in the romance of Lancelot, there is one visit paid by Gawain to the Graal Castle, and it begins abruptly with an adventure at a pavilion by a certain fountain. Gawain, who is the actor-in-chief, reached a castle subsequently in some annex or quarter of which he found a maiden in the durance of a scalding bath, wherefrom no one could save her except the highest typical example of earthly knighthood. Gawain was not Lancelot--for whom the adventure was reserved--and he failed therefore, for which he was promised shame to ensue quickly. He was received with pomp in the castle, and came into the presence of the king, by whom he was welcomed after the true manner of chivalry. In a word, he was at Corbenic, the Graal Castle, and the herald of the secret ministry entered in the shape of a dove, bearing a censer in its beak. This vision was momentary only, and was not repeated, but it served as a sign for the company to take their seats at the tables, and this was followed by the entrance of a maiden--that daughter, fairest among women--who carried the
chalice of the Graal, in her passage through the hall replenishing the dishes and filling the place with sweet odours. After what manner this multiplication of loaves and fishes takes place does not appear--a feature which characterises nearly all the coincident legends of this particular type. It is worth a passing note that it is perhaps the only instance in which the Graal bearer is unaccompanied entirely. So much was Gawain bespelled by the maiden's beauty that he had no eyes for anything else. She departed at length, and he, coming to himself, found that, for some fault which he could not identify, he only was left without refection of any kind--even as the evil livers in the company of Joseph. The meal proceeded in complete silence, and was disconsolate enough for the hero, who already began to feel the working of that shame which was promised him. At the end of the supper the whole company departed, still without any word, and a dwarf--who tried to chastise him, because of his presence in that part of the building--bade him at length go in search of some other chamber, where no one would see him. He remained, however, in the hall, and there had a certain partial vision of a Graal service. The presence of the Sacred Vessel healed him not only of a grievous wound which he had received from a spear a little earlier in the narrative, but also of various hurts in a long combat with an unknown knight in the hall. I omit any special account of this meeting, except that here again Gawain was attacked because he refused to depart. I omit also a clumsy parable concerning a dragon who gave birth to a vast progeny and afterwards strove with a leopard, only to be destroyed in the end by her own children, who likewise perished in the struggle. In a state of exhaustion Gawain at length fell asleep, and found on waking in the morning that he was being drawn through the public streets of the city in a vile cart. After being pelted with filth, he was released ultimately, and arrived at the hold of one whom men termed the Secret Hermit. From him he ascertained
that he had been at the Graal Castle, which appears to be new tidings; of the Sacred Vessel and its mysteries he learned nothing, though it was foretold that he should know soon, but this does not seem to come to pass.
Of such is the message of the literature as it moved towards the greater heights of its root-conception. It should be added that whereas in the prose Lancelot Gawain is thus covered with disdain, the romance of Galahad paints him in darker colours. But between the one and the other I propose to introduce a different picture in the Longer Prose Perceval. Meanwhile, I do not know why there was such a revulsion of feeling in respect of one who in certain texts appears as the knight of earthly courtesy, and who assuredly in the Conte del Graal is not less entitled to consideration than Perceval himself.
After another manner is it dealt to another knight, who visited the castle also, but he was the diadem of chivalry which at that time had been exalted in the world of Logres. By this I mean that he was Lancelot, and he arrived not only as an expected guest, but as one whose advent had been decreed and led up to from the first times of the mystery. It was then that the great parable of the adventurous times passed into that other parable concerning the times of enchantment, because it was understood before everything, and was also accepted, that the faith of King Ban's son was with the heart of the Queen forever, and so utterly that, in the sub-surface mind of romance, it had even moved somewhere as if towards the sacramental order; or without being condoned therein it was believed to have carried within it an element of redemption. Dedicated and vowed as he was, no other willing union was possible; hence therefore the office of enchantment to bring about the conception of Galahad by the daughter of the House of the Graal, with Lancelot as the morganatic father, thus ensuring the genealogical legitimacy of the last recipient of the mysteries.
Of this conception I propose to speak in another
section, because the Lancelot dissolves into the Quest, of which the first condition is the birth of Galahad.