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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And of the true blood of the Graal guardians


this idea, great and promising as it was, required further fertilisation, and got it from another. The Graal story is (once more, according to authority of the greatest competence, and likely if anything to be biassed the other way) pretty certainly not Welsh in origin, and there is no reason to think that it originally had anything to do with Arthur. Even after it obeyed the strange "suck" of legends towards this centre whirlpool, or Loadstone Rock, of romance, it yielded nothing intimately connected with the Arthurian Legend itself at first, and such connection as succeeded seems pretty certainly[31] to be that of which Percevale is the hero, and an outlier, not an integral part. But either the same genius (as one would fain hope) as that which devised the profane romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, or another, further grafted or inarched the sacred romance of the Graal and its Quest with the already combined love-and-chivalry story. Lancelot, the greatest of knights, and of the true blood of the Graal-guardians, ought to accomplish the mysteries; but he cannot through sin, and that sin is this very love for Guinevere. The Quest, in which (despite warning and indeed previous experience) he takes part, not merely gives occasion for adventures, half-mystical, half-chivalrous, which far exceed in interest the earlier ones, but directly leads to the dispersion and weakening of the Round Table. And so the whole draws together to an end identical in part with that of the Chronicle
story, but quite infinitely improved upon it.

[Sidenote: Its approximation to the novel proper.]

Now not only is there in this the creation of the novel _in posse_, of the romance _in esse_, but it is brought about in a curiously noteworthy fashion. A hundred years and more later the greatest known writer of the Middle Ages, and one of the three or four greatest of the world, defined the subjects of poetry as Love, War, and Religion, or in words which we may not unfairly translate by these. The earlier master recognised (practically for the first time) that the romance--that allotropic form (as the chemists might say) of poetry--must deal with the same. Now in these forms of the Arthurian legend, which are certainly anterior to the latter part of the twelfth century, there is a great deal of war and a good deal of religion, but these motives are mostly separated from each other, the earlier forms of the Arthur story having nothing to do with the Graal, and the earlier forms of the Graal story--so far as we can see--nothing, or extremely little, to do with Arthur. Nor had Love, in any proper and passionate sense of the word, anything to do with either. Women and marriage and breaches of marriage appear indeed; but the earlier Graal stories are dominated by the most ascetic virginity-worship, and the earlier Arthur-stories show absolutely nothing of the passion which is the subject of the magnificent overture of Mr. Swinburne's _Tristram_. Even this story of Tristram himself, afterwards fired and coloured by passion, seems at first to have shown nothing but the mixture of animalism, cruelty, and magic which is characteristic of the Celts.[32] Our magician of a very different gramarye, were he Walter or Chrestien or some third--Norman, Champenois, Breton,[33] or Englishman (Welshman or Irishman he pretty certainly was _not_)--had therefore before him, if not exactly dry bones, yet the half-vivified material of a chronicle of events on the one hand and a mystical dream-sermon on the other. He, or a French or English Pallas for him, had to "think of another thing."

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