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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And Tennyson has here improved on Malory


easy recognition. Anybody who

sees in the Lancelot of the foregoing scene only a hobbledehoy and milksop who happens to have a big chest, strong arms, and plenty of mere fighting spirit, will never grasp him. Hardly better off will be he who takes him--as the story _does_ give some handles for taking him--to be merely one of the too common examples of humanity who sin and repent, repent and sin, with a sort of Americanesque notion of spending dollars in this world and laying them up in another. Malory has on the whole done more justice to the possibilities of the Vulgate Lancelot than he has to Guinevere, and Tennyson has here improved on Malory. He has, indeed, very nearly "got" Lancelot, but not quite. To get him wholly would have required Tennyson for form and Browning for analysis of character; while even this _mistura mirabilis_ would have been improved for the purpose by touches not merely of Morris and Swinburne, but of lesser men like Kingsley and even George Macdonald. To understand Lancelot you must previously understand, or by some kind of intuition divine, the mystical element which his descent from the Graal-Wardens confers; the essential or quintessential chivalric quality which his successive creators agreed in imparting to him; the all-conquering gift so strangely tempered by an entire freedom from the boasting and the rudeness of the _chanson_ hero; the actual checks and disasters which his cross stars bring on him; his utter loyalty in all things save one to the king; and last and mightiest
of all, his unquenchable and unchangeable passion for the Queen.

Hence what they said to him in one of his early adventures, with no great ill following, "Fair Knight, thou art unhappy," was always true in a higher sense. He may have been Lord of Joyous Gard, in title and fact; but his own heart was always a Garde Douloureuse--a _cor luctificabile_--pillowed on idle triumphs and fearful hopes and poisoned satisfactions, and bafflements where he would most fain have succeeded. He has almost had to have the first kiss forced on him; he is refused the last on grounds of which he himself cannot deny the validity. Guinevere is a tragic figure in the truest and deepest sense of the term, and, as we have tried to show, she is amply complex in character and temperament. But it is questionable whether Lancelot is not more tragic and more complex still.

[Sidenote: Books.]

It may perhaps without impropriety be repeated that these are not mere fancies of the writer, but things reasonably suggested by and solidly based upon "the French books," when these later are collated and, so to speak, "checked" by Malory and the romances of adventure branching off from them. But Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot by no means exhaust the material for advanced and complicated novel-work--in character as well as incident--provided by the older forms of the Legend. There is Gawain, who has to be put together from the sort of first draft of Lancelot which he shows in the earlier versions, and the light-o'-love opposite which he becomes in the later, a contrast continued in the Amadis and Galaor figures of the Spanish romances and their descendants. There is the already glanced at group of Arthur's sisters or half-sisters, left mere sketches and hints, but most interesting. Not to be tedious, we need not dwell on Palomides, a very promising Lancelot unloved; on Lamoracke, left provokingly obscure, but shadowing a most important possibility in the unwritten romance of one of those very sisters; Bors, of whom Tennyson has made something, but not enough, in the later _Idylls_; and others. But it is probably unnecessary to carry the discussion of this matter further. It has been discussed and illustrated at some length, because it shows how early the elements, not merely of romance but of the novel in the fullest sense, existed in French literature.


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