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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

But Lancelot has no at least no continuous fairy aid

and continuators. In what seems

to be the oldest, and is certainly the most consistent and satisfactory, story there is practically nothing evil about Viviane--Nimiane--Nimue, who is also indisputably identical with the foster-mother of Lancelot, the occasional Egeria (always for good) of Arthur himself, and the benefactress (this is probably a later addition though in the right key) of Sir Pelleas. For anybody who possesses the Power of the Sieve she remains as Milton saw her, and not as Tennyson mis-saw part of her. The bewitching of Merlin (who, let it be remembered, was an ambiguous person in several ways, and whose magic, if never exactly black, was sometimes a rather greyish or magpied white) was not an unmixed loss to the world; she seems to have really loved him, and to have faithfully kept her word by being with him often. He "could not get out" certainly, but are there many more desirable things in the outside world than lying with your head in the lap of the Lady of the Lake while she caresses and talks to you? "J'en connais des plus malheureux" as the French poet observed of some one in less delectable case. The author of the _Suite de Merlin_ seems to have been her first maligner. Tennyson, seduced by contrast, followed and exaggerated the worst view. But I am not sure that the most "irreligious" thing (as Coleridge would have said) was not the transformation of her into a mere married lady (with a chateau in Brittany, and an ordinary knight for her husband) which astounds us in one of the dullest
parts of the Vulgate about Lancelot--the wars with Claudas.

[30] I have always thought that Spenser (whose dealings with Arthuriana are very curious, and have never, I think, been fully studied) took this function of Lancelot to suggest the presentation of his Arthur. But Lancelot has no--at least no continuous--fairy aid; he is not invariably victorious, and he is thoroughly human. Spenser's Prince began the "blamelessness" which grew more trying still in Tennyson's King. (In the few remarks of this kind made here I am not, I need hardly say, "going back upon" my lifelong estimate of Tennyson as an almost impeccable poet. But an impeccable poet is not necessarily an impeccable plot- and character-monger either in tale-telling or in drama.)

[31] Of this we have unusually strong evidence in the shape of MS. interlineations, where the name "Percevale" is actually struck out and that of "Gala[h]ad" substituted above it.

[32] I do not say that this is their _only_ character.

[33] Brittany had much earlier and much more tradition of chivalry than Wales.

[34] The only fault alleged against Lancelot's person by carpers was that he was something "pigeon"--or "guardsman"--chested. But Guinevere showed her love and her wit, and her "valiancy" (for so at least on this occasion we may translate _vaillant_) by retorting that such a chest was only big enough--and hardly big enough--for such a heart.

[35] Some of the later "redactors" of the Vulgate may perhaps have unduly multiplied his madnesses, and have exaggerated his early shyness a little. But I am not sure of the latter point. It is not only "beasts" that, as in the great Theocritean place, "go timidly because they fear Cythera"; and a love charged with such dread consequences was not to be lightly embarked upon.

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