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GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH.
coloured by political interests, and employed to point the commonplaces of statesmanship. The advantage of a strong over a divided government, had been deeply impressed on the nation by the Norman conquest and the civil wars under Stephen, and is frequently enforced by mediæval writers.1 But it is difficult to suppose that the Normans under Henry I. would have set themselves, from deliberate policy, to circulate the national history of the free Welsh, with whom they were constantly at war, above that of their quiet English subjects, or their own ancestors. The story of Rollo's connection with Alfred, looks much more like a Norman political forgery. A more probable theory ascribes the glorification of Arthur and British history to jealousy of French suzerainty, and of the part taken by the French in the crusades. A king like Henry I. might be well pleased to read, and let Europe read, how the peers of France and the senators of Rome had once done homage to Arthur. The insular spirit which kept our sovereigns from the holy war might comfort itself with traditions of a time when England was sufficient for itself. It is noticeable, however, that the Arthur of Geoffrey of Monmouth is a king and statesman, not a knight-errant ; the chivalrous element is singularly absent. Probably, therefore, these reasons do, to a certain extent, account for the great popularity which Geoffrey of Monmouth's history achieved. The remainder of its success is no doubt due to the character of the narrative. The legends of Bladud, of Sabrina, of Porrex and Ferrex, of Lear and Cordelia, and the more circumstantial narratives of Vortigern's treachery, Uther's heroism, and Arthur's royalty, have a human interest to which the lifeless skeletons of ordinary English chronicles cannot pretend. But Geoffrey's work sufficiently shows that he wrote, as he professed to write, from documents. He probably rationalized a little, tampered with genealogies, arranged dates, and in other ways did infinite mischief; but it would be monstrous to suppose
Newburgh, vol. i., p. 160; Malmesbury, lib. iii., p. 421; Geoffrey of Monmouth, lib. xi., c. 9.
MATERIALS OF HIS HISTORY.
that he invented the history he set forth. If he did, he ought to rank as one of the first artists in literature. But in fact nothing is more difficult than to invent a new story, let alone twenty; and the exploit becomes incredible, if we add the difficulty of palming the forgeries upon a nation as its own history. There can be no doubt that Geoffrey derived the bulk of his work from old traditions, and probably, as he himself states, from some old compilation.1
A thorough analysis of the book would be invaluable, if it were possible. In many cases we can see how the story arose. The story of Brutus, an exile from Troy, who gives his name to Britain, is a mixture of classical reminiscence with that mythopoeic philosophy which personifies in order to explain. King Belinus is a degraded god, and the story of Brennus shows that the old connection of Britons and Gauls was understood. The princess Sabrina, the kings Humber and Ebrauc, have their classical counterparts in Arethusa, Alpheus, and Romulus. Some names of early kings are derived from authentic history, and others had probably been preserved in Welsh genealogies. British fancy never, I think, worked without some foundation, but the basis is often very slight for the superstructure. In the account of Cæsar's landing, the histories of Cassibellaun and of Caractacus have been melted into one. In the same way Vortigern is confounded with Gerontius, and the credit of Maximus's expedition to Italy is transferred with a more glorious issue to Arthur. In Arthur more traditions centre than in any one else. In the old mythical narrative, he had been born of a virgin. Later writers, not understanding the covert plagiarism from the Gospels, represented him as a bastard, or borrowed the legend of Jupiter and Alcmena to disguise his birth. His parliament at London, and many
Geoffrey of Monmouth seems to me to claim something more than the merit of a mere translator. He calls the book "opusculum meum :" he begs that its merits may be ascribed to his patron; he quotes the Roman histories apparently as an independent source of information; and he inserts the prophecies of Merlin, which he admits to be a different book, in the middle of his own work.-Lib. i., c. 1; lib. iv., c. 1.
DISCOVERY OF ARTHUR'S REMAINS.
incidents of his wars with the Saxons, are derived from the reigns of Alfred and other Saxon kings. The names of his peers and conptemorary kings, the Roman Kay, the Saxon Ulf, and the Pictish chief Urien (Ryence), take us back to the old times when the nationalities were struggling for supremacy. The petty Devonian prince, whom Cerdic pressed hard, and whose wife Maelgoun carried off, has been strangely transfigured in the six centuries after death. But a new fate awaited him. From being the type of British kingship, he was destined to become the ideal of European chivalry.
The discovery of his remains favoured this second apotheo
Where the monks of Glastonbury had so much to gain by the disinterment, some doubt will naturally exist whether they found more than they had put there. Yet there is one circumstance, in the account given by Giraldus Cambrensis, which, if true, removes all suspicion of fraud. He says that the abbot was induced by old traditions, some of which king Henry had heard in Wales, to dig deep between two pyramidal stones which stood in the abbey church-yard. Some sixteen feet below the surface, the hollowed trunk of an oak was found, with a leaden plate on a stone cross, bearing the epitaph: "Here lies buried the famous king Arthur, with his second wife, Guenever, in the island of Avalon." The rude coffin was opened, and two skeletons were found. Arthur's bones were of heroic size, the skull ample, and cloven by deadly wounds. A single lock of yellow hair, once a woman's, still lay among the bones. A monk who was standing by, caught at it roughly, and the golden tress, for which Lancelot had sinned and Arthur died, crumbled into air. Now, hair so far decayed that a touch would destroy it, could not have been transferred recently from one sepulchre to another. The mention of Guenever as a second wife, is also of uncertain authority in the Arthur traditions, and was so unsuited to the romances that it
I suspect it is from a confusion of this sort that the Morte d'Arthur explains Camelot (Cadbury) as Winchester. Similarly, one copy of the laws of Edward the Confessor refers in one instance to Arthur as a legislator.— Coke upon Littleton, p. 68, b.
SPIRIT OF THE ARTHUR ROMANCES.
never took its place in popular belief. Probably, therefore, a forger would not have inserted it. But this part of the epitaph has been called in question.1
Under the influence of chivalry, the story of Arthur took a new character. The interest of his life was made to centre around his marriage with Guenever and the Quest of the Holy Gréal. Maelgoun of North Wales, whom history recorded to have carried off Arthur's queen, was transformed into two characters: the savage Meleagans, who bears her away in war, and Lancelot, who delivered her, and whose guilty love for his lord's wife was reciprocated. The story that Arthur condemned the adulteress to be burned, is so unsuited to the manners of the twelfth century, that it must have been derived from old tradition. But the true beauty of the Arthur romances does not lie in their stories of knightly adventure, or of guilty or unfortunate love. They exhibit the grand conception of a commonwealth of Christian gentlemen. The Holy Gréal, borne by angels about the world, is the type of sacrifice, whose occasions are heaven-sent, and are yet only achieved by those who seek them out. Mere daring is not sufficient for the enterprize; the knight who sees the beatific vision must be sinless and pure. The pursuit of good is not recommended by any material benefit. From the day the Quest is undertaken, Arthur knows that his company of knights will never again assemble in his court; and Galahad, who achieves the enterprize, is straightway translated to heaven. But other
1 Girald. Camb. de Inst. Princ., pp. 191, 192. Knyghton, who says that he had seen and handled the cross, gives the whole inscription.-Twysden, 2397. Brompton, who seems to have written from report, omits the passage about Guenever (Twysden, 1152), and Leland denies its authenticity. Mr. Ellis quotes from an old romance the statement that Arthur repudiated his first queen to marry Guenever (Metrical Romances, p. 144), but this story is unknown to Geoffrey of Monmouth, to Malory, and to Hector Boece: it is quite as likely, therefore, to be derived from the epitaph as the epitaph from it. Richard I. is said to have given Arthur's sword, Caliburne, to Tancred of Sicily probably it had been taken from the tomb.-Brompton; Twysden, 1195.
2 Villemarqué, Les Romans de la Table Ronde, pp. 58-62; Ellis, Early Metrical Romances, pp. 145-154.
GENERAL KNOWLEDGE OF LETTERS.
causes, besides the pursuit of an idea, are breaking up the fellowship of the Round Table. The sin of Guenever and Lancelot overthrows the whole fabric and purpose of Arthur's royalty. The contrasts of actual life in the twelfth century meet us, therefore, in its romances; the idealism of crusaders is alloyed with the frailties and sin of a court. From the battle-field and the palace we pass, by some inexorable fatality, to the cloister and the grave. But if the artist does not crown his masterpiece with the serene light of success, it is because he looks beyond the temporal and visible world to the eternal and unseen. He feels that sin may be expiated and obtain the pardon of heaven, but that it ends properly in penitence, not in enjoyment. He believes that the struggle for an idea is the better part of life on earth, and grander even than the tranquil possession of truth. Generations may come and go, Arthur and Galahad die, and the earth remain with no true knighthood upon it, but honour and self-devotion are eternal.
How far the literature of the middle ages was diffused among the different ranks of society, cannot easily be determined. Yet there are some facts at hand which speak strongly for the cultivation of the upper and middle orders. Hugo Lupus, who delighted in hearing stories from the Bible or about the saints, and Walter Espec, who told his knights that the proper employment of his old age was to read or relate history, were not men who impressed their contemporaries by any exceptional scholarship. Henry of Winchester, who formed a menagerie, and Robert of Gloucester, who revived the study of Welsh history, are chiefly memorable as statesmen and warriors. If we look at our kings, Henry I. was reputed an author, Henry II. was an accomplished linguist, his son Richard a poet, and we find John borrowing Pliny for his amusement. The great circulation of ballad literature is proved by Walter Longchamp's employment of minstrels, as a
1 Orderic, vol. iii., p. 4.-Hist. Ric. Hagulstad., Twysden, 339. 2 Ang. Sac., vol. ii., p. 421.