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perfectly recorded, or kept out of sight by parties who loved darkness rather than light.
The Corpus Ignatianum' is dedicated to the Prince Albert; and the terms in which the dedication is couched, necessarily lead us to infer that this is not merely an empty form, but an expression of gratitude on Mr. Cureton's part for the personal interest his Royal Highness has taken in the progress and success of an arduous and difficult task. The task being nothing less than the settlement of a very intricate but important question, which has engaged the attention and divided the opinions of the most learned and acute theologians for at least two centuries. We trust that we may be allowed to say on such an occasion, that it reflects no small credit upon his Royal Highness, that his own acquirements should have enabled him to appreciate an undertaking of this description: And the favourable manner in which he appears to have regarded Mr. Cureton's exertions may, we hope, be looked upon as an earnest that similarly well directed efforts will also be likely to meet with similar encouragement in the same exalted quarter.
ART. VII. — King Arthur. By Sir E. BULWER LYTTON. Second Edition. 8vo. London: 1849.
A VERY remarkable poem, written by a man of celebrity and genius, cannot well be overlooked in the chronicles of literature. It is also particularly interesting to note the appearance of a work like King Arthur' in the present state of our poetical climate; which, although not cold or foggy enough to check vegetation, has yet, for not a few years, allowed no fruit to be matured except effusions that are lyrical in substance if not in form. We cannot, therefore, but receive, in a kindly and thankful temper, an elaborate narrative poem, which aims at relating, with symmetrical regularity of plan, manly force of sentiment, and imaginative embodiment of thought, one of the most fascinating of all national and chivalrous legends.
The highest poetic minds of modern times have recognised, with willing homage, the romantic beauty of the Tales of the Round Table. But by most of them the legend seems to have been regarded with that sort of reverence, not unmingled with awe, which might have been felt by the knights it celebrates,when, riding along the glades of solitary forests, they saw, glimmering through the moonlight and the mist, ruined chapels where fairy tapers burned, and unearthly voices chaunted requiems over the dead. In this aspect it obviously appeared to the great Italian poets who chose as their theme the other of
the two great chivalrous cycles, that of Charlemagne and his Paladins. Thus, likewise, did it appear even to Spenser. In his immortal work no part of the ancient story of Arthur is really told; although the vast and significant design is mainly worked out, through the use of characters and scenes instinct with the spirit of the old romances of which he was the hero.
In more recent days, the design of making this story the groundwork of an epic was cherished by two of our greatest poets. It was one of the dreams of Milton's youth; when the heroism of chivalry and the marvels of fairy-land were contemplated by him with a delight which was not extinguished in those after days, in which his imagination, solemnised by a life of trials, teemed with the awful scenes heralding and accompanying the fall of man. It was a thought of Dryden, too, in his desolate old age; when he looked back with sorrow on his wasted years, and yearned to prove, by one noble effort, that he who had but sent forth the stream of poetry to flow over barren sands, was worthy to rebuild its broken fountain. But, in both of these finely endowed minds, the design died away without fruit. The execution of it seemed to be prevented by a spell like that through which, in the legend itself, the Perilous Seat at the Round Table was guarded, by invisible hands, from rash intrusion.
Whether the Perilous Seat is to remain in the possession of the champion who has now ventured to place himself in it, is a question only to be determined by many concurrent suffrages, and not till after a long probation of the aspirant. By us, at least, no attempt shall be made to pluck him down.
The manner in which the poet treats the legend, makes it necessary to note both of the aspects in which it is presented to us by the writers of the middle ages. From these, it may be said, we receive two Arthurs. The one is the Arthur of our half-fabulous histories; the Arthur of Geoffrey and Tyssilio, whose achievements were profusely transferred to the metrical chronicles of the Anglo-Normans, and had already been enigmatically hinted at in the Welsh Triads. The other is the Arthur of chivalry; who is the central figure of the Norman French romances, and of the English* romances translated, imitated, and
* Le Grand has given a singular turn and contributed an unexpected illustration to the nationality, of which Arthur was originally the creation and the hero. He treats him as a mere pretender to the royalties of Romance, -set up by the English, out of their ignoble jealousy of the French and Charlemagne!-and he draws a very appropriate moral from the assumption; against the application of which nearer home, we think it might not be amiss, were his countrymen to
compiled from these; and who was celebrated also in the Welsh romances called the Mabinogion.
The Arthur of history is represented as a Celtic or Cymrian prince of the sixth century, under whose brave leading the Britons were for a time powerful and victorious. His reign was speedily followed by the restriction of the native independence to the western mountains. His life and character were then dwelt on with increasing fondness, both in Wales, and among the kindred Celts of Armorica or Britanny. Long before the Norman Conquest, the traditional records of the vanquished race,-whose survivors guarded the valleys of Snowdon, or wandered in exile on the banks of the Loire,--had received, alike from patriotic bards and from monkish chroniclers, a semimythical aspect. Even then, it is likely, the incidents resembled closely those which are related in the British chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, compiled in the early part of the twelfth century, and professedly derived from Armorican sources. Arthur's historical position is evidently that of a petty Prince of Wales, one of the last defenders of the British independence against the growing Heptarchy. But the dignity of a small sovereignty, and the pure glory of patriotic resistance to invasion, were not dazzling enough in the eyes of later generations of the Cymrians. They make Arthur's tributary kingdoms to stretch, not only over all Britain, but also from Iceland to the roots of the Pyrenees; and he is on the point of descending into Italy to unseat an imaginary Roman emperor! Already, too, the chivalrous colouring begins to be laid on. He fights giants in single combats, and in pitched battles slays hundreds of the enemy with his own hand. The tragical close of his life assumed much of that supernatural and mysterious character with which it was be a little more upon their guard. L'invention de la Romancerie fut accueillie par l'Angleterre avec la même ardeur que par nos autres ' voisins. Mais ce peuple jaloux, et dés-lors envieux de la France, 'ne voulant pas donner à ses Paladins un chef français, tel qu' eût été Charlemagne, il imagina de s'en choiser un autre, parmi ses rois, et 'd'en faire un héros fameux, qui par ses exploits eclipsât le nôtre. 'Le personnage destiné à ce beau rôle, fut Artus; prince ignoré, et 'd'autant moins propre à le remplir, que dans l'histoire il n'en joue ' aucun. Mais ce qu'on trouvera, je crois, plus mal-adroit encore, 'c'est qu'au nombre de ses conquêtes, ce preux des preux met une partie de la France! et qu'il se donne pour vassaux plusieurs des ⚫roitelets qu'on suppose y regner. Or, maintenant, si l'on se rappelle qu'au tems où s'écrivaient ses fictions mensongères, l'Angleterre con<quise obéissait à des princes français, on conviendra qu'aux yeux de "lecteurs attentifs, il en est des nations dans leurs écrits, comme des individus : toujours le caractère y perce par quelque endroit.'-Preface: Fabliaux du XII. et du XIII. Siècle.
afterwards so thoroughly invested. Like Harold, and Roderick, and Sebastian, he was believed not to have died. Fairy-land only sheltered him till his time should come: And for many generations the Welsh peasant, as he looked out from his eastern hills, and saw the hated standard of the Saxon waving its Pale Horse on the castles of the marches (once crowned by the Dragon flag of the British princes), dreamt proudly of the hour when the hero-king should re-appear, and lead forth his Cymrians to a new career of victory and dominion.
Our readers must not suspect that, in analysing Geoffrey's chronicle, we have forgotten Sir E. B. Lytton's poem. We have begun, indeed, in Bayes's phrase, 'to insinuate the plot.' Other illustrations will present themselves still more copiously, if we pass to the new aspect which the legendary history assumed, when it was seized by the Anglo-Norman minstrels as the favourite theme of their interminable series of romances.
This series opened within a very few years after the completion of Geoffrey's work. From him, or from his lost originals, -aided, doubtless, by oral traditions, the French minstrels derived the outline of the story. But, in their hands, the national and historical stamp of the legend was speedily effaced. Not only did Arthur's wars and conquests retire into the back-ground; not only was he himself metamorphosed, in act as well as in character, into a genuine knight-errant ; but, in most of the pictures, his figure lost its prominence, or altogether disappeared. His regal court became the chivalrous Round Table; founded and guarded by supernatural powers, and designed to be the centre from which knightly and romantic deeds should spread over the whole earth. Each of its knights found minstrels to make him the hero of new adventures; new heroes were created when the older tales had been told to satiety; and the personages and the tales rapidly attained an alarming number and perplexity. At length, soon after the wars of the Roses had come to an end, Thomes Malory selected a few of the leading romances; and, with the design of forming a connected narrative out of the principal features of the legend, compiled them into the fine old prose romance of the Morte Arthur.'
Among the champions of the Round Table, there were only three who, in the earlier romances, rivalled the poetical preeminence of the King. Two of these, Gawaine and Lancelot of the Lake, are personages in King Arthur.'
First of the three appeared Sir Gawaine, the only one of them whom the Norman poets borrowed from the native histories. In the Triads, under his Welsh name of Gwalchmai,
the golden-tongued,' he is celebrated as one of the three chiefs ' of eloquence; and his powers of persuasion are exhibited pro
fusely in Peredur' and the 'Lady of the Fountain,' two of the Welsh romances in Lady Charlotte Guest's interesting collection. In the French romances, excepting some of the later ones in which his reputation seems to have been sacrificed to the desire of contrasts, he is the sage and courteous' Gawaine; and a touch of the comic is given to his character by the authors of several of the Fabliaux,- by whom whimsical adventures attributed to him were chosen as themes for their familiar stories.
Britanny furnished to the romance-writers Tristan and Lancelot, who became the heroes of adventures at once poetical in adornment, immoral in principle, and tragical in issue.
While even the oldest romances which made these three knights their heroes, diverged more and more widely from the track of the national legend, yet, in some that appeared early in the series, attempts were made to return to the historical ground. The way in which the chivalrous adventures are introduced, as being the causes of the tragical catastrophe, is singular in more than one view, but especially on account of its moral significance. There is, it must be allowed, no old romance whatever whose ethical lessons would now receive the fiat of any enlightened censor: and revolting incidents, which cannot be removed without a total subversion of the story, pollute all the leading romances of the Round Table. Yet there is a recognition of moral responsibility and retribution-a recognition indistinct indeed, but very striking-in the manner in which Lancelot's guilty love for the queen, and Arthur's attempt to punish it, give rise to the fatal contest in which the Round Table is destroyed. A flight yet higher is taken in the wild legend of the Saint Graal; where heaven itself is represented as displaying its terrors, to warn a guilty race of impending punishment.
The holy vessel of the Last Supper, brought to England by the descendants of Joseph of Arimathea, had vanished for generations from the eyes of sinful men. But now again its presence is mysteriously intimated, in inscriptions written by no human hand, and shadowy processions passing through royal halls, and thrilling voices speaking from the depths of forests. The full attainment of the beatific vision is solemnly announced as the crowning achievement of chivalry; and the knights, full of short-lived repentance and religious awe, scatter themselves on the holy quest, leaving their king alone and dismayed in the midst of enemies. But the sinners return-all unsuccessful and humbled. The glory and the blessings of the adventure are reserved for one who is not yet among them-one who is pure as well as knightly. It is achieved by the young and unknown
VOL. XC. NO. CLXXXI.