The Forest of Broceliande and the Fountain of Baranton
Lady Guest in her Mabinogion Notes states that "the Forest of Broceliande, in Brittany, the scene
of the leading incident in the Chevalier au Lion, has ever been one of the most favoured haunts of
Romance". Amongst the legendary names linked with it is
Merlin, whose prison it became.
The manner of his being incarcerated
is detailed in the Romance
which bears his name, as quoted by Mr. Southey, in the Preface to the Morte d'Arthur.
"Merlin, having become enamoured of the fair Viviane, was weak enough to impart to her various
important secrets ot his art, being impelled by a fatal destiny, of which he was at the same time fully aware. The Lady,
however, was not content with his devotion, unbounded as it seems to have been, but "cast about," as the
Romance tells us, how she might "detain him for evermore," and with a view of learning some mode of accomplishing
this object, she one day addressed him in these terms,-" Sir," said she, "I would have you teach and show me
how to enclose and imprison a man without a tower, without walls, without chains, but by enchantment alone, in such manner
that he may never be able to go out, except by, me." Aware of her design, Merlin shook his head, and evinced great
reluctance to comply with her request. But Viviane, "for her great treason," began to fawn and to flatter him,
and used many subtle arguments to prove that he ought to perform her will, whatever it might be. So at last be said to her,
"Certes, lady, yes, and I will do it; tell me what you would have." "Sir," said she, "I would that
we should make a fair place and a suitable, so contrived by art and by cunning, that it might never be undone, and that
you and I should be there in joy and in solace." "My lady," said Merlin, "I will perform all this."
"Sir," said she, "I would not have you do it, but you shall teach me, and I will do it, and then it will be more
to my will." "I grant you this," said Merlin. Then he began to devise, and the damsel put it all in writing.
And when he had devised the whole, then had the damsel full great joy, and showed him greater semblance of loving him than
she had ever before made and they sojourned together a long while. At length it fell out that, as they were going one day hand
in hand through the forest of Broceliande, they found a bush of white thorn which was laden with flowers; and they seated
themselves under the shade of this white thorn upon the green grass, and they disported together and took their solace, and
Merlin laid his head upon the damsel's lap, and then she began to feel if he were asleep. Then the damsel rose and made
a ring with her wimple round the bush and round Merlin, and began her enchantments such as he himself had taught her;
and nine times she made the ring, and nine times she made the enchantments; and then she went and sate down by him,
and placed his head again upon her lap; and when he awoke, and looked round him, it seemed to him that he was enclosed
in the strongest tower in the world, and laid upon a fair bed. Then said he to the dame, "My lady, you have deceived
me unless you abide with me, for no one hath power to unmake this tower, save you alone." She then promised she
would be often there, and we are told that in this she held her covenant to him. "And Merlin never went out of that
tower where his mistress Viviane had enclosed him. But she entered and went out again when she listed ; and oftentime she
regretted what she had done, for she had thought that the thing which he taught her could not be true, and willingly would
she have let him out if she could."-(T. 2. F. 134.)
From the same authority, it appears that after this event Merlin was never more known to hold converse
with any mortal but Viviane, except on one
or two occasions. Arthur having for some time missed him from his Court, sent several of his
knights in search of him. Sir Gawain met with a very unpleasant adventure while engaged in this quest.
When he passed a damsel on the road, he neglected to salute her, and she revenged herself
on him by transforming him into a hideous dwarf. He was bewailing aloud his evil fortune as he went through the Forest
of Broceliande, when "suddenly he heard the voice of one groaning on his right hand" and "looking that
way he could see nothing save a kind of smoke which seemed like air, and through which
he could not pass." Merlin
then addressed him from out
of the smoke, and told him how he came to be imprisoned there. "Ah, Sir," he added, "you will never see
me more, and that grieves me, but I cannot remedy it; and when you shall have departed from this place, I shall never
more speak to you, nor to any other person, save only my mistress."
He comforted Gawain, assuring him that he would soon be disenchanted, and he predicted to him that he should find the King at
Carduel in Wales upon his return, and that all the other knights who had
been on the quest, would arrive there the same day. And all this came to pass as Merlin had said.- (T. 2. f. 146.)
It is evident that the wonders ascribed by Chretien de Troyes to the Fountain of
Baranton were not the creation of his own fancy, but were in his time already
well known; for we find his precursor Wace so much impressed with the desire to be an eye-witness of them, that he actually
made a journey to the spot. In his Roman de Rou, he relates the whole affair. After
discussing the marvels of the slab,
he tells us, that if what the Bretons say is true, Fairies are often to be seen sporting on the Fountain's bank; but he very
frankly owns that he met with nothing but disappointment to repay the trouble of his expedition, and he reproaches himself
for his folly in having ever undertaken it.
All the old traditions which give an interest to the Forest continue to be current there. In the nineteenth
century, it was still said by Lady Guest that, "The Fairies, who are kind to children, are still reported to be seen in
their white apparel upon the banks of the Fountain; and the Fountain itself
is still said to be possessed of its marvellous rain producing properties. In seasons of drought, the inhabitants of the
surrounding parishes go to it in procession, headed by their five great banners, and their priests, ringing bells and chanting
Psalms. On arriving at the Fountain, the Rector of the Canton dips the foot of the Cross into its waters, and it is sure to rain
before a week elapses."
The Fountain of Barenton is supplied by a mineral spring, and it bubbles up on a piece of iron or copper being
thrown into it.