Ritual to Romance
Having now completed our survey of the various elements which have
entered into the composite fabric, of the Grail Legend, the question naturally arises
where, and when, did that legend assume romantic form, and to whom should we ascribe its
On these crucial points the evidence at our disposal is far from
complete, and we can do little more than offer suggestions towards the solution of the problem.
With regard to the first point, that of locality, the evidence is
unmistakably in favour of a Celtic, specifically a Welsh, source. As a literary theme the
Grail is closely connected with the Arthurian tradition. The protagonist is one of
Arthur's knights, and the hero of the earlier version, Gawain, is more closely connected
with Arthur than are his successors, Perceval and Galahad. The Celtic origin of both
Gawain and Perceval is bevond doubt; and the latter is not merely a Celt, but is
definitely Welsh; he is always 'li Gallois.' Galahad I hold to be a literary, and not a
traditional, hero; he is the product of deliberate literary invention, and has no
existence outside the frame of the later cyclic redactions. It is not possible at the
present moment to say whether the Queste was composed in the British Isles, or on the
continent but we may safely lay it down as a basic principle that the original Grail
heroes are of insular origin, and that the
Grail legend, in its romantic, and literary, form is closely connected with British
The beliefs and practices of which, if the theory maintained in these pages be correct, the
Grail stories offer a more or less, coherent survival can be shown, on the evidence of
historic monuments, and surviving Folk-customs, to have been popular throughout the area
of the British Isles; while, with regard to the higher teaching of which I hold these
practices to have been the vehicle, Pliny comments upon the similarity existing between
the ancient Magian Gnosis and the Druidical Gnosis of Gaul and Britain, an indication
which, in the dearth of accurate information concerning the teaching of the Druids, is of
As we noted in the previous chapter, an interesting parallel exists
between Wales, and localities, such as the Alps, and the Vosges, where we have definite
proof that these Mystery cults lingered on after they had disappeared from public
celebration. The Chart appended to Cumont's Monuments de Mithra shows Mithraic
remains in precisely the locality where we have reason to believe certain of the Gawain
and Perceval stories to have originated.
As to the date of origin, that, of course, is closely connected with
the problem of authorship; if we can, with any possibility, identify the author we can
approximately fix the date. So far as the literary evidence is concerned, we have no trace
of the story before the twelfth century, but when we do
meet with it, it is already in complete, and, crystallized, form. More, there is already
evidence of competing versions; we have no existing Grail romance which we can claim to be
free from contamination, and representing in all respects the original form.
There is no need here to go over old, and well-trodden, ground; in
my studies of the Perceval Legend, and in the later popular résumé of the
evidence2, The Quest
of the Holy Grail, I have analysed the texts, and shown that, while the poem of
Chrétien de Troyes is our earliest surviving literary version, there is the strongest
possible evidence that Chrétien, as he himself admits, was not inventing, but retelling,
an already popular tale3. The Grail Quest was a theme which had been treated not once nor
twice, but of which numerous, and conflicting, versions were already current, and, when
Wauchier de Denain undertook to complete Chrétien's unfinished work, he drew largely upon
these already existing forms, regardless of the fact that they not only contradicted the
version they were ostensibly completing, but were impossible to harmonize with each other.
It is of importance for our investigation, however, to
note that where Wauchier does refer to a definite source, it is to an evidently important
and already famous collection of tales, Le Grant Conte, comprising several
'Branches,' the hero of the collection being not Chrétien's hero, Perceval, but Gawain
who, both in pseudo-historic and romantic tradition,
is far more closely connected with the Arthurian legend, occupying, as he does, the
traditional position of nephew, Sister's Son, to the monarch who is the centre of the
cycle; even as Cuchullinn is sister's son to Conchobar, Diarmid to Finn, Tristan to Mark,
and Roland to Charlemagne. In fact this relationship was so obviously required by
tradition that we find Perceval figuring now as sister's son to Arthur, now to the Grail
King, according as the Arthurian, or the Grail, tradition dominates the story4.
The actual existence of such a group of tales as those referred to by
Wauchier derives confirmation from our surviving Gawain poems, as well as from
the references in the Elucidation, and on the evidence at our disposal, I have
ventured to suggest the hypothesis of a group of poems, dealing with the adventures of
Gawain, his son, and brother, the ensemble being originally known as The Geste of Syr
Gawayne, a title which, in the inappropriate form The Jest of Sir Gawain, is
preserved in the English version of that hero's adventure with
the sister of Brandelis5. So keen a
critic as Dr Brugger has not hesitated to accept the theory of the existence of this
Geste, and is of opinion, that the German poem Diû Crône may, in part at least,
be derived from this source.
The central adventure ascribed to Gawain in this group of tales is
precisely the visit to the Grail Castle to which we have already referred, and we have
pointed out that the manner in which it is related, its directness, simplicity and
what we know of the Mystery teaching presumably involved, taken in connection with the
personality of the hero, and his position in Arthurian romantic tradition, appear to
warrant us in assigning to it the position of priority among the conflicting versions we
At two points in the retelling of these Gawain tales
Wauchier definitely refers to the author by name, BIeheris. On the second occasion he
states categorically that this Bleheris was of Welsh birth and origin, né et
engenuïs en Galles, and that he told the tale in connection with which the statement
is made to a certain Comte de Poitiers, whose favourite story it was, he loved it above
all others, which would imply that it was not the only tale Bleheris had told him6.
As we have seen in a previous chapter, the Elucidation
prefaces its account, of the Grail Quest by a solemn statement of the gravity of the
subject to be treated, and a warning of the penalties which would follow on a careless
revelation of the secret. These warnings are put into the mouth of a certain Master
Blihis, concerning whom we hear no more. A little further on in the poem we meet with a
knight, Blihos-Bliheris, who, made prisoner by Gawain, reveals to Arthur and his court the
identity of the maidens wandering in the woods, of the Fisher King, and the Grail, and is
so good a story-teller that none can weary of listening to his tales7.
Again, in the fragmentary remains of Thomas's Tristan we have a
passage in which the poet refers, as source to a certain Bréri, who knew, "all the
feats and all the tales of all the kings, and all the counts who
had lived in Britain8."
Finally, Giraldus Cambretisis refers to famosus ille fabulator,
Bledhericus, who had lived "shortly before our time" and whose renown he
evidently takes for granted was familiar to his readers.
Now are we to hold that the Bleheris who according to Wauchier, had
told tales concerning Gawain, and Arthur's court, one of which tales was certainly the
Grail adventure; the Master Blihis, who knew the Grail mystery, and gave solemn warning
against its revelation; the Blihos-Bliheris, who knew the Grail, and many other tales, the
Bréri, who knew all the legendary tales concerning the princes of Britain; and the famous
story-teller Bledhericus, of whom Giraldus speaks, are distinct and separate personages,
or mere inventions of the separate writers, or do all these passages refer to one and the
same individual, who, in that case, may well have deserved the title famosus ille
With regard to the attitude taken up by certain critics, that no
evidential value can be attached to these references, I would point out that when Medieval
writers quote an authority for their statements they, as a rule, refer to a writer whose
name carries weight, and will impress their readers; they are offering a guarantee for the
authenticity of their statements.
The special attribution may be purely fictitious but the individual referred to enjoys an
established reputation. Thus, the later cyclic redactions of the Arthurian romances are
largely attributed to Walter Map, who, in view of his public position, and political
activities, could certainly never have had the leisure to compose one half of the
literature with which he is credited! In the same way Robert de Borron, Chrétien de
Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, are all referred to as sources withou any justification in
fact. Nor is it probable that Wauchier, who wrote on the continent, and who, if he be
really Wauchier de Denain, was under the patronage of the Count of Flanders, would have
gone out of his way to invent a Welsh source.
Judging from analogy, the actual existence of a personage named Bleheris, who enjoyed a remarkable
reputation as a story-teller, is prima facie, extremely probable"9.
But are these references independent, was there more than one Bleheris? I think not. The name
is a proper and not a family, name. In the latter case it might be possible to argue that
we were dealing with separate members of a family, or group, of bardic poets, whose office
it was to preserve, and relate, the national legends. But we are dealing with variants of
a proper name, and that of distinctly insular, and Welsh original10.
The original form, Bledri, was by no means uncommon in Wales: from that
point of view there might well have been four or five, or even more, of that name, but
that, each and all of these should have possessed the same qualifications, should have
been equally well versed in popular traditions, equally dowered with the gift of
story-telling, on equally friendly terms with the Norman invaders, and equally possessed
of such a knowledge of the French language as should permit them to tell their stories in
that tongue, is I submit, highly improbable. This latter point, i.e., the
knowledge of French, seems to me to be of crucial importance. Given
the relations between conqueror and conquered, and the intransigeant character of
Welsh patriotism, the men who were on sufficiently friendly terms with the invaders to be
willing to relate the national legends, with an assurance of finding a sympathetic
hearing, must have been few and far between. I do not think the importance of this point
has been sufficiently grasped by critics.
The problem then is to find a Welshman
who, living at the end of the eleventh and commencement of the twelfth centuries, was well
versed in the legendary lore of Britain; was of sufficiently good social status to be well
received at court, possessed a good knowledge of the French tongue; and can be shown to
have been on friendly terms with the Norman nobles.
Mr Edward Owen, of the Cymmrodorion Society, has suggested that a
certain Welsh noble, Bledri ap Cadivor, fulfils, in a large measure, the conditions
required. Some years ago I published in the Revue Celtique a letter in which Mr
Owen summarized the evidence at his disposal. As the review in question may not be easily
accessible to some of my readers I will recapitulate the principal points11.
The father of Bledri, Cadivor, was a great personage in West Wales, and
is looked upon as the ancestor of the most important families in the ancient Dyfed, a
division now represented by Pembrokeshire, and the Western portion of Carmarthen. (We may note here that the
traditional tomb of Gawain is at Ross in Pembrokeshire, and that there is reason to
believe that the Perceval story, in its earliest form, was connected with that
Cadivor had three sons, of whom Bledri
was the eldest thus, at his father's death, he would be head of this ancient and
distinguished family. At the division of the paternal estates Bledri inherited, as his
share, lands ranging along the right bank of the lower Towey, and the coast of South
Pembrokeshire, extending as far as Manorbeer, the birth-place of Giraldus Cambrensis.
(This is again a geographical indication which should be borne in mind.) Cadivor himself
appears to have been on friendly terms with the Normans; he is said to have entertained
William the Conqueror on his visit to St David's in 1080, while every reference we have to
Bledri shows him in close connection with the invaders.
Thus, in 1113 the Brut-y-Tywysogion mentions his name as ally
of the Norman knights, in their struggle to maintain their ground in, and around,
Carmarthen. In 1125 we find his name as donor of lands to the Augustinian Church of St
John the Evangelist, and St Theuloc of Carmarthen, newly founded by Henry 1. Here his name
appears with the significant title Latinarius (The Interpreter), a qualification
repeated in subsequent charters of' the same collection. In one of these we find Griffith,
the son of Bledri, confirming his father's gift. Professor Lloyd, in an article in Archaeologia
July 1907, has examined these charters, and considers the grant to have been made between
1129 and 1134, the charter itself being of the reign of Henry 1, 1101-113512.
In the Pipe Roll of Henry 1, 1131, Bledri's name
is entered as debtor for a fine incurred by the killing of a Fleming by his men; while a
highly significant entry records the fine of 7 marks imposed upon a certain Bleddyn of
Mabedrud and his brothers for outraging Bledri's daughter. When we take into consideration
the rank of Bledri, this insult to his family by a fellow Welshman would seem to indicate
that his relations with his compatriots were not of an specially friendly character.
Mr Owen also points out that that portion of the Brut-y-Tywysogion
which covers the years 1101-20 (especially the events of the year 1113, where we find
Bledri, and other friendly Welsh nobles, holding the castle of Carmarthen for the Normans
against the Welsh), is related at an altogether disproportionate length, and displays a
strong bias in favour of the invaders. The year just referred to, for instance, occupies
more than twice the space assigned to any other year. Mr Owen suggests that here Bledri
himself may well have been the chronicler; a hypothesis which, if he really be the author
we are seeking, is quite admissible.
So far as indications of date are
concerned, Bledri probably lived between the years 1070-1150. His father Cadivor died
in 1080, and his lands were divided between his sons of whom Bledri, as we
have seen, was the eldest. Thus they cannot have been children at that date; Bledri, at
least, would have been born before 1080. From the evidence of the Pipe Roll we know that
he was living in 1131. The charter signed by his son, confirmatory of his grant, must have
been subsequent to 1148, as it was executed during the Episcopate of David, Bishop of St
David's 1148-1176. Thus the period of 80 years suggested above (1070-1150) may be taken as
covering the extreme limit to be assigned to his life, and activity.
The passage in which Giraldus Cambrensis refers to Bledhericus,
famosus ille fabulator who tempora nostra paulo praevenit, was written about
1194 thus it might well refer to a man who had died some 40 or 50 years previously. As we
have noted above, Giraldus was born upon ground forming a part of Bledri's ancestral
heritage and thus might well be familiar with his fame.
The evidence is of course incomplete, but it does provide us with a
personality fulfilling the main conditions of a complex problem. Thus, we have a man of
the required name, and nationality; living at an appropriate date; of the requisite social
position; on excellent terms with the French nobles, and so well acquainted with their
language as to sign himself officially 'The Interpreter.' We have no direct evidence of
his literary skill, or knowledge of the traditional history of his country, but a man of
his birth could scarcely have failed to possess the latter; while certain peculiarities in
that section of the national Chronicle which deals with the aid given by him to the Norman
invaders would seem to indicate that Bledri himself may well have been responsible for the
record. Again, we know him to have been closely connected with the locality from which
came the writer who refers to the famous story-teller of the same name. I would submit
that we have here quite sufficient evidence to warrant us in accepting Bledri ap Cadivor
as, at least, the possible author of the romantic Grail tradition. In any case, so far,
there is no other candidate in the field13.
Shortly after the
publication of the second volume of my Perceval studies, I received a letter from
Professor Singer, in which, after expressing his general acceptance of the theories there
advanced, in especial of the suggested date and relation of the different versions, which
he characterized as "sehr gelungen, und zu meiner Alffassung der Entwickelung der
Altfranzösischen Literatur sehr zu stimmen," he proceeded to
comment upon the probable character of, the literary activity of Bleheris. His remarks are
so interesting and suggestive that I venture to submit them for the consideration of my
Professor Singer points out that in Eilhart
von Oberge's Tristan we find the name in the form of Pleherin attached
to a knight of Mark's court. The same name in a slightly, varied form, Pfelerin,
occurs in the Tristan of Heinrich von Freiberg; both poems, Professor Singer
considers, are derived from a French original. Under a compound form, Blihos, (or
Blio)-Bliheris, he appears, in the Gawain-Grail compilation, as a knight at
Arthur's court. Now Bréri-Blihis-Bleheris is referred to as authority alike in
the Tristan, Grail and Gawain tradition, and Professor Singer makes the
interesting suggestion that these references; are originally due to Bleheris himself, who
not only told the stories in the third person (a common device at that period, v.
Chrétien's Erec, and Gerbert's continuation of the Perceval) but also
introduced himself as eye-witness of, and actor, in a subordinate rôle, in, the
incidents he recorded. Thus; in the Tristan he is a knight of Mark's, in the Elucidation
and the Gawain stories a knight of Arthur's, court. Professor Singer instances
the case of Dares in the De exidio Trojae, and Bishop Pilgrim of Passau in the
lost Nibelungias of his secretary Konrad, as illustrations of the theory.
If this be the case such a statement as that which we find
in Wauchier, regarding Bleheris's birth and origin, would have emanated
from Bleheris himself, and simply been taken over by the later
writer from his source; he incorporated the whole tale of the shield as it stood, 'a quite
natural and normal proceeding14.
Again, this suggestion would do away with the necessity for
postulating a certain lapse of time before the story-teller Bleheris could be converted
into an Arthurian knight - the two rôles, Gewährsmann und Mithandelnden, as
Professor Singer expresses it, are coincident in date. I would also suggest that the
double form, Blihos-Bliheris, would have been adopted by the author himself, to
indicate the identity of the two, Blihis, and Bleheris. It is worthy of note that, when
dealing directly with the Grail, he assumes the title of Master, which would seem to
indicate that here he claimed to speak with special authority.
I sent the letter in question to the late Mr Alfred Nutt who was
forcibly struck with the possibilities involved in the suggestion, the full application of
which he thought the writer had not grasped. I quote the following passages from the long
letter I received from him in return.
"Briefly put we presuppose the
existence of a set of semi-dramatic, semi-narrative, poems, in which a Bledri figures as
an active, and at the same time a recording, personage. Now that such a body of literature
may have exiisted we are entitled to assume from the fact that two such have
survived; one from Wales, inthe Llywarch Hen cycle, the other from Ireland, in the Finn
Saga. In both cases, the fact that the descriptive poems are put in the mouth, in Wales of
Llywarch, in Ireland largely of Oisin, led to the ascription at an early date of the whole
literature to Llywarch and Oisin. It is therefore conceivable that a Welsh,
'littérateur,' familiar as he must have been with the Llywarch, and as he quite possibly
was with the Oisin, instance, should cast his version of the Arthurian stories in a
similar form, and that the facts noted by you and Singer may be thus explained."
Now that both Professor Singer (who has an exceptionally wide knowledge
of Medieval literature), and the late Mr Alfred Nutt, knew what they were talking about,
does not need to be emphasi zed, and the fact that two such competent authorities should
agree upon a possible, solution, of a puzzling literary problem, makes that solution
worthy of careful consideration; it would certainly have the merit of simplifying the
question and deserves, to be placed upon record.
But while it would of course be far more satisfactory could one
definitely place, and label, the man to whom we owe the original conception which gave
birth and impetus to this immortal body of literature, yet the precise identity of the
author of the earliest Grail romance is of the accident, rather than the essence, of our
problem. Whether Bleheris the Welshman be, or be not, identical with Bledri ap Cadivor,
Interpreter, and friend of the Norman nobles, the general hypothesis remains unaffected
and may be thus summarized- The Grail story is not du fond en comble the product of
imagination, literary or popular. At its root lies the record, more or less distorted, of
an ancient Ritual, having for its ultimate object the initiation into the secret of the
sources of Life, physical and spiritual. This ritual, in its lower, exoteric, form, as
affecting the processes of Nature, and physical life, survives to-day, and can be traced
all over the world, in Folk ceremonies, which, however widely separated the countries in
which they are found show a surprising identity of detail and intention. In its esoteric
'Mystery' form it was freely utilized for the imparting of high spiritual teaching,
concerning the relation of Man, to the Divine Source of his being, and the possibility of
a sensible union between Man, and God. The recognition of the cosmic activities of the
Logos appears to have been a characteristic feature of this teaching, and when
Christianity came upon the scene it did not hesitate to utilize the already existing
medium of instruction, but boldy identified the Deity of Vegetation, regarded as Life
Principle, with the God of the Christian Faith. Thus, to certain, of the early Christians,
Attis was but an earlier manifestations of the Logos, Whom they held identical with
Christ. The evidence of the Naassene document places this beyond any shadow of doubt, and
is of inestimable value as establishing a link between pre-Christian, and Christian,
This curious synthetic belief, united as it was with the highly popular
cult of Mithra, travelled with the foreign legionaries, adherents of that cult, to
the furthest bounds of the Roman Empire, and when the struggle between Mithraism
and Christianity ended in the definite triumph of the latter, by virtue of that dual
synthetic nature, the higher ritual still survived, and was celebrated in sites removed
from the centres of population in caves, and mountain fastnesses; in islands, and on
version of the Grail story, represented by our Bleheris form, relates the visit of a
wandering knight to one of these hidden temples; his successful passing of the test into
the lower grade of Life initiation, his failure to attain to the highest degree. It
matters little whether it were the record of an actual, or of a possible, experience; the
casting into romantic form of an event which the story-teller knew to have happened, had,
perchance, actually witnessed; or the objective recital of what he knew might
have occurred; the essential fact is that the mise-en-scène of the story, the
nomenclature, the march of incident, the character of the tests, correspond to what we
know from independent sources of the details of this Nature Ritual. The Grail Quest was
actually possible, then, it is actually possible to-day, for the indication of two of our
romances as to the final location of the Grail is not imagination, but the record of
As first told the story preserved its primal character of a composite
between Christianity and the Nature Ritual, as witnessed by the ceremony over the bier of
the Dead Knight, the procession with Cross and incense and the solemn Vespers for the
Dead. This, I suspect, correctly represents the final stage of the process by which
Attis-Adonis was identified
with Christ. Thus, in its first form the story was the product of conscious intention.
But when the tale was once fairly launched as a
romantic tale, and came into the hands of those unfamiliar with its Ritual origin (though
the fact that it had such an origin was probably well understood), the influence of the
period came into play. The Crusades, and the consequent traffic in relics, especially in
relics of the Passion, caused the identification of the sex Symbols, Lance and Cup, with
the Weapon of the Crucifixion, and the Cup of the Last Supper; but the Christianization
was merely external, the tale, as a whole, retaining its pre-Christian character.
The conversion into a definitely Christian romance seems to have been
due to two causes. First, the rivalry between the two great monastic houses of Glastonbury
and Fescamp, the latter of which was already in possession of a genuine Saint-Sang
relic, and fully developed tradition. There is reason to suppose that the initial
combination of the Grail and Saint-Sang traditions took place at
Fescamp, and was
the work of some member of the minstrel Guild attached to that Abbey. But the Grail
tradition was originally British; Glastonbury was, from time immemorial a British
sanctuary; it was the reputed burial place of Arthur, of whose court the Grail Quest was
the crowning adventure; the story must be identified with British soil. Consequently a
version was composed, now represented by our Perlesvaus text, in which the union
of Nicodemus of Fescamp, and Joseph of Glastonbury, fame, as ancestors of the Grail hero
offers a significant hint of the provenance of the version.
Secondly, a no less important element in the process was due to the
conscious action of Robert de Borron, who well understood the character of his material,
and radically remodelled the whole on the basis of the triple Mystery tradition translated
into terms of high Christian Mysticism. A notable feature of Borron's version is his
utilization of the tradition of the final Messianic Feast, in combination with his
Eucharistic symbolism, a combination thoroughly familiar to early Christian Mystics.
Once started on a definitely romantic career, the Grail story rapidly
became a complex of originally divergent themes, the most important stage in its
development being the incorporation of the popular tale of the Widow's Son, brought up in
the wilderness, and launched into the world in a condition of absolute ignorance of men,
and manners. The Perceval story is a charming story, but it has originally
nothing whatever to do with the Grail. The original tale, now best represented by our
English Syr Percyvelle of Galles, has no trace of Mystery element; it is
Folk-lore, pure and simple. I believe the connection with the Grail legend to be purely
fortuitous, and due to the fact that the hero of the Folk-tale was known as 'The Widow's
Son,' which he actually was, while this title represented in Mystery terminology a certain
grade of Initiation, and as such is preserved to-day in Masonic ritual15.
Finally the rising tide of dogmatic Medievalism, with its crassly
materialistic view of the Eucharist; its insistence on the saving grace of asceticism and
celibacy; and, its scarcely veiled contempt for women, overwhelmed the original
conception. Certain of the features of the ancient ritual indeed survive, but they are
factors of confusion, rather than clues to enlightenment. Thus, while the Grail still
retains its character of a Feeding Vessel, comes and goes without visible agency, and
supplies each knight with 'such food and drink as he best loved in the world,' it is none
the less the Chalice of the Sacred Blood, and critics are sorely put to it to harmonize
these conflicting aspects. In the same way Galahad's grandfather still bears the title of
the Rich Fisher, and there are confused references to a Land laid Waste as the result of a
But while the terminology lingers on to our perplexity the characters
involved lie outside the march of the story; practically no trace of the old Nature Ritual
survives in the final Queste form. The remodelling is so radical that it seems
most reasonable to conclude that it was purposeful, that the original author of the Queste
had a very clear idea of the real nature of the Grail, and was bent upon a complete
restatement in terms of current orthodoxy. I advisedly use this term, as I see no trace in
the Queste of a genuine Mystic conception, such as that, of Borron. So far as
criticism of the literature is concerned I adhere to my previously expressed, opinion that
the Queste should be treated rather, as a Lancelot than as a Grail
romance. It is of real importance in the evolution of the Arthurian romantic cycle; as a
factor in determining
the true character and origins of the Grail legend it is worse than useless what remains
of the original features is; so fragmentary, and so distorted, that any attempt to use the
version as basis for argument, or comparison, can only introduce a further element of
confusion into an already more than sufficiently involved problem.
I am also still of opinion that the table of
descent given on p. 283 of Volume II. of my Perceval studies, represents the most
probable evolution of the literature, at the same time, in the light of further research,
I should feel inclined to add the Grail section of Sone de Nansai as deriving
from the same source which gave us Kiot's poem, and the
Perlesvaus16. As evidence
for a French original combining important features of these two versions, and at the same
time retaining unmistakably archaic elements which have disappeared from both, I hold this
section of the poem to be of extreme value for the criticism of the cycle.
While there are still missing links in the chain of descent, versions
to be reconstructed, writers to be identified, I believe that in its ensemble the theory
set forth in these pages will be found to be the only one which will satisfactorily meet
all the conditions of the problem; which will cover the whole ground of investigation,
omitting no element, evading no difficulty, which will harmonize apparently hopeless
contradictions, explain apparently meaningless terminology, and thus provide a secure
foundation for the criticism of a body of literature as important as it is fascinating.
The study and the criticism of the Grail literature will possess an even deeper interest, a
more absorbing fascination, when it is definitely recognized that we possess in that
literature a unique example of the restatement of an ancient and august Ritual in terms of
1. Cf. Mead, Thrice
Greatest Heroes, VoI. III. p. 295. On this point the still untranslated corpus of
Bardic poetry may possibly throw light.
2. The Quest of The Holy Grail (Quest series, Bell, 1913).
3. On the point that Chrétien was treating an already popular theme, cf.
Merlin, i. (Zeitschrift für Franz. Sprache, XXIX.).
4. That is, the
relationship is due to romantic tradition, not to Mystery survival, as Dr Nitze maintains.
5. Cf. Romania, Vol. xxxiii. pp. 333 et seq.
6. Cf. Legend of Sir
Perceval, Vol. I. Chap. 12, for the passages referred to, also article in Romania,
7. Cf. my Quest of the Holy Grail, pp. 110 et seq.
8. Cf. Tristan
(Bédier's ed.), Vol. 1. l. 2120.
9. A critic of my Quest volume remarks that
"we have as little faith in Wauchier's appeal to a Welshman Bleheris as source for
his continuation of Chrétien's 'Perceval' as we have in Layamon's similar appeal
to Bede and St Austin at the beginning of the 'Brut.'" The remark seems to
me singularly inept, there is no parallel between the cases. In the first place Layamon
does not refer to Bede and St Austin as source, but as models, a very different thing.
Then the statement is discredited by the fact that we possess the writings of these men,
and know them to be of another character than Metrical Chronicles. In the case of Wauchier
his reference does not stand alone; it is one of a group, and that group marked by an
extraordinary unanimity of statement; whoever Bleheris may have been he was certainly
possessed of two definite qupllifications, he knew a vast number of tales, and he
possessed a remarkable gift of narration, ie., he was a story-teller, par excellence.
Thus he was, a priori, a probable source for that section of Wauchier's work
which is attributed to him, a section consisting, of short, picturesque, and mutually
independent tales, which formed part of a popular collection. It is misleading to speak as
if Wauchier refers to him as general source fo his Perceval continuation; the
references are clearly marked and refer to Gawain tales. Apart from the fact that
Wauchier's reference does not stand alone we have independent evidence of the
actual existence of such a group of tales, in our surviving Gawain poems, certain
of which, such as Kay and the Spit, and Golagros and Gawayne are
versions of the stories given by Wauchier, while the author of the Elucidation
was also familiar with the same collection. If evidence for the identity of Bleheris is
incomplete, that for his existance appears to be incontrovertible. Would it not be more
honest if such a would-be critic as the writer referred to said, 'I do not choose to
believe in the existence of Bleheris, because it runs counter to my pre-conceived theory
of the evolution of the literature'? We should then know where we are. Such a parallel as
that cited above has no value for those familiar with the literature but may easily
mislead the general reader. I would also draw attention to the fact noted in the text -
the extreme improbability of Wauchier, a continental writer, inventing an insular and
Welsh source. This is a point critics carefully evade.
10. Cf Bledhericus de Cornouailles, note contributed by M. Ferd. Lot, to Romania,
Vol. XXVIII. p. 336. M. Lot remarks that he has not met with the name in
Armorica; it thus
appears to be insular.
11. Cf. Revue Celtique, 1911, A
note on the identification of Bleheris.
12. Ed. Rhys-Evans, Vol. II. p. 297; cf. also Revue Celtique.
13. In the course of 1915-16 I received letters
from Mr Rogers Rees, resident at Stepaside, Pembrokeshire, who informed me that he held
definitive proof of the connection of Bledri with both Grail and Perceval
legends. The locality had been part of Bledri's estate, and the house in which he lived
was built on the site of what had been Bledri's castle. Mr Rogers Rees maintained the
existence of a living tradition connecting Bledri with the legends in question. At his
request I sent him the list of the names of the brothers of Alain li Gros, as given in the
1516 edition of the Perlesvaus, a copy of which is in the Bibliothèque
Nationale, and received in return a letter stating that the list must have been compiled
by one familiar with the district. Unfortunately, for a year, from the autumn of 1916, I
was debarred from work, and when on resuming my studies, I wrote to my correspondent
asking, for the promised evidence I obtained no answer to my repeated appeal. On
communicating with Mr 0wen I found he had had precisely the same experience, and, for
his part was extremely sceptical as to there being any genuine foundations for our
correspondent's assertions. While it is thus impossible to use the statements in question
as elements in my argument, I think it right in the interests of scholarship to place them
on record; they may afford a clue which some Welsh scholar may be able to follow up to a
more satisfactory conclusion.
14. Had Wauchier really desired to invent an authority, in view of his
date, and connection with the house of Flanders, he had a famous name at hand -that of
Chrétien de Troyes.
15. Cf. Legend of Sir
Perceval, Vol. II. p. 307 and note. I have recently received Dr Brugger's review of
Mr R. H. Griffith's study of the English poem, and am glad to see that the critic accepts
the independence of this version. If scholars can see their way to accept as faits
acquis the mutual independence of the Grail, and Perceval themes,
we shall, at last, have a solid basis for future criticism.
16. Cf. my Notes, Romania,
Vol. XLIII. pp. 403 et seq.