Preface to Morien

     The metrical romance of which the following pages offer a prose translation is contained in the mediaeval Dutch version of the Lancelot, where it occupies upwards of five thousand lines, forming the conclusion of the first existing volume of that compilation. So far as our present knowledge extends, it is found nowhere else.
      Nor do we know the date of the original poem, or the name of the author. The Dutch MS. is of the commencement of the fourteenth century, and appears to represent a compilation similar to that with which Sir Thomas Malory has made us familiar, i.e., a condensed rendering of a number of Arthurian romances which in their original form were independent of each other. Thus, in the Dutch Lancelot we have not only the latter portion of the Lancelot proper, the Queste, and the Morte Arthur, the ordinary component parts of the prose Lancelot in its most fully developed form, but also a portion of a Perceval romance, having for its basis a version near akin to, if not identical with, the poem of Chrétien de Troyes, and a group of episodic romances, some of considerable length, the majority of which have not yet been discovered elsewhere.
      Unfortunately, the first volume of this compilation, which was originally in four parts, has been lost; consequently we are without any of the indications, so often to be found in the opening lines of similar compositions, as to the personality of the compiler, or the material at his disposal; but judging from those sections in which comparison is possible, the Lancelot, Queste, and Morte Arthur, the entire work is a translation, and a very faithful translation, of a French original. It is quite clear that the Dutch compiler understood his text well, and though possibly somewhat hampered by the necessity of turning prose into verse (this version, contrary to the otherwise invariable rule of the later Lancelot romances, being rhymed), he renders it with remarkable fidelity. The natural inference, and that drawn by M. Gaston Paris, who, so far, appears to be the only scholar who has seriously occupied himself with this interesting version, is that those episodic romances, of which we possess no other copy, are also derived from a French source. Most probably, so far as these shorter romances are concerned, the originals would be metrical, not prose versions, as in the case of the Lancelot sections.
      It is true that with regard to the romance here translated, Morien, the Dutch scholars responsible for the two editions in which it has appeared, MM. Jonckbloet and Te Winkel, the former the editor of the whole compilation, the latter of this section only, are both inclined to regard the poem as an original Dutch composition; but M. Gaston Paris, in his summary of the romance (Histoire Litteraire, vol. xxx. p. 247) rejects this theory as based on inadequate grounds. It must be admitted that an original Arthurian romance of the twelfth or thirteenth century, when at latest such a poem would be written, in a language other than French, is so far unknown to us; and although as a matter of fact the central motif of the poem, the representation of a Moor as near akin to the Grail Winner, Sir Perceval, has not been preserved in any known French text, while it does exist in a famous German version, I for one find no difficulty in believing that the tradition existed in French, and that the original version of our poem was a metrical romance in that tongue.
      So far as the story of Morien is concerned, the form is probably later than the tradition it embodies. In its present shape it is certainly posterior to the appearance of the Galahad Queste, to which it contains several direct references; such are the hermit's allusion to the predicted circumstances of his death, which. are related in full in the Queste; the prophecy that Perceval shall "aid" in the winning of the Holy Grail, a quest of which in the earlier version he is sole achiever; and the explicit statements of the closing lines as to Galahad's arrival at Court, his filling the Siege Perilous, and achieving the Adventures of the Round Table. As the romance now stands it is an introduction to the Queste, with which volume iii. (volume ii. of the extant version) of the Dutch Lancelot opens.
      But the opening lines of the present version show clearly that in one important point, at least, the story has undergone a radical modification. Was it the Dutch translator or his source who substituted Agloval, Perceval's brother, for the tradition which made Perceval himself the father of the hero? M. Gaston Paris takes the former view; but I am inclined to think that the alteration was already in the French source. The Grail of Sir Agloval's vision is the Grail of Castle Corbenic and the Queste; unless we are to consider this vision as the addition of the Dutch compiler (who, when we are in a position to test his work does not interpolate such additions), we must, I think, admit that the romance in the form in which it reached him was already at a stage in which Perceval could not, without violence to the then existing conception of his character, be considered as the father, or the brother, of Morien. To reconstruct the original story it would be necessary not merely to eliminate all mention of Agloval, as suggested by M. Gaston Paris, but the Grail references would also require modification. As it stands, the poem is a curious mixture of conflicting traditions.
      In this connection it appears to me that the evidence of the Parzival is of primary importance; the circumstances attending the birth of Feirefis are exactly parallel with those of Morien--in both a Christian knight wins the love of a Moorish princess; in both he leaves her before the birth of her son, in the one case with a direct, in the other with a conditional, promise to return, which promise is in neither instance kept; in both the lad, when grown to manhood, sets out to seek his father; in both he apparently makes a practice of fighting with every one whom he meets; in the one version he is brother, in the other son or nephew, to Perceval. The points of difference are that whereas Morien is black all over, save his teeth, Feirefis is particoloured, black and white--a curious conception, which seems to point to an earlier stage of thought; Morien is a Christian, Feirefis a heathen--the more probable version.
      It is easy to understand why the hero ceased to be considered Perceval's son--the opening lines of the poem describe the situation perfectly; but I do not think it has been sufficiently realised that precisely the same causes which would operate to the suppression of this relationship would equally operate to the suppression of that of the Parzival. Perceval, the virgin winner of the Grail, could not have a liaison with a Moorish princess, but neither could Perceval's father, the direct descendant of Joseph of Arimathea, and hereditary holder of the Grail. The Early History of that talisman, as related by Robert de Borron, once generally accepted, the relationship of brother was as impossible as that of son.
      It seems clear that if a genuine tradition of a Moor as near kinsman to Perceval really existed-and I see no reason to doubt that it did-it must have belonged to the Perceval story prior to the development of the Grail tradition, e.g., to such a stage as that hinted at by the chess-board adventure of the "Didot" Perceval and Gautier's poem, when the hero was as ready to take advantage of his bonnes fortunes as other heroes of popular folk tales.
      Further, judging from these stories it would seem probable that the requisite modification began with the earlier generation, i.e., Perceval himself still retaining traces of his secular and folk-tale origin, while his father and mother have already been brought under the influence of the ecclesiasticised Grail tradition. That this would be the case appears only probable when we recall the vague and conflicting traditions as to the hero's parentage; it was Perceval himself, and not his father or his mother, who was the important factor in the tale; hence the change in his character was a matter of gradual evolution. Thus I am of opinion that the Moor as Perceval's brother is likely to be an earlier conception than the Moor as Perceval's son. It is, I think, noticeable that the romance containing this feature, the Parzival, also, contrary to the Early History versions, connects him with the Grail through his mother, instead of through his father.
      The Morien is for me a welcome piece of evidence in support of the theory that sees in the poem of Wolfram von Eschenbach the survival of a genuine variant of the Perceval story, differing in important particulars from that preserved by Chrétien de Troyes, and based upon a French original, now, unfortunately, lost.
      For this, if for no other reason, the poem would, it seems to me, be worth introducing to a wider circle of readers than that to which in its present form it can appeal. The students of old Dutch are few in number, and the bewildering extent of the Lancelot compilation, amounting as it does, even in its incomplete state, to upwards of 90,000 lines, is sufficient in itself to deter many from its examination. Morien in its original form is, and can be, known to but few. But not only does it represent a tradition curious and interesting in itself, it has other claims to attention; even in a translation it is by no means ill written; it is simple, direct, and the adventures are not drawn out to wearisome length by the introduction of unnecessary details. The characterisation too, is good; the hero is well realised, and Gawain, in particular, appears in a most favourable light, one far more in accordance with the earlier than with the later stage of Arthurian tradition; the contrast between his courteous self-restraint and the impetuous ardour of the young savage is well conceived, and the manner in which he and Gareth contrive to check and manage the turbulent youth without giving him cause for offence is very cleverly indicated. Lancelot is a much more shadowy personage; if, as suggested above, the original story took shape at a period before he had attained to his full popularity, and references to his valour were added later we can understand this. It is noticeable that the adventure assigned to him is much less original in character, and told with far less detail than that ascribed to Gawain.
      The romance as we have it presents, as remarked before, a curious mixture of earlier and later elements. None of the adventures it relates are preserved in any English text. Alike as a representative of a lost tradition, and for its own intrinsic merit it has seemed to me, though perhaps inferior in literary charm to the romances previously published in this series, to be yet not unworthy of inclusion among them.

Jessie Weston

Bournemouth, July 1901