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tram learned to harp, hawk, and hunt in France, and he makes an auspicious entry into the ranks of English chivalry by taunting two knights of the Round Table until they came at him “as it had been thunder”:

And Sir Dodinas' spear brast (broke) in sunder, but Sir Tristram smote him with a more might, that he smote him clean over the horse-croup, that nigh he had broken his neck. When Sir Sagramore saw his fellow fall he marvelled what knight he might be, and he dressed his spear with all his might, and Sir Tristram against him, and they came together as the thunder, and there Sir Tristram smote Sir Sagramore a strong buffet, that he bare his horse and him to the earth, and in the falling he brake his thigh. When this was done Sir Tristram asked them: “Fair knights, will ye any more? Be there no bigger knights in the court of King Arthur?”

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After this Sir Tristram had great renown in Arthur's court, for he was ever ready for a “jousting” or a private duel. No sooner had he saved Sir Palomides' life, indeed, than the two are in arms against each other. “Have remembrance of your promise,” Sir Tristram says, “that ye had made with me to do battle with me this day fortnight.” “I shall not fail you,” says Sir Palomides, whereupon “they mounted their horses and rode away together.”

With the tale of Tristram and Iseult, the love potion, and King Mark’s revenge, we pass on to the Quest of the Holy Grail, or Sangrael, the dish used by Christ when He ordained the Eucharist. This sacred vessel was supposed to have been brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea. One night while King Arthur and his court were at supper, there was a sudden thunder, and “a sunbeam more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day,” so that all the knights were transfigured, and all the hall was “fulfilled with good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world.” The Holy


Grail itself had entered among them, covered with white samite. None saw it, nor who carried it. Then as swiftly it departed, and “they wist not where it became”; whereupon Sir Gavaine and the knights vowed to go in search of it. Miraculous are the happenings which follow, and in the story a new nobility is grafted on to the mingled pathos and comedy of the earlier pages.

Moving majestically by way of Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Lionel, the narrative reaches its tragic ending, the inevitable issue of the guilty loves of Launcelot and Guenever, the wife of the King, encompassing the death of the deceived King Arthur because, for him, there was no longer “trust for to trust in. For I will into the Vale of Avilion to heal me of my grievous wound. And if thou hear never more of me, pray for

my soul.”

Though he sinned and was punished, Launcelot remains the ideal figure of chivalry, heightened by the devotion of the lovely Elaine, who died for unrequited love of him. Sir Ector's speech over his wasted body is perhaps the finest passage in the story:

“Ah, Launcelot,” he said, “thou wert head of all Christian knights, and now, I dare say,” said Sir Ector, “thou, Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou wert never matched of earthly knight's hand. And thou wert the courteoust knight that ever bare shield. And thou wert the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrad horse. And thou wert the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman. And thou wert the kindest man that ever struck with sword. And thou wert the goodliest person that ever came among press of knights. And thou wert the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in hall among ladies. And thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.”

We have seen how the Greek myths supplied the plots of the Athenian tragedies and were repeated by the Roman poets. We have noted how the German myths have been used by the greatest of German creative artists. Similarly the story told by Malory has inspired many English writers. Spenser's “Faerie Queen” owes much to it, and although we have no evidence that Shakespeare even read it, we know that Milton was contemplating an Arthurian epic in 1639. Tennyson, in “The Idylls of the King," Swinburne, in “Tristram of Lyonesse,” Morris, in “The Defence of Guenevere” and several other poems, and Matthew Arnold in “Tristram and Iseult,” were all moved to write great poetry by Le Morte d'Arthur, while Mr. Maurice Hewlett has drawn on it for his contemporary romances.

§ 9


The literary history of the Middle Ages finishes with François Villon, the unlucky French poet-thief, who was born in 1431. He was a robber and a murderer, his life was spent in the vile Alsatias of Paris, he was frequently imprisoned, only escaping execution as if by a miracle, and at the end he vanished from the scene no one knows how or where. The date of his death is unrecorded, the place of his burial unknown.

Villon took the old French poetic forms, the Rondeau, the Rondel, and the Ballade, and gave them new life and new beauty. His verse is instinct with melancholy. He mocks at life, he boasts of his sins, but he writes all the time in the shadow of the gallows, and fear of the horror of death never leaves him. He seems to epitomise the pain and fear of the Middle Ages as Dante epitomises their grandeur and their ideals, and Chaucer their happy laughter.

Villon lives for us in Swinburne's beautiful poem:

Prince of sweet songs made out of tears and fire,
A harlot was thy nurse, a God thy sire;

Shame soiled thy song, and song assoiled thy shame
But from thy feet now death has washed the mire.
Love reads out first at head of all our quire,

Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name.


W. P. Ker, The Dark Ages, and F. J. Snell, The Fourteenth Century.
St. Augustine's Confessions (Pusey's translation).

The Lay of the Nibelungs, metrically translated by Alice Horton and edited by Edward Bell. To this is prefixed The Essay on the Nibelungen Lied, by Thomas Carlyle.

H. J. Chaytor's The Troubadours.
Paget Toynbee's Dante Alighieri.
Froissart's Chronicles.
Petrarch's Sonnets, Triumphs, and other Poems.
Forty Novels from the Decameron, with Introduction by Henry Morley.
Malory's Morte d'Arthur.
H. de Vere Stacpoole's François Villon, his Life and Times.

Political Theory of the Middle Ages by Dr. Otto Gierke, trans. with Introduction by F. W. Maitland.

Adamnani, Vita S. Columbae, edited by J. T. Fowler with Translation,
Adamnan, Life of St. Columba, translated by Wentworth Huyshe.
F. Warre Cornish, Chivalry.

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