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binogion referred to by Owen and others as proofs of the antiquity of the British traditions respecting Gawayne, are only translations of the Chevalier au Lion and the Perceval le Gallois. Turning therefore to Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose history was finished about the year 1138*, and, consequently, at least twenty years earlier than the presumed date of any Anglo-Norman romance on the Round Table, we collect the following particulars.
Walwainus was the eldest son of Loth, sovereign of the province of Lothian and the adjacent territories, including the Orkneys, by Annat, half-sister of Arthur. At the age of twelve years he was sent by his uncle to Rome, and delivered to the charge of Pope Sulpicius, from whom he received knighthood‡. The next mention of him occurs as one of the chiefs who accompanied Arthur to France, to encounter the Romans. He is sent§ with two others to treat with the emperor Lucius Tiberius, and purposely, to provoke a war, he cuts off the head of the emperor's nephew. In the decisive battle which shortly afterwards took place near Langres, he held with Hoel the joint command of the fourth division of Arthur's forces, and his prowess contributed
See what is said of his work on Glastonbury by the former, De Scriptt. Britannicis, vol. i. p. 41; and compare Collectanea, iv. 153, with the work of John of Glastonbury, published by Hearne, 8vo, 1726, vol. i. pp. 30, 55.
* See Dr. Lloyd's letter to Price, in Owen's British Remains, 8vo, 1777. The author of "Britannia after the Romans," never could have read this, although he refers to it, and he is much mistaken, p. 21, in asserting that Sigebert of Gemblou, who died in 1112, was acquainted with Geoffrey's History, and thus confounding Sigebert with his interpolator. For Sigebert's genuine text see the edition of Miræus, 4to, Antv. 1608.
✦ Ellis says, that according to the chronicles of Brittany, Anna was married to Budic, king of Armorica, and her sister united to Loth. Metr. Rom. i. 59, ed. 1811. In the English metrical Arthour and Merlin Gawayne's mother is named Belisent, p. 97, 4to, 1838, and in Malory's Morte d' Arthur, she is called Margawse, i. 4. 4to, 1817.
This passage is singularly misunderstood by Fordun, lib. 3, c. 25.
§ Wace, Lazamon, and Robert of Brunne add, that the cause of his being selected was that from his education at Rome he understood both the Latin and the British tongues.
mainly to the victory. He fights with the emperor single-handed, but they are separated by the surrounding combatants, and in the melée the latter is slain. After this succeeds the history of Mordred's treason, the return of Arthur, and the destruction of his Round Table.
The translators and imitators of Geoffrey have altered and amplified the above outline, but the general features remain the same. Wace has mistaken one passage in Geoffrey, and says that Gawayne arrived from Rome to assist Arthur in his expedition to Norway*; and this interpretation is followed by Lazamon and Robert of Brunne. The passage in the latter is hitherto inedited, and may therefore be quoted here.
Loth sone, Syr Wawan,
Had bene at Rome to lere Romayn,
Wt Supplice the pape to wonne,
Honour to lere, langage to konne.
Ther was he dubbid knyght,
And holden hardy, strong and wight.
Syr Supplice had don his ende,
To Bretayn home Wawan gan wende.
Honour of him men rede and seis;
More he did than terme of-sette.
MS. Inner Temple, No. 511, 7. f. 63, c. 2.
Throughout the Brut, Gawayne is uniformly eulogised in similar terms, and placed first on the list of the Round Table,—a su
• Roman du Brut, ii. 79, 8vo, Rouen, 1839. Ellis also commits the same error, and increases it by saying, that Gawayne was invested with arms by Arthur. Metr. Rom. i. 65.
periority indeed which in that work there were no Lancelots or Tristans to dispute. His adventures are, however, confined to the circle already described, and contain so small a share of the marvellous, that they might easily have been accepted as grave matter of history.
It is to the authors, therefore, of the prose legends of the Round Table we must look for the invention or preservation of those numerous romantic narratives which record the exploits of Gawayne and his fellows on a more ample canvass, and clothe them with a character purely imaginative.
In the earliest of these, the Roman du Saint Graal, sometimes called the Roman de Joseph d' Arimathie, the knights of the Round Table are not commemorated, since it relates more particularly to the history of the Holy Vessel, and to the fabulous descendants of Joseph, in whose hands the miraculous relique remained, until its arrival in Britain.
The second on the list is Merlin, which perhaps is the most curious of the series, and best intitled to be considered a compilation founded on Armorican or Welsh traditions. In this we recognise the Gawayne of Geoffrey, but with such additions to his history, and such a marvellous character given to his exploits, as to render him the chief personage in the romance. The writer exhausts all his powers of language in praise of the valor, courtesy, and knightly bearing of the prince of Orkney:-" Car le compte dit, que ce fut le plus saige chevalier en toutes choses qui fust au siecle, et le mieulx aprins, et le plus courtois, et le moins mesdisant d'aultruy*." At the period of his birth Merlin pronounces his eulogium to Arthur, as destined to be one of the best and most loyal knights in the world. At an early age he comes with his three brothers to assist the British monarch in his war against the
* Vol. ii. f. 51b, ed. 1498, 4to.
Saxons, who were then ravaging the kingdom, and after a series of sanguinary battles succeeds in expelling them. On account of his prowess he is made a knight of the Round Table, and appointed by Arthur constable* of his household, and the next of rank to himself. After this he is employed in an expedition against king Claudas of Gaul and his Roman allies, whom he defeats with immense slaughter. At a later period of the history he is employed against the Roman emperor, and the narrative here is nearly similar to that of Geoffrey. In one MS. I have consulted, it is stated that Gawayne slew the emperor with his own handt, and it is singular, that Peter de Langtoft should preserve this tradition, as expressed by his translator, Robert of Brunne,
I kan not say who did him falle,
Bot Syr Wawayn said thei alle.—f. 801‡.
The most surprising adventure of our hero in this romance is related at the close, in which he goes in search of his friend Merlin to the forest of Broceliande, which is cited at length by Southey, in his Notes to the Preface of Morte d' Arthur, p. xlvi. It is in this work we also find the first mention of the supernatural strength of Gawayne, which augmented and diminished at different hours of the day. In the English metrical translation it is thus described:
For of his strengthe the maner
He no hadde bot o mannes might,
MS. Add. 10, 292, f. 151. The printed edd. for connestablie read moictie.
Ibid. f. 209. The printed ed. vol. ii. f. 154, follows the account of Geoffrey, but in
a previous passage, vol. ii. f. 24, names the emperor Julius Cæsar, and says he was slain by
Gawayne. This, however, is not in the MS., and seems to be an interpolation.
See the original French text, MS. Cott. Jul. D. V. f. 39.
And that strengthe him last
So to knightes he was strong *.
In the Lancelot du Lac, the next of the series, we are introduced to another race of heroes and a different set of adventures, connected only with the Merlin by the history of the war undertaken against King Claudas, and an incidental notice of the Saxons, as enemies of Arthur. Of course Lancelot is here the principal personage, and his intrigue with Queen Guenever the main-spring of the story, yet we find Sir Gawayne only inferior to Lancelot himself, and on some occasions the writer seems to have balanced between the two. Throughout the greater part of the romance they are represented as being the most intimate friends, and it is only after the blind fury of Lancelot has sacrificed three of Gawayne's brothers, that the latter entertains sentiments of hostility against their destroyer. He vows vengeance, and the result is the war undertaken by Arthur against the
* Romance of Arthour and Merlin, 4to, 1838, p. 178, printed for the Maitland Club. I am sorry to perceive the text of this edition abound with so many errors. It is in general closely translated from the French romance, and concludes imperfectly at fol. cc. of vol. i. of the edition of 1498. In the original the above passage appears thus, " Quant il se levoit au matin, il avoit la force al millor chevalier del monde; et quant vint à eure de prime, si li doubloit, et à eure de tierce ausi; et quant ce vint à eure de midi, si revenoit à sa première force, ou il avoit esté au matin; et quant vint à eure de nonne, et à toutes les eures de la nuit, estoit il toudis en sa première force." MS. Add. 10,292, f. 113. Compare this passage in the printed edition, vol. i. f. cxiv. and corresponding passages in the Roman de Lancelot, vol. i. f. xciiib., vol. ii. f. lxix., vol. iii. f. clxxxvii., ed. 1513., (where there is a fable introduced to account for the miraculous gift); Roman de Perceval, ff. liiib., lxb. ed. 1530; Malory's Morte d'Arthur, vol. i. p. 114, and the English metrical version, MS. Harl., 2252, f. 120.