p. 78 p. 79
IT is a very curious heaven which stands around the infancy of romance-literature, and more than one warrant is required to constitute a full title for the interpretation of those strange signs and portents which are seen in some of its zones. The academies of official learning are consecrated places, and those who have graduated in other schools, and know well that they hold, within their own province, the higher authority, must be the first to recognise and respect the unsleeping vigilance and patience of students who are their colleagues and brothers in a different sphere. In the study of archaic literature, the external history of the texts and the criticisms thereto belonging are in the hands of a recognised college, and its authority is usually final; but the inward spirit of the literature is sometimes an essence which escapes the academical processes. At the same time, any school of criticism which should decide that some books of the Holy Graal do not put forward extraordinary claims of the evasive kind, and do not so far contain the suggestion of an inward purpose, must be held to have failed even within its own province.
Having indicated after what manner the literature
with which we are dealing falls readily into several groups of a distinct kind for the purpose of particular classification, we are now called to regard it a little differently, though without prejudice to the schedule-in-chief of my proper choice. The distinction between quest-versions and versions of early history is known to students, and though it is not absolutely definite in itself, so far as the intention of criticism is concerned solely, it is important from another point of view. The reason is that both classes have their particular mystery, which is not without its antecedents in distinct schools of symbolism. The keynotes of the historical series--to make use of the expression in a sense which is not usually or so concisely attached to it--are those which have been considered as the implicits-in-chief of the literature. They are two in number, and they are embodied in two palmary historical texts, from which they were carried forward through intermediate documents which answer, broadly speaking, to the same description, and thence through certain quest-versions by which the literature is taken to its term. I am speaking, however, only of those cycles which have been classified in the previous section as the Lesser and Greater Chronicles of the Holy Graal; but it should be understood that the same or analogous early histories are presupposed by the later sequels to the poem of Chrétien de Troyes. On the other hand, the German cycle, as represented by Wolfram von Eschenbach and the author of the later Titurel, has an early history which differs from all existing French sources, though the Quest of Parsifal is in close correspondence with the Perceval quests current in northern France.
We have seen, concerning the keynotes of the early histories, that they are:--
A. The suppression or concealment of a potent sacramental formula, in the absence of which the office of the Christian ministry is not indeed abrogated but is foreshortened or has become substituted, so that there
seems to be something of a vital character wanting to all the sanctuaries. Whatever therefore the elements which entered into the composition of the Graal conception, several versions of the legend unite in relating it to the mystery and power of certain high consecrations or of certain unmanifested and withheld forms of speech. Those who can acquire and retain the words may exercise at will a strange power and mastery over all about them, and will possess great credit in the sight of God. They need never fear the deprivation of their proper rights, sufferings from evil judgments, or conquest in battle, so long as their cause is just. It is, however, as I have intimated, either (1) impossible to communicate these words in writing, or (2) they are recorded in one place only; that is to say, in the secret archives, or great book of the Graal. They are too precious and holy for common utterance, and, moreover, they are the secret of the Graal itself, in which a strange power of speech also resides. Joseph was himself under singular direction in accordance with the preconceived order of the Mystery, for the fulfilment of its concealed term.
B. The removal, cessation, or assumption of a certain school of ordination, which held from heaven the highest warrants, which was perpetuated from generation to generation in one line of descent, which had the custody of the sacred mysteries, which, in fine, ordained no one; and the substitution, both concurrently and thereafter, of some other form of succession--venerable enough in its way, and the next surviving best after the abrogation of the first, but not the highest actuality of all, not the evidence of things unseen made spiritually and materially manifest as the term of faith. To this extent did the powers of the Secret Sanctuary differ by the hypothesis concerning it from the powers of the Holy Church manifested in the world. Yet the Church manifest was also the Church Holy.
In the prologue or preamble to the Book of the Holy Graal, the hermit who receives the revelations and the
custody of the mysterious Book of the Legend testifies that the greatest secret of the world has been confided to him, and the communication took place amidst inexpressible experiences in that third heaven to which St. Paul was translated. The description of his ecstasy is written in fervent language, but in place of an indicible formula there is a great mystery attributed to the entire text of that cryptic record which, although it is said to be translated, yet remains unknown. The form wherein we have it is a concession to human disqualification and even to the frailty of external Nature. We possess only a substitute. On the other hand, the keynotes of the French quests are also of two kinds, by which--if it were possible otherwise--they might be divided into two cycles. That of the several Percevals is the suppression of a certain word, question, or formula, which suppression, on the surface side of things, causes dire misery and postpones the advancement of the elect hero, but in the end it makes for his further recognition and ensures his more perfect calling, so that he is crowned in fine as he might not have been crowned at first. If at his initial opportunity he had asked in the Graal Castle that simple question which covers the whole adventure with so deep a cloud of mystery, he would not have been perfected in suffering, regret and exile; some of the quests would have terminated almost at their inception, and one in its present form could not have existed at all.
The withheld word of the Perceval quests takes, as I have indicated, the form of a simple question--a question, that is to say, which should have been asked but was not; as such it is, so to speak, the reverse side or antithesis of the old classical legend of the sphinx. The sphinx asked questions and devoured those who did not reply or whose answers blundered. Perceval kept silence when he should have urged his inquiries, sometimes through false modesty, sometimes because he had been cautioned against idle curiosity; but in both cases, by the working of some apparently blind destiny, the
omission carried with it the long series of its disastrous consequences. There came, however, a time of joy and deliverance, and it followed a belated utterance of the word; thereby great enchantments were determined, great wrongs were redressed, and the wounds and sufferings endured through many years were healed and annulled. It follows that there is a twofold mystery of words connected by certain texts with the Quest of Perceval. Its higher sense is that of the sacramental formula., and this was interned with Perceval according to the Lesser Chronicles. But the word alternative--that which could be reserved or uttered--had performed in the meantime, and was still fulfilling, a certain office of amelioration, so that it is not by a merely vain observance that, in a sense, it is replaced by the quests for that unknown formula which was reserved as the last mystery of the Hidden Sanctuary. In contradistinction to this, there is one quest--and it is to be noted that it is one only--which depends entirely from the second alternative of the historical implicits. This is the Galahad Quest, and the keynote hereof is separate from all mysteries of asking, all joy of answer, as if these were of the Lesser Enigmas, and it is uplifted into a great world of holiness, where no longer is there any shadow of similitude to secret claims--doctrinal or ecclesiastical; but the heroism of human life is received into the Divine Rapture, so that the last formulary of the search after and finding of the Holy Graal is in all truth that which is expressed by the admirable doctor Ruysbroeck--in vastissimum divinitatis pelagus navigare. Of such is the Graal legend, and those who are acquainted with it in the most elect of its early forms will agree not only that many portions of it are singularly winning, but that it is indeed
It is also on the external side a very melancholy legend; it is the passing of a great procession and a great sacrament,
which, owing to the imputed stress and terror of the time, is destined never to return in the same form; it is a portion of the loss of humanity on one side of its manhood; and it is no matter for surprise that in these late days, which are so full of the hunger and the thirst, several persons have attempted to read into it the particular significance which appeals to them. This has been anything in some cases but that which could have been intended consciously by any maker of chronicles, and the question of Perceval abides therefore amongst us, but now in the reverse form, seeing that it is asked, and this often, yet it remains to this day unanswered, save in those Holy Places, beyond the external voices, of which this world, as such, knows not anything. To the glory of God and to those Holy Places, within the Great Church of the Mysteries, I dedicate this research as a sign without of the things signified within.