Without instituting in the present stage of the question more than a parallel, the Quest of the Graal is the adventurous mission of those who go forth out of earthly houses, who depart from tables of wonder, from the enchantments and illusions of magicians after the manner of Merlin--when Merlin was not at his highest--and issue into strange lands, some unprepared enough, but some under spiritual guidance, observing the ordinances of instructors and looking for a mystical place. Few are destined for the perfect fulfilment of their object, but that which opens for these is the path of heaven. Though time and place are imputed, and this of necessity, it can be said scarcely that such limits are native to this manner of research. There is, according to the Hebrews, a palace at the centre which sustains all things, and in the terms of another symbolism it is the sanctuary of that which in later times was called the Holy Graal. The first consideration which must be kept present to the mind, as if here were also an implicit, in dealing with our whole subject, is that nothing on its surface differs in doctrine or in specific institutes from the beaten tracks of the faith delivered to the saints, and yet all undergoes a great transfiguration. There are many quests in folk-lore which, in their bare outlines, are analogous to this quest, with due allowance for the distinction of motive and all that belongs to the class of voided marvels. There is also the great debate concerning initiation and its purport, which seems to hold a middle place between that which is below--and is nothing--and that which is above--and is all, tending to the same term as the higher, and exhibiting after what manner that which is mortal puts on immortality in virtue of high election. It is well to recall these things, because
the text with which we are dealing, though it has its claims and intentions, is far from this term.
From the Merlin there follows directly the Didot Perceval as the Merlin Quest par excellence, but it gleams dimly through a vague species of cloud; and as there is much which preceded the romance of the prophet, and remains among the implicits of the literature, so there is much which might be supposed to come after the Quest, as, for example, the rewards which are somewhere held in reserve for those who practise holiness.
There is no doubt that up to a certain point the Didot Perceval connects logically with the two poems which, by the particular hypothesis, were designed to lead up thereto. Its ascription to Robert de Borron, by the secondary and reflective way of a prose version, has been rejected by certain students in the past, but the state of the case is doubtful and opinions vary. It is almost impossible to read the opening portion without feeling that here is the genuine third part of the trilogy; while the fact, so frequently exemplified, that Perceval remains throughout a virgo intacta, is in perfect harmony with the mind of the metrical romance. The Early History or first part of the Vulgate Merlin follows directly from the poem of Joseph of Arimathæa, and so far as we can ascertain it closed for Robert de Borron at that stage, when it could, without any violation, be merged in the Perceval legend, by which the tradition is continued without a break of any kind. One other favourable point, and assuredly these points are many, is that--unlike the Book of the Holy Graal, which makes an effort in this direction but fails manifestly--it does not seek to fill the gap left by De Borron's missing branches; it does not mention Petrus, his Brief notwithstanding; as to Brons, it says only that he is old and full of infirmity; as to Alain, he is dying. All this tends to show that the intermediate promised branches were non-existent rather than lost, and I say this remembering that one of the unprinted Merlin codices speaks of a text which contains the marriage of Alain.
[paragraph continues] To conclude as to this question, the early history of the prophet specifies at the term thereof that Arthur, after his coronation, held the kingdom of Logres long in peace, while it leaves Merlin as his councillor. The Perceval opens with an account of the prophet's instruction to the King concerning the Round Table and the Graal mysteries which went before its institution; it is only at the term of the Quest that Merlin passes into voluntary and, as one would think, ascetic retirement, free from personal enchantment and having delivered Britain from spell. The later Merlin texts, on the contrary, intern the prophet, and then, and not after, lead up to the Galahad Quest. It is difficult therefore to say that the Didot Perceval does not reflect, from at hand or afar, the lost romance which completed the trilogy of De Borron.
Perceval was the son of Alain le Gros, the grandson of Brons, and the third of that earthly trinity which was destined to possess the Graal. While Arthur was holding high festival at London and was listening to the counsel of Merlin, the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to Perceval's father--he being near his end--and informed him that Brons, the Rich Fisherman and the Warden of the Graal, was in the isles of Ireland, and that the Holy Vessel was with him. He was old, as I have said already, but he could not seek refuge in death till he was found by the son of Alain, had communicated to this son the grace of that vessel, and had taught him the secret words which he learned himself from Joseph. To express it more nearly in language of romance, the Quest, which is the intention of the story, must be fulfilled in all perfection. Thereafter his infirmity would be healed, apparently by the medicine of eternity, or, as the text says, by his entrance into the great joy of that Father in Heaven whom he had served always in time. The youth, Perceval, was therefore directed to repair to the court of King Arthur, and it was promised him that in this place he should hear such tidings that he would be brought in due season to the
house of the Rich Fisher. When Alain had received this direction, he bowed his head and entered himself, as one who arrives beforehand, into the Company of Christ.
Perceval, in his outward seeming, has little title to participate in the mysteries, except the title of his geniture. He is brave, savage and imperious; he is also chivalrous, but he is without the spiritual chivalry which we find in the great Quest. He was then living with his mother, who, as we can infer subsequently, sought to dissuade him from the journey; but obeying the Divine Voice, which had come also to him, he set out for the court of King Arthur; there he abode for a season; there he received the grade of chivalry. At the court he saw Aleine, the niece of Gawain, the niece also of the King, and the text says that she loved Perceval with all love that was possible, because in addition to his bravery he was also beautiful. It came about that she sent him red armour to wear on her behalf at a tournament; in this manner he was accounted her knight, and she shared in the glory of his achievements. But hereafter nothing follows concerning her. Perceval was proclaimed the best knight of the world after overcoming Lancelot and others of the high company at the joust, it being then the Feast of Pentecost. There was high feasting in the hall after the tournament, and Perceval, who was to some extent exalted, desired to occupy the seat left vacant at the Round Table for the predestined third custodian of the Holy Graal. King Arthur endeavoured to dissuade him, remembering the fate of Moses, but the prayers of Gawain and Lancelot prevailed with the monarch. A tremendous confusion ensued notwithstanding, over which rose the voice of an invisible speaker, bearing once more the same witness which the Voice of the Spirit had borne recently to Alain, but revealing further that the healing of the Rich Fisher depended on a visit to his castle which must be paid
by the best knight of the world, who must ask further concerning the secret service of the Graal. By the instructions which would follow, a period should be put to the enchantments of Britain. The voice also spoke of the dolorous death of Moses, who, according to the text otherwise, was to remain in the abyss until the days of Anti-Christ. The Quest was undertaken by Perceval, and there were others, Gawain included, who also ventured forth therein, but it is stated that of how they fared the book, which is the prototype, says nothing. Our text, however, shows on its own part that one of the knights was slain. King Arthur deplored the Quest, as he does in the romance of Galahad.
The course of Perceval's adventures covers many of those incidents with which we are acquainted already in the Welsh Peredur and the Conte del Graal. There is, for example, the visit to that strange castle wherein he plays chess with an invisible opponent, and is mated. From this follows some part of the episodes which concern the quest of the Stag's Head in company with a hound belonging to a maiden of the Castle. For our purpose it is more pertinent to mention that Perceval visited his sister, from whom he learned the story of their father, his own early history, and the prophecy concerning the Graal. He heard further that his mother was dead at grief for his departure, and though, under the direction received, he cannot be said to have deserted her, it is accounted to him somehow as a sin after the confused manner of materials drawn from many sources. He visited also his uncle, the hermit, who is the brother of Alain, and is seemingly one of the twelve brethren who were children of Brons. It is obvious therefore that the note of time is again wanting entirely, as for any purpose of the story this perpetuation of ordinary life through the centuries has no meaning. Perceval confessed to his uncle and heard from him that at the table instituted by Joseph--he also assisting--the Voice of the Spirit commended
them to journey far into the countries of the West, and ordained in particular that the Rich Fisher should go forth into those parts where the sun set. In fine, the hermit told him how the son of Alain le Gros would perform such feats of chivalry that he should be called the best knight of the, world. It is obvious that this information does not correspond very closely with any extant text of Graal history. The uncle continued to speak of that peculiar and holy service to which the youth had been called, and counselled him to be pure in his life; but he did not, as in other quests, advise him to beware of idle speaking or of the curiosity which leads to questioning. After these things Perceval continued the Quest, and among other adventures he met with a knight who, owing to this encounter, had missed by seven days the crown of the world's knighthood, but who ultimately vanished from sight. He saw further the wonder of two children disporting themselves in a tree; they spoke to him of the Terrestrial Paradise and of the Holy Spirit; they also directed him on his Quest, so that he fared better according to this story than he did in the corresponding episode of the Conte del Graal. Perceval reached in fine the Castle of his grandfather, the Rich Fisher, where he was received after the mode of chivalry, and the Warden of the Graal was borne into his presence in the arms of sergeants. They sat down to table and the procession of the Hallows entered in the accustomed manner. Perceval was said, however, to remember one counsel of caution which he had received from his uncle in the matter of questioning, from which it is certain that the text follows some I prototype which it does not reproduce faithfully. He was also outwearied by vigils on two previous nights, and his host, when he noticed this, directed the table to be removed and a bed to be prepared for the knight, who retired thinking deeply of the Lance and the Graal, promising himself that he would inquire of the pages tomorrow. The voice of the invisible speaker which had directed him and the others with such utter plainness at
the court of King Arthur had lapsed apparently from his mind, and from that fatal inattention he passed into the forgetfulness of sleep. On the morrow he went down into the courtyard, to find his horse and arms awaiting him, but there was no one else to be seen. He was cursed by a maiden in a forest adjoining the Castle, and was told that, so only that he had asked the question, the prophecy of our Saviour to Joseph would have been accomplished; but of this prophecy we find no particulars in the antecedent texts. The Fisher King would have been restored to health, and there would have ceased those enchantments of Britain the nature and cause of which still fail to appear. Perceval sought in vain to rediscover the Castle, for over the whole land he could find its trace no longer. As in previous texts, he returned to the maiden of the chess-board, with the dog to her belonging and a stag's head. She desired him to remain in her company, but he left, with a promise to return, saying that otherwise he would be false to the vow which he had made. I infer that in this manner he preserved his desired purity, but he fell into other evils during a pilgrimage of seven years which followed thereafter. Through distress at being unable to find the Fisher King, he lost all memory of God until he met with the pilgrim company on Good Friday, who asked, as in previous texts, why he rode armed for purposes of destruction on such a sacred day. His better nature then returned to him, and before long he was knocking once more at the door of his uncle the hermit, to whom he confessed all. It was his intention to revisit his sister, but he was told that she was dead these two years past. After certain further episodes he met with Merlin, who reproached him for neglecting the Quest, much as he was reproached by a certain hutsman in one of the additamenta to the poem of Gautier. Perceval heard also that the health of the Rich Fisher was still such that he remained at the point of death, though he could not pass away. But his prayers were going up for his grandson, and by
the will of God he was to be the guardian of the Precious Blood. The authority throughout is the record of Blaise, to whom Merlin returned after this conversation and recounted that which had passed, as he does so continually in the course of his own romance.
Perceval at last reached the Castle of the Rich Fisher for the second time; again he beheld the Graal, and on this occasion asked concerning its service, at which the King was cured, and in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, all was changed about him. The relationship between them was declared, and Perceval being instructed in the history of the Hallows was led into the presence of the Holy Vessel, where the Voice of High Counsel told Brons to communicate the Secret Words. In the fulfilment of this command the ancient Warden might have been still speaking when the soul passed from his body, and Perceval saw how the angels bore it to the kingdom of Heaven, unto the Father whom he had served so long. Perceval remained in the Castle, practising wisdom, and there was an end to the enchantments of Britain. It was as if an interdict had been imposed and a legate had removed the interdict.
While things were so ordered in the secret sanctuary, there were events in the outer world which led up to the passing of Arthur, who was carried into Avalon to be healed of his grievous wounds by his sister Morgan le Fay. Merlin was still in evidence, passing to and fro between the king's court and the sanctuary of the Holy Vessel, where then, as subsequently, Perceval seems to have divided his office of Warden with the scribe of the records thereof. After the death of Arthur, Merlin appeared for the last time, recounting the woes which had befallen, whereat the place of the Hallows became a house of mourning and a chapel for the office of the dead. The prophet took leave of the Wardens, because it was God's will no longer that he should go to and fro in the world, and he would therefore betake himself, as if for a last refuge, to a hermitage in the forest which
encompassed the castle. It follows that the term of Merlin is revolutionised in this romance; he does not pass in enchantment, inhibition and the folly of morganatic ties, but seeking the peace of God, and choosing the life of contemplation. Thereafter he was seen no longer, and there was no further story concerning the Holy Graal.
The Didot Perceval and the Parsifal of Wolfram are the only texts which leave the last Warden alive and dwelling in the sanctuary. It should be noted further that the Quest in this instance does not involve the destruction of Logres or a fatality to the Round Table, though this fatality occurs. The point is important, because it is another note of the correspondences between the Didot Perceval and the Early Merlin. The secret conspiracy, planned, as one might say, in the sanctuary, against the great chivalry was undreamed of by Robert de Borron and is peculiar to the Greater Chronicles. The unanimity of the Lesser Chronicles resides, among other things, in the fact that they are all texts of the Secret Sanctuary, and they emanate by the hypothesis therefrom. They suggest no public office; there is no travelling of the Graal. Britain suffers during the Quest period from an enchantment, but it is not described, and it is to be doubted whether Britain knew of it. It is the most occult of all processes and the most withdrawn of all localised mysteries. Brons and Alain have done nothing in the land; they are aliens of sanctity, with the burden of the years of the Juif errant upon them; and they abide in seclusion.
The Didot Perceval is scarcely at peace with itself over some of its elements, nor is it at peace with those texts antecedent from which it follows that the third keeper will (a) meet with Petrus, who carries the Sacred Brief, and with him compare their knowledge in common of the Graal Mystery; (b) find Moses, and this under circumstances which suggest some palliation at least of that which he has suffered through the ages. I do not
think that these points make void its place in the trilogy, because there are several respects in which all the Graal books, like other romances of chivalry, are conventions of the cohorts of sleep, and there is sometimes a distracting spirit moving through the great dream.