There is a certain sense in which we can say that the knight of old was consecrated like the priest of old, and we can picture the whole ceremony as if it were included in some unwritten part of the Pontificale Romanum. The institution of chivalry existed for a particular impression of ecclesiastical idealism on one domain of the life in the world. It was as if it were the outcome of some undeclared design to dedicate even warfare to the high ends of the Church, as if the implied covenant of battle were that a man should be so prepared through all his days that no sudden and violent death should find him unfitted for his transit. The causes of strife are many, and some of them are doubtful enough, but so clothed in the armour of salvation the natural-born hero experienced a kind of rebirth and came forth, so far as he himself was concerned, a soldier of the cross. One section at least in the romantic literature of chivalry was devoted to this ideal, and better than any formal catechism of doctrine and conduct did it uphold the authority of the Church and illustrate the principles of its practice. That section was the quest of the Holy Graal in its proper understanding, and on the authority of this fact I can say that this branch became a search after high sanctity expressed in the form of romance; as such it does not differ from the quest-in-chief of holiness. It has been rendered after more than one manner out of the consecrated implicits imbedded in consciousness, as if this were the rare and secret book from which the texts, almost indifferently, claim to have derived their knowledge, and it happens--for our greater misdirection--that some
of the modes of transcript are like Frater Pereclinus de Faustis in the old mystery of salvation--that is to say, they are far from the goal.
These statements--which are introduced like an interlude in a section apart and as if extrajudical--will sound strangely in the ears of those who have preceded me, and it must be understood that, of course, I am speaking of things as they are found at their highest in the great texts; but the evidence is there; it is there also in terms that it is impossible to elude and impossible also to discount. In respect of the Conte del Graal, we must surrender to Nature the things which are Nature's; but the Longer Prose Perceval says that of God moveth its High History, and I say likewise--but in a more exalted degree still--concerning the Quest of Galahad. Were it otherwise, the literature of the Graal would be like the records of any other princes of this world, and my predilections would have nothing therein. My true intent from the beginning of my life in letters has been for the delight of the soul in God, and I have not consented with my heart to the making of books for another and lesser end.
It was only by slow stages that the course of the literature rose up to that height at which it found rather than created the ideal of Galahad. We may take as our most obvious illustration of the developing process one crucial point which characterises the Perceval quests, and this is the loves of the hero. The earlier branches of the Conte del Graal show little conscience on the subject of restraint, the deportment of the hero being simply a question of opportunity. I know that we are dealing with a period when the natural passions were condoned rather easily, though the Church had intervened to consecrate the rite of marriage after an especial manner. Hence it was little stigma for a hero of chivalry to be born out of lawful wedlock, or to beget sons of desire who would shine in his light and their own subsequently. The ideal of virginity remained, all this notwithstanding,
so that the makers of romance knew well enough where the instituted counsels of perfection lay. It is comparatively late in the cycles that ascetic purity became an indefectible title to success in the Quest of the Holy Graal, about which time Gawain and Lancelot were relegated to their proper places--ridicule and confusion, in the one case, and final, though not irreverent, disqualification in the other.
The Didot Perceval offers a frigid quality of abstinence, apart from either sympathy or enlightenment, and without one touch of grace to make it kindred with the ardours and solitudes of the Divine Life. The poem of Gerbert preserves the hero's virginity even on his marriage night, but the precaution--considering the texts which he had elected to follow--has the aspect of a leap in the dark. Wolfram insures the chastity of Perceval by introducing the marriage of his questing knight at an early stage. The Longer Prose Perceval is like heaven, knowing neither marriage nor giving in marriage, or at least nuptials are so utterly made in heaven that they are not reflected on earth. Blanchefleur has disappeared entirely, and it is never supposed that the Quest would be achieved in perfection by one who was not a virgin. If we turn now to the story of Galahad, we shall find that the Quest of the Holy Graal has become an unearthly experiment. There is illumination, there is sanctity, there is ecstasy, and the greatest of these is ecstasy, because it is the term of the others. All the high researches end in a rapture, and thereby is that change of location which does not mean passage through space. I believe that the author of the Great Quest knew what he was doing when--leaving nothing outside--he so transmuted all, and assuredly in the order of romance he spoke as no man had spoken before him.
Now, seeing that all subjects bring us back to the one subject; that in spite, for example, of any scandalous histories, every official congregation returns us to the. one official Church; so, at whatever point we may begin,
[paragraph continues] I affirm that every quest takes us ultimately to that of Galahad. It would seem, therefore, that this is the crown of all. If Galahad had come in the good time instead of in the evil, the Graal would have been set up for adoration before the whole face of Logres. But the Quest says that the world was not worthy, though the Parsifal seems to say: "Behold, I am with you always."
Of Perceval and his great experiment there are several phases; but this is the lesser Quest. Of Galahad there is one phase only, led up to by many romances, but represented in fine by a single transcendent text. This text is the quintessence and transmutation of everything, allocating all seekers--Perceval, Bors, Lancelot, Gawain--to their proper spheres, over whom shines Galahad as an exalted horn in the great pentagram of chivalry. Of the Perceval Quest there are two great versions; one of them, as I have already noted, is an alternative conclusion to the cycle of the Greater Chronicles; and one--which is the German Parsifal--all antecedents notwithstanding, is something set apart by itself in a peculiar house of mystery. It is the story of the natural man taken gradually to the heights. There is also a third quest, that of the Didot Perceval, which, amidst many insufficiencies, is important for several reasons after its own manner--that is to say, because of its genealogy. The fourth is the Conte del Graal, and this--apart from Gerbert--is of no importance symbolically, though it is a great and powerful talisman of archaic poetry. The truth is that for all the high things there are many substitutes, after the manner of colourable pretences, and many transcripts, as out of the language of the angels into that of man, after the same way that the great external churches have expressed the mysteries of doctrine in words of one syllable for children who are learning to read. But the absolute and direct message of the things most high, coming in the name of these, is alone commonly. In fine, it sometimes happens that as from any corner of the veil the prepared eyes can look through and perceive something
of the immeasurable region which lies beyond the common faculties of sense, so there are mysteries of books which are in no way sufficient in themselves, but they contain the elements and portents concerning all those great things of which it is given the heart to conceive. Among these are the Graal books in the forms which present the legend at its highest.