Amidst much that is dubious and belonging to the seeming of enchantment, one thing is certain--that the Perceval Quests leave behind them the Graal Castle and that nothing is taken absolutely away, for even the Conte del Graal presents the removal of the Hallows as a point of speculation rather than a thing of certitude. So much is true also of the only Perceval romance in the Northern French cycle which leans towards greatness. I have given it a name which is descriptive rather than its exact title, for, like the Conte, it is Perceval le Gallois, the Perlesvaux for modern scholarship, while for him who in recent years recreated rather than rendered it, the proper designation is The High History of the Holy Graal. By its own hypothesis, it is based upon and was drawn into romance out of a Latin book, said to have been written by Josephus, which scribe is meant possibly to be Joseph II. of the Book of the Holy Graal--that first priest who sacrificed the Body of our Lord. So, therefore, as the Lesser Chronicles derive from a Secret Book allocated to the first Joseph, does this reflection of the legends which are called greater draw from the records of his son. But the one is not rendered into the other, for the other derives from the one many points of reference which it does not set forth actually.
The Longer Prose Perceval is an echo of many texts, including the Conte del Graal, and of things unknown
which suggest Guiot de Provence, or the group which is covered by his name. It would seem also that the author, though there was much that he remembered, had either forgotten not a few episodes of the antecedent legends, or alternatively he scouted some things and was bent on inventing more. We have seen that, according to Gautier, the failure of Perceval to ask the vital question involved the destruction of kingdoms, but the Longer Prose Perceval is the one story in the whole cycle which, firstly, accounts for the king's languishment, by this failure, as the sole actuating cause, and, secondly, represents King Fisherman as dying in the middle way of the narrative, unconsoled and unhealed, before the word of power is spoken. Further, it is the only story which describes the Secret Sanctuary as the Castle of Souls, or which specifies an evil brother of King Fisherman under the title of the King of Castle Mortal, though this character has analogies with the Klingsor of Wolfram.
There is little need to speak of the story itself, which is available to every one in the best of all possible versions, but it should be understood that its entire action is subsequent to the first visit paid by Perceval to the Graal Castle and the consequent suppression of the Word. In the course of the story such suppressions are several. For example, when the dismembered pageant of the Graal is going about in the land, a certain Damosel of the Car wanders from place to place, carrying her arm slung at her neck in a golden stole, and lying on a rich pillow. Sir Gawain, who meets and converses with her, fails to inquire the reason, and is told that no greater care will be his at the court of the Rich King Fisherman. That reason is, however, explained to him subsequently, namely, that she was the bearer of the Sacred Vessel on the occasion of Perceval's visit, and nothing else will she carry till she returns to the Holy House. It will be seen that the romance has strange vicarious penances besides its strange quests. It does not appear why the Damosel of the Car
is constrained to wander on account of Perceval's silence. But we are moving throughout the narrative in a high region of similitude, and although it is concerned so chiefly with the perpetuation of a mystery which is so divine, it creates no secret from the beginning as to the nature and origin of that mystery, nor does it fail to make plain the fact of the mystical significance which underlies many of its episodes and adventures. Sometimes its dealings in allegory are drawn from materials belonging to another side of the Graal legend, as in one reference to King Pelles, who for the great love of his Saviour had renounced his kingdom and entered into a hermitage. It is said that his son Joseus slew his own mother at a certain castle, which from that time forward continued burning, burning, and it is testified that from this hold and from one other there will be enkindled the strong flame which in fine shall consume the world.
Again, there are many intimations concerning the Earthly Paradise, which lay behind the Castle of the Graal, showing that this House was really a place of initiation--the gate of something that was beyond it. According to Josephus, the soul of any person who passed through the Castle went to Paradise, from which those who are qualified may infer what grades of initiation were conferred within its penetralia. The true spiritual place was therefore not at Sarras--which in this story has gone utterly out of being--but at the Graal Castle, though before the Earthly Paradise becomes the Home of Souls it must be assumed into the higher Garden of Eden. There is another facet of this jewel of meaning which says elsewhere that the Red Cross symbolises the redeeming blood, meaning that it is the tincture of the Divine Virtue by which the tree of the universal disaster becomes the Tree of Life. There are further allusions designed--as one would imagine--to exhibit the proximity of this world to the next, and it happens sometimes that one side of the world beyond thus realised is not of a desirable kind. Perceval visits a certain Castle of Copper, which is a
stronghold of evil faith and an abode of perverse spirits. Beside it there rages a water called the River of Hell, which plunges and ploughs into the sea with a fell hissing, so that it is a place of danger to those who sail by the stars.
The story has many questers, and he who attains to the Keepership is not he who can be said to enter the Mysteries at a saving time. As King Arthur is accused at the beginning of falling into a supine state, ceasing from deeds of chivalry and scattering the flock of his knighthood, so a certain poetical justice is done to him by the assignment of an important place of vision in the finding of the Graal. As regards the questers generally, prior to the death of King Fisherman, the latter received a visit from Gawain, who, in accordance with the prophecy uttered by the Damosel of the Car, failed in his turn to ask the vital question, though scarcely--as the romance confesses--through his own fault, for at the sight of the Graal and the Lance he fell into an ecstasy, and, for the first and only time recorded of him in all the literature, the thought of God overflowed his whole consciousness. Lancelot also visited the Castle prior to the King's death, but there was no manifestation of the Sacred Vessel on this occasion, because of that which had been and was between him and Arthur's royal consort, the reason apparently being less on account of the past than of his long impenitence in the heart. By the evidence of several texts Gawain also had led an evil life, but at least for the purposes of the Quest he had here put it from him in confession. It is just to add that the exalted legend of Galahad is not so severe upon Lancelot, permitting him to see all save the inmost heart of the mystery. For such a measure of success as inhered in his presence and vision at the Graal Castle, Gawain was indebted to the prowess by which, as a preliminary condition, he was enabled to wrest from an unlawful custodian the Sword of St. John the Baptist. Speaking generally, he was the favoured recipient of many episodical mysteries in this romance, to
each one of which a suitable interpretation is allocated; in one case his adventures proved to be an excursion into the mystical domain of the Fall of Adam and that of the scheme of Redemption; in another he beheld three maidens grouped about a fountain who dissolved ultimately into a single maiden, as though they were another symbol of the Holy Trinity and the superincession of the three Divine Persons. If, this notwithstanding, he was allotted no better success than Perceval on his first visit, he learned much, and more indeed than he was qualified to understand fully.
The High Quest is dolorous enough in its consequences even to worthy heroes and others illustrious who undertake it without indubitable election. The realm of Arthur was left sufficiently discounselled when he set forth on that great errand; he suffered even the death of his Queen, in defiance of the whole tradition of the cycle. He is a pathetic and haunting figure moving through the pageant of that one romance which has enrolled him among the Knights of Quest, and though he saw the Graal in its processional travels when it was uplifted like a monstrance over the world of Logres, he did not reach the Castle till after the second entry of Perceval, as another king in warfare, had been ratified by the return of the Hallows. Then he was welcomed by Perceval and was led into the presence of the Graal, or at least into the chapel where it abode and was accustomed to appear at the serving of the Mass. It is at this point that the mystery of the subject deepens and that he is said to have beheld the five changes, corresponding to the five wounds which Christ received upon the Cross. But the vision had a more withdrawn meaning, which is held in utter reserve, because it is the secret of the sacrament. It was through his experiences in the Hidden House that Arthur, on his return to Cardoil, was enabled to furnish, as we are told, the true pattern for Eucharistic chalices, previously unknown in his kingdom, and, in like manner, of bells for church offices.
It is possible scarcely to say that the numerous allusions to the Sacred Vessel tend to the increase of our knowledge on the descriptive side of the object, but on that which may be called historical there is ample evidence that the story draws from some form of The Book of the Holy Graal, while its specific additions and extensions do not distract its harmony in respect of this source. It is clear from several statements that there is to be no rest in the land until the Graal has been achieved, but the tremor of adventure and enchantment which stirs Logres in its dream is not characterised clearly by either of those diagnoses which are found in the Greater or Lesser Chronicles. Prior to the first arrival of Perceval, and during his keepership subsequently, those maidens and holy hermits who, in one or another way, have been concerned with the Graal service have a devotional refuge therein which carries with it a species of youth renewal. Yet the vessel itself still lies under a certain cloud of mystery, and during the period of research there is no man, however well he may be acquainted himself therewith, who can instruct another in the quest or in the attainment of the Castle of Desire. The will of God alone can lead the seeker.
Though encompassed by sacramental protections, the Graal and its companion Hallows were not without danger from the assaults of workers of evil. We learn early in the story that King Fisherman is challenged by the King of Castle Mortal in respect of the Graal and Lance. The fact of this claim and the partial success which follows it constitutes a departure from the tradition of the whole French cycle, in so far as it is now extant; but we shall meet with its correspondences in the German cycle, and shall find that, as they do not derive from one another, they are branches with a common root which lies beneath the surface of the literature. The King of Castle Mortal is described as he who sold God for money; but although there is a full account of the evil ruler taking possession of the
[paragraph continues] Graal Castle, we know nothing of his antecedent life, except that he was a brother of him who was sealed with sanctity and the rightful custodian therefore of the sacred objects. It follows from this that he was reared, so to speak, in the sanctuary and must have either betrayed the sanctuary or have been cast out therefrom. The usurpation takes place after the death of King Fisherman, which seems to have created the opportunity; but when the enemy of the Laws of Light entered into the place of God, the Chapel of the Holy Graal was emptied of its Hallows, which were taken into deeper retreat. The sanctuary was not destined, however, to remain under the powers of the darkness, and as in the other romances Perceval returns in fine to ask the postponed question; as by so doing he restores health to the King and joy to the Hidden House; so here he visits the usurper with arms of the body, arms of the soul in purity, invincible arms of grace, and by his conquest of the Castle he reads himself into the Kingdom, while the self-destruction of the false King follows on that victory. The Hallows are then restored, though the witness does not say whether by hands of men, hands of angels, or borne by the wind of the Spirit. The sepulchre of King Fisherman was before the altar, and it was covered with the jewelled tabernacle, which seems to have been moved by a miracle.
Perceval abode in the Castle, except in so far as his toilsome life called him temporarily away, and there also were his mother--who did not die at the beginning of his adventures, as in several of the other texts--and his virgin sister, till they were called at length from earth. The call came also to Perceval, but not in the guise of death. He was instructed, as we have seen in another branch of our inquest, to divide the Hallows between certain hermits who possessed the "building word" for churches of all things holy and houses dedicated to sanctity. From this it follows that the Graal in this story may not in reality depart, but is removed and
remains--as it would seem--in some undeclared sanctuary of Britain. Perceval was not instructed, and made no disposition in respect of his kingdom or the Castle, for there began the ringing of certain joyful bells, as if for a bridal. Into the harbour there entered a ship with white sails emblazoned with the Red Cross, and therein was a fair, priestly company, robed for the celebration of Mass. The anchor was cast, and the company went to pray in the Chapel of the Holy Graal, bearing with them glorious vessels of gold and silver, as if on the removal of those things which were without price in the order of the spirit there were left, as a sign of goodwill, the external offerings of precious metals of this world. Perceval took leave of his household and entered the ship, followed by those whose high presence made his departure a pageant. It is said, thereupon, that the Graal would appear no more in the Chapel or Castle, but that Perceval would know well the place where it would be.
There can be no question that in spite of several discrepancies this version of the Quest is the most significant of all its renderings into the fair language of romance, that being excepted only which is the exalted Quest of all. I record in conclusion as follows: (1) That there is no genealogy given of the Graal Keeper; (2) that among the discrepancies, or as something that is out of reason, there must be included the allocation of the King's illness to the paralysed inquisition of Perceval; (3) that so far as enchantments of Britain are mentioned in this text, the Longer Prose Perceval draws a certain reflection from the Lesser Chronicles; (4) that the final abrogation of the question through the King's death in misease, and the winning of the Graal by the chance of war, are things which place this branch of the Graal literature apart from all other branches; (5) accepting the judgment of scholarship that the Mabinogi of Peredur and the English Syr Percyvelle are the last reflections of some primeval non-Christian
quest, before all marriage with the Graal, it is desirable to note that the Longer Prose Perceval shares with them one characteristic in common, that in none of them is the question asked; and late though it be otherwise, as those texts are late, this also seems to embody a primitive element. I should mention further that the shield borne by Perceval is said to have been the shield of that Joseph who "took down the Saviour of the world from hanging on the rood," and that Joseph set in the boss thereof a relic of the Precious Blood and a piece of our Lord's garment. It seems obvious that this is a reflection from the Book of the Holy Graal concerning the shield of Evalach, but this was reserved for Galahad. And in fine, as regards the question, with all that followed in respect of the King's languishment, it should be noted--as a suggestion of deeper mystery behind one unaccountable mystery--that, on the evidence of King Fisher himself, he would have been whole of his limbs and his body, had he known that the visitor at the Graal Castle was Perceval, and his own nephew.