Page:Marie de France Lays Mason.djvu/15

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xi
Introduction

dear. And they love her writing so much, and take such pleasure in it, that they have it read, and often copied. These Lays are wont to please ladies, who listen to them with delight, for they are after their own hearts." It is no wonder that the lords and ladies of her century were so enthralled by Marie's romances, for her success was thoroughly well deserved. Even after seven hundred years her colours remain surprisingly vivid, and if the tapestry is now a little worn and faded in places, we still follow with interest the movements of the figures wrought so graciously upon the arras. Of course her stories are not original; but was any plot original at any period of the earth's history? This is not only an old, but an iterative world. The source of Marie's inspiration is perfectly clear, for she states it emphatically in quite a number of her Lays. This adventure chanced in Brittany, and in remembrance thereof the Bretons made a Lay, which I heard sung by the minstrel to the music of his rote. Marie's part consisted in reshaping this ancient material in her own rhythmic and coloured words. Scholars tell us that the essence of her stories is of Celtic rather than of Breton origin. It may be so; though to the lay mind this is not a matter of great importance one way or the other; but it seems better to accept a person's definite statement until it is proved to be false. The Breton or Celtic imagination had peculiar qualities of dreaminess, and magic and mystery. Marie's mind was not cast in a precisely similar mould. Occasionally she is successful enough; but generally she gives the effect of building with a substance the significance of which she does not completely realise. She may be likened to a child playing with symbols which, in the hand of the enchanter, would be of tremendous import. Her treatment of Isoude, for example, in "The Lay of the Honeysuckle," is quite perfect in tone, and, indeed, is a little masterpiece in its own fashion. But her sketch of Guenevere in "The Lay of Sir Launfal" is of a character that one does not recall with pleasure. To see how Arthur's Queen might be treated, we have but to turn to the pages of a contem-