Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/469

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
The Legend of Merlin.

write in the hope of appealing to their sentiments and winning their approval? How great was his naiveté and their credulity? As for the last there is no limit to either, but as for his learning we must take it as restricted within a very narrow compass. Primarily his mind must have been saturated with Christian religious literature largely composed of legendary matter; the innumerable lives of saints and holy anchorites, the vast apocryphal literature, were the great storehouse of his information and inspiration. The Golden Legend was not only the first book printed by Caxton, but also one of the earliest with which every cloister was familiar. It must also not be forgotten that the Apocrypha found their earliest home in England long before any other country in Europe. The oldest poems of Caedmon and the oldest Mysteries written here go back primarily to these apocryphal tales and legends. The very centre of the Graal legend rests ultimately on these uncanonical writings, modified, no doubt, to some extent by other motives and interpretations of a mystical nature, which again have their root in mediaeval Christian mystical speculation upon transubstantiation and the spiritualisation of the Mass and Sacrament.

Can we then find anything in that religious literature which, if stripped of its modern accoutrement and changed into its more primitive form, could be considered as one of the sources for the legends clustering round the name of Merlin? which may briefly be related as follows:

Vortigern, king of Britain, determined to erect an impregnable castle, in which he might defy all attempts of his enemies. Having made this decision he pitched upon a spot on Salisbury Plain, traced out the plan of the fortifications, sent for artificers, carpenters, and stonemasons, and collected all the materials requisite to building; but the whole of these disappeared in one night, so that nothing remained of what had been pro-