Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/477

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419
The Legend of Merlin.

How did this old legend then come over to England? No doubt in one of those collections of religious legends and tales which formed the library of the cloister, and reveal clearly the atmosphere in which the writers of those times moved. Their scholarship could not be very extensive, and we must therefore try and find the sources of such legends in such books as could be within the reach of the writers of the age. I need not again emphasise the fact that in the so-called Gesta Romanorum (which, according to Oesterley, the greatest authority on the subject, were first collected in England), we find other stories of the Solomon cycle.[1]

I will now give, in as faithful a translation as I can command, a legend which I have found in an old Rumanian manuscript, embedded among miracles of the Virgin Mary and of St. Nicholas. It will prove, I hope, the existence of the missing link between the Oriental tale and the Western Christian counterpart and indicate the way and the possibility how such legends could have become known to the monks in the West. The tale in itself I consider a gem from a purely poetical point of view, and were it not that I bring it forward in this connection I intended publishing it separately as one of the most beautiful tales I have found among the Exempla and Gesta of old.

The tale (in my MS. 71) is called: "How it came to pass that the Archangel Gavriil served an abbot for thirty years," and is as follows:

"Once upon a time it came to pass that the Lord sent the Archangel Gabriel to take away the soul of a widow woman, and, going there, he found her near death and two

  1. Such as the contest of Solomon with the demon Asmodeus and his obtaining the miraculous stone-cutting worm Tamir or Shamir (so already in Petrus Comestor's Hisioria Scholastica and in other writers, such as Vincent of Beauvais, etc.); the humbling of Solomon through this very demon, Solomon being changed into King Jovinian. To this cycle belongs also the "Angel and the Hermit," inculcating similar moral teaching.