Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/484

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

and devotion. I do not wish to exclude the possibility of some lay trouvére introducing later on into the versified poem some other trait of a local origin, and embellishing his tale with elements drawn from different sources, but the proof for this must first be adduced and the premisses from which I started must not be lost sight of nor slightingly pushed aside. Not only must we take cognizance of the atmosphere in which poets and romancers moved, but also recognise that the same forces which act in modern times operated also in those days. A man can only be the product of his time, he cannot soar far above the limitations of education and surroundings. If in order to understand a poet we must go to the poet's land, so also must we go to his library, to his spiritual armoury, to know whence he has taken his spiritual weapons. The genius of the poet does not shine so much in what he says as in how he says it, how he transfigures the elements with which he deals. He is the true alchemist who changes the base metals of spurious and wondrous tales into the gold of immortal poems. Out of simple apocalyptic visions of Heaven and Hell grew the immortal poem of Dante, and from very inferior Italian novels some of the most beautiful dramas of immortal Shakespeare. Lesser geniuses have transformed older Oriental tales into romances of chivalry, religious tales into phantastic compositions which delighted the masses of the mediæval public, prone to listen to everything supernatural and wondrous, not over-critical nor fastidious about the fare placed before them, and satisfied to get a glimpse of another world of men greater and braver and nobler than themselves, and of learning, indistinguishable at the time from witchcraft, by means of which the future could be read as easily as the past, and the dark powers that surrounded them could be subdued and made to serve the best and highest interests of kings and nations.