Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/485

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The Legend of Merlin.


I cannot agree with Dr. Gaster's theory that the prose romances preceded, and were the sources of, the poetical. The main body of expert opinion inclines to the other view; i.e. that lais and metrical romances preceded, and were elaborated into, the longer prose works. Of the authors of these prose works we know nothing; it is doubtful whether Walter Map, to whom the majority of them has been described, ever wrote anything of the kind. M. Gaston Paris has shown that Helie de Boron and Lucas de Gast, the reputed authors of the Tristan, are merely assumed names. Such biographical details as Dr. Gaster sighs for are in the present state of our knowledge quite unattainable.

Nor is there any reason to believe, save in the case of the Grand Saint Graal and Queste, that the author of any one of these romances was a monk. Nor were the monks unfamiliar with secular traditions. They were not born and bred in the cloister, but in many cases came thither after a long experience of court and camp. Why should they have forgotten what they knew in the world?

With regard to the Merlin story, Layamon, who certainly had access to insular and local traditions, gives a very different account of his birth. His father was no "demon," but a glorious golden-clad knight, who appeared to his mother in a dream. The story discussed by Dr. Gaster only touches a very small part of the Merlin-legend. It affects nothing in his later life and offers no parallel to the shape-shifting which was so marked a feature of his career; nor for his "wood-abiding" madness and his prophecies. It is quite as likely that a sage of his fame should have been fitted with a birth-story drawn from a world-wide tradition, as that the whole Merlin story should have sprung from such a tradition. All that Dr. Gaster can claim is to have shown that his birth-story is based upon a tradition not specifically insular, but world-wide, and of great antiquity.

[See further, p. 462.]