Page:Journal of American Folklore vol. 12.djvu/201

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The Legend of the Holy Grail. 189



An account has been given of the evolution of the legend in French romance. Before proceeding with an account of the forms taken by the legend outside the limits of the French language, it may be advisable to offer remarks on the manner of development of mediaeval romances, and on the characteristics which ordinarily belong to the later versions of a tale as compared with earlier forms of the same story. In a literary cycle such as the Arthurian, it is first of all to be noted, that as the compositions are generally works of conscious art, so the manner adopted by the reconstructor in dealing with his material depends on his own choice, and is subject to the greatest variation. As an imitator, he may follow the data of his original with slavish precision, or, as a recaster, may use the greatest freedom in his rendering, to an extent which renders his production essentially a new work : he may expand the narration to inordinate length, or may abstract its situations, or omit certain of its episodes ; he may confine himself to the dramatis personce sup- plied by him, or may ornament his work with a wholly new set of proper names ; he may, in short, use all the freedom which a modern dramatist may employ with regard to the treatment of a non-copyrighted theme. Furthermore, if he himself is not a cultured person, and if he is obliged to receive his suggestions at second- hand, he may exhibit all the variations and misunderstandings which naturally result from the intervention of a third mind ; or he may seize on certain floating ideas and general notions, and so construct an independent novelette, which may thus be intermediate between the character of an original flight of imagination and an adaptation of a celebrated production. Mediaeval authors enjoyed the greater freedom in this respect, because books were rare ; and, unless the romancer belonged to the highest literary circles, his use of his material was not likely to be questioned, and he stood in little danger of indictment for plagiarism. The forms likely to be taken by variations are therefore infinite, and the imagination of the writer is not easily to be limited by definite rules. Nevertheless, speaking generally, some observations may be offered on the criteria characterizing later versions of a story.

(1.) The natural course likely to be taken by a narrative was gradual expansion. Beginning, perhaps, as a brief poem capable of being concluded within the time of a single recitation, it would receive rapid increment in two ways. On the one hand, the addi- tions would be external ; prefaces would represent the enfances of

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