Prynne retorted promptly, entitling his reply, "Lame Giles his Haltings." Soon afterwards, being cited to appear and defend himself for having used intemperate language in a book against plays and players, he was sentenced to have his ears shorn off. As many copies of his book as were forthcoming were burned by his side as he sat in the pillory. He was degraded and prevented from pleading as a lawyer. He only wrote the more. The titles of his book are ingenious, and would ensure their sale at any time. As for their contents, odious as was the language he used, Prynne always hit the nail he intended, and was very good at a blow. In Rome's Masterpiece, he declared that the archbishop was a "middle-man, between an absolute Papist and a real Protestant, who will far sooner hug a Popish priest in his bosom than take a Puritan by the little finger."
Prynne's fellow pamphleteers, Bastwick and Burton, were not far behind him in the violence of their invectives, but the lawyer must be admitted to bear the palm for sharp sayings.
In John Bastwick's Litany, instead of "from plague, pestilence, and famine," we have "from bishops, priests, and deacons, good Lord, deliver us."
In 1637, Laud summoned the three men before the Star Chamber, to answer to a charge of libel. Bastwick's crime was for writing against the "Pope of Canterbury." They were all three found guilty, fined 5000 pounds each, condemned to lose their ears, and to be imprisoned for life, an astoundingly heavy sentence. But in addition Prynne was to be branded on both cheeks with the letters S L for slanderous libeller. Chief Justice Finch ordered the scars left by his former punishment to be laid bare. "I had thought," said he, "that Mr. Prynne had no ears but methinks he hath ears." Three years before, the executioner had only clipped off the outer rims; but now Prynne was to suffer the full rigour of the sentence. A contemporary thus describes the process:—
"Having burnt one cheek with a letter the wrong way, the hangman burnt that again, and presently a surgeon clapped on a plaster to take out the fire. The hangman hewed off Prynne's ears very scurvily, which put him to much pain, and after, he stood long in the pillory before his head could be got out, but that was a chance." *
* Documents relating to Prynne, Camden Papers.
He seems to have borne this martyrdom with great coolness, for on his way back to prison, he composed a Latin distich on the letters S L, which he interpreted "Stigmata Laudis"—the scars of Laud.
Although the sentence had been imprisonment for life, Prynne and Burton entered London in triumph three years later; and if revenge is sweet, Prynne was yet to swim in a sea of sweetness. When by a strange irony of fate he was hired to search the imprisoned archbishop for papers, he carried off Laud's diary.
If Panzani could have seen this strange record of the archbishop's dreams, desires, and impressions, he would doubtless have ceased to look upon Laud as an important factor in his scheme of the corporate re-union of the nation with Rome.
Under date 14th August 1634, Prynne read and gloated over those remarkable entries:
"That very morning at Greenwich there came one to me seriously, and that avowed ability to perform it, and offered me to be a cardinal," and two days later—
"I had a serious offer made me to be a cardinal. I was then from court, but so soon as I came hither (21st August) I acquainted His Majesty with it. But my answer again was that somewhat dwelt within me, which would not suffer that, till Rome were other than it is."
No doubt, in declining the cardinalate, if indeed the offer were not a figment of his own brain, Laud would have been diplomatic enough not to allow his reasons to transpire, and probably the Pope never knew them. The importance of the statement lies for posterity entirely in the anti-Roman tendency which he expressed in his diary. For the archbishop himself, to have committed the matter to writing, whether it were true or imaginary, proved fatal, the entries serving his enemies as the text of one of the chief indictments against him, when he was brought to trial. Nothing he could plead made any impression on the minds of his accusers. His refusal of the purple ought to have vindicated him; but they maintained that for the offer to have been made to him at all, he must have been friends with the Pope. Moreover, had he not objected to the term "Idol of Rome"? and had he not expressed doubt if not denial of the Pope's being anti-Christ? These things were more than enough for fanatics whose piety consisted chiefly in denunciations and impolite epithets. It was as clear as daylight to their minds that the archbishop had "a damnable plot to reconcile the Church of England with the Church of Rome."
Presumably, Mr. Prynne's ears were for something in the overwhelming potency of the argument. But another and scarcely less important article of the indictment related to some pictures of the Life and Passion of our Lord, which Laud had once had bound up in Bibles. He had been so greatly pleased with the result that he ordered them to be called the Archbishop of Canterbury's Bibles. The Puritans thought they saw in this strong proof of his "popish and idolatrous affection," their ignorance of human nature actually leading them to imagine that on seeing an image or picture of a divine person men would be forthwith moved to prostrate themselves in adoration of the material of which it was composed, no other explanation of the word "idolatrous" being possible in this connection.
But we must now return to the year 1636, when popular passion ran so high that the opinion of an onlooker is our only means of arriving at a fairly accurate appreciation of events. Panzani, who although wrong in his inferences was correct as to facts, describes the archbishop and his works with great moderation. In his letters to Cardinal Barberini, he tells him that Laud is "short in stature, aged about sixty, is unmarried, and is first in the privy council. His views are moderate, and he is not unfriendly to the Catholic religion. He has the King's interests thoroughly at heart; he studies to increase the revenue, and perhaps for this reason is preferred by the King to all his other advisers. He is ready for any amount of work, and all ecclesiastical affairs receive his personal attention. He is reputed an Arminian, and in nearly all dogmas approaches nearly to the Roman Church. With the King's permission he has made innovations in the Scotch as well as in the English churches, has erected altars, and put sacred pictures in many places. He has the honour and glory of the clergy extremely at heart. Many think his aim is to reconcile this Church with Rome, others hold quite opposite views, and both extremes have some show and reason, for on the one hand, one sees in him great ambition to imitate Catholic rites, and on the other, what looks almost like a positive hatred of Catholics and their religion. Sometimes he persecutes them, but this is interpreted by many to mean only prudence, and a way of escape from the murmurs and quarrels of the Puritans."
The Queen and Panzani were on excellent terms. Cardinal Barberini had sent Henrietta Maria some very costly presents, and she was anxious to show him a similar attention. Father Philip considered that English horses would form a most suitable gift, but the Queen asked him to consult Panzani. "If her Majesty wants to send a really acceptable present to Rome, let her send the heart of the King," said the envoy, smiling. Father Philip replied that this treasure she wished to keep entirely for her own.
"I make no doubt," answered Panzani, "that in sending the King's heart to Rome, the Queen would only possess it the more entirely, and without danger of rivalry from conflicting religious sects."
Father Philip then told her that if it pleased the Father of Mercy, she should send this truly precious gift, and that his Eminence cared for no horses.
Soon after this, Panzani returned home, and was made Bishop of Miletus. Meanwhile George Conn, a Scotchman, had been chosen to replace him, the papal court considering that he possessed the rare qualities described by Panzani as necessary for the delicate position of papal envoy to the Catholic queen of a non-Catholic country.
Panzani being an Italian, and possessing no language but his own, could only communicate with the Queen and the secretaries of State through an interpreter. As he was a priest, he was liable to cause irritation to such of the court and nation who were not "popishly inclined."
Conn had passed twenty-four years in Italy, had courtierlike manners and bearing. He was a layman, although a canon of one of the great Roman basilicas, and as we have already seen, was a candidate for a red hat. With his brilliant parts, great capacity, urbanity, and zeal, it is not surprising to learn that he was declared to be a Jesuit, a generic term not only in his own days, but down to our own, for all who have laboured diligently to restore the old religion.
We find it quite gravely asserted in the records of the reign of Charles I., that Jesuits were of three degrees, and were to be found among politicians, merchants, and the professed Fathers living in religious houses. It would be obviously superfluous to refute this ridiculous statement which seems destined to crop up at intervals to the end of time, quite regardless of the fact that it has been repeatedly shown to affirm an impossibility.
Conn had no sooner arrived in England than the report was spread that he was a disguised Jesuit, come to receive the King into the Catholic Church. Charles, in terror of the Puritans, declared that it was a purely malicious invention, but none the less he continued to temporise, and the court to regulate its conscience according to his vacillating example. Some of the nobility were received into the Church, and among them Lord Boteler and Lady Newport. Mass was again said in the houses of the Catholic gentry.
In a letter to the Cardinal, written soon after his arrival, Conn gave an account of along conversation he had had with Charles, in the course of which he "remarked to his Majesty that the other powers of Christendom were extremely jealous of the relations which had begun to exist between the Apostolic See and Great Britain. They know," he continued, "that a perfect union between the two must necessarily tend to check their extravagances, and restore to Christ His lost patrimony in the west."
To this the King replied with some emotion, saying:
"May God pardon the first authors of the rupture."
"Sire," I answered, "the greater will be your Majesty's glory, when by your means so great an evil is remedied." To which the King made no further response. Not long afterwards, Charles asked Conn whether he considered it an easy thing for a man to change his religion.
"I told him," said Conn, "that when a man applied himself without passion or prejudice to find out the truth, God never failed to enlighten him." To which the King took in good part.
"I am obliged to proceed very cautiously," he added, "that they may not think the rumour of my coming here to receive the King into the Church had its origin in my presumption. It was a truly diabolical invention, and calculated to spoil everything."
If the Puritans were angry before, Conn's sojourn in England lashed them into fury. Rome's Masterpiece was written when his service had come to an end, and in the first flush of Puritan triumph. On its title-page it styles the mission "The Grand Conspiracy of the Pope and his Jesuited instruments to extirpate the Protestant religion, re-establish Popery, subvert laws, liberties, peace, parliaments—by kindling a civil war in Scotland and all his Majesty's realms; and to poison the King himself, in case he comply not with them in these their execrable designs."
This is how the "conspiracy" is said to have been discovered:—
"Revealed out of conscience to Andreas ab Habernfeld by an agent sent from Rome into England by Cardinal Barberini, as an assistant to Conn, the Pope's late Nuncio, to prosecute this most execrable plot (in which he persisted a principal actor several years), who discovered it to Sir William Boswell, his Majesty's agent at the Hague, 6th September 1640. He, under an oath of secrecy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, among whose papers it was casually found by Mr. Prynne, May 31, 1643, who communicated it to the king, as the greatest business that ever was put to him."
Events had succeeded each other with alarming significance. Nothing was too wild for the Puritans to invent or to believe, and it had been found impossible to uphold Conn in the position of papal envoy to the Queen. After nearly three years' service, he had consequently been withdrawn, and in August 1639, Count Carlo Rosetti was sent to lead the forlorn hope of the English Catholics. His first impression of the state of the country and of the future of Catholicism in England was hopeful. "I have found," he wrote to Cardinal Barberini, "in all persons a better disposition and a readiness towards the affairs of religion in general, and an obedience full of reverence towards the particular person of his Holiness our Sovereign, and of your Eminence." Windebank was fairly amenable, but Laud had pinned his faith to the Church of England, and was no more favourable to the Catholics than to the Puritans. He opposed Rosetti in every possible way, burned Catholic books publicly, and threw all his weight and influence in Parliament on the side that favoured the enforcing of the penal statutes. Meanwhile, the Queen was not idle, and had pleaded successfully with the King for her persecuted coreligionists, so that Rosetti was able to report, "Through the grace of God, all the priests and Catholics are at last released from prison, to their extreme consolation."
Nevertheless, there was scarcely any further talk of the nation's return to the bosom of the Church; all that was now hoped for was, that if the King could be got to act with some degree of firmness and consistency, the cause of the unhappy Catholics might not yet be altogether lost. Rosetti drew, as far as it went, a life-like portrait of Charles in one of his letters:
"The King," he says, "is very high-minded; but having no sincere, experienced, and capable persons to assist him, he is often either agitated or changeable, and undecided in the administration of affairs. He has great parts, and much benevolence, is by nature gentle and moderate, and with regard to morals, is singular among princes. It is not possible to exaggerate his love of justice; in the exercise of this virtue he is little accessible to compassion, but at the same time, he is no friend of capital punishment. Honesty is one of the strongest points in his character, but not being surrounded with trustworthy ministers, it often happens that he neglects the interests of the State, and gives himself up to hunting, which is his favourite occupation and amusement."
But the Puritans were fast gaining the upper hand; Parliament haggled with the King over the supplies, and frightful scenes were enacted in the churches.
"Last Sunday morning," wrote Rosetti, "many Protestants and Puritans being assembled at church to celebrate their sacrament, it came to a great contest between them; some were determined to communicate sitting, others kneeling. From words they passed to blows, causing much disturbance."
The other day, a large number of Puritans went into a Protestant Church, and upset the altars which stood against the wall with rails in front of them, where people were going to Communion in the Catholic manner. They took possession of twelve statues representing the twelve apostles, and carried them with cries and tumult into the Parliament."
On another occasion he wrote:—
"The Archbishop of Canterbury persecutes the Catholics more than ever. On the vigil of Pentecost, I am told by a trustworthy person, he threw himself at the King's feet, beseeching him to proceed against the Catholic religion, at least from political interests, if not from conscientious motives."
Laud was terrified. All that he had done to imitate Catholicism he now undid, as far as he was able, in order, if possible, to pacify the Puritans. The order to bow at the holy Name was revoked, the communion-tables were replaced in the middle of the churches, and from being called altars were renamed tables. The altar rails were abolished, and the people communicated after the Calvinist manner. A quantity of Catholic books were ostentatiously burned in a public square, and the state of affairs looked less like reunion with Rome than ever.
But all that Laud did availed him nothing; the disturbances continued in the churches, and scarcely a service was held without a quarrel arising as to the manner of conducting it, some fighting for one posture, some for another.
Neither did the Archbishop become more popular with the multitude. A courageous stand against the Puritans might have inspired them with some respect for their enemy; yielding to them from fear only made them more formidable. Sometimes the High Church party would still score a victory here and there. A Puritan holding forth one day in Westminster Abbey, with the usual flow of epithets, on the difference between the Catholic religion and that of the Puritans, the Bishop of Lincoln rose, and declared that his language was unbecoming in a pulpit, put an end to the sermon, and forced the preacher to come down.
But these triumphs were rare; few of the king's men were as bold as the Bishop of Lincoln. All seemed to be painfully busy in saving their skins, while the Parliamentarians complained loudly and efficaciously that Charles had allowed the primate to foist a new religion upon them. Through the primate they proceeded to attack the King. Placards began to appear all over London, with declarations to the effect that the people were determined to enjoy the liberty with which they were born, and to maintain the integrity of their religious worship. One of these placards was discovered one morning nailed to the gate of the royal palace at Whitehall. On it were these words: "Charles and Maria, doubt not but that the archbishop must die!"
Charles's authority had disappeared with his dignity, and the parsimony of successive Parliaments had impoverished the royal family to so great an extent that the want of money was not the least of their troubles. At one time they were reduced to such straits that hunger would have stared them in the face but for the alternative of pawning their jewels. In these circumstances it is scarcely surprising that Charles should have turned to the Pope for help.
The following letter from Rosetti to the Cardinal, if somewhat discursive, is interesting as the record of a kind of sommation respectueuse which he now made to the King:—
"Oatlands, August 10/25, 1640.
"Your Eminence's letters of the 30th June and the 7th July having reached me, I did not omit to speak to Mr. Windebank on the subject of his Majesty's conversion, and of the succour in the shape of men and money that will be sent to him from Rome in the event of its taking place. After some talk about the present state of the King's affairs, Mr. Windebank asked me whether I had received letters from Rome relating to the proposal he had already made me. I replied that I had, and that your Eminence was extremely well-disposed towards this country, sympathising deeply with his Majesty in his troubles, caused by the disobedience and faithlessness of the Puritans. This led to my saying that a State could not possibly be either happy or secure unless united, and that unity was impossible without one uniform religion. I then put forward the indisputable fact, that a prince whose subjects profess one faith alone is beyond compare more powerful than a sovereign whose people are split up into various religions, and that the many sects in this realm, opposed to every form of political government, ought to make his Majesty pause, and reflect on the remedy.
"I added that in reality there was no other remedy than for the King, with all his Protestants, to embrace our holy religion, when forming one body with the Catholic party, they would be strong enough to keep the Puritans in check.
"On the other hand, it was, I said, only too evident, that if measures were not taken to repress them, they would grow so powerful as to imperil one day the very existence of monarchy in England. Every hour it became, I held, more apparent how little they were in touch with the King, and how determined they were never to rest till they had introduced popular government in some form or other.
"Here I digressed, in order to point out how often King James, his Majesty's father, had found himself in danger of losing his life by the machinations of the Puritans, having been menaced by them even before he saw the light of day. I then went on to point out that King Charles was placed in the very same danger, and his kingdom reduced to such a state of discord and weakness, that he must fear daily to find himself and his crown the prey of his worst enemies.
"The Puritans have always been, and ever will be, intent on upsetting all kingly authority. Such is the rebellious spirit of their Calvinism, that it aims at nothing less than the total destruction of the King and of the Catholic religion.
"I then spoke of the greatness which would accrue to England if the King's conversion were brought about, dwelling not only on the advantageous relationships he might form, in disposing of the Prince and Princess in marriage, but also on the disputes perpetually taking place between France and Spain, in which his Majesty would be the recognised arbitrator and peacemaker. Neither country would have the temerity to offend him, on account of the power he would possess to harm them, having the supreme Pontiff on his side."
Rosetti here proceeds to define, somewhat lengthily, the exact position of a Catholic King of England in European politics, and the kind of prestige he would acquire if he embraced a religion to which he was already partially inclined. Then, speaking of the King more personally, he went on:—
"If, having considered all these things, his Majesty comes to a decided resolution, he should not delay putting it into effect from fear of the consequences. Henry VIII. risked more in his unholy determination to destroy the Catholic religion, which had flourished in this country with such pious results for so many centuries. I insisted that it was time his Majesty made an end of his ambiguousness and hesitation, and that he should once for all fix his mind, there being nothing more injurious than leisurely deliberation when a man has need of prompt decision and action. I told Mr. Windebank further, that the King's procrastination was simply putting the sceptre into the hands of the Puritans, was ruining the State, his children, and himself, and that a really wise prince not only provides for the safety of his kingdom during his own life-time, but orders things in such a manner that at his death he secures his inheritance to his posterity.
"His Majesty, I declared, could take no step more just and more pleasing to God than by restoring to this country its ancient religion, professed by his ancestors, and I believed that this King, so good, so just, and so virtuous in many ways, was appointed by divine Providence for the great work.
"The King was, I said, already armed; help might confidently be expected to flow in from Ireland, through the devotion and loyalty of that people, and his Holiness would moreover assist him with men and money.
"Finally, I showed the necessity of this union, for the salvation of souls, a point which I ought to have begun with, it being certain that none can be saved out of the bosom of the Catholic Church. Of this the Nicaean Council speaks in the great creed, in unam sanctam Catholicam Ecclesiam et Apostolicam, in which Protestants believe as we do, and yet it is not said that there are two or more churches.
"Confessing as they do that ours is the Catholic Church, they contradict their own belief in the said creed; and not only this, but the ancient Fathers, and the Holy Scriptures agree that the Church of God is one.
"Having added many other things to this proposition, I said that if one examined the reasons which induced Henry VIII. to give up the Church, one would find that they had no other origin than in sensuality and spleen—false and unworthy pretexts.
"I ended by declaring that whoever considers a matter so important as is the salvation of souls, ought to have his eyes well open, and not consent to the errors of that king, whose actions are condemned and abhorred by all.
"Mr. Windebank replied that he had listened to me with pleasure, and had weighed all my reasons, finding them very true; but that for the accomplishment of an undertaking so momentous, a large heart and a strong will were indispensable, and these he could not at present promise me. He told me in confidence that never until now had negotiations of such importance passed through his hands, to be followed by so few results. One day the King would have recourse to an expedient, and the next would stultify it, with the greatest inconstancy imaginable. Nevertheless, he assured me that he would not fail to repeat all I had said, to his Majesty at the first opportunity.
". . . The matter is indeed so grave, that one rather hopes in the sovereign power of God than in any human help. Still, we must be ready, for His Divine Majesty often makes use of us creatures to bring forth works which shall redound to His service.
"I observed both with Father Philip and Mr. Windebank all the caution that such an important undertaking demands. May God who gives and who takes away realms, who changes and governs them as He pleases, enlighten the King's mind, that he may know what he should do for the salvation of his own soul and the souls of all his people."
In 1641 many letters were written and received by Count Rosetti, relating to the freedom of conscience to be granted to Catholics, in return for a sum of 600 scudi. But freedom of conscience was still one of the unfulfilled conditions of the king's marriage settlement, and the Pope, it was objected, could not treat with an heretical sovereign.
"Only in the event of the King's conversion," wrote Cardinal Barberini, 21st February 1641, "would it be possible for me to entreat His Holiness to send a considerable sum of money."
On the 19th July of the same year, Rosetti wrote:—
"I told him (Father Philip) that the only way to obtain help from the Holy See was by His Majesty's return to the Catholic Church. He answered that such a step would be extremely difficult at present, not because the King had any dislike to Catholicism, neither did he wish to prevent Catholics from saving their souls; but that it was evident if he changed his religion just now, he would run great risk of losing his crown and his life. But if he were enabled to recover his power and authority, the Catholic cause would be strengthened by supporting him, and his conversion might then be confidently looked forward to.
"The Queen Mother told me that in speaking of certain miracles performed by the saint in whose honour the processions are being made just now at Antwerp, she observed the King listening attentively, seeming to have a decided taste for the Catholic religion. She however admitted, that although he appears to have great natural capacity, and to understand the critical state of his affairs, he is, as they say, timid, slow, and irresolute."
Charles I. never went any further than the cultivation of "a decided taste for the Catholic religion," and what would have happened had he really thrown himself into the arms of the Pope must remain one of those curious and unsolvable historical problems with which the world is full.
Would the Papacy, still a great force in Europe, have been able to save him from the terrible fate that awaited him?
Obliged to act from definite, logical principles in the place of his mischievous theory of the royal prerogative, would he have gained in moral weight as well as in the material advantages held out to him?
It may be answered that the Puritans were as little inclined to tolerate an infallible Pope whom they hated and feared, as an infallible king whom they could drive into a corner; and possibly the King would only have died in another cause.
Under a portrait of Charles I., painted in the fortieth year of his age, in which he is represented as grave, troubled, and with a scared and hunted look in his eyes, Prynne wrote these lines:—
"All flesh is grass, the best men vanity, This, but a shadow, here before thine eye, Of him whose wondrous changes clearly show That God, not man, sways all things here below."
I. THE RUNIC CROSSES OF NORTHUMBRIA
There is at the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington a remarkable plaster cast, the facsimile of one of the two beautiful obelisks of Anglo-Saxon workmanship, which like far-reaching voices speak to us across the gulf of at least nine centuries.
The interest which surrounds these ancient crosses is of a twofold nature. There is the marvellous art expressed in the sculptured stones themselves, and there is the mysterious charm of the runes with which the stones are inscribed. The art is of a very high order, and in the opinion of archaeologists such as Haigh, Kemble, Professor Stephens, and others, better than anything of the kind produced in mediaeval times, before the beginning of the thirteenth century.
The kingdom of Northumbria extended at its most flourishing period as far north as Edinburgh, so named after the great Northumbrian King, Edwin, its southern limit being, as its name implied, the river Humber. Thus, the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire, and the Bewcastle Cross in Cumberland, belonged alike to Anglia; for although Dumfries formed part of the kingdom of Strathclyde, the territory to the east of Nithsdale was generally reckoned a part of Northumbria, and if we were less hampered by our modern geographical limits and boundaries, we should better realise that the land north and south of the Tweed was one and the same country, without distinction of race or language. And as if in solemn protest of the political barriers, which were set up in the course of ages, these two obelisks, the one now in Scotland, the other in England, continue to point heavenwards, each bearing upon their faces the same grand old Northumbrian language, which is the mother-tongue of all English speaking people.
Both crosses have been, down to the present day, the subject of much diversity of opinion among antiquaries, first with regard to their respective ages, and secondly as to the authorship of the inscriptions on the Ruthwell Cross. The celebrated Danish antiquary, Dr. Muller, considered that the Ruthwell Cross could not be older than the year 1000, and he arrived at this conclusion by a study of the ornamentation, which he placed as late as the Carlovingian period, the style having been imported from France into England. Muller, however, though a good archaeologist, was not a runic scholar, and Professor George Stephens maintained* that not ornamentation merely, but a variety of other things must also be taken into consideration, and that these are often absolute and final, so that sometimes the object itself must date the ornamentation. Then Dr. Haigh, who had passed his life in the study of the oldest sculptured and inscribed stones of Great Britain and Ireland, stepped in and pronounced "this monument (the Ruthwell Cross) and that of Bewcastle to be of the same age and the work of the same hand; and the latter must have been erected A.D. 664-5."*
* Old Northern Runic Monuments, Afterwrit, p. 431,
He was led to this conclusion not by the ornamentation, but rather in spite of it; and in consideration of the runic inscriptions, which he declared had not only passed out of date on funeral monuments as late as the year 1000, but as he read the name of Alcfrid on the Bewcastle Cross, he inferred both that and the Ruthwell Cross to be productions of the latter half of the seventh century. The inscription, of which we will treat more particularly later on, is to the effect that the obelisk was raised to the memory of Alcfrid, son of that King of Northumbria, who decided to celebrate Easter according to the Roman precept. Alcfrid died about the year 664, and thus when we consider the similarity of the ornamentation, and the character of the runes on both obelisks, there seemed good reason for the above inference.
Dr. Haigh further remarked that the scroll-work on the east side of the Bewcastle monument, and on the two sides of that at Ruthwell was identical in design, and differed very much from that which he found on other Saxon crosses. In fact, he knew of nothing like it, except small portions on a fragment of a cross in the York museum, on another fragment preserved in Yarrow Church, and on a cross at Hexham. There are, however, several other such stones which were unknown to Dr. Haigh, and engravings of them may be seen in Dr. John Stuart's magnificent work on The Sculptured Stones of Scotland.
At Carew, in Pembrokeshire, runic crosses of the Saxon period without figures may be seen, and there is a runic cross at Lancaster with incised lines and a pattern in relief, supposed to be of the fifth or sixth century. The sculptured stones of Meigle in Scotland have no runes. Runes were, as it is well known, the characters used by the Teutonic tribes of northwest Europe before they received the Latin alphabet. They are divided into three principal classes, the Anglo-Saxon, the Germanic, and the Scandinavian, bearing the same relation to each other as do the different Greek alphabets. Their likeness to each other is so great that a common origin may be ascribed to all. They date from the dim twilight of paganism, but were for a time employed in the service of Christianity, when after being imported into this country where they were first used in pagan inscriptions cut into the surface of rocks, or on sticks for casting lots, or for divination, they were at last made to express Christian ideas on grave crosses or sacred vessels.
"In times," says Kemble,* "when there was neither pen, ink, nor parchment the bark of trees and smooth surfaces of wood or soft stone were the usual depositaries of these symbols or runes—hence the name run-stafas, mysterious staves answering to the Buchstaben of the Germans.
* Archaeologia, vol. xxviii. On Anglo-Saxon Runes.
We may observe in passing, that the word Buchstaben, beech-staves, is a direct descendant of these wooden runes.
As early as 1695 antiquaries were busy with the Ruthwell Cross, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century profound ignorance still reigned in regard even to the language which the runes were intended to convey. Bishop Gibson, in his additions to Camden's Britannia, described the cross vaguely as "a pillar curiously engraven with some inscription upon it." In a second edition this reads, "with a Danish inscription." Later it was thought to be Icelandic, and it was Haigh who first thought that Caedmon and no other was the author of the runic verses which he deciphered, considering that there was no one living at the period to which he assigned the monument, who could have composed such a poem but the first of all the English nation to express in verse the beginning of created things.
In 1840, Kemble published his Runes of the Anglo-Saxons, showing that the Ruthwell Cross was a Christian monument, and that the inscription was nothing less than twenty lines of a poem in Old Northumbrian or North English.
Meanwhile, in 1822, a German scholar, Dr. Friedrich Blume, had discovered in the cathedral library at Vercelli in the Milanese six Anglo-Saxon poems of the early part of the eleventh century, which discovery aroused great interest both in Germany and in England. Blume copied the manuscript, and Mr. Benjamin Thorpe printed and published it. The learned philologist Grimm again printed the longest of the poems in 1840, but it was Kemble who identified the fourth poem of the series The Dream of the Rood with the runic inscription on the Ruthwell Cross, and it was he who first suggested that all the poems in the Vercelli Codex, consisting of 135 leaves, were by Cynewulf, who like Caedmon was a Northumbrian, and lived in the second half of the eighth century. It was Kemble also who first gave The Dream of the Rood a modern English rendering.*
* A translation of the fragment in Old Northumbrian had indeed been attempted at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Mr. Repp and also by a disciple of the great Fin Magnusen, Mr. J. M. M'Caul, but the least said about these versions the better, both being wide of the mark. Being imperfectly acquainted with Old English they made the most absurd statements regarding the purpose the monument was supposed to have served.
So far steady progress had been made, except one step which is now stated by modern Anglo-Saxon scholars to have been a false one. Professor Stephens following Haigh thought he could decipher on the top stone of the cross the words Cadmon Mae Fawed, and inferred therefrom that the Cross Lay of which fragments were inscribed on the Ruthwell monument was the work of Caedmon, "the Milton of North England in the seventh century." But according to the evidence of the latest expert who has examined the cross, Caedmon's name has never been on it, and both linguistic and archaeological considerations assign the inscription to the tenth century, and probably to the latter half of it. This critic declares that there is "no shadow of proof or probability that the inscription represents a poem written by Caedmon."
Sweet, on the other hand* describes The Dream of the Rood, in the Vercelli Book, as an introduction to the Elene or Finding of the Cross which is unmistakably claimed as Cynewulf's own by an acrostic introduced into the runic letters which form his name, and goes on to assert that the Ruthwell Cross gives a fragment of the poem in the Old Northern dialect of the seventh or eighth century, "of which the MS. text is evidently a late West Saxon transcription differing in many respects from the older one." He considers that The Dream belongs to the age of Caedmon, and that the poetry of Cynewulf was an adaptation of older compositions.
* Anglo-Saxon Reader, p. 154, 7th edition.
There can be now no possible doubt but that the poems in the Vercelli Codex are by Cynewulf, the controversy henceforth being as to whether The Dream of the Rood or the inscription on the cross is the older. Cynewulf, being a Northumbrian, presumably wrote in the old Northumbrian language such as is inscribed on the cross, but all his poems as they have come down to us have passed into the West Saxon tongue, and if the fragment on the Ruthwell Cross is, as modern archxologists aver, later than the Dream in the Vercelli Codex it must be a re-translation into the dialect in which it was first written. A further difficulty lies in the fact stated by Haigh that runes had passed out of date on funeral monuments as late as the year 1000, and we can indeed scarcely conceive of their use at the very eve of the Norman Conquest when the written language had long become general.
Nevertheless, as far back as 1890, Mr. A. S. Cook, professor of the English language and literature in Yale University, suggested that the inscription on the Ruthwell Cross must be as late as the tenth century and subsequent to the Lindisfarne Gospels. "A comparison of the inscription with the Dream of the Rood shows that the former is not an extract from an earlier poem written in the long Caedmonian line which is postulated by Vigfusson and Powell, and by Mr. Stopford Brooke, since the earliest dated verse is in short lines only, and since four of the lines in the cross inscription represent short lines in the Dream of the Rood, it shows that the latter is more self-consistent, more artistic, and therefore more likely to be or to represent the original; and it shows that certain of the forms of the latter seem to have been inadvertently retained by the adapter, who selected and re-arranged the lines for engraving on the cross."*
* The Dream of the Rood, by A. S. Cook, p. xv., Oxford, 1905.
The theme both of the Dream and of the Elene, another of the poems in the Vercelli Book, is the Cross, and Cynewulf, says Mr. Cook, is the first old English author, of whom we have any knowledge, to lay emphasis upon the Invention of the Cross, and Constantine's premonitory dream. "If," he continues, "we consider Bede's account of Caedmon, we are struck by one analogy at least: in each case a command is imparted to the poet to celebrate a particular theme—in the first, the creation of the world; in the second, the redemption of mankind by the death of the cross. As the one stands at the beginning of the Old Testament, the other epitomises the New. The later poet may have had the earlier in mind, and may not have been unwilling to enter into generous rivalry with him; but there is this notable difference, Caedmon does not relate his own dream, while Cynewulf, if it be Cynewulf, does."*
* Ibid., p. lvii.
Elsewhere he says The Dream of the Rood, apart from its present conclusion, represents Cynewulf (as we believe) in the fullest vigour of his invention and taste, probably after all his other extant poems had been composed. Admirable in itself and a precious document of our early literary history, it gains still further lustre from being indissolubly associated with that monument which Kemble has called the most beautiful as well as the most interesting relic of Teutonic antiquity."
And again, "So far from the Cross-inscription representing an earlier form of the Dream of the Rood, it seems rather to have been derived from the latter, and to have been corrupted in the process." *
* Ibid., p. xvi.
Thus the controversy remains in 1905. and until some further light is shed upon the difficult question—for it is impossible to regard Mr. Cook's solution as in all points satisfying—we must be content with the results obtained.
Let us now consider the poem itself by the help of Professor Stephens' admirable translation. Essentially a Christian composition, it preserves all the Gothic strength and virile beauty of the old pagan forms. The modern words, Saviour, Passion, Apostles, etc., do not once appear. Christ is the "Youthful Hero," He is the "Peace-God," the "Atheling," the "Frea of mankind." He is even identified with the white god, Balder the Beautiful. His friends are "Hilde-rinks" or "barons." In His crucifixion He is less crucified than shot to death with "streals," i.e., all manner of missiles which the "foemen" hurl at Him. The Rood speaks and laments; it tells the story of the last dread scene of Christ's suffering, His entombment in the "mould-house," the triumph of the Cross in His resurrection, and the entry of the "Lord of Benison" into his "old home-halls."
The doctrine is as sober as an orthodox, theological treatise, though the poem is essentially a work of the most fertile imagination, a drama with all the rich accessories that tradition offered in the matter of colouring and effect. And it is withal exquisitely simple, devout, and noble, breathing a spirituality strangely at variance with the semi-barbaric people with whom the poetry had originated.
Stephens' translation is full of poetry, the translator having retained the lilt of the original, together with many of the old English words which, if they need a glossary, is only because we have gradually lost the meaning in the substitution of weaker terms.
It is interesting to compare the fragments still legible on the Ruthwell Cross with the South Saxon rendering in the Vercelli Codex. Where the lines are worn away or mutilated the MS. may supplement them:—
Northumbrian version——————————South Saxon version according to the on the Cross.——————————————Vercelli Codex. ———————————————————————————————-
Girded Him then———————- For the grapple then girded him youthful hero— God Almighty————————-lo! the man was God Almighty. When He would—————————-Strong of heart and steady-minded Step on the gallows——————-stept he on the lofty gallows; Fore all Mankind———————fearless spite that crowd of faces; Mindfast, fearless———————-free and save man's tribes he would there. Bow me durst I not——————-Bever'd I and shook when that baron claspt me . . . . . . . . . —————- but dar'd I not to bow me earthward . . . . . . . . . —————-Rood was I reared now. Rich King heaving—————————-Rich king heaving The Lord of Light-realms——————The Lord of Light-realms Lean me I durst not———————-Lean me I durst not. Us both they basely mockt and handled——-Us both they basely mockt and handled Was I there with blood bedabbled————-all with blood was I bedabbled Gushing grievous from . . . ————gushing grievous from his dear side, . . . . . . . . . —————-when his ghost he had uprendered. . . . . . . . . . —————-How on that hill . . . . . . . . . —————-have I throwed . . . . . . . . . —————-dole the direst. . . . . . . . . . —————-All day viewed I hanging . . . . . . . . . —————-the God of hosts . . . . . . . . . —————-Gloomy and swarthy . . . . . . . . . —————-clouds had cover'd . . . . . . . . . —————-the corse of the Waldend.* . . . . . . . . . —————-O'er the sheer shine-path . . . . . . . . . —————-shadows fell heavy . . . . . . . . . —————-wan 'neath the nelkin . . . . . . . . . —————-wept all creation . . . . . . . . . —————-wail'd the fall of their king. Christ was on Rood-tree—————Christ was on Rood-tree But fast from afar————————But fast from afar His friends hurried——————-his friends hurried Athel to the Sufferer.——————To aid their Atheling Everything I saw.——————Everything I saw. Sorely was I————————Sorely was I With sorrows harrow'd——————with sorrows harrow'd . . . . . I inclin'd——————-yet humbly I inclin'd . . . . . . . . . —————-to the hands of his servants, . . . . . . . . . —————-striving with might to aid them. . . . . . . . . . —————-Straight the all-ruling God they've taken . . . . . . . . . —————-heaving from that haried torment . . . . . . . . . —————-Those Hilde-rinks** now left me . . . . . . . . . —————-to stand there streaming with blood drops; With streals all wounded———-with streals*** was I all wounded. Down laid they Him limb-weary————-Down laid they him limb-weary, O'er His lifeless Head then stood they—O'er his lifeless head then stood they, Heavily gazing at Heaven's . . .————heavily gazing at heaven's Chieftain.
* Wielder, Lord, Ruler, Monarch,
** Hero, from Hilde the war god. Battle brave, captain
*** Anything strown or cast-a missile of any kind.
Kemble's rendering of the poem, wonderfully correct and conscientious as a translation, is inferior in poetical merit to that of Stephens, who, as we see, instead of choosing modern words, is careful to retain many of the picturesque old rune equivalents. This we perceive at once if we compare Stephens' four lines, beginning "Christ was on Rood tree" with Kemble's:
"Christ was on the Cross but thither hastening men came from afar to the noble one." *
* Poetry of the Vercelli Codex.
The runes are sharply and beautifully cut into the margin of two sides of the Cross, the inside spaces being filled with sculptured ornaments, representing a conventional, clambering vine, with leaves and fruit. Entwined among the leaves are curious birds and animals devouring the grapes. On the southeast and south-west sides are figures taken chiefly from the Bible, with Latin inscriptions instead of runes. In the middle compartment of each of these sides is the figure of our Lord with a cruciform halo. On the south-west side of the Cross He is represented as treading on the heads of two swine, His right arm upraised in blessing, a scroll being in His left hand. Around the margin is a legend in old Latin uncial letters, "Jesus Christ the judge of equity. Beasts and dragons knew in the desert the Saviour of the world."
In the corresponding panel on the south side, St. Mary Magdalen washes the feet of our Lord, who is standing nearly in the same position. The remaining subjects are—a figure which has been sometimes described as that of the Eternal Father, and again as St. John the Baptist, with the Agnus Dei; St. Paul and St. Anthony breaking a loaf in the desert; the Flight into Egypt; two figures unexplained; a man seated on the ground with a bow, taking aim; the Visitation; our Lord healing the man born blind; the Annunciation; and traces almost obliterated, of the Crucifixion, on the bottom panel of the south-west side.
On the top stone is a bird, probably meant for a dove, resting on a branch with the rune which Stephens took to be Cadmon Mae Fawed. On the reverse side of this stone are St. John and his eagle, with a partly destroyed Latin inscription, In principio erat verbum. All the subjects are explained by a legend running round the margin, but which is in parts scarcely legible.
Sir John Sinclair, in his account of the parish of Ruthwell, mentions a tradition, according to which, this column having been set up in remote times at a place called Priestwoodside (now Priestside), near the sea, it was drawn from thence by a team of oxen belonging to a widow. During the transit inland the chain broke, which accident was supposed to denote that heaven willed it to be set up in that place. This was done, and a church was built over the Cross.
But opposed to this story is the fact that the obelisk is composed of the same red and grey sandstone which abounds in that part of Dumfriesshire, and it seems far more likely that the Cross was here hewn and sculptured than that it should have been brought from a distance after having been adorned in so costly a manner and with a definite purpose. It was held in great veneration till the middle of the sixteenth century, and being specially protected by the powerful family of Murray of Cockpool, the patrons and chief proprietors of the parish, it escaped the blind fury of the iconoclasts till 1644. Then, however, it was broken into three pieces as "an object of superstition among the vulgar."
For more than a century the column apparently lay where it fell, on the site of what had once been the altar of the church, and was made to serve as a bench for members of the congregation to sit upon.
In 1722, Pennant saw it still lying inside the church, but soon after this, better accommodation being required for the congregation, it was turned out into the churchyard to make room for modern improvements! Here it suffered greatly from repeated mutilations, the churchyard being then nearly unenclosed.
In 1802, the weather-cock of opinion having again veered round, the then incumbent, Dr. Duncan, desiring to preserve this "object of superstition," now become a precious relic, had the main shaft removed to his newly-enclosed manse garden where it remained till 1887, when an apse being added to the church, the Cross was again enclosed within the building. Meanwhile two other fragments had entirely disappeared. The cross-beam has never been recovered,* but the top-stone suddenly reappeared in the following curious manner:
* Transverse arms were supplied in 1823. A. S. Cook, The Dream of the Rood.
A poor man and his wife having died within a few days of each other, it was decided to bury them both in one grave. For this it was necessary to dig deeper than usual, and in doing so, the grave-digger came upon an obstacle which proved to be a block of red sandstone with sculptured figures upon it. This block was found to be the missing top-stone of the Cross.
One point still needs explanation. When Pennant saw the Cross in the early part of the eighteenth century, before the buried fragment had been excavated, it measured 2o feet in height. At the present day, although the top has been replaced, the height of the column does not exceed 17 feet 6 inches, a circumstance that can only be accounted for by the supposition that the obelisk may have sunk several feet into the ground in the interval.
The spirit that breathes in The Dream of the Rood is strongly imbued with national elements. The doctrine and sentiments are strictly Catholic, but the poem is at the same time an epitome of what St. Cuthbert and the monks of Lindisfarne, the royal Abbess Hilda, Caedmon, and now it appears Cynewulf also had been long doing for Northumbria, in taking what was grand and heroic in the old heathen traditions, and leading up through them to Christianity. But if this influence can be distinctly traced in the runes on the Ruthwell Cross, yet another element is seen in its ornamentation, which carries us back to the Christian tombs in the Roman catacombs where its prototypes are to be found.
On the Bewcastle Cross there is less of the national element and more of the Roman, fewer runes and more of this kind of sculpture. A few feet from the parish church, and within the precincts of a large Roman station, guarded by a double vallum, stands the shaft of what was formerly an Anglo-Saxon funeral cross of most graceful shape and design. This column, 14 feet in height, is quadrangular, and formed of one entire block of grey freestone, inserted in a broader base of blue stone. The side facing westward has suffered most from storm and rain. It bears on its surface two sculptured figures, and the principal runic inscription. The lower figure, that representing our Lord, has been much mutilated by accident or design. He stands as He is seen on the Ruthwell Cross, with His feet on the heads of swine, as trampling down all unclean things. His right hand is uplifted in blessing, in His left hand is a scroll,
Above is St. John the Baptist holding the Agnus Dei, and near the top are the remains of the Latin word Christus.
The runic inscription has been translated thus:
"This slender sign-beacon set was by Hwoetred, Wothgar, Olufwolth, after Alcfrith Once King eke son of Oswin Bid (pray) for the high sin of his soul."
Beneath these runes is the figure of a man in a long robe with a hood over his head, and a bird, probably a falcon, on his left wrist. This figure is supposed to represent Alcfrid himself. Immediately below the falcon is an upright piece of wood with a transverse bar at the top, possibly meant for the bird's perch. On the east side there are no runes, but a vine is sculptured in low relief within a border. Dr. Haigh observed that the design on this side was the same as on the two sides of the Ruthwell Cross.* The north and the south sides are in a state of good preservation, and are covered with a beautiful design in knotwork, and alternate lines of foliage, flowers, and fruit. On the north side there is a long panel fitted with chequers, which have given rise to a good deal of controversy among antiquaries. Camden thought them to be the arms of the De Vaux family, and when this theory was exploded, Mr. Howard of Corby Castle reversed it, and suggested that the chequers on the De Vaux arms were taken from this monument. But the Rev. John Maughan, B.A., rector of Bewcastle, in a note to his tract on this place, cites instances of chequers or diaper-work in Scythian, Egyptian, Gallic, and Roman art, and proves from the Book of Kings that there were "nets of chequered work" in the Temple of Solomon. After remarking that this is a natural form of ornamentation he calls attention to the frequent use made of it in mediaeval illuminations.**
* Archaologia Aeliana, p. 169.
** Archaeological Journal, vol. xi.
Above this panel are the words "Myrcna Kung," and over the next piece of knot-work is seen the name "Wulfhere" (King of the Mercians). Then follows another vine, and above all are three crosses and the holy name "Jesus." On the south side runs a runic inscription thus:
In the first year of the King of ric (realm) this Ecgfrith."
The last line of the inscription is so broken that it can only be guessed at.*
* Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. Bewcastle and its Cross, by W. Nanson, p. 215.
Fine as this obelisk is, we should be at a loss to make out that it was ever a cross, but for a slip of paper which was found in Camden's own copy of his Britannia (ed. 1607 now in the Bodleian Library. On the slip of paper was written this memorandum: "I received this morning a ston from my lord of Arundel, sent him from my lord William. It was the head of a cross at Bucastle: and the letters legable are these on one line, and I have sett to them such as I can gather out of my alphabetts: that like an A I can find in non. But wither this may be only letters or words I somewhat doubt."
Neither Camden nor any one else got much further than this for many years; and the general ignorance of runes is the more to be deplored since it led to a carelessness and want of interest in the preservation of priceless relics, even among antiquaries. The stone which thus came into Camden's possession has utterly disappeared, and the inscription which he tried in vain to decipher, and which might have thrown light on a mysterious subject, is thus lost to us.
In conclusion, we may, for the sake of clearness, recapitulate, first: that although there can no longer be any reasonable doubt that the runes on the Ruthwell obelisk are by the Northumbrian poet, Cynewulf, it has by no means been satisfactorily proved that these runes are of a subsequent date to the West-Saxon version of the poem in the Vercelli Codex, but that probability seems rather to point to an earlier date than the second half of the tenth century; and secondly, that so close a resemblance between the two Crosses does not necessarily imply that they date from absolutely the same period. The royal obelisk at Bewcastle must have been a famous monument in its day, known and celebrated far and wide, and it would not be unlikely that even a hundred years later it might be called upon to serve, to some extent, as a model for that Cross which was to immortalise the Dream of which Northumbrians were naturally proud. If, however, the runes on the Bewcastle Cross fix its date as the latter part of the seventh century, those on the Ruthwell Cross cannot be earlier than the eighth century.
Had the zeal, directed nearly four hundred years ago against our national treasures, been bestowed on their preservation, we should have reason indeed to congratulate ourselves on the beauty of many of our public monuments. Instead of mutilated remains, we should have works of art which, but for the gentle hand of time, would be as perfect as when they left the master's hand.
But there has never been a period when the intelligent study of the past, whether in palaeography, philology, or history, has been so highly cultivated as in the present day. If we have lost the inspiration that creates, we have, at least, learned to venerate and cherish the noble works of our progenitors.
II. A MISSING PAGE FROM THE IDYLLS OF THE KING
Although the Norte d'Arthur was one of the first books printed in the English language, the great semihistorical figure of Arthur, together with his Knights of the Round Table, and all their romantic exploits, had wellnigh died out of the memory of the English people when Tennyson published his Idylls of the King
The Morte d'Arthur was translated, according to Caxton, by Sir Thomas Malory, who took it "out of certain books of French and reduced it into English." But it is no mere translation of the older romances, which Malory rather adopted as the basis of his work, moulding them to suit his more refined taste and fancy, much as Chaucer used Boccaccio's tales, and Shakespeare a century after Malory adopted the plots and outlines of inferior playwrights.
Placed midway between the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, the book, which has been aptly described as a prose-poem, is one of the happiest illustrations possible of the language, manners, modes of thought and expression prevalent in England in the fifteenth century. Chivalry was not yet dead, ideals were still cherished, the feudal system still obtained, Gothic architecture had not yet said its last word, Englishmen were papal to the backbone, and religion was a potent factor in their live, in spite of much that was harsh, crude, and violent. "Herein," said Caxton, "may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, sin. Do after the good, and leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renommee."
The Norte d'Arthur was finished in the ninth year of Edward IV., that is in 1470, and Caxton printed the first edition of the book in black letter, in 1485. Of this edition, now almost priceless, only two copies are known to exist, both of which are in private collections. One of these is in the United States, the other, slightly defective, is in the possession of Lord Spencer, who has also in his library at Althorp the only known copy of the second edition, printed in 1498 by Wynkyn de Worde, who took over Caxton's presses at his death. Of the third edition (1529), also printed by Wynkyn de Worde, a copy is in the British Museum. It is incomplete inasmuch as the title, preface, and part of the table of contents are wanting.
The British Museum possesses two other copies, one printed by William Copland in 1557, the other a folio without date, published by East. All these editions are in black letter.
Whether we agree with Caxton that "it might full well be aretted great folly and blindness to say or think that there was never such a king called Arthur," or whether we are of those "divers men who hold opinion that all such books as be made of him be but fayne matters and fables, because that some chronicles make of him no mention, nor remember him nothing, nor of his knights," we must admit that at least incidentally, the Morte d'Arthur is a picture of British faith and pious practices. Its composition is mediaeval, and represents the tone of thought common in the world as distinct from the cloister, in the Middle Ages; but it is also a true exponent of an earlier period still, when Lucius, the British chief, sent messengers to home to beg Pope Eleutherius to admit him into the Fold of Christ, and to send missionaries to instruct his people in the Faith. Comparing the Idylls of the King with Malory's book, we are irresistibly reminded of certain Catholic books of devotion "expurgated" or "adapted" for members of the Church of England. All that savours too much of popery is left out. There is, no doubt, a strong Protestant prejudice in Tennyson, struggling with his sense of artistic beauty, and repeatedly Protestantism wins the day. We cannot always quarrel with him for his selection, because, although the modern mind is not a whit cleaner than the mediaeval mind, there is an unwritten convention, that at all events a spade shall not now be called a spade, at least in polite society, and Tennyson wrote exclusively for the polite. In the Middle Ages evil was spoken of plainly as in Scripture; there was no blinking of facts, no dressing-up of vice to make it look like virtue, and consequently much "bowdlerising" was necessary before Malory's outspoken language should be sufficiently veiled to suit the susceptibilities, to which we have a perfect and legitimate right in so far as they are genuine, and no cloak for an hypocrisy that delights in the loathsome indecencies and disgusting suggestiveness of the modern problem novel.
But what we do regret is that apart from the coarseness, and even from a mere dramatic point of view, much that Tennyson rejected is finer than anything he took. His Lancelot is a grand conception, as mournfully, but with noble self-abasement, he says:
". . . . in me there dwells No greatness, save it be some far-off touch Of greatness to know well I am not great."
He is the very knight of courtesy, in chivalry above all other knights save Arthur—so strong that "whom he smote he overthrew"; he is brave, noble, scornful, and "falsely true," but he is not the Lancelot of the Morte d'Arthur.
The story of Lancelot is incomplete in the Idylls, and by incompleteness we do not mean only that it is deprived of its denouement, of the climax up to which it has been working from the beginning, but that there is also to be noted the conspicuous absence of a refrain that should be there throughout. It is true that at the end of "Lancelot and Elaine," one single line hints vaguely at the penance that was to atone for his sad and sin-stained life, where he is described as
"Not knowing he should die a holy man."
And in another place the long account of his confession, absolution, contrition, and the exhortation of the priest is slurred over in these words relating to the poisonous weeds that twined and clung round the wholesome flowers of his life:
"Then I spake To one most holy saint, who wept and said That save they could be plucked asunder all My quest were but in vain; to whom I vowed That I would work according as he willed."
If we compare this with what Malory said, we shall see the total inadequacy of Tennyson's treatment of the episode which left out the whole root of the matter:—
How Sir Lancelot was shriven, and what sorrow he made, and of the good examples that were showed him.
Then Sir Lancelot wept with heavy cheer and said, "Now I know well ye say me sooth." "Sir," said the good man, "hide none old sin from me." "Truly," said Sir Lancelot, "that were me full loth to discover. For this fourteen years I never discovered one thing that I have used and to that may I now blame my shame and my misadventure." And then he told there, that good man, all his life, and how he had loved a queen unmeasurably, and out of measure long;—"and all my great deeds of arms that I have done I did the most part for the queen's sake, and for her sake would I do battle, were it right or wrong, and never did I battle all only for God's sake, but for to win worship and to cause me to be the better beloved, and little or nought I thanked God of it." Then Sir Lancelot said, "I pray you counsel me." "I will counsel you," said the hermit, "if ye will ensure me that ye will never come in that queen's fellowship, as much as ye may forbare." And then Sir Lancelot promised him he would not, by the faith of his body. "Look that your heart and your mouth accord," said the good man, "and I shall ensure you ye shall have more worship than ever ye had." . . . Then the good man enjoined Sir Lancelot such penance as he might do, and to sue knighthood, and so he assoiled him, and prayed Sir Lancelot to abide with him all that day. "I will well," said Sir Lancelot, "for I have neither helm, nor horse, nor sword." "As for that," said the good man, "I shall help you to-morn at even of an horse and all that longeth unto you." And then Sir Lancelot repented him greatly.
After this he meets with another hermit who gives him a hair shirt to wear as a penance, and riding on in pursuit of his quest, the Holy Grail, Lancelot next comes to a Cross, "and took that for his host as for that night. And so he put his horse to pasture, and did off his helm and his shield, and made his prayers unto the Cross that he never fall in deadly sin again. And so he laid him down to sleep." Further on, we are told, as a sign of his sincerity and perseverance that "the hair pricked so Sir Lancelot's skin that it grieved him full sore, but he took it meekly and suffered the pain."
Tennyson records no fights with conscience, no turning towards the light, no sorrowful confessions at all. He has given us a great deal, but it is not too much to say that what he rejected, a Catholic poet would have seized with delight as the purplest patches of his epic, and the climax to which the whole story led.
The same remarks do not altogether apply to Tennyson's conception of Arthur's character. Although there is much that is fine and beautiful in him, as he is portrayed in the older legends, although, when pierced with many wounds, he fought on valiantly, because he was "so full of knighthood that knightly he endured the pain," it is Tennyson who has exalted him into "the blameless king," "the highest creature here," and if it had only been for what he has given us in King Arthur, the Idylls would have been worth writing. Still even here he leaves out all those Catholic touches which went to make up the life and soul of British Christianity, the custom of beginning each day with the hearing of Mass, the frequent allusions to the Pope as the Head of Christendom, the mention of prayers for the dead, of penance, and so on.
When Arthur had defied the Roman Emperor, who had sent to claim tribute, and had carried his victorious arms to the gates of the Eternal City, the legend says that senators and cardinals came out and sued for peace. They invited him in, and there he was crowned emperor "with all the solemnity that could be made, and by the Pope's own hands." King Mark of Cornwall, for reasons of his own, wanted to rid himself of Tristram, and set about it in this wily manner:
He let do counterfeit letters from the Pope, and made a strange clerk for to bear them unto King Mark, the which letters specified that King Mark should make him ready upon pain of cursing, with his host for to come to the Pope, to help to go to Jerusalem for to make war upon the Saracens.
Mark, pretending that he could not leave home, proposed that Sir Tristram should go in his place, since the command of the Pope must be obeyed. "But," said Sir Tristram, "sythen the apostle Pope hath sent for him, bid him go thither himself." "Well," said King Mark, "yet shall he be beguiled," and counterfeited other letters, and the letters specified that the Pope desired Sir Tristram to come himself to make war upon the Saracens. But Tristram began to suspect the King of Cornwall of treachery, and at last Mark was obliged to walk into the trap which he had set for his enemy, and to take an oath "that he would go himself unto the Pope of Rome for to war upon the Saracens."
Malory's book abounds in such illustrations and side lights as these, but enough has been said to show how entirely the modern poet has suppressed the part played by the Pope in the lives of Englishmen, at least, up to the time of Edward IV.
One other instance of this pre-reformation doctrine belongs to the story of Lancelot, and will be given in its proper place. We may remark here that whatever the shortcomings of some of Arthur's knights, they one and all evinced a lively faith, profound veneration for holy things, and a truly Catholic desire for reconciliation with God, through the reception of the Sacraments, whenever they fell into sin. Thus, the knights who were convened to assist at Arthur's coronation "made them clean of their lives, that their prayers might be the more acceptable unto God." And when Balan fought with his brother, Balyn, by mistake, and both were mortally wounded, Balan entreated the lady of the Tower to send for a priest: "Yea," said the lady, "it shall be done," and so she sent for a priest to give them their rights. "Now," said Balyn, "when we are buried in one tomb, and the mention made over us how two brethren slew each other, there will never good knight nor good man see our tomb but they will pray for our souls."
Wherever the knights-errant slept, they never set out on their journey on the morrow without first hearing Mass; and if they had been riding all night and came to a chapel in the morning they "avoided their horses and heard Mass." There are many allusions to devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and on one occasion a tournament was proclaimed in honour of her Assumption.
In the poem "Lancelot and Elaine," Tennyson has followed closely on the lines of the original story, both as to general design and detail. The idyll "Geraint and Enid" does not, of course, belong to this history at all, but is taken from the "Mabinogian," a collection of Welsh legends translated into English by Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest.
The "Coming of Arthur," as related in the idyll, is throughout an invention of Tennyson's, or culled from other sources, and differs entirely from the story of Arthur's origin as told by Malory.
But the legend that has suffered the most from poetical license is that of the "Holy Grail."
When the young Galahad, Lancelot's son, had been brought to Arthur's court, had been dubbed knight, and had sat in the mystical "siege perilous," fashioned by the wizard Merlin, he drew the sword from the magic stone that hovered over the water, and which no other knight could take. Then the queen, hearing of these marvels, and of his great exploits and chivalry, desired greatly to see Sir Galahad, and as he was riding by, "the king, at the queen's request, made him to alight and to unlace his helm, that Queen Guinevere might see him in the visage. And when she beheld him she said: Sothely, I dare well say that Sir Lancelot begat him, for never two men resembled more in likeness. Therefore it is no marvel though he be of great prowess. So a lady that stood by the queen said, Madam, for God's sake, ought he of right to be so good a knight? Yea, forsooth, said the queen, for he is of all parties come of the best knights of the world, and of the highest lineage. For Sir Lancelot is comen of the eighth degree from our Lord Jesu Christ, and Sir Galahad is of the ninth degree, therefore I dare well say that they ben the greatest gentlemen of all the world."
After the meeting between Sir Galahad and the queen, the book goes on to say that the king and all the estates went home to Camelot, and that as they sat at Supper, the Holy Grail appeared.
Tennyson relates the vision almost in Malory's own words.
Sir Perceval, having retired from the world, tells the monk, Ambrosius, the history of the quest:
"And all at once, as there we sat, we heard A cracking and a riving of the roofs, And rending, and a blast, and overhead Thunder, and in the thunder was a cry. And in the blast there smote along the hall A beam of light seven times more clear than day And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail, All over covered with a luminous cloud, And none might see who bare it, and it past. But every knight beheld his fellow's face. As in a glory, and all the knights arose, And staring each at other like dumb men Stood, till I found a voice and sware a vow. I sware a vow before them all that I, Because I had not seen the Grail would ride A twelvemonth and a day in quest of it, Until I found and saw it, as the nun My sister saw it; and Galahad sware the vow, And good Sir Bors, our Lancelot's cousin sware, And Lancelot sware, and many among the knights, And Gawayn sware, and louder than the rest."
It was, in fact, Sir Gawayn who spoke first:
"Certainly [said he] "we ought greatly to thank our Lord Jesu Christ, for that he hath shewed us this day of what meats and drinks we thought on, but one thing beguiled us, we might not see the Holy Grail, it was so preciously covered. Wherefore I will make here a vow, that to-morrow, without any longer abiding, I shall labour in the quest of the Sancgreall, that I shall hold me out a twelvemonths and a day, and more if need be, and never shall I return again unto the court, till I have seen it more openly than it hath been seen here." When they of the Round Table heard Sir Gawayn say so, they arose, the most part of them, and avowed the same.
As the knights rode out of Camelot to begin their quest there was weeping of the rich and of the poor at their departure. "The queen made great moan and wailing, and the king might not speak for weeping." After some adventures Sir Perceval comes to a chapel to hear Mass, and there he sees a sick king lying on a couch behind the altar; and he was covered with wounds:
"Then he left his looking and heard his service, and when it came to the sacring, he that lay within the perclose dressed him up and uncovered his head. And then him beseemed a passing old man, and he had a crown of gold on his head, and ever he held up his hands and said on high: Fair, sweet father, Jesu Christ, forget not me. And so he laid him down. But always he was in his prayers and orisons. And when the Mass was done, the priest took our Lord's body and bare it unto the sick king. And when he had received it he did off his crown, and he commanded the crown to be set on the altar."
This king's name was Evelake. He had been converted by Saint Joseph of Arimathwa, who was sent by our Lord "to preach and teach the Christian faith." "Evelake," says the legend, "followed Joseph of Arimathaea into England, to which country he brought the Holy Grail, the cup in which our Lord celebrated the institution of the Blessed Sacrament." This cup or chalice is said to have contained some drops of the Precious Blood.
And ever Evelake was busy to be there as the Sancgreall was. And upon a time he nighed it so nigh that our Lord was displeased with him. But ever he followed it more and more, till that God struck him almost blind. Then this king cried mercy, and said: "Fair Lord, let me never die till that the good knight of my blood of the ninth degree be comen, that I may see him openly, when he shall achieve the Sancgreall, that I may once kiss him."
This "good knight" was, of course, Sir Galahad. Meanwhile, "Sir Lancelot rode overthwart and endlong in a wild forest, and held no path but as wild adventure led him. And at the last he came to a stony Cross which departed two ways in waste land, and by the Cross was a stone that was of marble, but it was so dark that Sir Lancelot might not wit what it was. Then Sir Lancelot looked by him, and saw an old chapel, and there he wend to have found people. And Sir Lancelot tied his horse till a tree, and there he did off his shield and hung it upon a tree. And then he went to the chapel door, and found it waste and broken. And within he found a fair altar full richly arrayed with cloth of clean silk, and there stood a fair clean candlestick which bare six great candles, and the candlestick was of silver. And when Sir Lancelot saw this light he had great will for to enter into the chapel, but he could find no place where he might enter; then was he passing heavy and dismayed. Then he returned and came to his horse, and did off his saddle and bridle, and let him pasture; and unlaced his helm, and ungirded his sword, and laid him down to sleep upon his shield tofore the Cross. And so he fell on sleep, and half waking and half sleeping he saw, come by him, two palfreys all fair and white, the which bare a litter, therein lying a sick knight. And when he was nigh the Cross he there abode still. All this Sir Lancelot saw and beheld, for he slept not verily, and he heard him say: Oh sweet Lord, when shall this sorrow leave me, and when shall the holy vessel come by me, wherethrough I shall be blessed, for I have endured thus long for little trespass. And thus a great while complained the knight, and always Sir Lancelot heard it. With that Sir Lancelot saw the candlestick with the six tapers come before the Cross, but he could see nobody that brought it. And then came a table of silver, and the holy vessel of the Sancgreall, the which Sir Lancelot had seen tofore. And there withal the sick knight set him upright and held up both his hands and said: Fair, sweet Lord, which is here within this holy vessel, take heed to me that I may be whole of this great malady. And therewith, upon his hands and upon his knees, he went so nigh that he touched the holy vessel and kissed it. And anon he was whole, and then he said:—Lord God, I thank thee for I am healed of this malady. So when the holy vessel had been there a great while, it went unto the chapel again with the candlestick and the light, so that Sir Lancelot wist not where it became, for he was overtaken with sin that he had no power to arise against the holy vessel. Wherefore afterwards many men said of him shame. But he took repentance afterwards.
"Then the sick knight dressed him upright and kissed the Cross. Then anon his squire brought his arms, and asked his lord how he did. Certes, said he, I thank God right well through the holy vessel I am healed. But I have great marvel of this sleeping knight which hath neither had grace nor power to awake during the time that this holy vessel hath been here present. I dare it right well say, said the squire, that this knight is defouled with some manner of deadly sin, whereof he was never confessed. By my faith, said the knight, whatsoever he be, he is unhappy, for, as I deem, he is of the noble fellowship of the Round Table, the which is entered into the quest of the Sancgreall. Sir, said the squire, here I have brought you all your arms save your helm and your sword, and therefore, by mine assent now may ye take this knight's helm and his sword, and so he did. And when he was clean armed he took Sir Lancelot's horse, for he was better than his own, and so they departed from the Cross.
"Then anon Sir Lancelot awaked and sat himself upright, and bethought him what he had there seen, and whether it were dreams or not. Right so heard he a voice that said, Sir Lancelot, more harder than is the stone, and more bitter than is the wood, and more naked and barer than is the leaf of the fig-tree, therefore go thou from hence, and withdraw thee from this holy place. And when Sir Lancelot heard this he was passing heavy and wist not what to do, and so departed sore weeping, and cursed the time that he was born. For then he deemed never to have had worship more. For those words went to his heart till that he knew wherefore he was called so.
"Then Sir Lancelot went to the Cross, and found his helm, his sword, and his horse taken away. And then he called himself a very wretch, and most unhappy of all knights. And there he said, My sin and my wickedness have brought me unto great dishonour. For when I sought worldly adventures for worldly desires I ever achieved them, and had the better in every place, and never was I discomfited in no quarrel, were it right or wrong. And now I take upon me the adventure of holy things, and now I see and understand that mine old sin hindreth me and shameth me, so that I had no power to stir nor to speak when the holy blood appeared afore me. So thus he sorrowed till it was day, and heard the fowls of the air sing. Then was he somewhat comforted, and departed from the Cross on foot in a wild forest, and there he found a hermitage, and a hermit therein that was going to Mass. And then Sir Lancelot kneeled down on both his knees, and cried our Lord mercy for his wicked works that he had done. When Mass was done, Sir Lancelot called the hermit to him and prayed him for charity to hear his life. With a good will, said the good man. Sir, said he, be ye of King Arthur's court, and of the fellowship of the Round Table? Yea, forsooth, and my name is Sir Lancelot du Lake that hath been right well said of, and now my good fortune is changed, for I am the most wretched and caitiff of the world.
"Then the hermit beheld him, and had great marvel how he was so sore abashed. Sir, said the good man, ye ought to thank God more than any knight living, for He hath caused you to have more worldly worship than any, and for your presumption to take upon you in deadly sin for to be in His presence where His flesh and His blood was, that caused you ye might not see it with your worldly eyes. For He will not appear where such sinners be, but it be unto their great hurt and shame. And there is no knight living now that ought to give unto God so great thank as ye. For He hath given to you beauty, seemliness, and great strength above all other knights, and, therefore, ye are the more beholden to God than any man, to love Him and to dread Him; for your strength and manhood will little avail you, and God be against you."
Then Lancelot makes his confession to the hermit as we have already related, is assoiled, and repents him greatly. He remained three days with the hermit, and being then newly provided with a horse, helmet, and sword, he took his leave and rode away. After this occurs the episode at the Cross, and his receiving the hair shirt. On the morrow he jousted with many knights, and for the first time was thrown and overcome, all which he endured patiently as penance for his sins. That night he laid himself down to sleep under an apple-tree and dreamed a strange dream. At dawn he arose, armed himself and went on his way. He next came to a chapel "where was a recluse which had a window that she might look up to the altar, and all aloud she called Sir Lancelot, and asked him whence he came, what he was, and what he went to seek." He told her all his dreams and visions, which she expounded, and gave him pious counsel, but told him that he was " of evil faith and poor belief."
About this time he met Sir Galahad, and knew that he was his son. Then, after various adventures, he came as near the Holy Grail as it was given to him to come. As he was kneeling before a closed door in a castle "he heard a voice which sang sweetly, that it seemed none earthly thing. And him thought that the voice said, joy and Honour be to the Father of Heaven. Then Sir Lancelot wist well that there was the Sancgreall in that chamber." Then he prayed.
"And with that the chamber door opened, and there came out a great clearness, that the house was so bright as though all the torches of the world had been there. And anon he would have entered, but a voice said, Flee, Sir Lancelot, and enter not, for and if thou enter thou shalt forethink it. Then he withdrew him aback, and was right heavy in his mind. Then looked he up in the midst of the room and saw a table of silver, and the holy vessel covered with red samite, and so many angels about it, whereof one of them held a candle of wax burning, and the other held a Cross and the ornaments of the altar. And before the holy vessel he saw a good man, clothed like a priest, and it seemed that he was at the sacring of the Mass.
"And it seemed unto Sir Lancelot that, above the priest's hands, there were three men, whereof the two put the youngest by likeliness between the priest's hands, and so he lift it upright high, and it seemed to show unto the people. And then Sir Lancelot marvelled not a little, for him thought the priest was so greatly charged of the figure that him seemed he should have fallen to the ground; and when he saw none about him, he came to the door a great pace, and said:—
"Fair sweet Father, Jesu Christ, me take it for no sin, though I help the good man, which hath great need of help. Right so he entered into the chamber, and came toward the table of silver. And when he came nigh he felt a breath that him thought it was intermeddled with fire, which smote him so sore in the visage that him thought it all to brent his visage."
This is the culminating point of Lancelot's quest; he swooned away, and lay as one dead for twenty-four days. Nearer he might not come to the Holy Grail, and the sequel shows why, for after a time he returned to the court and fell into sin again, and forgot his good resolutions:—
"For, as the French book saith, had not Sir Lancelot been in his privy thoughts and in his mind set inwardly to the queen, as he was in seeming outward unto God, there had no knight passed him in the quest of the Sancgreall; but ever his thoughts were privily upon the queen."
But soon there arose a bitter quarrel between Lancelot and Guinevere, and she banished him from her sight. During his absence from the court she made a dinner, at which one of the guests, Sir Modor, was poisoned, and the queen accused of the crime. Guinevere was therefore impeached, and so truly did all the Round Table believe in her guilt, that at first no knight would come forward to defend her.
Ultimately, however, the "good Sir Bors," Lancelot's kinsman, was prevailed on to be her champion, provided that at the moment of the contest a better knight did not appear, to answer for her. Of course, when Sir Bors is about to enter the lists in the meadow before Winchester, where there is a great fire and an iron stake, at which Guinevere is to be burned if her champion is overcome, a strange knight appears in unknown armour, and turns out to be Lancelot, fights for the queen, and overthrows her accuser.
Here comes in the exquisite story of Elaine, to which Tennyson has done ample justice.
Soon after the death of the "lily maid of Astolat," Sir Agravaine, moved by jealousy of Arthur's greatest knight, discloses the story of Lancelot's treacherous love for the queen, and extracts from the king a reluctant permission to take the miscreant. But Sir Modred is the real instigator of the plot, working upon Agravaine's weakness, and Tennyson has altered little in the dramatic situation which immediately follows. His description of the parting scene between Lancelot and Guinevere is fine:—
"And then they were agreed upon a night (When the good King should not be there) to meet And part for ever. Passion pale they met And greeted: hands in hands, and eye to eye, Low on the border of her couch they sat Stammering and staring; it was their last hour, A madness of farewells. And Modred brought His creatures to the basement of the tower For testimony; and crying with full voice, 'Traitor, come out, ye are trapt at last,' aroused Lancelot, who rushing outward lion-like Leapt on him, and hurled him headlong, and he fell Stunned, and his creatures took and bare him off, And all was still; then she, 'The end is come, And I am shamed forever;' and he said, 'Mine be the shame; mine was the sin; but rise, And fly to my strong castle over seas There will I hide thee till my life shall end, There hold thee with my life against the world.' She answered, 'Lancelot, wilt thou hold me so? Nay, friend, for we have taken our farewells. Would God that thou coulds't hide me from myself!"
Lancelot will not yield himself up lightly to his enemies; Sir Agravaine and another knight fall in the struggle with him; but it is not now that Guinevere betakes herself to Almesbury, and the whole beautiful scene between her and Arthur, and his most touching farewell to her are weavings of the modern poet's imagination. Beautiful the scene surely is, although wanting in one supreme touch, which a more Catholic-minded poet would have given to it. Guinevere's sin, according to Tennyson, is merely her sin against her husband; according to Malory it is her sin against God, and this is the very essence of the true Guinevere's repentance.