Like the other principal Round Table stories, the story of the Grail came from ancient folk-tales, if not from the mythology, of the insular Celts. Both British and Gaelic Celts knew tales of life-giving or healing vessels analogous to the Grail; and they frequently associated with such a vessel a spear and sometimes a sword. There is even a tale of Irish fairies who had a caldron from which no man ever went away unsatisfied, a spear, a sword, and a “stone of fate” that is perhaps related to the stone “hoving on the water” from which Galahad draws his fated sword. Explanations of the way in which pagan talismans of old Celtic story changed into objects of Christian significance in mediæval story can probably never be more than conjecture. There is no doubt, though, that after the Grail story was incorporated in the great Arthur cycle about 1175, the tendency was to make it more and more significant of mediæval Christianity, perhaps because the mysterious vessel called Grail suggested the sacred mystery of the sacramental cup. So Percival, a good worldly knight, the first hero of the Grail, was superseded in the early thirteenth century by Galahad, invented by an unknown romancer for the sole purpose, apparently, of being an ideally ascetic hero. Already the Grail had become the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, and symbolical of the Communion Cup. A long account had been written of its journey from Palestine to Britain, which is not included in the “Morte d’Arthur.” Marvels in the story were explained after the fashion of the scriptural interpretation of dreams. Sir Lancelot, Galahad’s father, was made to “come but of the eighth degree from our Lord Jesu Christ.” And among the many monkish grafts on the old pagan tree was that so-called “wonderful tale of King Solomon and his wife,” and their three spindles, and Solomon’s ship, all of which is not so “wonderful” as senseless.

If Malory’s version of the Grail legend is characteristic of mediæval romance in introducing the superstition and ignorance of mediæval Christianity, it introduces also its mystical beauty. Galahad in his incomprehension of human temptation may lack human sympathy, but he is a very fair picture of innocent youth when, led by “a good old man, and an ancient, clothed all in white,” he comes to sit in the siege perilous, in red arms himself and a “coat of red sendal,” and “a mantel upon his shoulders that was furred with ermine.” He must be a very hard-headed agnostic or insensitive puritan who is not awed by the “alighting” of “the grace of the Holy Ghost” on the knights when the Grail appears miraculously at Arthur’s court, and impressed by the celebration of the Mass at Carbonek and Sarras.

Also in secular ways, Malory’s Grail chapters are typical of mediæval romance. The institution of “courtly love”—that is, a knight’s unquestioning obedience to his lady, such as we see in Lancelot’s devotion to Guinevere—the obligation to the vows of knighthood, with its ideals of frankness, chastity, courtesy, and service to all who are weak and suffering, and also the forgetting of these vows in the heat of human passion—all this may be found in Malory’s chapters of the Grail, as in the rest of his “Morte d’Arthur.” As Caxton〖H. C., xxxix, 20ff.〗 says in the oft-quoted words of his Preface to Malory’s book: “Herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardyhood, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin.” But the general impression of it all is of good rather than evil, “of many joyous and pleasant histories, and noble and renowned acts of humanity, gentleness, and chivalry.”

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