Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/60

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
38
Presidential Address.

it is furnished by the romance of Huon of Bordeaux. As far as place and circumstance and personages are concerned, this romance belongs wholly to the Charlemagne cycle; in It Oberon makes his first appearance as King of Faery, and it is his rôle to protect and sustain the hero, Huon, with the ceaseless indefatigable indulgence which the supernatural counsellor so often displays towards his mortal protégé alike in heroic legend and in popular tale. He finally leaves him his kingdom; but before Huon can enjoy it Oberon must make peace between him and Arthur. "Sir, you know well that your realme and dignity you gave me after your decease," says the British king. In spite of the Carolingian setting, Huon of Bordeaux is at heart an Arthurian hero; and the teller of his fortunes knew full well that Arthur was the claimant to the throne of Faery, the rightful heir to the lord of fantasy and glamour and illusion.

Dismissing for a while consideration of the Arthurian fay, we may ask what is the Arthurian romance, and whence comes it? I am about to enter debateable ground, and you must take on trust statements the full proof of which would demand more time than we can give this evening. To put it briefly, the Arthurian romance is the Norman-French and Anglo-Norman re-telling of a mass of Celtic fairy tales, partly mythic, partly heroic in the shape under which they became known to the French-speaking world, which reached the latter alike from Brittany and from Wales in the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Some of these fairy tales have come down to us in Welsh in a form entirely unaffected by French influence, others more or less affected, whilst some of the Welsh versions are simple translations from the French. The nearest analogues to the Welsh-Breton fairy tales preserved to us partly in a Welsh, but mostly in a French dress, are to be found in Ireland. That country possesses a romantic literature which, so far as interest and antiquity of record are concerned, far surpasses that of Wales, and which, in