Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/74

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Presidential Address.

the fairy of literature (for heroic saga is literature although traditional literature) was never wholly snapped; and when the time came for the highest imagination of the race to turn to the old pre-Christian world for inspiration, in these islands alone was there a literary convention which still led back to the wealth of incident and symbol preserved by the folk. In these islands alone, I say, and why? Because the Arthurian romance, that form of imaginative literature which revealed Celtic Mythology to the world, although it entered English later than it did either French or German literature, although France first gave it to all mankind, and Germany bestowed upon it its noblest medieval form, yet here it was at home, on the Continent it was an alien. When the destined hour struck and the slumbering princess of Faery should awake, it was the youngest quester who gave the releasing kiss and won her to be his bride; if we seek their offspring we may find it in the English poetry of the last three centuries.

When the destined hour had struck! for the princess might not be roused from her slumber before the appointed time. We all know the sixteenth century as the age of Renaissance and Reform. But what is implied precisely by these words? For over a thousand years the compromise come to between Christianity and the pre-Christian world had subsisted subject, as are all things, to fluctuation and modification, but retaining, substantially, its outline and animating spirit. At last it yielded before the onslaught of two different forces, sympathetic knowledge of the pre-Christian classic world, and desire to revert to the earliest form of Christianity before the latter had effected its compromise with classic civilisation. The men who had passed through the impact of these forces upon their hearts and brains could no longer look upon the pre-Christian world, under whatever form it appeared to them, with the same eyes as the men of the Middle Ages. It stimulated their curiosity, it touched their imagination, it was fraught to them with problems and possibilities their predecessors never dreamt of. Through-