ENCHANTED ISLANDS OF ATLANTIC ***
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TALES OF THE ENCHANTED ISLANDS OF THE ATLANTIC
THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON
General Sir George Wentworth Higginson, K. C. B.
Gyldernscroft, Marlow, England
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED, IN TOKEN OF KINDRED AND OF OLD FAMILY FRIENDSHIPS, CORDIALLY PRESERVED INTO THE PRESENT GENERATION
THESE LEGENDS UNITE THE TWO SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC AND FORM A PART OF THE COMMON HERITAGE OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING RACE
Hawthorne in his Wonder Book has described the beautiful Greek myths and traditions, but no one has yet made similar use of the wondrous tales that gathered for more than a thousand years about the islands of the Atlantic deep. Although they are a part of the mythical period of American history, these hazy legends were altogether disdained by the earlier historians; indeed, George Bancroft made it a matter of actual pride that the beginning of the American annals was bare and literal. But in truth no national history has been less prosaic as to its earlier traditions, because every visitor had to cross the sea to reach it, and the sea has always been, by the mystery of its horizon, the fury of its storms, and the variableness of the atmosphere above it, the foreordained land of romance.
In all ages and with all sea-going races there has always been something especially fascinating about an island amid the ocean. Its very existence has for all explorers an air of magic. An island offers to us heights rising from depths; it exhibits that which is most fixed beside that which is most changeable, the fertile beside the barren, and safety after danger. The ocean forever tends to encroach on the island, the island upon the ocean. They exist side by side, friends yet enemies. The island signifies safety in calm, and yet danger in storm; in a tempest the sailor rejoices that he is not near it; even if previously bound for it, he puts about and steers for the open sea. Often if he seeks it he cannot reach it. The present writer spent a winter on the island of Fayal, and saw in a storm a full-rigged ship drift through the harbor disabled, having lost her anchors; and it was a week before she again made the port.
There are groups of islands scattered over the tropical ocean, especially, to which might well be given Herman Melville's name, "Las Encantadas," the Enchanted Islands. These islands, usually volcanic, have no vegetation but cactuses or wiry bushes with strange names; no inhabitants but insects and reptiles—lizards, spiders, snakes,—with vast tortoises which seem of immemorial age, and are coated with seaweed and the slime of the ocean. If there are any birds, it is the strange and heavy penguin, the passing albatross, or the Mother Cary's chicken, which has been called the humming bird of ocean, and here finds a place for its young. By night these birds come for their repose; at earliest dawn they take wing and hover over the sea, leaving the isle deserted. The only busy or beautiful life which always surrounds it is that of a myriad species of fish, of all forms and shapes, and often more gorgeous than any butterflies in gold and scarlet and yellow.
Once set foot on such an island and you begin at once to understand the legends of enchantment which ages have collected around such spots. Climb to its heights, you seem at the masthead of some lonely vessel, kept forever at sea. You feel as if no one but yourself had ever landed there; and yet, perhaps, even there, looking straight downward, you see below you in some crevice of the rock a mast or spar of some wrecked vessel, encrusted with all manner of shells and uncouth vegetable growth. No matter how distant the island or how peacefully it seems to lie upon the water, there may be perplexing currents that ever foam and swirl about it —currents which are, at all tides and in the calmest weather, as dangerous as any tempest, and which make compass untrustworthy and helm powerless. It is to be remembered also that an island not only appears and disappears upon the horizon in brighter or darker skies, but it varies its height and shape, doubles itself in mirage, or looks as if broken asunder, divided into two or three. Indeed the buccaneer, Cowley, writing of one such island which he had visited, says: "My fancy led me to call it Cowley's Enchanted Isle, for we having had a sight of it upon several points of the compass, it appeared always in so many different forms; sometimes like a ruined fortification; upon another point like a great city."
If much of this is true even now, it was far truer before the days of Columbus, when men were constantly looking westward across the Atlantic, and wondering what was beyond. In those days, when no one knew with certainty whether the ocean they observed was a sea or a vast lake, it was often called "The Sea of Darkness." A friend of the Latin poet, Ovid, describing the first approach to this sea, says that as you sail out upon it the day itself vanishes, and the world soon ends in perpetual darkness:—
"Quo Ferimur? Ruit ipsa Dies, orbemque relictum Ultima perpetuis claudit natura tenebris."
Nevertheless, it was the vague belief of many nations that the abodes of the blest lay somewhere beyond it—in the "other world," a region half earthly, half heavenly, whence the spirits of the departed could not cross the water to return;—and so they were constantly imagining excursions made by favored mortals to enchanted islands. To add to the confusion, actual islands in the Atlantic were sometimes discovered and actually lost again, as, for instance, the Canaries, which were reached and called the Fortunate Isles a little before the Christian era, and were then lost to sight for thirteen centuries ere being visited again.
The glamour of enchantment was naturally first attached by Europeans to islands within sight of their own shores—Irish, Welsh, Breton, or Spanish,—and then, as these islands became better known, men's imaginations carried the mystery further out over the unknown western sea. The line of legend gradually extended itself till it formed an imaginary chart for Columbus; the aged astronomer, Toscanelli, for instance, suggesting to him the advantage of making the supposed island of Antillia a half-way station; just as it was proposed, long centuries after, to find a station for the ocean telegraph in the equally imaginary island of Jacquet, which has only lately disappeared from the charts. With every step in knowledge the line of fancied stopping-places rearranged itself, the fictitious names flitting from place to place on the maps, and sometimes duplicating themselves. Where the tradition itself has vanished we find that the names with which it associated itself are still assigned, as in case of Brazil and the Antilles, to wholly different localities.
The order of the tales in the present work follows roughly the order of development, giving first the legends which kept near the European shore, and then those which, like St. Brandan's or Antillia, were assigned to the open sea or, like Norumbega or the Isle of Demons, to the very coast of America. Every tale in this book bears reference to some actual legend, followed more or less closely, and the authorities for each will be found carefully given in the appendix for such readers as may care to follow the subject farther. It must be remembered that some of these imaginary islands actually remained on the charts of the British admiralty until within a century. If even the exact science of geographers retained them thus long, surely romance should embalm them forever.
I. The Story of Atlantis
II. Taliessin of the Radiant Brow
III. The Swan-Children of Lir
IV. Usheen in the Island of Youth
V. Bran the Blessed
VI. The Castle of the Active Door
VII. Merlin the Enchanter
VIII. Sir Lancelot of the Lake
IX. The Half-Man
X. King Arthur at Avalon
XI. Maelduin's Voyage
XII. The Voyage of St. Brandan
XIII. Kirwan's Search for Hy-Brasail
XIV. The Isle of Satan's Hand
XV. Antillia, the Island of the Seven Cities
XVI. Harald the Viking
XVII. The Search for Norumbega
XVIII. The Guardians of the St. Lawrence
XIX. The Island of Demons
XX. Bimini and the Fountain of Youth
THE STORY OF ATLANTIS
The Greek sage Socrates, when he was but a boy minding his father's goats, used to lie on the grass under the myrtle trees; and, while the goats grazed around him, he loved to read over and over the story which Solon, the law-giver and poet, wrote down for the great-grandfather of Socrates, and which Solon had always meant to make into a poem, though he died without doing it. But this was briefly what he wrote in prose:—
"I, Solon, was never in my life so surprised as when I went to Egypt for instruction in my youth, and there, in the temple of Sais, saw an aged priest who told me of the island of Atlantis, which was sunk in the sea thousands of years ago. He said that in the division of the earth the gods agreed that the god Poseidon, or Neptune, should have, as his share, this great island which then lay in the ocean west of the Mediterranean Sea, and was larger than all Asia. There was a mortal maiden there whom Poseidon wished to marry, and to secure her he surrounded the valley where she dwelt with three rings of sea and two of land so that no one could enter; and he made underground springs, with water hot or cold, and supplied all things needful to the life of man. Here he lived with her for many years, and they had ten sons; and these sons divided the island among them and had many children, who dwelt there for more than a thousand years. They had mines of gold and silver, and pastures for elephants, and many fragrant plants. They erected palaces and dug canals; and they built their temples of white, red, and black stone, and covered them with gold and silver. In these were statues of gold, especially one of the god Poseidon driving six winged horses. He was so large as to touch the roof with his head, and had a hundred water-nymphs around him, riding on dolphins. The islanders had also baths and gardens and sea-walls, and they had twelve hundred ships and ten thousand chariots. All this was in the royal city alone, and the people were friendly and good and well-affectioned towards all. But as time went on they grew less so, and they did not obey the laws, so that they offended heaven. In a single day and night the island disappeared and sank beneath the sea; and this is why the sea in that region grew so impassable and impenetrable, because there is a quantity of shallow mud in the way, and this was caused by the sinking of a single vast island."
"This is the tale," said Solon, "which the old Egyptian priest told to me." And Solon's tale was read by Socrates, the boy, as he lay in the grass; and he told it to his friends after he grew up, as is written in his dialogues recorded by his disciple, Plato. And though this great island of Atlantis has never been seen again, yet a great many smaller islands have been found in the Atlantic Ocean, and they have sometimes been lost to sight and found again.
There is, also, in this ocean a vast tract of floating seaweed, called by sailors the Sargasso Sea,—covering a region as large as France,—and this has been thought by many to mark the place of a sunken island. There are also many islands, such as the Azores, which have been supposed at different times to be fragments of Atlantis; and besides all this, the remains of the vanished island have been looked for in all parts of the world. Some writers have thought it was in Sweden, others in Spitzbergen, others in Africa, in Palestine, in America. Since the depth of the Atlantic has been more thoroughly sounded, a few writers have maintained that the inequalities of its floor show some traces of the submerged Atlantis, but the general opinion of men of science is quite the other way. The visible Atlantic islands are all, or almost all, they say, of volcanic origin; and though there are ridges in the bottom of the ocean, they do not connect the continents.
At any rate, this was the original story of Atlantis, and the legends which follow in these pages have doubtless all grown, more or less, out of this first tale which Socrates told.
TALIESSIN OF THE RADIANT BROW
In times past there were enchanted islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Wales, and even now the fishermen sometimes think they see them. On one of these there lived a man named Tegid Voel and his wife called Cardiwen. They had a son, the ugliest boy in the world, and Cardiwen formed a plan to make him more attractive by teaching him all possible wisdom. She was a great magician and resolved to boil a large caldron full of knowledge for her son, so that he might know all things and be able to predict all that was to happen. Then she thought people would value him in spite of his ugliness. But she knew that the caldron must burn a year and a day without ceasing, until three blessed drops of the water of knowledge were obtained from it; and those three drops would give all the wisdom she wanted.
So she put a boy named Gwion to stir the caldron and a blind man named Morda to feed the fire; and made them promise never to let it cease boiling for a year and a day. She herself kept gathering magic herbs and putting them into it. One day when the year was nearly over, it chanced that three drops of the liquor flew out of the caldron and fell on the finger of Gwion. They were fiery hot, and he put his finger to his mouth, and the instant he tasted them he knew that they were the enchanted drops for which so much trouble had been taken. By their magic he at once foresaw all that was to come, and especially that Cardiwen the enchantress would never forgive him.
Then Gwion fled. The caldron burst in two, and all the liquor flowed forth, poisoning some horses which drank it. These horses belonged to a king named Gwyddno. Cardiwen came in and saw all the toil of the whole year lost. Seizing a stick of wood, she struck the blind man Morda fiercely on the head, but he said, "I am innocent. It was not I who did it." "True," said Cardiwen; "it was the boy Gwion who robbed me;" and she rushed to pursue him. He saw her and fled, changing into a hare; but she became a greyhound and followed him. Running to the water, he became a fish; but she became another and chased him below the waves. He turned himself into a bird, when she became a hawk and gave him no rest in the sky. Just as she swooped on him, he espied a pile of winnowed wheat on the floor of a barn, and dropping upon it, he became one of the wheat-grains. Changing herself into a high-crested black hen, Cardiwen scratched him up and swallowed him, when he changed at last into a boy again and was so beautiful that she could not kill him outright, but wrapped him in a leathern bag and cast him into the sea, committing him to the mercy of God. This was on the twenty-ninth of April.
Now Gwyddno had a weir for catching fish on the sea-strand near his castle, and every day in May he was wont to take a hundred pounds' worth of fish. He had a son named Elphin, who was always poor and unsuccessful, but that year the father had given the son leave to draw all the fish from the weir, to see if good luck would ever befall him and give him something with which to begin the world.
When Elphin went next to draw the weir, the man who had charge of it said in pity, "Thou art always unlucky; there is nothing in the weir but a leathern bag, which is caught on one of the poles." "How do we know," said Elphin, "that it may not contain the value of a hundred pounds?" Taking up the bag and opening it, the man saw the forehead of the boy and said to Elphin, "Behold, what a radiant brow" (Taliessin). "Let him be called Taliessin," said Elphin. Then he lifted the boy and placed him sorrowfully behind him; and made his horse amble gently, that before had been trotting, and carried him as softly as if he had been sitting in the easiest chair in the world, and the boy of the radiant brow made a song to Elphin as they went along.
"Never in Gwyddno's weir Was there such good luck as this night. Fair Elphin, dry thy cheeks! Being too sad will not avail, Although thou thinkest thou hast no gain. Too much grief will bring thee no good; Nor doubt the miracles of the Almighty: Although I am but little, I am highly gifted. From seas, and from mountains, And from the depths of rivers, God brings wealth to the fortunate man. Elphin of lively qualities, Thy resolution is unmanly: Thou must not be oversorrowful: Better to trust in God than to forebode ill. Weak and small as I am, On the foaming beach of the ocean, In the day of trouble I shall be Of more service to thee than three hundred salmon. Elphin of notable qualities, Be not displeased at thy misfortune: Although reclined thus weak in my bag, There lies a virtue in my tongue. While I continue thy protector Thou hast not much to fear."
Then Elphin asked him, "Art thou man or spirit?" And in answer the boy sang to him this tale of his flight from the woman:—
"I have fled with vigor, I have fled as a frog, I have fled in the semblance of a crow scarcely finding rest; I have fled vehemently, I have fled as a chain of lightning, I have fled as a roe into an entangled thicket; I have fled as a wolf-cub, I have fled as a wolf in the wilderness, I have fled as a fox used to many swift bounds and quirks; I have fled as a martin, which did not avail; I have fled as a squirrel that vainly hides, I have fled as a stag's antler, of ruddy course, I have fled as an iron in a glowing fire, I have fled as a spear-head, of woe to such as have a wish for it; I have fled as a fierce bull bitterly fighting, I have fled as a bristly boar seen in a ravine, I have fled as a white grain of pure wheat; Into a dark leathern bag I was thrown, And on a boundless sea I was sent adrift;
Which was to me an omen of being tenderly nursed, And the Lord God then set me at liberty."
Then Elphin came with Taliessin to the house of his father, and Gwyddno asked him if he had a good haul at the fish-weir. "I have something better than fish." "What is that?" asked the father. "I have a bard," said Elphin. "Alas, what will he profit thee?" said Gwyddno, to which Taliessin replied, "He will profit him more than the weir ever profited thee." Said Gwyddno, "Art thou able to speak, and thou so little?" Then Taliessin said, "I am better able to speak than thou to question me."
From this time Elphin always prospered, and he and his wife cared for Taliessin tenderly and lovingly, and the boy dwelt with him until he was thirteen years old, when Elphin went to make a Christmas visit to his uncle Maelgwyn, who was a great king and held open court. There were four and twenty bards there, and all proclaimed that no king had a wife so beautiful as the queen, or a bard so wise as the twenty-four, who all agreed upon this decision. Elphin said, on the contrary, that it was he himself who had the most beautiful wife and the wisest bard, and for this he was thrown into prison. Taliessin learning this, set forth from home to visit the palace and free his adoptive father, Elphin.
In those days it was the custom of kings to sit in the hall and dine in royal state with lords and bards about them who should keep proclaiming the greatness and glory of the king and his knights. Taliessin placed himself in a quiet corner, waiting for the four and twenty bards to pass, and as each one passed by, Taliessin made an ugly face, and gave a sound with his finger on his lips, thus, "Blerwm, Blerwm." Each bard went by and bowed himself before the king, but instead of beginning to chant his praises, could only play "Blerwm, Blerwm" on the lips, as the boy had done. The king was amazed and thought they must be intoxicated, so he sent one of his lords to them, telling them to behave themselves and remember where they were. Twice and thrice he told them, but they could only repeat the same foolishness, until at last the king ordered one of his squires to give a blow to the chief bard, and the squire struck him a blow with a broom, so that he fell back on his seat. Then he arose and knelt before the king, and said, "Oh, honorable king, be it known unto your grace that it is not from too much drinking that we are dumb, but through the influence of a spirit which sits in the corner yonder in the form of a child." Then the king bade a squire to bring Taliessin before him, and he asked the boy who he was. He answered:—
"Primary chief bard I am to Elphin, And my original country is the region of the summer stars; I am a wonder whose origin is not known; I have been fostered in the land of the Deity, I have been teacher to all intelligences, I am able to instruct the whole universe. I was originally little Gwion, And at length I am Taliessin."
Then the king and his nobles wondered much, for they had never heard the like from a boy so young. The king then called his wisest bard to answer Taliessin, but he could only play "Blerwm" on his lips as before, and each of the king's four and twenty bards tried in the same way and could do nothing more. Then the king bade Taliessin sing again, and he began:—
"Discover thou what is The strong creature from before the flood, Without flesh, without bone, Without vein, without blood, Without head, without feet; It will neither be older nor younger Than at the beginning; Great God! how the sea whitens When first it comes! Great are its gusts When it comes from the south; Great are its evaporations When it strikes on coasts. It is in the field, it is in the wood, Without hand and without foot, Without signs of old age, It is also so wide, As the surface of the earth; And it was not born, Nor was it seen. It will cause consternation Wherever God willeth. On sea and on land
It neither sees, nor is seen. Its course is devious, And will not come when desired. On land and on sea It is indispensable. It is without equal, It is many-sided; It is not confined, It is incomparable; It comes from four quarters; It is noxious, it is beneficial; It is yonder, it is here; It will decompose, But it will not repair the injury; It will not suffer for its doings, Seeing it is blameless. One Being has prepared it, Out of all creatures, By a tremendous blast, To wreak vengeance On Maelgwyn Gwynedd."
And while he was thus singing his verse near the door, there came suddenly a mighty storm of wind, so that the king and all his nobles thought the castle would fall on their heads. They saw that Taliessin had not merely been singing the song of the wind, but seemed to have power to command it. Then the king hastily ordered that Elphin should be brought from his dungeon and placed before Taliessin, and the chains came loose from his feet, and he was set free.
As they rode away from the court, the king and his courtiers rode with them, and Taliessin bade Elphin propose a race with the king's horses. Four and twenty horses were chosen, and Taliessin got four and twenty twigs of holly which he had burnt black, and he ordered the youth who was to ride Elphin's horse to let all the others set off before him, and bade him as he overtook each horse to strike him with a holly twig and throw it down. Then he had him watch where his own horse should stumble and throw down his cap at the place. The race being won, Taliessin brought his master to the spot where the cap lay; and put workmen to dig a hole there. When they had dug deeply enough they found a caldron full of gold, and Taliessin said, "Elphin, this is my payment to thee for having taken me from the water and reared me until now." And on this spot stands a pool of water until this day.
THE SWAN-CHILDREN OF LIR
King Lir of Erin had four young children who were cared for tenderly at first by their stepmother, the new queen; but there came a time when she grew jealous of the love their father bore them, and resolved that she would endure it no longer. Sometimes there was murder in her heart, but she could not bear the thought of that wickedness, and she resolved at last to choose another way to rid herself of them. One day she took them to drive in her chariot:—Finola, who was eight years old, with her three younger brothers,—Aodh, Fiacre, and little Conn, still a baby. They were beautiful children, the legend says, with skins white and soft as swans' feathers, and with large blue eyes and very sweet voices. Reaching a lake, she told them that they might bathe in the clear water; but so soon as they were in it she struck them with a fairy wand,—for she was of the race of the Druids, who had magical power,—and she turned them into four beautiful snow-white swans. But they still had human voices, and Finola said to her, "This wicked deed of thine shall be punished, for the doom that awaits thee will surely be worse than ours." Then Finola asked, "How long shall we be in the shape of swans?" "For three hundred years," said the woman, "on smooth Lake Darvra; then three hundred years on the sea of Moyle" (this being the sea between Ireland and Scotland); "and then three hundred years at Inis Glora, in the Great Western Sea" (this was a rocky island in the Atlantic). "Until the Tailkenn (St. Patrick) shall come to Ireland and bring the Christian faith, and until you hear the Christian bell, you shall not be freed. Neither your power nor mine can now bring you back to human shape; but you shall keep your human reason and your Gaelic speech, and you shall sing music so sweet that all who hear it shall gladly listen."
She left them, and ere long their father, King Lir, came to the shore and heard their singing. He asked how they came to have human voices. "We are thy four children," said Finola, "changed into swans by our stepmother's jealousy." "Then come and live with me," said her sorrowing father. "We are not permitted to leave the lake," she said, "or live with our people any more. But we are allowed to dwell together and to keep our reason and our speech, and to sing sweet music to you." Then they sang, and the king and all his followers were at first amazed and then lulled to sleep.
Then King Lir returned and met the cruel stepmother at her father's palace. When her father, King Bove, was told what she had done, he was hot with anger. "This wicked deed," he said, "shall bring severer punishment on thee than on the innocent children, for their suffering shall end, but thine never shall." Then King Bove asked her what form of existence would be most terrible to her. She replied, "That of a demon of the air." "Be it so," said her father, who had also Druidical power. He struck her with his wand, and she became a bat, and flew away with a scream, and the legend says, "She is still a demon of the air and shall be a demon of the air until the end of time."
After this, the people of all the races that were in Erin used to come and encamp by the lake and listen to the swans. The happy were made happier by the song, and those who were in grief or illness or pain forgot their sorrows and were lulled to rest. There was peace in all that region, while war and tumult filled other lands. Vast changes took place in three centuries—towers and castles rose and fell, villages were built and destroyed, generations were born and died;—and still the swan-children lived and sang, until at the end of three hundred years they flew away, as was decreed, to the stormy sea of Moyle; and from that time it was made a law that no one should kill a swan in Erin.
Beside the sea of Moyle they found no longer the peaceful and wooded shores they had known, but only steep and rocky coasts and a wild, wild sea. There came a great storm one night, and the swans knew that they could not keep together, so they resolved that if separated they would meet at a rock called Carricknarone. Finola reached there first, and took her brothers under her wings, all wet, shivering, and exhausted. Many such nights followed, and in one terrible winter storm, when they nestled together on Carricknarone, the water froze into solid ice around them, and their feet and wings were so frozen to the rock that when they moved they left the skin of their feet, the quills of their wings, and the feathers of their breasts clinging there. When the ice melted, and they swam out into the sea, their bodies smarted with pain until the feathers grew once more.
One day they saw a glittering troop of horsemen approaching along the shore and knew that they were their own kindred, though from far generations back, the Dedannen or Fairy Host. They greeted each other with joy, for the Fairy Host had been sent to seek for the swans; and on returning to their chiefs they narrated what had passed, and the chiefs said, "We cannot help them, but we are glad they are living; and we know that at last the enchantment will be broken and that they will be freed from their sorrows." So passed their lives until Finola sang, one day, "The Second Woe has passed—the second period of three hundred years," when they flew out on the broad ocean, as was decreed, and went to the island of Inis Glora. There they spent the next three hundred years, amid yet wilder storms and yet colder winds. No more the peaceful shepherds and living neighbors were around them; but often the sailor and fisherman, in his little coracle, saw the white gleam of their wings or heard the sweet notes of their song and knew that the children of Lir were near.
But the time came when the nine hundred years of banishment were ended, and they might fly back to their father's old home, Finnaha. Flying for days above the sea, they alighted at the palace once so well known, but everything was changed by time—even the walls of their father's palace were crumbled and rain-washed. So sad was the sight that they remained one day only, and flew back to Inis Glora, thinking that if they must be forever solitary, they would live where they had lived last, not where they had been reared.
One May morning, as the children of Lir floated in the air around the island of Inis Glora, they heard a faint bell sounding across the eastern sea. The mist lifted, and they saw afar off, beyond the waves, a vision of a stately white-robed priest, with attendants around him on the Irish shore. They knew that it must be St. Patrick, the Tailkenn, or Tonsured One, who was bringing, as had been so long promised, Christianity to Ireland. Sailing through the air, above the blue sea, towards their native coast, they heard the bell once more, now near and distinct, and they knew that all evil spirits were fleeing away, and that their own hopes were to be fulfilled. As they approached the land, St. Patrick stretched his hand and said, "Children of Lir, you may tread your native land again." And the sweet swan-sister, Finola, said, "If we tread our native land, it can only be to die, after our life of nine centuries. Baptize us while we are yet living." When they touched the shore, the weight of all those centuries fell upon them; they resumed their human bodies, but they appeared old and pale and wrinkled. Then St. Patrick baptized them, and they died; but, even as he did so, a change swiftly came over them; and they lay side by side, once more children, in their white night-clothes, as when their father Lir, long centuries ago, had kissed them at evening and seen their blue eyes close in sleep and had touched with gentle hand their white foreheads and their golden hair. Their time of sorrow was ended and their last swan-song was sung; but the cruel stepmother seems yet to survive in her bat-like shape, and a single glance at her weird and malicious little face will lead us to doubt whether she has yet fully atoned for her sin.
USHEEN IN THE ISLAND OF YOUTH
The old Celtic hero and poet Usheen or Oisin, whose supposed songs are known in English as those of Ossian, lived to a great old age, surviving all others of the race of the Feni, to which he belonged; and he was asked in his last years what had given him such length of life. This is the tale he told:—
After the fatal battle of Gavra, in which most of the Feni were killed, Usheen and his father, the king, and some of the survivors of the battle were hunting the deer with their dogs, when they met a maiden riding on a slender white horse with hoofs of gold, and with a golden crescent between his ears. The maiden's hair was of the color of citron and was gathered in a silver band; and she was clad in a white garment embroidered with strange devices. She asked them why they rode slowly and seemed sad, and not like other hunters; and they replied that it was because of the death of their friends and the ruin of their race. When they asked her in turn whence she came, and why, and whether she was married, she replied that she had never had a lover or a husband, but that she had crossed the sea for the love of the great hero and bard Usheen, whom she had never seen. Then Usheen was overcome with love for her, but she said that to wed her he must follow her across the sea to the Island of Perpetual Youth. There he would have a hundred horses and a hundred sheep and a hundred silken robes, a hundred swords, a hundred bows, and a hundred youths to follow him; while she would have a hundred maidens to wait on her. But how, he asked, was he to reach this island? He was to mount her horse and ride behind her. So he did this, and the slender white horse, not feeling his weight, dashed across the waves of the ocean, which did not yield beneath his tread. They galloped across the very sea, and the maiden, whose name was Niam, sang to him as they rode, and this so enchantingly that he scarcely knew whether hours passed or days. Sometimes deer ran by them over the water, followed by red-eared hounds in full chase; sometimes a maiden holding up an apple of gold; sometimes a beautiful youth; but they themselves rode on always westward.
At last they drew near an island which was not, Niam said, the island they were seeking; but it was one where a beautiful princess was kept under a spell until some defender should slay a cruel giant who held her under enchantment until she should either wed him or furnish a defender. The youth Usheen, being an Irishman and not easily frightened, naturally offered his services as defender, and they waited three days and nights to carry on the conflict. He had fought at home—so the legend says—with wild boars, with foreign invaders, and with enchanters, but he never had quite so severe a contest as with this giant; but after he had cut off his opponent's head and had been healed with precious balm by the beautiful princess, he buried the giant's body in a deep grave and placed above it a great stone engraved in the Ogham alphabet—in which all the letters are given in straight lines.
After this he and Niam again mounted the white steed and galloped away over the waves. Niam was again singing, when soft music began to be heard in the distance, as if in the centre of the setting sun. They drew nearer and nearer to a shore where the very trees trembled with the multitude of birds that sang upon them; and when they reached the shore, Niam gave one note of song, and a band of youths and maidens came rushing towards them and embraced them with eagerness. Then they too sang, and as they did it, one brought to Usheen a harp of silver and bade him sing of earthly joys. He found himself chanting, as he thought, with peculiar spirit and melody, but as he told them of human joys they kept still and began to weep, till at last one of them seized the silver harp and flung it away into a pool of water, saying, "It is the saddest harp in all the world."
Then he forgot all the human joys which seemed to those happy people only as sorrows compared with their own; and he dwelt with them thenceforward in perpetual youth. For a hundred years he chased the deer and went fishing in strangely carved boats and joined in the athletic sports of the young men; for a hundred years the gentle Niam was his wife.
But one day, when Usheen was by the beach, there floated to his feet what seemed a wooden staff, and he drew it from the waves. It was the battered fragment of a warrior's lance. The blood stains of war were still on it, and as he looked at it he recalled the old days of the Feni, the wars and tumult of his youth; and how he had outlived his tribe and all had passed away. Niam came softly to him and rested against his shoulder, but it did not soothe his pain, and he heard one of the young men watching him say to another, "The human sadness has come back into his eyes." The people around stood watching him, all sharing his sorrow, and knowing that his time of happiness was over and that he would go back among men. So indeed it was; Niam and Usheen mounted the white steed again and galloped away over the sea, but she had warned him when they mounted that he must never dismount for an instant, for that if he once touched the earth, she and the steed would vanish forever, that his youth too would disappear, and that he would be left alone on earth—an old man whose whole generation had vanished.
They passed, as before, over the sea; the same visions hovered around them, youths and maidens and animals of the chase; they passed by many islands, and at last reached the shore of Erin again. As they travelled over its plains and among its hills, Oisin looked in vain for his old companions. A little people had taken their place,—small men and women, mounted on horses as small;—and these people gazed in wonder at the mighty Usheen. "We have heard," they said, "of the hero Finn, and the poets have written many tales of him and of his people, the Feni. We have read in old books that he had a son Usheen who went away with a fairy maiden; but he was never seen again, and there is no race of the Feni left." Yet refusing to believe this, and always looking round for the people whom he had known and loved of old, he thought within himself that perhaps the Feni were not to be seen because they were hunting fierce wolves by night, as they used to do in his boyhood, and that they were therefore sleeping in the daytime; but again an old man said to him, "The Feni are dead." Then he remembered that it was a hundred years, and that his very race had perished, and he turned with contempt on the little men and their little horses. Three hundred of them as he rode by were trying to lift a vast stone, but they staggered under its weight, and at last fell and lay beneath it; then leaning from his saddle Usheen lifted the stone with one hand and flung it five yards. But with the strain the saddle girth broke, and Usheen came to the ground; the white steed shook himself and neighed, then galloped away, bearing Niam with him, and Usheen lay with all his strength gone from him—a feeble old man. The Island of Youth could only be known by those who dwelt always within it, and those mortals who had once left it could dwell there no more.
BRAN THE BLESSED
The mighty king Bran, a being of gigantic size, sat one day on the cliffs of his island in the Atlantic Ocean, near to Hades and the Gates of Night, when he saw ships sailing towards him and sent men to ask what they were. They were a fleet sent by Matholweh, the king of Ireland, who had sent to ask for Branwen, Bran's sister, as his wife. Without moving from his rock Bran bid the monarch land, and sent Branwen back with him as queen.
But there came a time when Branwen was ill-treated at the palace; they sent her into the kitchen and made her cook for the court, and they caused the butcher to come every day (after he had cut up the meat) and give her a blow on the ear. They also drew up all their boats on the shore for three years, that she might not send for her brother. But she reared a starling in the cover of the kneading-trough, taught it to speak, and told it how to find her brother; and then she wrote a letter describing her sorrows and bound it to the bird's wing, and it flew to the island and alighted on Bran's shoulder, "ruffling its feathers" (says the Welsh legend) "so that the letter was seen, and they knew that the bird had been reared in a domestic manner." Then Bran resolved to cross the sea, but he had to wade through the water, as no ship had yet been built large enough to hold him; and he carried all his musicians (pipers) on his shoulders. As he approached the Irish shore, men ran to the king, saying that they had seen a forest on the sea, where there never before had been a tree, and that they had also seen a mountain which moved. Then the king asked Branwen, the queen, what it could be. She answered, "These are the men of the Island of the Mighty, who have come hither to protect me." "What is the forest?" they asked. "The yards and masts of ships." "What mountain is that by the side of the ships?" "It is Bran my brother, coming to the shoal water and rising." "What is the lofty ridge with the lake on each side?" "That is his nose," she said, "and the two lakes are his fierce eyes."
Then the people were terrified: there was yet a river for Bran to pass, and they broke down the bridge which crossed it, but Bran laid himself down and said, "Who will be a chief, let him be a bridge." Then his men laid hurdles on his back, and the whole army crossed over; and that saying of his became afterwards a proverb. Then the Irish resolved, in order to appease the mighty visitor, to build him a house, because he had never before had one that would hold him; and they decided to make the house large enough to contain the two armies, one on each side. They accordingly built this house, and there were a hundred pillars, and the builders treacherously hung a leathern bag on each side of each pillar and put an armed man inside of each, so that they could all rise by night and kill the sleepers. But Bran's brother, who was a suspicious man, asked the builders what was in the first bag. "Meal, good soul," they answered; and he, putting his hand in, felt a man's head and crushed it with his mighty fingers, and so with the next and the next and with the whole two hundred. After this it did not take long to bring on a quarrel between the two armies, and they fought all day.
After this great fight between the men of Ireland and the men of the Isles of the Mighty there were but seven of these last who escaped, besides their king Bran, who was wounded in the foot with a poisoned dart. Then he knew that he should soon die, but he bade the seven men to cut off his head and told them that they must always carry it with them—that it would never decay and would always be able to speak and be pleasant company for them. "A long time will you be on the road," he said. "In Harlech you will feast seven years, the birds of Rhiannon singing to you all the while. And at the Island of Gwales you will dwell for fourscore years, and you may remain there, bearing the head with you uncorrupted, until you open the door that looks towards the mainland; and after you have once opened that door you can stay no longer, but must set forth to London to bury the head, leaving it there to look toward France."
So they went on to Harlech and there stopped to rest, and sat down to eat and drink. And there came three birds, which began singing a certain song, and all the songs they had ever heard were unpleasant compared with it; and the songs seemed to them to be at a great distance from them, over the sea, yet the notes were heard as distinctly as if they were close by; and it is said that at this repast they continued seven years. At the close of this time they went forth to an island in the sea called Gwales. There they found a fair and regal spot overlooking the ocean and a spacious hall built for them. They went into it and found two of its doors open, but the third door, looking toward Cornwall, was closed. "See yonder," said their leader Manawydan; "that is the door we may not open." And that night they regaled themselves and were joyful. And of all they had seen of food laid before them, and of all they had heard said, they remembered nothing; neither of that, nor of any sorrow whatsoever. There they remained fourscore years, unconscious of having ever spent a time more joyous and mirthful. And they were not more weary than when first they came, neither did they, any of them, know the time they had been there. It was not more irksome for them to have the head with them, than if Bran the Blessed had been with them himself. And because of these fourscore years, it was called "The Entertaining of the Noble Head."
One day said Heilwyn the son of Gwyn, "Evil betide me, if I do not open the door to know if that is true which is said concerning it." So he opened the door and looked towards Cornwall. And when they had looked they were as conscious of all the evils they had ever sustained, and of all the friends and companions they had ever lost, and of all the misery that had befallen them, as if all had happened in that very spot; and especially of the fate of their lord. And because of their perturbation they could not rest, but journeyed forth with the head towards London. And they buried the head in the White Mount.
The island called Gwales is supposed to be that now named Gresholm, eight or ten miles off the coast of Pembrokeshire; and to this day the Welsh sailors on that coast talk of the Green Meadows of Enchantment lying out at sea west of them, and of men who had either landed on them or seen them suddenly vanishing. Some of the people of Milford used to declare that they could sometimes see the Green Islands of the fairies quite distinctly; and they believed that the fairies went to and fro between their islands and the shore through a subterranean gallery under the sea. They used, indeed, to make purchases in the markets of Milford or Langhorne, and this they did sometimes without being seen and always without speaking, for they seemed to know the prices of the things they wished to buy and always laid down the exact sum of money needed. And indeed, how could the seven companions of the Enchanted Head have spent eighty years of incessant feasting on an island of the sea, without sometimes purchasing supplies from the mainland?
THE CASTLE OF THE ACTIVE DOOR
Perfect is my chair in Caer Sidi; Plague and age hurt not who's in it— They know, Manawydan and Pryderi. Three organs round a fire sing before it, And about its points are ocean's streams And the abundant well above it— Sweeter than white wine the drink in it.
Peredur, the knight, rode through the wild woods of the Enchanted Island until he arrived on clear ground outside the forest. Then he beheld a castle on level ground in the middle of a meadow; and round the castle flowed a stream, and inside the castle there were large and spacious halls with great windows. Drawing nearer the castle, he saw it to be turning more rapidly than any wind blows. On the ramparts he saw archers shooting so vigorously that no armor would protect against them; there were also men blowing horns so loud that the earth appeared to tremble; and at the gates were lions, in iron chains, roaring so violently that one might fancy that the castle and the woods were ready to be uprooted. Neither the lions nor the warriors resisted Peredur, but he found a woman sitting by the gate, who offered to carry him on her back to the hall. This was the queen Rhiannon, who, having been accused of having caused the death of her child, was sentenced to remain seven years sitting by the gate, to tell her story to every one, and to offer to carry all strangers on her back into the castle.
But so soon as Peredur had entered it, the castle vanished away, and he found himself standing on the bare ground. The queen Rhiannon was left beside him, and she remained on the island with her son Pryderi and his wife. Queen Rhiannon married for her second husband a person named Manawydan. One day they ascended a mound called Arberth which was well known for its wonders, and as they sat there they heard a clap of thunder, followed by mist so thick that they could not see one another. When it grew light again, they looked around them and found that all dwellings and animals had vanished; there was no smoke or fire anywhere or work of human hands; all their household had disappeared, and there were left only Pryderi and Manawydan with their wives. Wandering from place to place, they found no human beings; but they lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild honey. After visiting foreign lands, they returned to their island home. One day when they were out hunting, a wild boar of pure white color sprang from a bush, and as they saw him they retreated, and they saw also the Turning Castle. The boar, watching his opportunity, sprang into it, and the dogs followed, and Pryderi said, "I will go into this castle and get tidings of the dogs." "Go not," said Manawydan; "whoever has cast a spell over this land and deprived us of our dwelling has placed this castle here." But Pryderi replied, "Of a truth I cannot give up my dogs." So he watched for the opportunity and went in. He saw neither boar nor dogs, neither man nor beast; but on the centre of the castle floor he saw a fountain with marble work around it, and on the margin of the fountain a golden bowl upon a marble slab, and in the air hung chains, of which he could see no end. He was much delighted with the beauty of the gold and the rich workmanship of the bowl and went up to lay hold of it. The moment he touched it, his fingers clung to the bowl, and his feet to the slab; and all his joyousness forsook him so that he could not utter a word. And thus he stood.
Manawydan waited for him until evening, but hearing nothing either of him or of the dogs, he returned home. When he entered, Rhiannon, who was his wife and who was also Pryderi's mother, looked at him. "Where," she said, "are Pryderi and the dogs?" "This is what has happened to me," he said; and he told her. "An evil companion hast thou been," she said, "and a good companion hast thou lost." With these words she went out and proceeded towards the Castle of the Active Door. Getting in, she saw Pryderi taking hold of the bowl, and she went towards him. "What dost thou here?" she said, and she took hold of the bowl for herself; and then her hands became fast to it, and her feet to the slab, and she could not speak a word. Then came thunder and a fall of mist; thereupon the Castle of the Active Door vanished and never was seen again. Rhiannon and Pryderi also vanished.
When Kigva, the wife of Pryderi, saw this, she sorrowed so that she cared not if she lived or died. No one was left on the island but Manawydan and herself. They wandered away to other lands and sought to earn their living; then they came back to their island, bringing with them one bag of wheat which they planted. It throve and grew, and when the time of harvest came it was most promising, so that Manawydan resolved to reap it on the morrow. At break of day he came back to begin; but found nothing left but straw. Every stalk had been cut close to the ground and carried away.
Going to another field, he found it ripe, but on coming in the morning he found but the straw. "Some one has contrived my ruin," he said; "I will watch the third field to see what happens. He who stole the first will come to steal this."
He remained through the evening to watch the grain, and at midnight he heard loud thunder. He looked and saw coming a host of mice such as no man could number; each mouse took a stalk of the wheat and climbed it, so that it bent to the ground; then each mouse cut off the ear and ran away with it. They all did this, leaving the stalk bare, and there was not a single straw for which there was not a mouse. He struck among them, but could no more fix his sight on any of them, the legend says, than on flies and birds in the air, except one which seemed heavier than the rest, and moved slowly. This one he pursued and caught, put it in his glove and tied it with a string. Taking it home, he showed it to Kigva, and told her that he was going to hang the mouse next day. She advised against it, but he persisted, and on the next morning took the animal to the top of the Mound of Arberth, where he placed two wooden forks in the ground, and set up a small gallows.
While doing this, he saw a clerk coming to him in old, threadbare clothes. It was now seven years since he had seen a human being there, except the friends he had lost and Kigva who survived them. The clerk bade him good day and said he was going back to his country from England, where he had been singing. Then the clerk asked Manawydan what he was doing. "Hanging a thief," said he; and when the clerk saw that it was a mouse, he offered a pound to release it, but Manawydan refused. Then a priest came riding up and offered him three pounds to release the mouse; but this offer was declined. Then he made a noose round the mouse's neck, and while he did this, a bishop's whole retinue came riding towards him. The bishop seemed, like everybody else, to be very desirous of rescuing the mouse; he offered first seven pounds, and then twenty-four, and then added all his horses and equipages; but Manawydan still refused. The bishop finally asked him to name any price he pleased. "The liberation of Rhiannon and Pryderi," he said. "Thou shalt have it," said the bishop. "And the removal of the enchantment," said Manawydan. "That also," said the bishop, "if you will only restore the mouse." "Why?" said the other. "Because," said the bishop, "she is my wife." "Why did she come to me?" asked Manawydan. "To steal," was the reply. "When it was known that you were inhabiting the island, my household came to me, begging me to transform them into mice. The first and second nights they came alone, but the third night my wife and the ladies of the court wished also to accompany them, and I transformed them also; and now you have promised to let her go." "Not so," said the other, "except with a promise that there shall be no more such enchantment practised, and no vengeance on Pryderi and Rhiannon, or on me." This being promised, the bishop said, "Now wilt thou release my wife?" "No, by my faith," said Manawydan, "not till I see Pryderi and Rhiannon free before my eyes." "Here they are coming," said the bishop; and when they had been embraced by Manawydan, he let go the mouse; the bishop touched it with a wand, and it became the most beautiful young woman that ever was seen. "Now look round upon the country," said the bishop, "and see the dwellings and the crops returned," and the enchantment was removed.
"The Land of Illusion and the Realm of Glamour" is the name given by the old romancers to the south-west part of Wales, and to all the islands off the coast. Indeed, it was believed, ever since the days of the Greek writer, Plutarch, that some peculiar magic belonged to these islands; and every great storm that happened among them was supposed to be caused by the death of one of the wondrous enchanters who dwelt in that region. When it was over, the islanders said, "Some one of the mighty has passed away."
MERLIN THE ENCHANTER
In one of the old books called Welsh Triads, in which all things are classed by threes, there is a description of three men called "The Three Generous Heroes of the Isle of Britain." One of these—named Nud or Nodens, and later called Merlin—was first brought from the sea, it is stated, with a herd of cattle consisting of 21,000 milch cows, which are supposed to mean those waves of the sea that the poets often describe as White Horses. He grew up to be a king and warrior, a magician and prophet, and on the whole the most important figure in the Celtic traditions. He came from the sea and at last returned to it, but meanwhile he did great works on land, one of which is said to have been the building of Stonehenge.
This is the way, as the old legends tell, in which the vast stones of Stonehenge came to be placed on Salisbury Plain. It is a thing which has always been a puzzle to every one, inasmuch as their size and weight are enormous, and there is no stone of the same description to be found within hundreds of miles of Salisbury Plain, where they now stand.
The legend is that Pendragon, king of England, was led to fight a great battle by seeing a dragon in the air. The battle was won, but Pendragon was killed and was buried on Salisbury Plain, where the fight had taken place. When his brother Uther took his place, Merlin the enchanter advised him to paint a dragon on a flag and bear it always before him to bring good fortune, and this he always did. Then Merlin said to him, "Wilt thou do nothing more on the Plain of Salisbury, to honor thy brother?" The King said, "What shall be done?" Then Merlin said, "I will cause a thing to be done that will endure to the world's end." Then he bade Utherpendragon, as he called the new king, to send many ships and men to Ireland, and he showed him stones such as seemed far too large and heavy to bring, but he placed them by his magic art upon the boats and bore them to England; and he devised means to transport them and to set them on end, "for they shall seem fairer so than if they were lying." And there they are to this day.
This was the way in which Merlin would sometimes obtain the favor and admiration of young ladies. There was a maiden of twelve named Nimiane or Vivian, the daughter of King Dionas, and Merlin changed himself into the appearance of "a fair young squire," that he might talk with her beside a fountain, described in the legends as "a well, whereof the springs were fair and the water clear and the gravel so fair that it seemed of fine silver." By degrees he made acquaintance with the child, who told him who she was, adding, "And what are you, fair, sweet friend?" "Damsel," said Merlin, "I am a travelling squire, seeking for my master, who has taught me wonderful things." "And what master is that?" she asked. "It is one," he said, "who has taught me so much that I could here erect for you a castle, and I could make many people outside to attack it and inside to defend it; nay, I could go upon this water and not wet my feet, and I could make a river where water had never been."
"These are strange feats," said the maiden, "and I wish that I could thus disport myself." "I can do yet greater things," said Merlin, "and no one can devise anything which I cannot do, and I can also make it to endure forever." "Indeed," said the girl, "I would always love you if you could show me some such wonders." "For your love," he answered, "I will show you some of these wondrous plays, and I will ask no more of you." Then Merlin turned and described a circle with a wand and then came and sat by her again at the fountain. At noon she saw coming out of the forest many ladies and knights and squires, holding each other by the hand and singing in the greatest joy; then came men with timbrels and tabours and dancing, so that one could not tell one-fourth part of the sports that went on. Then Merlin caused an orchard to grow, with all manner of fruit and flowers; and the maiden cared for nothing but to listen to their singing, "Truly love begins in joy, but ends in grief." The festival continued from mid-day to even-song; and King Dionas and his courtiers came out to see it, and marvelled whence these strange people came. Then when the carols were ended, the ladies and maidens sat down on the green grass and fresh flowers, and the squires set up a game of tilting called quintain upon the meadows and played till even-song; and then Merlin came to the damsel and asked if he had done what he promised for her. "Fair, sweet friend," said she, "you have done so much that I am all yours." "Let me teach you," he answered, "and I will show you many wonders that no woman ever learned so many."
Merlin and this young damsel always remained friends, and he taught her many wonderful arts, one of which was (this we must regret) a spell by which she might put her parents to sleep whenever he visited her; while another lesson was (this being more unexceptionable) in the use of three words, by saying which she might at any time keep at a distance any men who tried to molest her. He stayed eight days near her, and in those days taught her many of the most "wonderful things that any mortal heart could think of, things past and things that were done and said, and a part of what was to come; and she put them in writing, and then Merlin departed from her and came to Benoyk, where the king, Arthur, rested, so that glad were they when they saw Merlin."
The relations between Merlin and Arthur are unlike those ever held towards a king even by an enchanter in any legend. Even in Homer there is no one described, except the gods, as having such authority over a ruler. Merlin came and went as he pleased and under any form he might please. He foretold the result of a battle, ordered up troops, brought aid from a distance. He rebuked the bravest knights for cowardice; as when Ban, Bors, and Gawain had concealed themselves behind some bushes during a fight. "Is this," he said to King Arthur and Sir Bors, "the war and the help that you do to your friends who have put themselves in adventure of death in many a need, and ye come hither to hide for cowardice." Then the legend says, "When the king understood the words of Merlin, he bowed his head for shame," and the other knights acknowledged their fault. Then Merlin took the dragon banner which he had given them and said that he would bear it himself; "for the banner of a king," he said, "should not be hid in battle,—but borne in the foremost front." Then Merlin rode forth and cried with a loud voice, "Now shall be shown who is a knight." And the knights, seeing Merlin, exclaimed that he was "a full noble man"; and "without fail," says the legend, "he was full of marvellous powers and strength of body and great and long stature; but brown he was and lean and rough of hair." Then he rode in among the enemy on a great black horse; and the golden dragon which he had made and had attached to the banner gave out from its throat such a flaming fire that the air was black with its smoke; and all King Arthur's men began to fight again more stoutly, and Arthur himself held the bridle reins in his left hand, and so wielded his sword with his right as to slay two hundred men.
There was no end to Merlin's disguises—sometimes as an old man, sometimes as a boy or a dwarf, then as a woman, then as an ignorant clown; —but the legends always give him some object to accomplish, some work to do, and there was always a certain dignity about him, even when helping King Arthur, as he sometimes did, to do wrong things. His fame extended over all Britain, and also through Brittany, now a part of France, where the same poetic legends extended. This, for instance, is a very old Breton song about him:—
MERLIN THE DIVINER
Merlin! Merlin! where art thou going So early in the day, with thy black dog? Oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! oi! Oi! oi! oi! oi! oi!
I have come here to search the way, To find the red egg; The red egg of the marine serpent, By the seaside, in the hollow of the stone.
I am going to seek in the valley The green water-cress, and the golden grass, And the top branch of the oak, In the wood by the side of the fountain.
Merlin! Merlin! retrace your steps; Leave the branch on the oak, And the green water-cress in the valley, As well as the golden grass; And leave the red egg of the marine serpent In the foam by the hollow of the stone. Merlin! Merlin! retrace thy steps; There is no diviner but God.
Merlin was supposed to know the past, the present, and the future, and to be able to assume the form of any animal, and even that of a menhir, or huge standing stone. Before history began he ruled in Britain, then a delightful island of flowery meadows. His subjects were "small people" (fairies), and their lives were a continued festival of singing, playing, and enjoyment. The sage ruled them as a father, his familiar servant being a tame wolf. He also possessed a kingdom, beneath the waves, where everything was beautiful, the inhabitants being charming little beings, with waves of long, fair hair falling on their shoulders in curls. Fruits and milk composed the food of all, meat and fish being held in abhorrence. The only want felt was of the full light of the sun, which, coming to them through the water, was but faint, and cast no shadow.
Here was the famous workshop where Merlin forged the enchanted sword so celebrated by the bards, and where the stones were found by which alone the sword could be sharpened. Three British heroes were fated to wield this blade in turn; viz., Lemenisk the leaper (Leim, meaning leap), Utherpendragon, and his son King Arthur. By orders of this last hero, when mortally wounded, it was flung into the sea, where it will remain till he returns to restore the rule of his country to the faithful British race.
The bard once amused and puzzled the court by entering the hall as a blind boy led by a greyhound, playing on his harp, and demanding as recompense to be allowed to carry the king's banner in an approaching battle. Being refused on account of his blindness he vanished, and the king of Brittany mentioned his suspicions that this was one of Merlin's elfin tricks. Arthur was disturbed, for he had promised to give the child anything except his honor, his kingdom, his wife, and his sword. However, while he continued to fret, there entered the hall a poor child about eight years old, with shaved head, features of livid tint, eyes of light gray, barefooted, barelegged, and a whip knotted over his shoulders in the manner affected by horseboys. Speaking and looking like an idiot, he asked the king's permission to bear the royal ensign in the approaching battle with the giant Rion. The courtiers laughed, but Arthur, suspecting a new joke on Merlin's part, granted the demand, and then Merlin stood in his own proper person before the company.
He also seems to have taught people many things in real science, especially the women, who were in those days more studious than the men, or at least had less leisure. For instance, the legend says of Morgan le fay (or la fee), King Arthur's sister, "she was a noble clergesse (meaning that she could read and write, like the clergy), and of astronomy could she enough, for Merlin had her taught, and she learned much of egromancy (magic or necromancy); and the best work-woman she was with her hands that any man knew in any land, and she had the fairest head and the fairest hands under heaven, and shoulders well-shapen; and she had fair eloquence and full debonair she was, as long as she was in her right wit; and when she was wroth with any man, she was evil to meet." This lady was one of Merlin's pupils, but the one whom he loved most and instructed the most was Nimiane or Vivian, already mentioned, who seems to have been to him rather a beloved younger sister than anything else, and he taught her so much that "at last he might hold himself a fool," the legend says, "and ever she inquired of his cunning and his mysteries, each thing by itself, and he let her know all, and she wrote all that he said, as she was well learned in clergie (reading and writing), and learned lightly all that Merlin taught her; and when they parted, each of them commended the other to God full tenderly."
The form of the enchanter Merlin disappeared from view, at last—for the legends do not admit that his life ever ended—across the sea whence he came.
The poet Tennyson, to be sure, describes Nimiane or Vivian—the Lady of the Lake—as a wicked enchantress who persuaded Merlin to betray his secrets to her, and then shut him up in an oak tree forever. But other legends seem to show that Tennyson does great injustice to the Lady of the Lake, that she really loved Merlin even in his age, and therefore persuaded him to show her how to make a tower without walls,—that they might dwell there together in peace, and address each other only as Brother and Sister. When he had told her, he fell asleep with his head in her lap, and she wove a spell nine times around his head, and the tower became the strongest in the world. Some of the many legends place this tower in the forest of Broceliande; while others transport it afar to a magic island, where Merlin dwells with his nine bards, and where Vivian alone can come or go through the magic walls. Some legends describe it as an enclosure "neither of iron nor steel nor timber nor of stone, but of the air, without any other thing but enchantment, so strong that it may never be undone while the world endureth." Here dwells Merlin, it is said, with nine favorite bards who took with them the thirteen treasures of England. These treasures are said to have been:—
1. A sword; if any man drew it except the owner, it burst into a flame from the cross to the point. All who asked it received it; but because of this peculiarity all shunned it.
2. A basket; if food for one man were put into it, when opened it would be found to contain food for one hundred.
3. A horn; what liquor soever was desired was found therein.
4. A chariot; whoever sat in it would be immediately wheresoever he wished.
5. A halter, which was in a staple below the feet of a bed; and whatever horse one wished for in it, he would find it there.
6. A knife, which would serve four-and twenty men at meat all at once.
7. A caldron; if meat were put into it to boil for a coward, it would never be boiled; but if meat were put in it for a brave man, it would be boiled forthwith.
8. A whetstone; if the sword of a brave man were sharpened thereon, and any one were wounded therewith, he would be sure to die; but if it were that of a coward that was sharpened on it, he would be none the worse.
9. A garment; if a man of gentle birth put it on, it suited him well; but if a churl, it would not fit him.
10, 11. A pan and a platter; whatever food was required was found therein.
12. A chessboard; when the men were placed upon it, they would play of themselves. The chessboard was of gold, and the men of silver.
13. The mantle of Arthur; whosoever was beneath it could see everything, while no one could see him.
It is towards this tower, some legends say, that Merlin was last seen by some Irish monks, sailing away westward, with a maiden, in a boat of crystal, beneath a sunset sky.
SIR LANCELOT OF THE LAKE
Sir Lancelot, the famous knight, was the son of a king and queen against whom their subjects rebelled; the king was killed, the queen taken captive, when a fairy rose in a cloud of mist and carried away the infant Lancelot from where he had been left beneath a tree. The queen, after weeping on the body of her husband, looked round and saw a lady standing by the water-side, holding the queen's child in her arms. "Fair, sweet friend," said the queen, "give me back my child." The fairy made no reply, but dived into the water; and the queen was taken to an abbey, where she was known as the Queen of Great Griefs. The Lady of the Lake took the child to her own home, which was an island in the middle of the sea and surrounded by impassable walls. From this the lady had her name of Dame du Lac, or the Lady of the Lake (or Sea), and her foster son was called Lancelot du Lac, while the realm was called Meidelant, or the Land of Maidens.
Lancelot dwelt thenceforward in the castle, on the island. When he was eight years old he received a tutor who was to instruct him in all knightly knowledge; he learned to use bow and spear and to ride on horseback, and some cousins of his were also brought thither by the Lady of the Lake to be his comrades. When he was eighteen he wished to go to King Arthur's court that he might be a knight.
On the eve of St. John, as King Arthur returned from the chase, and by the high road approached Camelot, he met a fair company. In the van went two youths, leading two white mules, one freighted with a silken pavilion, the other with robes proper for a newly made knight; the mules bore two chests, holding the hauberk and the iron boots. Next came two squires, clad in white robes and mounted on white horses, carrying a silver shield and a shining helmet; after these, two others, with a sword in a white sheath and a white charger. Behind followed squires and servants in white coats, three damsels dressed in white, the two sons of King Bors; and, last of all, the fairy with the youth she loved. Her robe was of white samite lined with ermine; her white palfrey had a silver bit, while her breastplate, stirrups, and saddle were of ivory, carved with figures of ladies and knights, and her white housings trailed on the ground.
When she perceived the king, she responded to his salutation, and said, after she had lowered her wimple and displayed her face: "Sir, may God bless the best of kings! I come to implore a boon, which it shall cost you nothing to grant." "Damsel, even it should cost me dear, you should not be refused; what is it you would have me do?" "Sir, dub this varlet a knight, and array him in the arms he bringeth, whenever he desireth." "Your mercy, damsel! to bring me such a youth! Assuredly, I will dub him whenever he will; but it shameth me to abandon my custom, for 'tis my wont to furnish with garments and arms such as come thither to receive chivalry." The lady replied that she desired the youth to carry the arms she had intended him to wear, and if she were refused, she would address herself elsewhere. Sir Ewain said that so fair a youth ought not to be denied, and the king yielded to her entreaty. She returned thanks, and bade the varlet retain the mules and the charger, with the two squires; and after that, she prepared to return as she had come, in spite of the urgency of the king, who had begged her to remain in his court. "At least," he cried, "tell us by what name are you known ?" "Sir," she answered, "I am called the Lady of the Lake."
For a long way, Lancelot escorted the fairy, who said to him as she took leave: "King's son, you are derived from lineage the most noble on earth; see to it that your worth be as great as your beauty. To-morrow you will ask the king to bestow on you knighthood; when you are armed, you will not tarry in his house a single night. Abide in one place no longer than you can help, and refrain from declaring your name until others proclaim it. Be prepared to accomplish every adventure, and never let another man complete a task which you yourself have undertaken." With that, she gave him a ring that had the property of dissolving enchantment, and commended him to God.
On the morrow, Lancelot arrayed himself in his fairest robes, and sued for knighthood, as he had been commanded to do. Sir Ewain attended him to court, where they dismounted in front of the palace; the king and queen advanced to meet them; each took Sir Ewain by a hand, and seated him on a couch, while the varlet stood in their presence on the rushes that strewed the floor. All gazed with pleasure, and the queen prayed that God might make him noble, for he possessed as much beauty as was possible for man to have.
After this he had many perilous adventures; he fought with giants and lions; he entered an enchanted castle and escaped; he went to a well in the forest, and, striking three times on a cymbal with a hammer hung there for the purpose, called forth a great giant, whom he slew, afterwards marrying his daughter. Then he went to rescue the queen of the realm, Gwenivere, from captivity. In order to reach the fortress where she was prisoner, he had to ride in a cart with a dwarf; to follow a wheel that rolled before him to show him the way, or a ball that took the place of the wheel; he had to walk on his hands and knees across a bridge made of a drawn sword; he suffered greatly. At last he rescued the queen, and later than this he married Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles, and her father gave to them the castle of Blyaunt in the Joyous Island, enclosed in iron, and with a deep water all around it. There Lancelot challenged all knights to come and contend with him, and he jousted with more than five hundred, overcoming them all, yet killing none, and at last he returned to Camelot, the place of King Arthur's court.
One day he was called from the court to an abbey, where three nuns brought to him a beautiful boy of fifteen, asking that he might be made a knight. This was Sir Lancelot's own son, Galahad, whom he had never seen, and did not yet know. That evening Sir Lancelot remained at the abbey with the boy, that he might keep his vigil there, and on the morrow's dawn he was made a knight. Sir Lancelot put on one of his spurs, and Bors, Lancelot's cousin, the other, and then Sir Lancelot said to the boy, "Fair son, attend me to the court of the king;" but the abbess said, "Sir, not now, but we will send him when it shall be time."
On Whitsunday, at the time called "underne," which was nine in the morning, King Arthur and his knights sat at the Round Table, where on every seat there was written, in letters of gold, the name of a knight with "here ought to sit he," or "he ought to sit here;" and thus went the inscriptions until they came to one seat (or siege in French) called the "Siege Perilous," where they found newly written letters of gold, saying that this seat could not be occupied until four hundred and fifty years after the death of Christ; and that was this very day. Then there came news of a marvellous stone which had been seen above the water, with a sword sticking in it bearing the letters, "Never shall man take me hence, but only he by whose side I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight of the world." Then two of the knights tried to draw the sword and failed to draw it, and Sir Lancelot, who was thought the best knight in all the world, refused to attempt it. Then they went back to their seats around the table.
Then when all the seats but the "Siege Perilous" were full, the hall was suddenly darkened; and an old man clad in white, whom nobody knew, came in, with a young knight in red armor, wearing an empty scabbard at his side, who said, "Peace be with you, fair knights." The old man said, "I bring you here a young knight that is of kings' lineage," and the king said, "Sir, ye are right heartily welcome." Then the old man bade the young knight to remove his armor, and he wore a red garment, while the old man placed on his shoulders a mantle of fine ermine, and said, "Sir, follow after." Then the old man led him to the "Siege Perilous," next to Sir Lancelot, and lifted the cloth and read, "Here sits Sir Galahad," and the youth sat down. Upon this, all the knights of the Round Table marvelled greatly at Sir Galahad, that he dared to sit in that seat, and he so tender of age. Then King Arthur took him by the hand and led him down to the river to see the adventure of the stone. "Sir," said the king to Sir Galahad, "here is a great marvel, where right good knights have tried and failed." "Sir," said Sir Galahad, "that is no marvel, for the adventure was not theirs, but mine; I have brought no sword with me, for here by my side hangs the scabbard," and he laid his hand on the sword and lightly drew it from the stone.
It was not until long after, and when they both had had many adventures, that Sir Lancelot discovered Galahad to be his son. Sir Lancelot once came to the sea-strand and found a ship without sails or oars, and sailed away upon it. Once, when he touched at an island, a young knight came on board to whom Lancelot said, "Sir, you are welcome," and when the young knight asked his name, told him, "My name is Sir Lancelot du Lac." "Sir," he said, "then you are welcome, for you are my father." "Ah," said Lancelot, "are you Sir Galahad?" Then the young knight kneeled down and asked his blessing, and they embraced each other, and there was great joy between them, and they told each other all their deeds. So dwelt Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad together within that ship for half a year, and often they arrived at islands far from men where there were but wild beasts, and they found many adventures strange and perilous which they brought to an end.
When Sir Lancelot at last died, his body was taken to Joyous-Gard, his home, and there it lay in state in the choir, with a hundred torches blazing above it; and while it was there, came his brother Sir Ector de Maris, who had long been seeking Lancelot. When he heard such noise and saw such lights in the choir, he alighted and came in; and Sir Bors went towards him and told him that his brother Lancelot was lying dead. Then Sir Ector threw his shield and sword and helm from him, and when he looked on Sir Lancelot's face he fell down in a swoon, and when he rose he spoke thus: "Ah, Sir Lancelot," said he, "thou wert dead of all Christen knights! And now I dare say, that, Sir Lancelot, there thou liest, thou wert never matched of none earthly knight's hands; and thou wert the curtiest knight that ever beare shield; and thou wert the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrood horse, and thou wert the truest lover of a sinful man that ever loved woman; and thou wert the kindest man that ever strooke with sword; and thou wert the goodliest person that ever came among presse of knights; and thou wert the meekest man and the gentlest that ever eate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortall foe that ever put speare in the rest."
King Arthur in his youth was fond of all manly exercises, especially of wrestling, an art in which he found few equals. The old men who had been the champions of earlier days, and who still sat, in summer evenings, watching the youths who tried their skill before them, at last told him that he had no rival in Cornwall, and that his only remaining competitor elsewhere was one who had tired out all others.
"Where is he?" said Arthur.
"He dwells," an old man said, "on an island whither you will have to go and find him. He is of all wrestlers the most formidable. You will think him at first so insignificant as to be hardly worth a contest; you will easily throw him at the first trial; but after a while you will find him growing stronger; he seeks out all your weak points as by magic; he never gives up; you may throw him again and again, but he will conquer you at last."
"His name! his name!" said Arthur.
"His name," they answered, "is Hanner Dyn; his home is everywhere, but on his own island you will be likely to find him sooner or later. Keep clear of him, or he will get the best of you in the end, and make you his slave as he makes slaves of others whom he has conquered."
Far and wide over the ocean the young Arthur sought; he touched at island after island; he saw many weak men who did not dare to wrestle with him, and many strong ones whom he could always throw, until at last when he was far out under the western sky, he came one day to an island which he had never before seen and which seemed uninhabited. Presently there came out from beneath an arbor of flowers a little miniature man, graceful and quick-moving as an elf. Arthur, eager in his quest, said to him, "In what island dwells Hanner Dyn?" "In this island," was the answer. "Where is he?" said Arthur. "I am he," said the laughing boy, taking hold of his hand.
"What did they mean by calling you a wrestler?" said Arthur.
"Oh," said the child coaxingly, "I am a wrestler. Try me."
The king took him and tossed him in the air with his strong arms, till the boy shouted with delight. He then took Arthur by the hand and led him about the island—showed him his house and where the gardens and fields were. He showed him the rows of men toiling in the meadows or felling trees. "They all work for me," he said carelessly. The king thought he had never seen a more stalwart set of laborers. Then the boy led him to the house, asked him what his favorite fruits were, or his favorite beverages, and seemed to have all at hand. He was an unaccountable little creature; in size and years he seemed a child; but in his activity and agility he seemed almost a man. When the king told him so, he smiled, as winningly as ever, and said, "That is what they call me—Hanner Dyn, The Half-Man." Laughing merrily, he helped Arthur into his boat and bade him farewell, urging him to come again. The King sailed away, looking back with something like affection on his winsome little playmate.
It was months before Arthur came that way again. Again the merry child met him, having grown a good deal since their earlier meeting. "How is my little wrestler?" said Arthur. "Try me," said the boy; and the king tossed him again in his arms, finding the delicate limbs firmer, and the slender body heavier than before, though easily manageable. The island was as green and more cultivated, there were more men working in the fields, and Arthur noticed that their look was not cheerful, but rather as of those who had been discouraged and oppressed.