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leian of the bard Merlin, the haunter of his life among the hills, the inspiration of
“ The fosterer of song among the streams,
became the Vivien or Nimiane of the mythic Merlin and of the mediæval romances. The sun-glints through the mists of the Drummelzier Laws have, in their personified and sublimated form, illumined the long, flowing stream of Romance through mediæval and modern times down to our own day. Therein the figure has assumed the form of the subtle tempter, seeking by low inducements to enthral the seer, to master his kingly intellect by working on his moral weakness. And very variously has the story of her method of success been figured. According to one account,' his Nimiane having gained the secret of his art, imprisoned him in a tower whose walls were neither of iron nor stone nor wood, but of air made adamantine by enchantment, in the far depths of the wood of Broceliande. Out of this tower he can never pass; but she, knowing the secret of the enchantment, may come and go to him as she pleases. Once, and once only, after his imprisonment, was his voice heard on earth, when he told a wandering knight, his friend, that this was his eternal doom, and prayed the knight to seek for him no more among living men. Again, according to Sir Thomas Malory,” his lady-love Nimiane, wearying of him, fearing him as a devil's son, wormed his art out of him, got him to go under a great rock, “to let her wit of the marvel there," and then contrived to shut him in,
* Merlin, English Text Society, 1450-60, iii. 681.
and so left him—a very excellent method, when it is possible, of getting rid of a troublesome lover.
The latest poetic form in which Merlin appears is in the “ Vivien ” of Tennyson, in the Idylls of the King. The picture is a pretty close copy of the lower or degraded conception of the Merlin of the middle ages. This is a composite of the two historical Merlins, and something more. He is mysteriously born, a spirit's son; he is wizard, yet Christian, and not pagan.
His highest principle is serving Arthur by his wizard arts, regardless of the laws of truth and the dictates of morality. He is, in fact, the impersonation of intellectual subtlety, subordinate to a narrow, even low, sense of moral law, unless we regard the advancement of Arthur and the Arthurian idea as the inborn law of his life, the realisation of which redeems all the violations of ordinary morality. Vivien, wicked, artful, cunning, cloaking her ambition in the guise of love, plies her woman's wiles, and finally succeeds in gaining the knowledge of his secret art: it is coarse temptation conquering transcendent intellectual power :
“A storm was coming, but the winds were still,
She set herself to gain
With woven paces and with waving arms,
After describing the various wiles which Vivien used, we are told the issue thus :
“She called him lord and liege,
eyes and neck glittering went and came ;
and what should not have been had been,
I cannot help thinking that the historical Merlin was a far higher personality than this representation embodies. The enchanter and bard of the sixth century was no commonplace Solomon to fall before vulgar temptation. The conception of him as the typical man of his epocha man torn and distracted by doubts regarding the old
Druidic faith, and yet not quite able to embrace the new creed of Columba and Kentigern, fondly turning to the hills for solace—is more true historically, and it is a far finer conception than anything either in Malory or Tennyson. And further, the Hwimleian,—the gleam, the early love of Merlin,-is, so far as we can judge from the poems, not in the least the Vivien of Tennyson. The Merlin of history and of the Merlinian poems is a wholly different personage from the Merlin pictured in the mediæval romances and pretty closely copied by Tennyson.
The simple tradition of Tweedside regarding the fate of the seer, is that he lies with Arthur and his knights in the enchanted halls under the purple Eildons, in a sleep that shall never be broken until the mythic sword be drawn and the mysterious bugle sounded. Perhaps
“ They have to sleep until the time is ripe
For greater deeds to match their greater thought.”
Leyden, in his too-little-known poem, The Scenes of Infancy, has finely touched this old belief and expectation of the Cymri, which originated apparently with the poet-seer, the woodland Merlin :
“Wild on the breeze the thrilling lyre shall fling
Melodious accents from each elfin string.
In ancient pomp his mailed bands display ;
Of the prophecies attributed to Merlin, one, at least, may be regarded as having a certain and never-failing fulfilment. Speaking of the wild scenery amid which his later days were passed, “ Lady,” said the bard, “the flesh upon me shall be rotten before a month shall have passed; but my spirit will not be wanting to all those who shall come here."
Whatever we may think of this solution of these early days, the problem dimly felt then is even now a pressing one for us. We must now still ask how we are to reconcile or to interpret harmoniously the impressions of nature—the scientific sense of what it presents to us, the imaginative sense of what it suggests to us, its literal and its symbolical aspects--with the supersensible personality which every normal human heart must feel somehow pervades it.
How are we to conciliate natural feeling with supernatural emotion? was the question of the reflective nature-worshipper among the Druids. It is not less the question for every reflective man in this nineteenth century; and I am afraid we are not much advanced beyond the sun-worshippers of a thousand years ago on the Tweeddale hills.
Leyden, Scenes of Infancy, 300, 301. Prophecies de Merlin, F. 76. 3 On the subject of Merlin, see further two papers contributed by me to the Journal of the British Archæological Society, 1889, and Merlin and other Poems, 1889.