(Original to the text)
1 A name given to the cup made use of by Christ at his holy supper.
2 From the French word triste, sad, tristful; the latter indeed not in use, but borrowed more immediately from the French, and employed by Shakespear in the following passage out of Hamlet,
"Heaven's face doth glow
With tristful visage."
3 A most palpable anachronism; but no ways surprising in a romance of the twelfth century.
4 See the note to this word, No. 4, p. 144 [Ed.: The work referred to here is The History of Claris and Laris, which was part of the same volume, and is also available through The Camelot Project.].
5 It was the received custom amongst the ladies, at that brilliant æra of ancient chivalry, to study surgery; that by their skill they might be useful to their fathers, husbands, relations, and friends, who were in daily danger of being wounded in single or other combats, tournaments, &c.
6 This appellation, equally honourable, and at that time significant, was given to the young ladies of quality before they were married.
7 This word, though obsolete, is the best equivalent we have in our language for the French combattre à outrance (to the last extremity). Shakespear uses it in that sense, in the following lines taken from Macbeth:
--------"Come fate into the list,
And champion me to th'utterance.
And also in his tragedy of Cymbeline,
--------"Of him I gathered honour;
Which to seek of me again per force
Behoves me keep at utterance.
8 The word Vassal, was used as a word of contempt by those Knights who were stiled Lords; and it was accounted a real disgrace for a gentleman to be called Vassal by a person who was not in reality his Lord Paramount.
9 See the Plate.
10 It is evident that Ariosto borrowed from this passage the episode of the enchanted cup. He, as well as Boccacio, has made free with several other incidents of this romance, which was composed 200 years before the time of those Italian authors.
11 This word, though obsolete, is very expressive; it refers to any action unworthy of a Knight, witness the following passage from Spencer's Fairy Queen:
—"Arise thou curs'd miscreant,
That hast with knightless guile and treacherous train
Fair knighthood foully shamed."
12 See the plate.
13 This agreeable tale has been since copied by several writers, such as Boccacio, the Queen of Navarre, Bonaventure Des Perriers, and other authors, who are all, by several centuries, posterior to the English Knight, Sir Lucius du Gua, the historian of our hero.
14 These two short lines are the burthen of the stanza.
15 See the plate.
* The text is taken from A New and Complete Collection of Interesting Romances and Novels; Translated from the French by Mr Porney, Teacher of the French Language at Richmond, Surry (London, printed by Alex Hogg ). It also appears, unattributed, in identical form in A New Treasure of Knowledge and Entertainment; being a Translation of that Celebrated Periodical Work, now Publishing in France, under the Title of Bibliotheque Universelle des Romans Vol. 1 (London, printed by E. Cox, 1780) and in An entire new collection of romances and novels, never before published, embellished with ten elegant copper-plates (London: Fielding and Walker, 1780; published electronically by The Hathi Trust Digital Library and Google Books). The volumes differ only in front matter and in length. Pagination and formatting are identical, and length presumably would be as well—the Cox volume simply appears to be an incomplete copy, as it ends on a mid-sentence page-break.
† A period of five years (Oxford English Dictionary, lustre2)
The author of this Romance says, that it is taken from the history of the holy greal,1 the source of many other works of that kind, as we shall have occasion to observe. In a prologue or preface to the history of Tristan, we read, that it was composed by Sir Lucius du Gua, Knight, who gives himself for an Englishman born in the neighbourhood of Salisbury; whence it appears that the Romance was written in the reign of Henry I. of England, for we are given to understand in some other works, that Sir Lucius was kinsman and cotemporary to that monarch, who waged war against Lewis le Gros, about the year 1120. This Prince is represented as amiable, as he was a brave and loyal Knight. He being engaged in a tedious war against the King of England and his own vassals, his reign was the most brilliant æra of chivalry, at least under the French Kings of the third race. This same spirit was kept up under his son Lewis the Younger. This Prince, whose courage and imprudences are equally recorded in history, supported the honour of French chivalry, and was more nice in his feelings than expert in politics, as appears by his divorcing the heiress of Guienna; as by these means that province became part of the English dominions. The Belles Letters made a considerable progress during his reign and under his immediate protection. The French began to imitate the lively imaginations of the Greeks, and take the Romans for their models in eloquence: in short, good taste seemed then to emerge from that ignorance and barbarity which had disgraced former ages: witness the works of Bernard, those of the learned but unfortunate Abelard, and the tender Heloisa. Literature continued in its progress under Philip-August and Lewis VIII. The French language, which was then called Romance, was first brought to some perfection, and it was at this æra that the writings on Knight-errantry began to have the vogue. In these extraordinary productions, the authors generally betray their ignorance of historical facts, together with a ridiculous and ill-timed parade of religious devotion: yet they are commendable in this particular, that their works breathe that spirit of generosity and honour which seem to have ever been the characteristics of ancient chivalry. Under Lewis IX, and his grand children, the romantic stile gave way to works of a less elevated nature; as may be proved by the lays or songs of the King of Navarre, other pieces of light poetry, and the farce of the Avocat Patalin (the Wheedling Lawyer) which were published about this time. The very manner in which the history of Tristan is composed, seem therefore to ascertain its being anterior to this epocha; it being one of the best and most interesting of the whole collection of Romances. The hero is represented as equally brave and gallant, the leading features of the Knights of yore; the heroine as beautiful and tenderly inclined: both nobly minded and virtuous. If they are guilty of trespassing against the marriage vow, the author has had art and taste sufficient to excuse or at least palliate their fault by making it appear to be the consequence of an irresistible charm. Their very weakness is dignified in some respect by the fortitude they display in bearing the misfortunes which their ill-fated love bring upon them. The reader will see in Bragien the most complete model for a trusty confident: as she carries even to heroism the desire of being thought worthy of sharing in Yseult's secrets. King Marcus jealous upon recollection, a coward and truant Knight, is more an object of derision and contempt than of compassion and concern, whenever we see that the mischances he meets with turn to the glory of Tristan. The great Arthur bears with a far better grace the unequivocal satisfaction which his consort Genievre expresses at hearing the praise and noble deeds of the illustrious Lancelot of the Lake. But we shall anticipate no further on the reader's curiosity, which we flatter ourselves, will be amply gratified by the perusal of the following sheets.
The author of this romance, as well as that of the holy greal, goes back as far as the times of Joseph of Arimathea, that pious man who is recorded in the New Testament to have entombed the body of Christ. According to a tradition, as absurd as unsupported, Joseph crossed the seas, and came into this country, in order to instruct and convert the Britons. At his departure for this religious expedition, he committed to the care of his brother Bron the holy greal, which, as we have said before, was the cup used in the Lord's last supper, and carefully preserved as a valuable relic by Joseph of Arimathea.
Bron had twelve children; the eldest claimed the keeping of the holy greal, and for that purpose carefully preserved, as the author says, the flower of his chastity. Ten received wives, chosen amongst the fairest by Joseph their uncle; but Sadoc, the youngest, declared that his intention was to travel, seek after adventures, and take a wife of his own chusing. "Do as thou likest, said Joseph, but I fear much that thou shalt be sorry for it in the end."
Sadoc paid but very little attention to his uncle's admonitions, and set out towards the sea coast. At his arrival, he saw a wreck, and several persons lying dead on shore. At a little distance at sea, a woman richly clad, having laid hold of a plank, was endeavouring to escape from the fury of the raging billows. Sadoc gave her the necessary assistance, and, having got her safe, carried her to one of his brother's, who lived in the neighborhood. This proved a lucky circumstance; for the lady was not only surprizingly handsome, but daughter to the King of Babylon, who had betrothed her to the Emperor of Persia, whither she was bound; when the ship that carried her met with a dreadful hurricane, and she alone survived the whole crew. Her name was Chelinda; the beautiful and complaisant Princess was a few days after married to Sadoc.
One of her brother's-in-law fell in love with her, and seizing the opportunity of his brother being gone on a hunting party, found means to decoy her into his own room; where, says the author, whether she would consent or not, he used her at his pleasure. Sadoc returned in the evening, wounded by a wild boar, and Chelinda put on the deepest mourning, which her husband mistook for a proof of her love towards him, and the grief she felt at the accident which had endangered his life: but Chelinda, drowned in tears by his bed-side, and thinking him fast asleep, began to vent her complaints aloud of the base usage offered her by the treacherous Nabuzardan. Sadoc overheard her moaning, started from his bed, and, taking up his arms, ran hastily to his brother, killed him, and with Chelinda, embarked on board a ship ready to set sail.
The two passengers were not known to any of the mariners. After a few days of a prosperous navigation, a violent tempest arose: the ship could hardly weather the storm, and each surge seemed to threaten the whole crew with inevitable destruction. A venerable sage rose from among them, and said to the mariners, that the Almighty's wrath was rife against them on account of a grievous sin committed by some one on board, whom he should soon discover by his charms and potent incantations. He accordingly cast lots, and it fell on Sadoc. Conscious of being the murderer of his own brother, he had not a word to offer for himself. He recommended his wife to the care of the principal officers, and suffered himself to be cast into the sea. Suddenly the storm abated, and in a few hours the ship arrived safe in the kingdom of Cornwall. Thanor, King of the country, came in person to search the ship, where he found the beautiful mourner Chelinda, lamenting the death of Sadoc. She was big with child, a circumstance which gave no offence to the King of Cornwall; but he learnt that she was a christian, at which he was much displeased. In hopes, however, of persuading her to the worship of his idols, he marries Chelinda on the very spot. The Queen was a few days after brought to bed of a chopping boy, whom the King cherished as if it had been his own. But Thanor dreamed an ugly dream, and called all the philosophers of his kingdom to give their opinion. The learned men were great interpreters of dreams and nightly visions. They all declared that the son whom he brought up so kindly, would one day take away his life, if not dispatched in time. Thanor would not imbrue his hands in the blood of the charming babe, but ordered one of his trusty servants to take and abandon it in the midst of a forest. A lady in her morning walk found the child, was moved by his innocent caresses, and took him home. She had no occasion to repent; for, as the boy grew up to man's estate, he became as remarkable for the comeliness of his person, as for the accomplishments of his mind; and, in time, under the name of Apollo the venturesome, was accounted a noble and worthy Knight.
The author, who by no means intended that Sadoc should be drowned, conveys him safe on a rock; where a good hermit with whom he lived or rather fasted for three years, made him do penance for his past offences, and disposed his mind to bear against that sea of trouble which it is the lot of mankind to wade through.
Meanwhile Chelinda loses not her time. She continues to profess the christian religion, and patiently submits to her union with Thanor, to whom she gave a son and heir. But, alas! it was decreed that Chelinda should be celebrated for her matrimonial adventures. An unforeseen accident brought Pelias of Leonois to the court of Thanor. He saw and fell in love with Chelinda, in whose bed-chamber he found means to conceal himself. The King soon after entered the apartment with his Chamberlain, a man of wit and raillery, with whom the Cornish King used to converse the best part of the night. Whilst the Monarch was undressing, the Chamberlain retired to a window to enjoy the fresh air; but the mischievous Pelias creeping slowly behind him, and lifting up his legs, threw him out the window into a river that bathed the palace-wall. Thanor, hearing an uncommon noise, ran to the window, and was served the same trick by Pelias, who took Chelinda to wife, and carried her into his own kingdom.
Thanor was taken up alive by a fisherman; but the Knights of Pelias's train laid hold of him, and confined the Cornish Monarch in a dungeon. Meanwhile Pellades, Thanor's brother, had consulted with his soothsayer. The latter advised him to send for a man who dwelt on the top of a rock, surrounded on all sides by the sea. This man our readers will easily guess was Sadoc, very much emaciated, no less penitent; but above all wearied of the tiresome life which he led with the old anchoret. He was brought before Pellades, who persuaded him to impeach King Pelias of high treason before King Maroveus, the paramount of the kingdoms of Leonois and Cornwall, and to whom the two Monarchs paid a yearly tribute of an hundred youths of both sex, and as many Knights. This Maroveus, we may suppose, was the first King of France of the Merovigian race.
Sadoc threw down his gauntlet, and Pelias accepted the challenge. They fought a long time with equal courage and obstinacy; till, being both grievously wounded, they were obliged to leave off. They entered into a parley, and Pelias, conscious that he had done some trifling wrongs to Thanor; such as attempting to drown him, and debauching his wife, offered to make up the breach, by suffering Chelinda to return to her lord, who received her with the highest transports. He took her back to Cornwall, together with her first husband Sadoc: but the latter was so altered for the worse, by his long fasting, that the Princess of Babylon could not recollect him. The King, however, grew suspicious, and his philosophers having increased his jealousy, Sadoc was ordered to depart the kingdom. The husband and no husband was once more obliged to wander from place to place, misfortune following close at his heels. He was taken up for a supposed murder, and only waiting for his execution, till the hangman had dispatched a few other malefactors; when he was delivered very a propos by King Pelias. This Prince spoke to him confidently of the love he bore to Chelinda, and his uneasiness at being parted from so lovely a bride. Sadoc, by an uncommon effort of gratitude, promised to serve the amours of a Prince who had saved his life. In company with two other Knights, he set out for Cornwall, way-laid Thanor, knocked him off his horse, and wounded him; then eloped with his own wife, and faithfully brought back to Pelias the innocent adulteress.
The peaceable husband of the Princess Chelinda, bethought himself at last that she was his wedded bride, and all his former love was instantly re-kindled. He followed her so close, watched her so narrowly, gave her so many significant looks, that she was pleased in the end to recollect that she had once given her hand to such a man; in fine, they knew each other, and rejoiced mightily at the discovery. How to get her out of the hands of her present owner puzzled Sadoc for some time, till he applied to the King and craved a boon; the Monarch, little aware of the consequence, answered, that he could refuse him nothing. —"Then said Sadoc, give me back the beautiful Chelinda." Pelias wished it had been in his power to recall his plighted word, but the laws of chivalry forbad it, and he suffered Sadoc to take away Chelinda, and leave his dominions.
They had not gone far on their journey before they met with a cruel and felon giant, who threatened our two travellers with immediate death, unless Sadoc could unfold the riddle which he was about to propound; but it was couched in such terms that the respect we shall ever pay to decency forbids us to repeat it: suffice it to say, that the meaning of it was, as Sadoc found out, that the monster had been guilty both of incest and murder. The giant grinned applause, and, according to his custom, retained the two travellers with him till he could meet with a more clever genious, if any could be found; meanwhile Chelinda and her husband were treated with every mark of distinction. Some days after King Pelias arrived, the heart oppressed with grief at not being permitted to be, even by interim, the husband of Chelinda. On the other hand, Sadoc trembled lest the King should attempt to take her away. But he was soon rid of his apprehension, for the giant having proposed to Pelias two riddles as indecent as the former, they were so readily solved, and fully explained, that the giant sent away Sadoc and Chelinda, retaining the Monarch in his train.
Meanwhile Apollo the venturesome, the first and legitimate offspring of Sadoc and Chelinda, was ripe for knightly deeds and atchievements, and kept the hundred-mouthed goddess in full employment. He was just returning from a glorious expedition, the particulars of which, however, are not mentioned by the author; when his way led him thro' the manor of the riddle-mad giant, he explained the enigma proposed to him, and then, without giving time to the giant to prepare himself, gave him instantly a riddle to unfold. The monster was much disconcerted, stared foolishly, and could give no answer, and by virtue of the ancient charter, which he himself had made, of resigning his life and estate to any one that could beat him in his own way, he was slain by Apollo, who set Pelias at liberty.
The latter being returned to his own kingdom, resolved to declare war against the Cornish King; Chilperic, Monarch of the Gauls, whose liegemen the two Princes were, interposed his mediation; but to no purpose, and the wilful Pelias lost in one day by his obstinacy, a pitched battle and his life. He was interred with the utmost magnificence, and his tomb became a monument of so great note, that travellers flocked from every part to visit it. Sadoc came there, with other Knights, and having observed King Thador, attacked and wounded him. After this exploit he went his way, but looking back he saw a Knight bearing the same eschutcheon as the Cornish King. Sadoc took him for Thador, and assailed him with great violence; but, Oh! fatal mistake! Sadoc, the murderer of his brother, fell by the hands of his own son: for this was no other than Apollo, who having been brought up in Cornwall, where he was born, bore the arms of Thador, his supposed father. Luces, son to King Pelias, arrived on the spot, and, seeing Sadoc weltering in his blood, he shuddered at the sight, and charged Apollo with the parricide; which the unfortunate Knight lamented as bitterly as if he had not been innocent of the guilt. As they were conversing together on the outrages of angry fortune, King Thanor happened to pass by: Luces ran at him with couched lance, but received a mortal wound, and in his last speech proclaimed Apollo his successor to the kingdom of Leonois. The latter, enraged at the various mischances of the day, fell on Thanor, and, after an obstinate fight which lasted several hours, gave him his death-wound, and thus made good the prediction of the soothsayer.
Apollo took possession of his dying friend's bequest. He reigned over the kingdom of Leonois, in a manner that endeared him to all his subjects, who, in order that they might have a successor who should follow the bright example given him by so noble a father, intreated their king to chose himself a wife. Apollo, unable to withstand the humble petitions of his loving subjects, called together at a certain day, all the beauties which his kingdom could boast of that he might be enabled to make a choice equally good and prudent; nor would he have the widows be excluded from the list of competitors. But here, where he least expected it, adverse fortune completed the measures of his woes, for that very Chelinda, his own mother, the afflicted widow of so many husbands, was by far the handsomest of all those who courted the King's smile. Nature remained silent, and Apollo chose her for his consort.
"The nuptials, says the author, were celebrated, and they lived day and night in great familiarity together: but such a crime was soon followed by an adequate punishment. There came into the kingdom an old, grave, and pious man; who, having been charged with murder, was brought before the King and Queen, who asked his name. The venerable Sire, having crossed himself, said, that he had the name Augustine, and declared that he was sadly frightened at seeing himself placed between the he and she wolf. Being desired to explain his meaning:—"I am says he, Augustine, the apostle of England, come to open your eyes O King! on the incest which you have committed. Behold, in your royal consort, behold your mother!" The blood of our monarch Orestes froze as he heard the charge; but the Queen refused to give him credit, and the flatterers, for that pest infested the court then, as they do at present, said, that the old man was an imposter, a treacherous and false man, who deserved to be burnt alive. This would have proved the Saints death warrant, had not Providence interposed. A pile of wood is erected, fire set to it, and Augustine bound to the stake, is going to fall a sacrifice to the misrepresentations of court-sycophants: when, all on a sudden, a shower falls from heaven, and puts out the fire which began to reach this holy man: whilst the Queen, struck by lightning, is reduced to a heap of ashes. This incident, and Augustine's expostulations, bring Apollo and his courtiers to consent to be baptized, together with the best part of his subjects, who embraced the Christian religion.
The King of Cornwall, a graceless slave to the worship of idols, makes war upon the King of Leonois. But a compleat defeat, brings him to his senses. He is baptized, and to strengthen the friendship which he vows to Apollo, they each marry a daughter of one of the Cornish Barons. And, observe, says the author, that at this very time that Cornwall was converted to the faith of Christ by friar Austin, the same was done in Ireland, by Joseph of Arimathea, whom the Lord seemed to have sent over there, in order to people the land with good and religious men.
The two sisters mentioned above were equally handsome; but differed essentially in their natural dispositions. The Queen of Cornwall, whose name was Gwyn had a natural propensity to mischief, which was assisted by some knowledge in necromancy; whilst Glorianda, Apollo's consort, was all meekness and truth. When Gwin had attained her fifth lustre,† she fell in love with one of her houshould Knights. The Cornish King perceived it; but, as his love for his Queen was excessive, he took no other revenge than to shut her up in a tower, and spent every night with her. Gwin soon grew tired of so recluse a life, and expostulated with the monarch in these words: "Truly, my Lord, your behaviour is enough to inspire me with thoughts which I perhaps never had. Have you then never heard that it is in vain to attempt the controuling of a woman's will? Let me tell you, Sir, that, had I a mind to it, you would find it is out of your power to keep me within bounds; spite of your guards, bolts, and iron bars." This observation, however true and flowing from the very nature of womankind, had no effect on the King of Cornwall who continued to keep his slippery consort under lock and key.
It is no doubt obvious to every intelligent reader that these obstacles only served to sharpen Gwin's inventive genius, in order to overcome them, and that at last she found the cap to fit her husband's head. One night he saw her coming down from her window, by means of a rope fastened to an iron staple, and was so imprudent as to call all his courtiers together to witness his own disgrace. Yet such was the power of her beauty, that he could not find it in his heart to put her upon her trial, as, according to the laws of the land, she must die a violent death. Another time, having surprised her at the very instant that she had prepared her rope-ladder, he threatened her with instant death, unless she consented to betray the adulterer. Gwin seemingly complied, and persuaded him to put on her clothes, and in that disguise to go down the ladder, as he would then infallibly surprize the spark at the appointed rendezvous. The Cornish King liked the proposal; but he had hardly reached one third of his way down, when Gwin, loosening the rope; the credulous monarch fell and broke his neck: whilst she instantly eloped with her gallant.
This adventure alarmed Apollo. He dreaded lest Glorianda should serve him some similar trick. Clovis, resolved to be baptized, sent for the King of Leonois to be present at the ceremony. To make sure of his wife's fidelity, as much as it is in the power of mortal men to guard against the fickleness of the sex, he took her with him to court. But Glorianda's behaviour was such, that he had every moral certitude a husband can wish for of her truth and fidelity: so that his love for her was increased, and he prepared for his return to his kingdom, perfectly cured of his suspicions, on the regularity of Glorianda's conduct.
Unfortunately however, Childeric, the son of Clovis, smitten with Glorianda's beauty, resolved to get her into his possession. If love is a noble passion, lust is the most degrading of all human affections. The French Prince, who had not hitherto been guilty of any crime, determined now on a deed which will hold him for ever to posterity, as the basest of all men. Knowing which way Apollo was to go, he set himself in ambuscade, and with the assistance of a few hired ruffians, set upon and murdered the King of Leonois, then, seizing on his fair prize, carried her to a strong castle, which he had in the neighborhood, and would have been the Tarquinius of this modern Lucretia, who, rather than consent to his brutality, killed herself, sooner indeed than the Roman matron is recorded to have done. This crime of Childeric was therefore entirely useless, and nothing was left to him but the keen remorse of having acted the villain to no purpose. He caused the unfortunate pair to be buried privately; but this horrid murder was discovered by means of a faithful greyhound who would not leave the place where the remains of his master had been deposited. Clovis was soon acquainted with the whole transaction, and, having called his son on the very spot, rebuked him sharply for his breach of hospitality, and for having thus feloniously attacked and treacherously murdered a King his ally, and then, by the advice of his Barons, ordered his guilty son to be burnt alive. Clovis, to make amends for his son's villainy, took upon himself the care of the young surviving Prince of Leonois, had him brought up at his court, and gave him his own daughter Chrisilda in marriage.
THE posterity of Apollo reigned glorious and happy over the inhabitants of Leonois, which is supposed to have been the country known formerly by the name of Armorica, and in latter days called Lower Britanny, where we find the city of St. Paul de Leon. It is many generations after the violent death of Apollo, that we hear of our hero's father, Meliadus, King of Leonois, married to Isabella daughter to Felix King of Cornwall, and sister of Marcus, who succeeded soon after to Felix his father.
Meliadus lived happy with Isabella his Queen, who, to his utter joy was, after a few year's marriage, declared pregnant. A fairy, who lived in the neighbourhood, fell in love with Meliadus, and, by charms and spells, got him into her power. The disconsolate Queen set out in search of her royal consort, taking no body with her but one of her ladies of honour, and Gouvernail her own equerry. About midnight she was taken in labour, in the midst of a dark and dismal forest, and brought forth a most beautiful boy. Finding that her strength failed her, and that her dissolution was at hand, she lifted up the child in her arms, and, in the broken accents of grief and pain, she addressed him in these words, "O son! long have I wished for thee, and now do I behold the fairest boy that ever gladdened a fond mother's heart. And yet, alas! thy beauty will avail me little; for lo, I die!—In sadness I bore these, sad was the hour in which I brought thee forth, and sad is the welcome thy wretched mother bids thee: then, since in sadness thou art born, be thy name henceforth Tristan2," so saying she kissed the lovely babe, and as she kissed, expired.
Gouvernail and the lady were nearly drove to despair by the fatal catastrophe. However, they resolved to live, and bring up Tristan, and were only embarrassed how to provide a nurse for him; when Merlin, that good and potent enchanter, who never appeared but when any event took place likely to redound to the honour of his friend Arthur and the British worthies, made his appearance. He broke the spell that detained Meliadus a prisoner in the fairy's palace, and bad Gouvernail take a particular care of young Tristan, as he would live to be the ornament and one of the three most celebrated Knights of the Round-table. Meliadus and Gouvernail thanked the great Merlin, and the equerry from this instant took care to train up his pupil in every science that could make him both brave and virtuous.
Tristan was in his seventh year, when Meliadus, tired of a long widowhood, courted and obtained the hand of a young lady, daughter to King Houel of Nantes in Lower Britanny. She was a miracle of beauty; but her mind was a disgrace to her outward charms. She soon manifested her wicked inclinations; for, having been brought to bed of a son, she took such an antipathy against Tristan, that she twice attempted his life; but was the victim of her own malice. For on her first trial, the envenomed bowl she had prepared was drank off by her son: yet she once more had recourse to the same means in the very presence of the King; but he having inspected the bowl, and the liquor it contained, perceived that it was poisoned, and, having called his Barons together, he, by their advice, condemned the cruel step-mother to the stake. Tristan, on the eve of her execution, requested a boon of his father, which was granted him—this was the Queen's life. According to the religious observance of those happy times, every promise made was held sacred, and Meliadus forgave his Queen, but from that instant would never be reconciled to her.
About this time a dwarf, well skilled in casting up nativities, foretold to Marcus, King of Cornwall, that by his nephew Tristan he should in time be brought to shame and disgrace. This was enough for the weak and cowardly Monarch to seek the life of Tristan. Two Cornish Knights set out for Leonois, with an intention to destroy the young Prince. They concealed themselves behind a bush, near the spot where Meliadus and his son used to take the diversion of hunting, and, as they found Meliadus unarmed, they soon dispatched him; but, by the care of Gouvernail, the life of Tristan was preserved. Meliadus being no more, the Queen took upon herself the regency of the state. Her rooted hatred against Tristan, determined Gouvernail to set him beyond the reach of her malice, and carried his pupil to the court of Pharamond, who was then King of the Gauls.3
Tristan soon became the ornament of the French court: he was, says his historian, the handsomest and most vigorous varlet4 of his age. So comely a youth could not but attract the particular notice of the ladies.
Belinda, daughter to Pharamond, was not proof against the many perfections of body and mind which so highly distinguished our hero from the rest of his sex; but, lest her rank should awe the bashful youth, she threw off all restraint, and rather than pine away in fruitless expectation, boldly stept forth, and made an open declaration of her passion. The Princess was young and handsome; Tristan, in that hey-day of life when the love of pleasure silences every other consideration, was moved; nay tempted, and might perhaps have improved this first opportunity of beginning his love campaigns, had not the sensible Gouvernail expostulated with his pupil on the ingratitude he would be guilty of, were he thus to bring shame and disgrace upon the family of a great Monarch who had shewed him so much friendship and hospitality. This remonstrance had the desired effect. Tristan was roused to a just sense of honour and duty; but Belinda was deaf to both. She watched Tristan, and meeting him alone in a thicket grove, she flew into his arms. The chaste Knight gently pushed her from him, and, some courtiers happening to pass that way, Belinda screamed, and had Tristan taken up as having dared to attempt her honour. The innocent culprit was brough before Pharamond, who read in Belinda's countenance that Tristan was not the criminal. In order to clear the matter, he ordered a sword to be put into her hands, and bade the Princess strike her ravisher. Belinda stood, confessed, and, dropping on her knees, begged her royal father to punish his guilty daughter, for having presumed to dispose of her heart without his consent, and bestowed it on a man who disdained it. The indulgent parent bade the Princess rise, kissed and soothed her; gave the deserved praise to the continent Knight, yet, as his birth was not publicly known, would not give him Belinda's hand, but on the contrary ordered him to leave the kingdom.
Gouvernail who, during the stay of Tristan at the French court, had effected a reconciliation between him and his royal kinsman, Marcus, set out with his pupil for Cornwall, where his uncle welcomed him; having been told that the dwarf was a meddling ignorant fellow, and knew not what he said; and, upon his being assured by Gouvernail, that he had nothing to fear from his nephew, he gave him leave to remain at his court.
Belinda, conscious of the double crime which proclaimed her wanton and treacherous to her love, could not long survive the hopes of being happy in the arms of Tristan. A sad melancholy preyed upon her spirits, and her mental disease being past all cure, she fell into a fit of despair, and resolved to put a speedy end to a life, which shame and remorse rendered daily more insupportable. In order to effect her desperate purpose, she concealed in her bed-chamber that very sword which Pharamond had commanded her to stain with the blood of Tristan; but before she turned it against herself, she wrote the following letter; which, as it gives an idea of the style of love epistles in those days, we shall translate as literally as the difference of the two idioms will admit:
"Dearest Tristan,The blood of Belinda had blotted out the other parts of her letter: enough however could be read to make the tenderest impression on Tristan's gentle heart. He lamented, with tears of pity, the wretched end of so lovely a Princess, kept her dying letter for ever close to his heart, and by his caresses welcomed the faithful creature recommended to his care and notice by Belinda's last request.
"Beloved with sincerity of heart, and without guile; may heaven assist you, providence befriend you, and be your fame increased. Where-ever you go, may joy, health, felicity, and good luck attend you; may glory and victory crown your knightly exploits, and may your renown fill every corner of the earth! Live in peace, plenty and happiness; and be it your fate to leave all other Knights far behind you, and to be accounted the bravest of them all. God, who reigneth for ever, will, I trust, grant you a better end, nor so sad as mine: for my first love shall I terminate in blood. The only comfort left me, sweetest friend, is that I shall fall on that very sword which my father put into my hands to slay you. I pray to God you may not die before you are by this informed of love's tyranny over those unfortunate wretches whose passion meets with no return. Oh, my love! it is for thee I die; and, as thou art too far to close my eyes, I send thee this letter, and my favourite dog which thou shalt keep for my sake; he is one of the best setters, and because he is the best do I give it thee, my love!"
Meanwhile Tristan improved daily in the manly exercises which the youths of those days preferred to the idle pleasures of a passive life. He was at the court of his uncle Marcus, the theme of every body's praise, and no less beloved for his gentleness of temper, than admired by all for his surprising strength and beauty. It was about this time that Morhoult, brother to the Queen of Ireland, came with a numerous train of Knights and Esquires to demand the tribute, which the Cornish King paid annually to the Sovereign of Ireland. No way was left to shake off the galling yoke, but by finding a Knight who would dare to break a lance with Morhoult, one of the most valiant companions of the Round-table. Marcus applied in vain to several of his courtiers; they to a man declined under various pretences, but all founded on motives equally base and disgraceful. Young Tristan, after having craved the advice of his tutor Gouvernail, went to his uncle, and besought him on his knees to confer upon him the honour of knighthood, if he thought him worthy of so eminent a distinction. "Yes truly, handsome youth, answered Marcus, well hast thou deserved it; though it grieveth me to the heart to think that it cannot be done with that joy and splendour which the occasion requires; owing to the disagreeable circumstance of the Irish coming over to levy the tribute: but, since it is thy desire, tomorrow be ready to attend us."
According to his promise Marcus, on the next day, surrounded by his courtiers, and all the foreigners of distinction that were then at the Cornish court, knighted his nephew Tristan. The latter had hardly gone thro' the ceremony when he begged leave to fight Morhoult, in order to free the kingdom of Cornwall from the servile tribute. This, with great reluctance was granted, and the same made known to the Irish Knights. "And who is that presumptuous man, enquired one of them, who dares to defy to single combat our great and powerful Prince?" "I am that man, replied Tristan, as great as Morhoult by birth, being the son and heir of King Meliadus and nephew to Marcus." Morhoult accepted of the challenge, and it was agreed that they should meet on Sanson's island, where the two Knights should be left by themselves.
We shall not follow our author in his minute description of this famous encounter, the first and one of the most glorious atchievements of the brave Tristan. Suffice it to say, that tho' he received several wounds, he at last cleaved Morhoult's head, who had just life enough left to be carried to his ships, and from thence conveyed to Ireland, where he soon after died; whilst the kingdom of Cornwall was liberated from its yearly shame. Meanwhile Tristan laid weltering in his blood; his grateful uncle sent to his assistance, his wounds were dressed, and some closed in a few days. But Morhoult's lance was poisoned, and Tristan's principal wound, far from healing grew worse every day, and greatly alarmed his uncle and the whole court. At last a young lady advised him to go to England, where she did not doubt but he would find the necessary assistance. He embarked for that purpose, and, after having been for a whole fortnight the sport of the winds and seas, his ship was cast on the coast of Ireland. The King of that country and his daughter Yseult, were at a window looking towards the sea, and observing that the Knight who had escaped from the wreck was wounded, the King had him brought to his palace, and strongly recommended him to Yseult, the most beautiful of all her sex, and well skilled in the cure of the most dangerous wound.5 The fair Princess obeyed her father's commands, with that good will and alacrity which then graced every act of benevolence and hospitality, and in which she had the more merit, as Tristan did not chuse to make himself known. From this very instant, says our author, Tristan and Yseult began to admire each other, and the wound grew better every day. Several companions of the Round-table and other Knights, held at that time a tournament. A Saracen Prince by name Palamedes, had all the advantage the first day, and was brought to court where a splendid entertainment was prepared for him, at which Tristan, who was much recovered, begged to be present. Yseult appeared, and Palamedes was struck with wonder, and without recollecting where he was, ventured at this very first visit to declare his passion; but fate had marked him out for the victim of ill-requited love. Tristan took notice of the presumption of Palamedes, and the jealousy which he felt at the discovery convinced him that Yseult reigned sovereign over his conquered heart.
The tournament was to be renewed the next day. Tristan, during the preceding night, put on his armour, and, leaving the palace, concealed himself in a forest. As soon as the Knights had entered the list, he made his appearance, overcame every opponent, and unhorsed Palamedes; then, falling on him sword in hand, forced him to sue for his life. But so violent an exercise, opened his wound afresh, and he was carried off to the palace, where Yseult attended him with a concern which daily grew more serious. The Princess discovered that a subtle and corrosive poison prevented the wound from being healed, and having made a poltice of several antivenemous plants effected a perfect cure. Tristan made an open avowal of his love to his fair physician, without acquainting her with his real name and quality, and Yseult thought that he spoke better and more feelingly than Palamedes.
One day a gentle maid,6 belonging to the Queen's houshold, got into the closet where Tristan kept his arms. She examined every piece one by one, and took particular notice of his sword, which was remarkable by a very deep notch. She suspected it to be the very same that gave Morhoult his death wound, and informed the Queen of her suspicion. The latter had preserved the piece of the sword which had been extracted out of her brother's scull, she compared it with the notch, and found that it fitted it exactly. Thus was Tristan known for having killed Morhoult. His royal sister complained loudly to the King, who called Tristan before him. The Knight confessed that he had fought with Morhoult, concerning the Cornish tribute, and that victory had declared in his favour. The Queen earnestly begged that the blood of her brother might be atoned for by the death of his murderer. The King wavered, Yseult turned pale with horror; whilst the courtiers around murmured their discontent at the Queen's bloody request. At last resentment giving way to the wonted generosity of his soul, the King addressed himself to Tristan in the following words: "Sir Knight, much hurt and disgrace have you caused me by slaying my Queen's brother, the bravest champion of my realm; yet fouler would be my shame were I to take away your life. I shall therefore spare it for two reasons; first, because you are a valiant Knight, and next, because you have been my guest, and after having helped and assisted you it would be base and treacherous in me to seek that life which I have taken care to preserve. But you must instantly leave the kingdom, and it behoves me further to declare, that if you are seen again within my dominions your doom is fixed." "Sire, said Tristan, I thank your Majesty." Then casting the tenderest glance on Yseult, he heaved a deep fetched sigh, and mounting the horse that was prepared for him, departed. Brangien, maid of honour to Yseult, tho' young, knew the inmost thoughts of her royal mistress. She secretly dispatched her two brothers after Tristan, with orders to wait on him as his esquires, and the Knight with a sound body and a wounded mind, both which he owed to the fair Princess, arrived at the Cornish court.
King Marcus requested his nephew to give him a particular account of what had befallen him since his departure from Cornwall. Tristan complied, and in his recital, painted Yseult with all that energy of colouring which Cupid mixes for the use of lovers. The King was fired at the description; but dissembled till having found an opportunity, he begged a boon of his nephew. Tristan, unawares, and far from guessing his uncle's real intentions, promised to grant it, and swore on the hallowed shrines to perform whatever might be required of him. Having thus bound his kinsman with a most sacred oath, Marcus commanded him to go back to Ireland, and bring the beauteous Yseult to be Queen of Cornwall.
Tristan knew the fate that awaited him, and that an ignominious death must be the consequence of his daring to appear in Ireland. Yet such were the strange notions which our ancestors entertained, by thinking that a promise once given must be performed; that we, more polite and refined, look upon them as a set of religious ideots. Tristan was one of them; he had plighted his faith; no danger, no fear, not even the certitude of losing his life could stay him. He sailed with a favourable wind; but a few days after his departure was by stress of weather obliged to take shelter in a sea-port on the coast of England. King Arthur kept his court at Lramalot, where his Knights companions amused their leisure by exercising themselves in jousts and tournaments, wherein, no less civil than brave, they granted the most distinguished rank to foreign Knights.
Tristan arrived at Lramalot, and without discovering who he was, entered the lists with other Knights, and completely carried the day. One morning as he was sauntering by the sea shore, he saw coming out of a ship just arrived, Argius King of Ireland, father to his adored Yseult. The tributary Prince, accused before his paramount Arthur with a murder committed at his court, was come to clear himself of so foul a charge by single combat; but he was stricken in years, and Blaaner his accuser, besides being in the full vigour of his youth, was reputed one of the most valiant Knights who graced the Round-table. Now it was a law amongst the companions of that most noble order, never to engage against each other except upon a personal quarrel. So that Argius had little hopes of finding a champion who would take his part. At last he was told of the prowess of the unknown Knight; he therefore applied to him. Tristan who, to avoid the fate that threatened him in Ireland, had only taken the precaution of changing his armour, knew Argius instantly, tho' the latter did not recollect him. The King of Ireland swore by every thing that was then held sacred, that he was no ways guilty of the crime laid to his charge, and begged he would espouse his cause. "Aye, that I will, answered Tristan, it is but justice that I should stand the champion of a Prince who had it in his power, and would not take away my life." He then told him who he was, and Argius full of admiration, engaged himself by oath to grant him whatever boon he might crave at his hands after the combat.
Tristan, having signified his intention of vindicating the impeached honour of Argius, championed Galaer to utterance.7 The latter, after a long and obstinate engagement, full of wounds and unable to support himself, called to his opponent to make use of his right and take the forfeit of his life. But Tristan was too generous an enemy to take such an advantage, besides he was sensible that Galaer spoke in that manner only out of disappointment and rage at a defeat which his hardy courage would not suffer him to survive. "Heaven forbid, says Tristan, that I should strike off the head of so renowned a Knight as thou art! I would not commit such a deed for the best city King Arthur may have in his gift." He then called upon the judges for their verdict. They gave it in favour of the King of Ireland, who was thus honourably acquitted. This sentence being notified in form to the assembled multitude; Tristan ran to Galaer, took him up in his arms, and committed the wounded Knight to the care of his friends and relations, who were allied to the celebrated Lancelot of the Lake, with whom Tristan ardently wished to be acquainted, and bound in the ties of friendship. All Arthur's worthies surrounded the conqueror, and carried him in triumph to his tent; where Argius embraced him with the greatest cordiality, and begged he would accompany him to Ireland. Tristan landed safe with Argius and the Queen, forgetful of her former hatred, cherished our hero, the preserver of her Lord's life and honour.
Let our readers figure to themselves the joy that filled the bosom of Yseult, who knew that Tristan had been promised a boon, and judged from her own heart what her dear Knight should require. On the other hand, how great the conflict in Tristan's breast, between despotic love, but more imperious honour. For the latter over-ruled his dearest concerns, and true to his word, he asked and obtained the hand of Yseult, for his uncle Marcus. The lovely and faithful Brangien was given to the princess as a companion. One the eve of Yseult's departure, the Queen, who had observed her daughter's growing inclination for Tristan, and willing to prevent its direful effects, delivered to Brangien a philter, or amorous potion, the precious gift of a skillful fairy; with orders to divide it into two equal draughts, and administer it to Yseult and King Marcus on their wedding night.
Who can controul the mighty power of fortune? What will even prudence and consummate wisdom avail against the caprices of the blind Sorceress? Yseult and Tristan embarked, and the wind seemed to promise them a quick and pleasant passage; the heat was intense; they both were tormented with a parching thirst. The Princess was the first to complain, and Tristan, spying the phial which Brangien had neglected to put out of the way; he took it up eagerly, tendered it to his fair mistress, and with her shared the fatal beverage. For alas! this was the love draught destined by the Queen for a far different purpose. It produced a sudden and wonderful effect. Honour was silent. Love alone spoke, and spoke in the most forcible language. Let every reader fancy to himself the frustration of our two lovers, who, left to struggle with nature and inclination, might have perhaps withstood the alluring temptation; but alas, they were not proof against the powerful spell!
Meanwhile, a mighty storm arises, the affrighted pilot deserts his station, and abandons to the mercy of the waves, the ship he has no further hope to preserve. Yseult and Tristan think of nothing but their mutual happiness and transports. At last, they were drove by the force of the wind and tide into an unknown harbour. Here they landed safe, and upon their making some enquiries concerning the place and its inhabitants, were answered by an elderly man, who, surprised at the beauty, youth, and good mein of our travellers, dropt a tear of pity, and with a significant shrug of his shoulders, "Unfortunate strangers, said he, I am alarmed at the dangers that threaten you both. You are within sight of the castle of Plours, belonging to the steel-hearted and felonious Brunor, who will destroy you: unless, Sir Knight, you can overcome him in single combat, and the young lady proves handsomer than that of Brunor." The sequel is easily forseen by the intelligent reader. Tristan, no less valiant than amorous, kills the barbarous Knight, and half a score of saucy giants who had taken the traitor's part, and Yseult's triumph is equally complete. Having seized on the castle, Tristan and Yseult seemed in no hurry to leave it; they staid there three months: but at last necessity compelled them to embark in their way to Cornwall, where they soon after arrived in perfect safety. King Marcus was very thankful, admired much Yseult, and testified so great an impatience to make her his bride, that he could hardly be persuaded to wait 'till the next day, when the nuptials were solemnized in the most splendid manner.
This sight was death to our lovers, and, whilst every countenance glowed with mirth and satisfaction at the King's approved choice, Yseult and Tristan were a prey to uneasiness and anxiety. The former feared lest Marcus should perceive what had been the consequence of the magic draft, and of a three months stay at Plours Castle, when she had no other companion than Love and Tristan. Some expedient must be thought on to remove the King's suspicions, and prevent a fatal discovery. Yseult, her lover, Brangien and Gouvernail met together in council. Brangien, though handsome and not averse to love, had not, like her mistress, swallowed a magic potion; and, swayed by honour and virtue, she had preserved untainted that innocence, which might have been the pride of Yseult, had she never tasted the fatal liquor. She loved her mistress, and determined to save her if possible from disgrace. Accordingly, when night came on, she decked herself in the regal night-dress, perfumed herself, said her prayers; and, in the bridal bed, waited the arrival of King Marcus, who soon made his appearance. He staid the whole night with her, and according to his custom, rose the next morning an hour before the sun. His good humour, and unusual chearfulness, spoke the state of his mind, and the success of the stratagem that had been devised to give him a good opinion of his royal consort, who, apprised by Brangien of her Lord's absence, took that place which she could now fill with more propriety. The King, who was all raptures and extasy, and perfectly doated on his Queen, rewarded Tristan by creating him Lord Chamberlain; an office which gave him the liberty of entering every appartment in the palace, that of the Queen not excepted.
Never is a biographer so disagreeably circumstanced, as when truth obliges him to record some particular fact to the disparagement of his principal personage; especially when he has endeavoured to prejudice the reader in his favour: this unfortunately is the case with us. That paragon of beauty and gentleness, Yseult, becomes at once ungrateful and barbarous. Brangien, who had sacrificed to friendship, that which her tender and delicate sex is fearful to grant to the most pressing lover, is suspected by the Queen, she is looked upon as a dangerous witness, which must be removed at all events, lest she should betray the important secret. This ill-grounded fear operated so strongly on Yseult, that, forgetting her former services, and lost even to the feelings of humanity, she gave secret orders for Brangien to be conveyed into the thickest part of Morois forest, and there murthered. We shudder at the thought; and Yseult's repentance, though lively and sincere, can hardly atone for having planned in cool blood a scheme so cruel and inhuman.
Brangien, as we have had occasion to observe before, wanted neither for youth nor beauty, two powerful advocates even amongst savages. The two officers had undertaken to obey the Queen's peremptory command; but, when they looked up at their victim, their heart relented, and one of them asking her what she could have done against her Sovereign, that should deserve such punishment? Alas! answered Brangien, "I am not conscious of having done any wrong to her Majesty; nor do I know what she can lay to my charge. All I can say is, that, when Madam Yseult left Ireland, she brought along with her as a present to King Marcus, a most precious lily of the valey, notwithstanding all her care, it faded and was lost in the passage. A damsel of her retinue who had one also, but in high preservation, offered it to the Queen by my hands. If this deserves death, my Lord, I am resigned: but I do not recollect that I ever injured my royal mistress, unless what I have related be called an offence."
The two officers understood nothing of this enigma, and rather took her speech for the ravings of a distempered brain. They could not however bring themselves to slay so gentle a creature; but bound her to a tree, and returned to court, telling the Queen that Brangien was dead, and relating what she had said to them. Yseult felt now the most torturing remorse, and the tormenting recollection of her ingratitude drove her almost to despair. Luckily for Brangien, Palamedes, happening to pass by, heard her cries, knew her again, and having unbound carried her to a neighbouring nunnery. When this was done, he returned to the forest, and set himself down under a shady tree. Our readers have not forgot that this Palamedes was the Saracen Prince, who, being in Ireland, had publickly avowed his love for Yseult: let them therefore judge of his surprize and dismay, when, casting his eyes around, he saw her at a little distance from him tearing her dishevelled hair, and then, pulling out a poniard from under her cloaths, he heard her exclaim in all the agony of grief. —"No dearest Brangien, my most valuable friend and preserver! I will not survive thee. This poniard, guided by my own hand, shall punish my barbarous heart for its black ingratitude." Palamedes ran up to her, and falling at her feet, bade her be comforted, and he would bring back to her the friend whose loss she so much lamented. He soon performed his promise, and was present at the most melting scene. Yseult would have embraced the knees of her dear Brangien, but the latter prevented it: she clasped her in her arms, they mingled their tears, and the Queen, as a reward for so rich a gift, engaged to grant to Palamedes the first boon he might require. King Marcus arrived on the spot, and was given to understand that Brangien had been carried off by some ruffians, and rescued by Palamedes. The King confirmed the promise of granting him a boon; but the former made a bad use of the condescension, and required that Yseult should follow him. The promise even in such case was binding, and Palamedes went off with Yseult. Tristan alone could have attempted her rescue, but Tristan was absent.
A worthy Knight named Lambergues, who had been some time at the Cornish court, and was under the care of Yseult for several dangerous wounds which he had received in one of those encounters so common to the professors of knight-errantry, no sooner heard that his fair physician was carried away by Palamedes, than he mounted his horse, galloped after, and coming up with him, they began a fight, which, though fatal in the end to Lambergues, whose blood gushing out of his wounds obliged him to sue for his life, which was granted; yet so far succeeded, that Yseult found means to make her escape, and having met with another Knight, he took her behind him, and swimming across the river, carried her safe on the opposite shore, where she had but just time to shut herself up in a tower that stood a few pace from the river, before Palamedes overtook the Knight, who attempting to stop him was killed on the spot; whilst the Prince unable to bear the thoughts of Yseult being out of his power, laid him down by the towerwall, where he fell, as if by magic charm into a profound revery.
Tristan, at his return, hearing what had passed, lost no time; but, taking Gouvernail along with him, set off in pursuit of Palamedes, and, having reached the tower, found the Knight in that kind of lethargical trance from which all the noise they made could not awake him; till at last Gouvernail, laying hold of his helmet, shook him so effectually, that Palamedes, looking up to him, "Thou felon Esquire, said he, why shouldst thou attempt to rouse me from my deep cogitations?" "Palamedes, replied Gouvernail, this is no time for thinking; behold here! Tristan is come to challenge you." "Ah, Tristan, exclaimed Palamedes, was it not enough for thee to have rivalled and over-reached me in Ireland? Wouldst thou now deprive me once more of my beloved Yseult, when she is my lawful prize?"
The two Knights were too brave, and too incensed against each other, to spend their time in idle expostulations. They instantly came to blows, and Yseult saw from the window the fiercest combat between the two most valiant Knights that ever broke a lance. She did not wait for the issue, lest it should have proved fatal to her dear Tristan; but rushing out between the two combatants, she staid their fury; whilst she addressed Palamedes in these words, "You who pretend to so much love for me, sure cannot refuse to do what I shall desire." "Oh speak, fairest of all your sex! your commands I shall implicitly obey." "Hear then the boon I crave; quit the field instantly, and hie thee to the court of King Arthur. Commend me to his Queen, and tell her, there are but two Knights and two ladies worth notice, she and I, her lover, and my Tristan. I charge you further never to appear where I may be, except it is in England." Palamedes, with tears in his eyes, —"Oh lady, says he, you shall be obeyed, I have sworn it; though by your request you have deceived and cast me off; do not, I beseech you, turn your heart entirely from me!" "Palamedes, answered the Queen, hear me! may I never rest in peace, or taste the sweets of mortal joy if ever I am false to my love for Tristan."
Palamedes with a heavy heart departed, whilst Yseult re-entered the tower, where Tristan followed her: being weary he unarmed. They were by themselves; the spell-fraught potion had lost nothing of its virtue . . . . . . . So taken up was Tristan with the thoughts of his happiness that he was tempted to elope with Yseult: but a long night, sound sleep, and, above all, honour recalled him on the morrow to a better way of thinking, and more worthy of a true and loyal Knight. He returned with Yseult to Cornwall.
Marcus pretended a great deal of gratitude for the services done him by his nephew; but his heart was cankered with all the venom of "green eyed" jealousy. Prudence and love seldom meet together. One day Yseult and Tristan were tête-à-tête in the King's apartments; Andret, a wicked and cowardly Knight, peeping through the key-hole, saw them sitting together near a table with a chess-board; which, says the historian, was of no service to the two lovers. Andret lost no time, but running to Marcus—"You are, said he, the most vilified of all Kings, and the most contemptible wittol if you suffer him to remain in your kingdom who estranges you from your wife." —"And who is the traitor?" —"Why, your very kinsman Tristan; it is long since I suspected him, and would have informed you before; but was in hopes that he would mend. This very instant, if you step to your own chamber, there you will find them dallying together." The King waited for no further information; but hastening to his apartment, he broke the door open with such a force that he wrenched it from its very hinges. Tristan started from his seat, and endeavoured to effect his retreat, but in vain; Marcus was now in the room, and running sword in hand to his nephew; exclaimed in a furious tone: "Vassal8, though hast brought me to disgrace, and seduced my Queen,9 DRAW, CAITIFF, DRAW! I CHALLENGE THEE! Tristan, wrapping up his arm in his mantle, seized a sword that happened to hang in the room, and was soon able to drive before him his uncle, who called lustily to his Cornish Knights for assistance; but they all loved or feared Tristan too much to obey their Sovereign's summons. Marcus took to his heels; but his nephew overtaking him, struck him to the ground with the flat of his sword. Then returned to Yseult, who had fainted during the affray, and remained still motionless. Her trance, however, could not withstand the reviving caresses of Tristan, who, fearing lest this quarrel with his uncle should be attended with some bad consequence, by the advice of the Queen and his faithful Gouvernail, assembled his friends, and with them retired to Morois forest without the gates of Cintageul, where Marcus held his court. The hopes of seeing his dear Yseult, made him tarry there a long time, nor did he lose the least opportunity of vexing his uncle, who dared not to shew himself without the city walls.
The high Barons of Cornwall recalling to their minds the Tristan had delivered them from the disgraceful tribute which they used to pay to the King of Ireland, insisted, with Marcus, upon his sending for him to court. Yseult sent him word by Brangien to return, but to be upon his guard lest he should experience some new treachery from the King. Marcus, who was all deceit and hypocrisy, dissembled with his nephew, and welcomed him in a manner as little expected as it was insincere.
Tristan, by his valour and prowess in chivalry had made himself some enemies; but the most inveterate of them all was a base Cornish Knight, whose brother our hero had killed in a tournament. Not daring to resent it like a man, he was resolved to make more sure of his revenge by wounding Tristan in the tenderest part. This unworthy Knight brought to court a young damsel, who pretended to have an enchanted horn made of ivory. She applied to the King, and said to him: "My liege, this horn I hold is most wonderful, and will help to find out such ladies as have infringed the marriage vow, and been faithless to their Lords. I beg your Majesty will order the trial in the following manner: let the horn be filled with wine and given to the ladies to drink. The true and loyal wife will not lose a drop; but the adulteress will spill the whole contents on her cloaths."10—The fair Yseult, who had some reason to think that she was not mistress of sufficient dexterity to drink the wine clean off, was much alarmed, and Tristan, who knew how far her fears were well grounded, not chusing to be present at the dangerous trial, retired from Cintaguel, recommending Yseult to the care of his friends, in case the Queen should not prove a clean drinker, and thus be exposed to the King's resentment.
The next day Marcus called together all the married ladies of his court, with the Queen at the head of them. The noble dames talked loud of their virtue, complained much of injurious jealousies and suspicions; in short, started ever objection that might now be urged by the modest women in this refined age, were they in the same case, in order to avoid taking the hazardous test. They were right: for all the ladies were aukward, and every one of them slabbered more or less. The Cornish Lords, whether from policy or pride, affected the most stubborn incredulity, and all to a man rose against the King, saying to him!—"Your royal consort you may put to death if you will or can, but our wives we shall not harm for so trifling a cause."—"How, replied the King, do you not see clearly that they have brought disgrace upon ye?"—"It is more than we either know or believe. The horn is the contrivance of some wicked necromancer; and once more we say it, punish your consort if you dare; your conduct shall be no rule for us." The King, who tenderly loved Yseult, and encouraged by the passiveness of his Barons: "well, my good Lords of Cornwall, said he to them, since you excuse your ladies, I freely acquit mine; and look on this horn-trial as delusive and fallacious."
Tristan being apprised by his friends, that peace and tranquillity was restored at court, returned to Citanguel: but the perfidious Andret, ever on the watch to do some mischief to the noble Knight, rightly forseeing that he would not fail to renew his private conversations with Yseult, laid a snare to entrap Tristan, and fixed it by Yseult's bedside, as the most likely place to answer his treacherous purpose. There it was that he artfully concealed several sword blades, so disposed as to maim the legs of the bold adventurer who would dare to approach the bed. Tristan cut his leg in a very dangerous manner; but one small evil is often unheeded, when a greater bliss engrosses our sensations. It was some time before he perceived his wound, which the beautiful Yseult instantly dressed, and nearly healed with a balmy kiss. As the day approached, Tristan took leave. The Queen rose to shut the door after him; when, lo! she shared the same fate with her lover, and the sharp edge of the concealed weapons tore off the skin of the alabaster pillars that supported nature's most beauteous edifice; Brangien alarmed, ran to the assistance of her royal mistress, stopped the blood, and put the Queen to bed. Neither Yseult nor Tristan dared to complain of this accident: but Andret, who easily perceived that his infernal plot had succeeded, took care to inform the King, whose jealousy was now wounded up to a pitch of madness. He set so many spies to watch the two lovers, that Basyle, kinsman to Andret, soon found an opportunity of surprising them together, in a situation that made it impossible for Tristan to escape, so that they were both seized. The Queen was shut up in a tower, and Tristan confined to a dismal dungeon.
The King directed Tristan to be tried by the Cornish Barons, who passed sentence of death upon him. The day was fixed, as well as the place for execution; which was to be on a rising ground that stood about a mile from town. Gouvernail had called his friends together, and was prepared for a rescue; but Tristan needed no foreign assistance. He had hardly walked out of his cell into the open air, than, collecting all his strength, with a mighty jerk, broke his chains, knocked down two of his keepers, and, wresting the sword from a third, retreated to a church: Andret pursued him at the head of the guards, who attacked him altogether. Tristan would have dispersed, by his undaunted courage, the cowardly crew, but unfortunately his sword broke, and he was obliged to retire in great haste to the top of a belfry which stood close to the sea, and there commending himself to the fair lady of his thoughts, he cast himself head foremost into the waves, and then, swiming with all his force, reached the foot, and soon, by climbing up, the top of a rock.
On the other hand, Yseult was in a situation little short from despair. She was already consigned to the barbarous wretches, whose office it was to put her to an ignominious death. One of her maids of honour found means to escape, and, knowing the place where Gouvernail and his friends laid in ambush, she gave them the alarm. They all flew to the Queen's assistance, and having slain her guards, carried her off in triumph; first to the church, and then to the tower, where they were told that Tristan had successively retired. They searched it all over in vain. But how clear sighted is love? Yseult, notwithstanding the distance, saw him lying on the rock. She pointed him out to her deliverers, and some of them taking to a boat, went after Tristan, and brought him safe, to the inexpressibly joy of Yseult and his friends.—"Lady, said Tristan, I rejoice much at seeing you in perfect safety, and since Providence has united us once more, let us henceforth, never part." —"I wish for nothing more, replied the Queen, for I had rather starve with you, than live in abundance and plenty with any other man."
The lovely pair were too sensible of the unavoidable fate that awaited them at Cintaguel, for them not to look out for a safe asylum. They found what they wished for, in the most remote and unfrequented part of Morois forest. Here they spent a few months undisturbed: but King Marcus set a price on their heads, and promised so large a reward, that, though they were much beloved, yet some mercenary wretches bestired themselves so effectually, that our lovers were at last discovered. The King was one day informed by his spies, that Tristan was gone a hunting with Gouvernail. Upon receiving this intelligence, he put himself at the head of a strong party, and, having found Yseult alone and defenceless, he had her conveyed back to her former prison. It seems that the Queen's frequent conversations with Tristan, only served to heighten her charms; for her royal consort felt all his wrath forsake him at the sight of her, and instead of those bitter reproaches she had some right to expect, Yseult heard him talk of nothing but love; and she found in him not a furious and brow-beating husband, but a submissive lover, who loaded her with caresses; which however we may suppose were more unexpected than welcome.
Meanwhile the ill-fated Tristan, after having chaced a kid for several hours, without being able to come up with it, had laid himself down, and worn out with fatigue, fell into a profound sleep. The son of one of the guards, whom the Knight had killed the day that had been fixed for his execution, had constantly watched ever since an opportunity of avenging his father's death. Finding him in this place, he let fly a poisoned arrow, which wounded Tristan in the left arm. The hero awaked with the pain, ran at his murderer, seized him, and dashed his brains against a tree. Then taking out the arrow, discovered the danger he was in from the venom. But the knowledge and experience he had of Yseult's skill, dispelled his fears. Alas! he hoped in vain. At his return to the place where he had left the Queen, a young damsel, drowned in tears, acquainted him with what had happened during his absence. These heavy tidings made him desperate. He would have attempted his life; but love stopped his guilty hand. Yet death seemed to him unavoidable. The pain occasioned by his wound grew insupportable, and the poison made a quick and alarming progress. Gouvernail found means to procure an interview with Brangien, who advised him, since it was impossible to call in the Queen's assistance, to go to Lower Britanny, where he would find another Yseult, daughter to King Houel, and distinguished from the former by the surname of Lily-handed, and no less skilled in surgery, than her name-sake the Queen of Cornwall. Tristan followed this advice, and was received with great cordiality by the King, who, pleased with his good mien, and princely appearance, entrusted him to his daughter's care; but mighty love recommended him still more powerfully to her notice.
The beautiful hands, which had begot Yseult her surname, were highly busy in dressing Tristan's arm; an office they performed with a very meaning slowness, which Tristan understood, and was pleased to observe. The very touch of her finger was delightful to him, and a salutary heat, thrilling through his veins, dispelled the deadly chill occasioned by the envenomed dart, and gave him reason to think that his cure would be the work of lily-handed Yseult. He was not deceived, for a few days restored him to his health and vigour. About this time, a powerful Lord, who waged war against Houel, routed the royal army, and laid seige to the capital. The King, who could get no assistance from his Barons, fell into a state of despondency; from which he was roused by Gouvernail, who without mentioning his master's name, told the King that he had, in the person of the stranger, the bravest Knight the world could produce. Tristan was then busy in testifying his gratitude to his fair preserver; but he no sooner heard of the King's request, than he called for his horse and armour, and, at the head of a small party, sallied out, defeated the enemy, killed their leader, and re-entered triumphant into the capital. The King, mindful of so important a service, and knowing by Pheredin, his son, that his deliverer was the renowned Tristan, offered him his daughter in marriage. This honourable, but unexpected proposal, threw our hero into the greatest perplexity. The first Yseult was still upper-most in his heart; but, to the fair and beautiful hands of the second, he owed his life. He recalled to his mind the pleasures he had enjoyed with the former, the great and many proofs he had of her love, and the very recollection tortured him with remorse, at the injuries he had done to his royal uncle. The principles of honour and probity, which he had imbibed from his youth, were not erased from his mind, but, only hushed for awhile by the enchanted draught. He wished to bid an eternal farewell to his illicit amours, and resolved to seek, in an union, sanctified by all the laws of God and men, for that happiness, for which an honest man is the more calculated, as he can best feel the satisfaction of conscious innocence. This last consideration acted so forcibly upon our hero, that he readily consented to give his hand to Yseult, and led her to the temple of Hymen. Love, displeased at this infidelity, took on him a severe revenge. They entered the nuptial bed; but the image of the Queen of Cornwall, acting on Tristan as a powerful ægis, deprived him of his faculties; so that he could hardly find strength enough to apply a cool brotherly kiss on Yseult's coral lips, before he sunk into a profound sleep. Yet, such was the innocence of virgins in those halcyon days, that she rose the next day a maiden-bride, without knowing that her charms had been wronged.
Tristan, as our readers may well imagine, kept his misadventure a profound secret, and of Yseult it may be said, that she, not knowing what she had lost, "was not robbed at all;" and therefore had no ground to complain. Gouvernail, who was ignorant of the accident, pleased himself with the hopes, that a handsome wife would make his master forget a mistress, who, though more beautiful, was absent, and married to another. Tristan remained a whole twelvemonth with his father-in-law; Yseult continued in her ignorance, and all the subsequent nights were as harmless as the first.
Let us now return to the court of Cornwall, where the news of Tristan's marriage was received with the greatest joy by Marcus, whilst they plunged a dagger into the bosom of Yseult. She could not dissemble her grief, and, shutting herself up with her faithful Brangien, she gave a loose to her tears and complaints. Alas! cried she, how couldst thou, Tristan, find in thy heart to betray her who loved thee better than life? Woe is me for my mishap! Whilst others enjoy their blissful loves, I am deprived of mine. Thus forsaken, alas! 'twould be kind for death to take me to herself. Then recollecting the friendship which Queen Genievre had ever shewn for her, she resolved to make her acquainted with her misfortunes. This Queen of England was in love with Lancelot of the Lake, and the great King Arthur, who ruled over so many Kingdoms; that renowned Knight, the worthy Chief of the Round-table, shared the fate of the petty, insignificant King of Cornwall. Yseult knew it, and it is a received opinion, that women think to ease their love-sick minds, by talking confidently of their woes to each other. She therefore wrote a letter to Genievre, to inform her Majesty with the excessive love she bore to Tristan; how ill she was requited, her forlorn condition, and concluded by asking her advice.
Queen Genievre imparted to Lancelot of the Lake, the news she had received of Tristan's knightless11 behavior. Lancelot took fire, and laid a plan to punish the traitor for so base a conduct; but wrath and indignation gave way to sympathising pity, when, by the report of a Knight of Lower Britanny, he understood that Tristan had left Houel's court, a prey to melancholy and deep rooted sorrow, and forsaken Lily-handed Yseult, to run in search of new adventures: a circumstance which convinced him that Tristan was sorry for what he had done. The fact was, that the King of Leonois, more than ever enamoured with Yseult the fair, (this is the Cornish Queen, distinguished from Houel's daughter) had ordered a fishing boat to be built, on which he meant to embark in his way to Cornwall.
One day, as he was on board with his wife and her brother Pheredin, on a fishing party, a violent wind arose, which forced the boat into the open sea. For three days they continued to be the sport of that treacherous element; 'till, at last, they were driven on an unknown shore. They landed, and having penetrated a little way up the country, they met with a Knight, on foot, and unarmed, who begged them, as they tendered their lives and freedom, not to proceed further, as they were in the dominions of Narbon the black, whom he represented to them as the most wicked and formidable of all men; adding with all, that, having presumed to encounter him in single combat, he was become his bondsman, and had no hopes of recovering his liberty. Tristan swore to set him at liberty, and upon a nearer inspection, knew him again for a Knight, whose wife had been very free of her favours to Marcus and himself. Segurades, for so was he called, recollected Tristan instantly, and said to him: Sir Knight, of all men I should hate you most; but I forgive you, and wish for no greater revenge than your having dared to come within the pale of Narbon's Lordship. Thou art right, replied Tristan, such base revenge well becomes a Cornish Knight: —Yet, I dare engage, that the same man who relieved thy dastardly countrymen from the Irish tribute, will be able to set thee free.
Segurades was endowed with a good heart, and, forgetful of the trifling injury he had received from Tristan, sincerely admired his undaunted spirit, begged our hero's pardon, offered to be his guide, and conducted him and his company, for that night, to a lady widow who lived in the neighborhood. They were received with peculiar distinction, and treated in a very splendid manner. The lady shewed her guests into a chapel, where stood a beautiful monument: alas, said she, this tomb enfolds the remains of a relation of mine, Menion by name, a junior companion of the Round-table, who fell a victim to Narbon's treachery. Here lies he buried in complete armour, according to the custom of the English, with a wreath of pearls over his head, as being a younger Knight.
On the morning, Tristan was awakened by the sound of the horn. It was to notify an entertainment which the giant Narbon was to give that day; and, that it might be carried on with more eclat, all his vassals were summoned to be present under pain of death. Tristan had neither horse nor arms. He set off on foot with his consort Yseult, Segurades, Pheredin, and their hospitable hostess. They soon came to a plain, where the giant, who thought himself an over-match for any man at cudgelling, had divided his captive Knights into two different bodies. The one composed of the Knights of Nargales, (North-Wales) the other of those of Logres (England). A Prince of the latter country joined this troop, his name was the Amoral of Wales, a companion of the Round-table. "Well, said the unwieldy monster, this is one slave more added to the rest." The Amoral, armed with a shield and a quarter-staff, as all the other champions were, challenged, and overcame all the Knights of Nargales. The Giant thought he was an opponent worthy of his notice, attacked, and soon put it out of his power to resist. Narbon loudly complained, with insulting pride, that he could not meet with his match. Tristan, who had hitherto remained a quiet spectator, whispered to Segurades, "Now is my time to appear, and I am in hopes to kill that proud, conceited Giant. As soon as you see him fall down, let the words be, RESCUE and LIBERTY."
Tristan advancing toward the spot that had witnessed the Amoral's overthrow, took up his quarterstaff, and dared the giant who aimed several precipitated blows at him. Our hero paried them all off with great dexterity, but never offered to act offensively. They fought for a full hour, and Narbon, surprised at his adversary's adroitness, contrasted by his seeming timidity, said to him: —"And who art thou that art so dextrous in avoiding, and so backward in returning blows!" —"I am Tristan of Leonois, son to Meliadus, and nephew to the King of Cornwall." —"So much the better; for I have ever bore deadly hatred to thy race, and since we are met, be death alone the end of our combat," —This was what Tristan wished for. He accepted of the challenge, and stood for some moments longer on the defensive; but at last he pressed his enemy, and at last with a blow falling full on his head, he laid the giant dead at his feet. He then wrested a sword from one of Narbon's guards, and, together with Segurades, thundered out the given word: RESCUE and LIBERTY. The prisoners who formed the two parties united together, and gratefully kissed the hands of their deliverer. The liegemen of Narbon, free from his iron yoke, professed themselves ready to swear allegiance to the conquering Knight. Tristan declined their proffered submission, and, full of admiration for the Amoral of Wales, recommended him to their choice: but he also refused their sovereignty. Tristan thought this a good opportunity of making amends to Segurades for former injuries, and seeing on a stool, covered with crimson velvet, the Count's coronet, he ordered it to be brought to him, and placed it on the head of the Cornish Knight, who, falling on his knees, swore allegiance, and did homage to his worthy benefactor.
Tristan and his beauteous consort crossed the sea once more, and returned to Lower Britanny, where they remained some time. Full of his love for the fair Yseult, of Cornwall, and unable to withstand the pleasure of speaking his amours; our hero unbosomed himself to his brother-in-law Pheredin: acknowledging that he was so irresistably swayed by his attachment to Yseult the fair, and by the force of the magic draught, that he was insensible to the charms and accomplishments of Pheredin's lovely sister. He then gave his brother-in-law so exquisite a description of the Queen of Cornwall, that the young Prince longed for an opportunity of seeing that paragon of beauty and perfection.
About this time, a young lady came to Houel's court, She was wrapt up in a veil, and for some days watched Tristan, 'till finding him alone, she whispered to him these few words: —"Heaven protect you, Sir Knight." He soon knew her by her voice, to be the faithful Brangien, and, removing her veil, embraced her with all the warmth of friendship. Upon his enquiring how her fair mistress did—"Alas! answered Brangien, very ill does she fare, ever since she has heard of your marriage; nor will she ever be comforted, 'till she sees you again, and here is a letter which she sends by me." Tristan took it up eagerly, kissed it, and read the few lines that follow, written in all the energy of love and grief.
"Sweet and most beloved! —Oh! hasten to thy Yseult, lose no time; or be assured that death must soon be the potion of her, who loves thee too well for her quiet and peace of mind. Restore me my Tristan, O love! or let me die quickly!"
Tristan had no sooner perused this short but pathetic note, than he resolved upon his departure. He told King Houel that a lady had brought him news from Leonois, which required his presence in that kingdom, and begged Pheredin might be permitted to accompany him. This was readily granted, and Brangien having been presented by Tristan, was graciously received. She soon endeared herself to Yseult, who opened to her all the secrets of her heart. Brangien found by her innocence and sincerity in answering some matrimonial questions put to her, that Tristan had not fully completed the measure of his guilt. Brangien, Pheredin, and Tristan, took their leave, embarked and sailed for some time before the wind: but a violent storm arising, they were driven and wrecked on the coast of England, happily no lives were lost. At some distance from the shore, our travellers entered a large forest, and, by the sound of a bell at a distance, they were guided to an hermit's cell; who informed them that they were now in the forest of Arnautes, where the Lady of the Lake, requiting with the basest ingratitude, the love of Merlin, who had taught her all his secrets, had seized the sage in his sleep, enchanted and confined him in a tomb, impervious to those who might have attempted his rescue, leaving him only the freedom of speech. This lady having fallen in love afterwards with King Arthur, had inveigled him to the forest, and now kept him in her palace, spell-bound, and by a magic potion, deprived of his memory. The Anchoret added, that all the Knights of the Round-table were out in search of their Sovereign, and that no country or spot in the world was so famous for great and surprizing adventures as Arnautes forest. This latter part of the hermit's intelligence was music to the ear of the brave Tristan, who ever rejoiced at the opportunity of increasing his fame. They left the cell, and continued their way in the forest. The first encounter of Tristan was with the Amoral of Wales; not knowing each other at first, they fought furiously for some time; 'till the Amoral retreating to take breath, lifted up his beaver, and our heroes ran into each other's arms. They journeyed on together, and passed by a small rivulet, shaded by a lofty siccamore tree. There they saw a surprizing monster. Its feet resembled those of the deer, the tail was that of a lion, with the body of a leopard, and the head of a serpent: from the latter issued a kind of barking, but so loud and shrill, that the yelping noise of twenty curs was not equal to it. Palamedes, the Saracen Prince, seemed by enchantment bound to give it chace. Tristan and the Amoral stopped him; but he unhorsed them both, and continued in pursuit of the monster.
The Amoral and Tristan parted company, and the former met with the brave Meleagant. The Amoral, who was in love with the Queen of Orcania, began to extol her beauty, proclaiming her the fairest of her sex, without exception. Meleagant, the ill-favoured lover of Queen Genievre, but no less jealous of her honour, offered to dispute for her the palm of beauty. The two Knights were engaged in a bloody combat, when Lancelot of the Lake, the favourite of Queen Genievre, claimed from Meleagant the honour of fighting for her. He instantly attacked the Amoral, who kept retreating, and at last made himself known as a Knight companion of the Round-table. We have before observed, that these worthies were not permitted to assail each other, but upon some personal quarrel. The two companions embraced and complimented each other on this happy meeting. The Amoral informed Lancelot, that Tristan, was in the forest, a piece of intelligence which was the more welcome to Lancelot, that he had particular orders from his royal mistress to seek out for that brave Knight.
Tristan, who had now reached the thickest part of the forest, was overtaken by Treu, King Arthur's Seneschal, who asked him what countryman he was; upon his answering that he was from Cornwall, Treu did not let pass this opportunity of shewing his wit, and jeering Tristan; the Cornishmen being held at that time in very little esteem. Tristan humoured the joke, and in order to confirm Treu in his error, refused to make head against several Knights whom they met with in the way, but agreed to accompany and spend the night with them at a neighbouring monastery, where the good Tristan submitted to be their sport, and put up with their railleries. On the morrow, the Seneschal gave instructions to his friends to go and lay in wait for Tristan in a bye road, at a little distance, promising himself great sport from the pannick terror which would work upon him, when called upon to tilt with them. Tristan finding that his companions were gone, put on his armour, and mounted his horse, he had not gone far, before he met the Seneschal in company with three more Knights of Arthur's household. They offered him combat, but with apparent timidity he declined for sometime, 'till seeming to be roused by the sarcasms of the Seneschal, he grasped his lance, and taking his career, beat them down one after the other, and leaving them to rise as they could, begged them to remember the dastardly Knight of Cornwall.
At about half an hour's ride from the spot where the four witlings had been so roughly handled, our hero met with a young damsel wringing her hands, and crying to him, O Sir Knight, follow me with all speed, if you would prevent, as by your order you are bound to do, foul murther and most cruel treachery. Tristan hesitated not a moment, but the lady judging by his armour that he was a Cornish Knight, expressed in the most provoking language, how little confidence she placed in his bravery. As they approached a tower, they saw a Knight lying on the ground, whilst three blood-thirsty villains were endeavouring to tear his helmet, in order to cut off his head. Tristan, at the first onset, killed one of the ruffians, and the prostrate Knight being now disengaged, dispatched the second, whilst Tristan completed the victory by slaying the third. The Knight, thus rescued from his murtherers, took off his helmet. His hoary beard and majestic mien made Tristan suspect that this was King Arthur. He was not mistaken, and would have fallen at the monarch's feet, but Arthur took him up in his arms, and by a close embrace, endeavoured to testify his gratitude, but could not prevail on Tristan to make himself known. At this very instant, the lady who had brought Tristan, ran up to Arthur, took off his ring, and arming herself with a sword, ran up to another damsel who was endeavouring to retreat after the discomfiture of the three assassins, overtook her, and at one blow struck off her head. This was the end of King Arthur's enchantment, who now recovered his sense and memory. He begged his unknown deliverer to follow him to court; where he promised to reward, in the best manner, so important a service. This Tristan declined, and only engaged to accompany the venerable Prince 'till he could commit him to the care of some other Knight. An opportunity soon offered; for Arthur seeing Hector Des Mares, brother to Lancelot of the Lake, coming towards him, the King told Tristan that this was the stoutest and most dextrous tilter of all his household. Our hero, desirous to try his skill against so powerful an opponent, ran towards him, and at the first onset brought him to the ground. Whilst the dismounted Knight was rising; "Sire, said Tristan to Arthur, I leave your Majesty in the hands of a good and brave champion and bid you both farewell." Arthur and Hector Des Mares were lost in amazement at the unknown Knight's surprising strength and courage. They spoke of him at court, where they arrived that very day, in the highest strain of praise and admiration. Meanwhile, Tristan returned to his companions, and, meeting in the way with the Amoral, desired him not to discover who he was, at the court of King Arthur, to any one but Lancelot, whose friendship and esteem Tristan was ambitious to deserve and obtain.
Our hero, with Brangien and Pheredin, embarked a second time, and, in a few days, were landed safe in Cornwall. Yseult's trusty confident carried Tristan to a strong castle belonging to Dinas, Seneschal of Cornwall, who received him with the most sincere demonstrations of joy; promising not only to conceal him from every eye, but to stand by him to the last, in case any violence should be offered to him. The author adds, that he even whispered to him the promise of procuring him an interview with Yseult. Pheredin, who was not known in Cornwall, had a free access at court. This proved, alas! to him a fatal privilege. Yseult, to be adored, needed but to be seen. Pheredin could not resist her all-subduing charms. Honour, friendship, and love, rose such a conflict in his tortured breast, that he fell dangerously ill, and thinking his recovery impossible, he could not refuse to himself, the sad comfort of informing Yseult, that he died the martyr of his love for her. The Queen, naturally compassionate, and, in hopes of preserving the life of so promising a youth, made him an answer couched in terms so gentle and mild, that it revived the expiring Knight, and soon restored him to his wonted health and vigour. Unluckily, by the carelessness of Pheredin, Yseult's answer fell into the hands of Tristan. Fired with jealousy, he would have punished his presumptuous rival with instant death, had not Pheredin escaped by a timely flight. Disappointed in his revenge, Tristan mounted his horse, and, after having wandered about Murois forest, he at last laid himself down by the side of a fountain, and there remained for several days without touching any food: his face tanned with the scorching heat of the sun, and greatly disfigured, whilst his over-burthened mind was a prey to desponding melancholy. Unable to struggle against a world of woes, Tristan was nearly expiring; when a young damsel happening to pass by, was moved with simpathising pity at his distressful situation. She pulled him repeatedly by the arm, and at last awaked him from his reverie; but only to complain in heart-rending accents of her importunity. "Ah damsel, says he, how cruel it is in you to disturb me! retire, and let me die in peace!" The lady, seeing that all her persuasions would avail nothing, and recollecting that Tristan was very fond of music, ran for her harp, and began to play so sweetly, that our desponding Knight recovered by degrees from his trance. A flood of tears eased his oppressed heart: He breathed more freely, and, stretching his hands out to her; "Most excellent damsel, cried he, who comest to comfort a wretch who hath no wish but for instant death, didst thou ever hear the solemn dying dirge?" —"Never, Sir Knight." —"Well, reach me thy harp, and thou shalt hear the mournful lamentation." Then taking the instrument, he tuned it, and sung the following ditty, a thousand times interrupted by his sighs and groans.
TRISTAN'S LAMENTATION.Thus ended Tristan's solemn dirge. He wrote the words down, and gave them to the lady, entreating her to present them to Yseult, and shew the ditty to no one else except Lancelot of the Lake.
"Of songs when young an ample store
I made, while love inspir'd the lay;
But now each joyful strain is o'er,
My soul in sorrow melts away.
O Love! thou sweet delusive boy!
Whose high behests I still obey'd;
O thou! the source of life and joy,
A victim see by thee betray'd.
So once, the pitying simple swain
A serpent foster'd next his heart:
But lo! restor'd to life again
It made him feel its deadly dart.
Yseult, thou sweet tormentor, hear!
Whilst at my parting hour I cry,
Yseult to Tristan ever dear,
Forget me not—For thee I die!
And when at length my spirit's flown,
O let some monumental stone,
To every passing pilgrim tell:
"Tristan is dead—who lov'd so well!"
Of Knights thou noble paragon!
Gentle as brave, of high renown,
Oh courteous Lancelot fulfill
Thy friends last words and dying will.
My lance and trappings all complete,
Be thine, so brave in beauty's cause;
My friend, in every martial feat,
Make all revere fair Yseult's laws.
O Lord! whose pity here I crave,
From purging fires my spirit save;
Nor other flames but those of love,
May I, sweet Saviour, never prove."
Yseult, meanwhile, gave herself up to sorrow and despair for the absence of her beloved Tristan. She soon was informed, that her unguarded answer had occasioned his flight. Grieved to the heart at the dreadful effect, produced by so innocent a cause, the Queen thought to remedy the evil by sending a second letter to Pheredin, by which she forbade his ever coming into her presence. Yseult's tender heart soon repented of this rash and useless severity; for it availed nothing in regard to her lost Tristan, and proved the death-warrant for the unfortunate Pheredin, who retired to an hermitage, where he languished some time and died.
Brangien was dispatched in search of Tristan, but she sought for him in vain. His body was now emaciated, and his senses impaired to such a degree, that he enjoyed only some lucid intervals; during which the charitable damsel, who would not leave him, persuaded him to take some nourishment. Her harp's tuneful strains never failed to attract Tristan's attention, and suspend the agonies of his mind. Sometimes he would take up the instrument, and alternately praise and curse love, as the cause of all his woes. He compared that god to a rose, which, though entrenched within a thorny fence, had charms enough to make us overlook the danger, and mind nothing but the pleasure of culling the odorous flower: or to a beautiful morn, whose benign and chearing influence lays open the treasures of Flora, and invites the feathered choirs to warble their loves in notes most harmonious; but often ends in a dreary storm. Such was the change, alas! the heart of Yseult had experienced, and the thoughts of her supposed inconstancy, made Tristan relapse into his former melancholy.
Whilst Brangien was in quest of our desponding Knight, Yseult vented also the most tender complaints; no less skilled than Tristan, in the art of playing upon the harp, and equally swayed by the tenderest passion, she would often tune her melodious voice to the moving sounds of that instrument. One day Marcus stole softly into her apartments; she was then singing some verses which she had just composed and set to music. Full of her love, and only intent on her favourite theme, she did not perceive that the King was in the same room, and thus began her tender lay.
"My voice once sweet, in grief is drown'd,Hitherto the King could not determine with any certainty, who might be the object of her moving complaints; he only surmised that they were addressed to Tristan, but his name had not been mentioned; his suspicions were soon confirmed, when Yseult, after having wiped off the starting tear, concluded her song as follows:
My harp returns a languid sound;
O god of love! thy joyful strains
Are only made for happy swains!
Near thee, what raptures fill'd my breast,
When oft' I told love's tender tale;
What melting airs my harp exprest,
What chearful songs awak'd the vale.
While far from thee so hard I fare,
Canst thou in peace or pleasure dwell?
Say, do'st thou feel no tender care,
Absent from her, who loves so well?
Ye mossybanks, and shady bow'rs,Marcus could not contain himself any longer; but, advancing towards the Queen, he cast on her a most menacing glance. Yseult, who, by dint of sufferings, was grown callous to misfortune, no ways dismayed at his furious approach. —"Thou hast overheard me, said she to him, be then convinced of my hatred for thee, and love for him. —Yes, tyrant! yes, I adore Tristan. Alas! he perhaps is no more! but I will not survive so true a Knight. This hand, this feeble hand shall strike the wished-for blow, and save thee the trouble of being the executioner." The King, who sincerely loved Yseult, trembled lest she should put her threats into execution; he called to his assistance Dinas, his Seneschal, whom he knew to stand high in the Queen's esteem, reccommended her to his care, bidding him to watch her narrowly.
Oft' witness to my blissful hours;
When TRISTAN only charm'd my heart,
Ah, witness now its bitter smart! —
Being left alone with Dinas, Tristan's best friend and trusty counsellor; Yseult gave a loose to her complaints: —"Alas! Dinas, said she, my Tristan is no more! Why wouldst thou force me to live?" —"But, gracious Queen, what certitude have you of Tristan's death; if he should still exist, and be informed that upon a bare surmise you have fallen a voluntary victim to love and despair, does your Majesty suppose that so true and ardent a lover will be able to survive the loss of all that he holds dear?" —This consideration alone could suspend the dreadful effects of Yseult's melancholy. But some days after a report prevailing that Tristan was dead, the Queen stealing away unperceived by Dinas and Brangien, ran to her closet, and taking up a sword which Tristan had there concealed, she unsheathed the deadly weapon, and discovering her snowy bosom, would have at one blow put an end to her misfortunes, had not King Marcus, whose love for Yseult daily increased, though ever so ill requited, rushed from behind the area, where he had hid himself in order to enjoy the pleasure of hearing her voice, and took her up in his arms, before she could fulfill her desperate purpose. He then left her once more to the care of Brangien and Dinas, charging them to keep a better watch, and not leave the Queen one instant to herself. Yet all the diligence and attention of those two trusty servants would have availed her little, had not chance brought to court a Knight, who gave Yseult the most positive assurances that Tristan was still amongst the living. This, indeed, revived her broken spirits; but at the same time that this welcome news reached the Queen, some busy meddling impostor gave Tristan to understand that Yseult was more inconstant than ever. The shock was too much for him; he maddened at the thought, and in his rage, tore up the trees by the root, and meeting with some shepherds, seized by force on their provisions, and knocked on the head whoever dared to oppose him in his wild phrensy. He also fought, and stifled in his naked arms, a monstrous bear. Yet he had some lucid intervals which he improved to give his assistance to the oppressed, and redress their grievances. The shepherds took compassion upon Tristan, built him a hut, and treated him with greatest kindness. They soon had occasion to congratulate themselves for having shewn him so much humanity.
One day, Taullas, a huge and barbarous Giant, who lived on the confines of the kingdom of Cornwall, came "striding valleys wide" into Marois forest, and drove before him the affrighted shepherds, who cried out for assistance as they fled. Tristan rushes from his hut, breaks a young pine tree, attacks the Giant, and, having put by several tremendous blows, struck the monster with all his might across the legs, and brought him to the ground; then seizing on the Giant's well-tempered sabre, cut off his head, and gave it to the shepherds, who carried it in all haste to Citangeul, in order to be presented to the K[i]ng. Marcus was struck with wonder at so brave an exploit; for Taullas was accounted the most formidable Giant that ever infested the kingdom of England: but his surprize was increased at hearing that a madman had done the mighty deed. He set out with all his train in search of our hero, who was so altered and disfigured, that neither his uncle nor any of his courtiers knew him again. He consented however to go to Citangeul, the King engaging that the greatest care should be taken to bring about his recovery, if it was in the power of medicine to effect it. Tristan, from the palace-gate, saw Yseult; he screamed, and covered his face with his hands. The Queen knew him instantly, and could not refrain from testifying her joy at so unexpected an event. As for Marcus, seeing that it was his nephew, he considered nothing but his piteous condition, and was the first to recommend him to the care and skill of his royal consort.
The presence of his beloved Yseult, and the certitude he now had of her constancy, more than all the art of physic, restored him to his pristine state, and Marcus relapsed into his jealous fit. Andret was ever on the watch, yet the author tells us, that our lovers were lucky enough to meet where he was not. Dinas, the Seneschal, favoured their loves; and, under various disguise, introduced Tristan in Yseult's department. But there happiness was soon disturbed by the jealous King, who banished the Prince out of his dominions, forcing from him an oath never more to appear in Cornwall without leave. In vain did all the Cornish Barons unite in their request in favour of a hero who had done so much for them. Marcus was deaf to all their entreaties, and Tristan the next day went on board the ship that was to convey him to England.
A prosperous gale swelling the sails, Tristan, after a few hours passage, landed in Arthur's kingdom. In his way to that Prince's court, he met and fought with Dinadam, a worthy Knight, whom he unhorsed, and made his friend and companion, by declaring to him who he was. They travelled in company, and came to a bridge guarded by two British Knights. Dinadam made up to them, saying, "that another Knight besides himself wished to tilt with them." —"One indeed I see, answered one of the British worthies, but the man in your company is unworthy of that name, since he bears on his helmet the disgraceful crest of Cornwall." Dinadam took his career, and was thrown from his horse by his opponent. Tristan advanced in order to revenge the cause of his friend; but the two British Knights turned their backs upon him, and, seeing that he persisted, they gallopped away, crying to him—"Good Cornish Knight, do not force us to such disgrace: it would be a foul one indeed were our armours to receive a single touch of thy lance." Tristan could not help smiling at the mistake, and went in pursuit of them, knowing that they were two of the stoutest Knights of the Round-table, Hector Desmares and the renowned Boort: in the interim, Driam and Bliomberis, Hector's companions, happened to pass by, Tristan instantly ran at them, unhorsed them both, and set off with Dinadam; leaving the four Knights to wonder how a dastardly son of Cornwall could have discomfited two of them. However, they were near guessing at the truth, for they said to each other, that had they not known that Tristan was love-bound at Cintangeul, they would have looked for him in the strange Knight. It would prove an endless task were we to follow Tristan, and recount his numberless exploits. The good Dinadam often wounded in his company, began to repent himself of having associated with so venturesome a Knight, and very jocosely complained of the danger there was in following so rash a leader; not that Dinadam wanted courage, but his bodily strength did not keep pace with his native bravery: so that, tired at last with daily overthrows, he parted from our hero; who, hearing that the perfidious Lady of the Lake had placed thirty Knights in ambush, in order to surprise and slay the great and worthy Lancelot, attacked and defeated them all; killing most of them, and forcing the rest to an ignominious flight. Some days after, meeting with Palamedes, they fought until night parted them. Lancelot, being informed of the wonderful atchievements of the supposed Cornish Knight, concluded that he could be no other than Tristan of Leonois, and from that instant resolved to go in quest of him.
Let us now return to the court of King Marcus, where the fair Yseult was a prey to grief and melancholy on account of the absence of her beloved Tristan. A young, but discreet damsel, niece to Brangien, was dispatched to England with a packet for our hero; but she long sought for him in vain, till one day Tristan, fatigued with a long and useless pursuit after a Knight whose name was Breus the Merciless, alighted near a fountain and fell asleep. The young lady coming that way, saw the vigorous Passabreul, his faithful steed, and instantly descried the Knight, who was so lean and altered that she hardly knew him again. She awoke Tristan, and gave him Yseult's letter, which he took with a lover's eagerness, kissed the seal, and clasping it to his heart, exclaimed, THIS IS COMFORT INDEED!12 He then begged the lady to defer her departure till after the magnificent tournament which King Arthur had ordered for the next day, and conducted the welcome messenger to Persides, a brave and hospitable Knight. On the morning they all set off together for Lramalot. In their way thither Persides challenged a Knight, by whom he was unhorsed, as well as Tristan, who not being upon his guard was easily conquered. Dinadam, who joined them soon after, though a great admirer of Tristan, could not help rallying him on the occasion, and told him that that expert tilter was his rival Palamedes. Our hero, who esteemed Palamedes as a man, but hated him for his presumptuous love for Yseult, promised himself to take an ample revenge at the first meeting. He had an opportunity that very day at the tournament; where, after having overcome all his opponents, he twice unhorsed him, but could not proceed further against him, the laws of tournament not permitting the Knights to fight it out to the last. King Arthur, charmed with the unknown warrior's courage and dexterity, came down from his balcony, in order to embrace and reward so much bravery: but our modest hero, content with having so well acquitted himself in the presence of Yseult's fair messenger, stole away with her unperceived and returned to his tent. He had just entered it, when an Esquire informed him that a Knight, whom he knew not, was at a little distance, rending the air with the most pitiful moans. Tristan ran to his assistance, and did all in his power to comfort him; and though he knew him to be Palamedes, he had him carried to his own quarters, where they supped together and went to bed.
Such was the noble manner in which those brave Knights of yore treated each other, and such the lessons of generosity which the worthy author of this romance gave to the people of quality of his time. The history of Tristan of Leonois seems particularly calculated to elevate the mind to that superiority of sentiments which alone is the criterion of true nobility.
The joust was renewed the next day. Tristan appeared in an armour different from that which he had on the preceeding day, in order not to be known; but he should also have fought in a different manner, for, by seeing him exert himself with his usual bravery, the King and Queen were easily convinced that this was the same Knight, who, the day before, had deserved the prize. Arthur, who after Lancelot of the Lake and Guleard, passed for the best Knight of the Round-table, having secretly armed himself, came into the list and fought with Tristan, who had no little trouble to get the better of so valiant an opponent. The King, then calling to Lancelot, desired him to defend the honour of the Round-table. Tristan's lance was broke; but the rule was, that a Knight, in such case, should fight with his sword, opposing only his shield to the lance of his adversary. Lancelot made so desperate a push at Tristan, that his spear went to pieces, and the point entered deep into the arm of our hero; who, in his turn, gave Lancelot so violent a blow on the head, that he cleaved his helmet and wounded him. Tristan judging by the blood that gushed from the wound that the Knight could not continue the fight, left the lists, and retired as secretly as he had done the day before.
Dinadam, who was known to have been the whole night with the brave stranger, being asked by Arthur who he was, made no difficulty to tell his name. The King, who wished to reward so much merit, and knowing that Marcus had banished him from Cornwall, resolved to fix him at his court. All his Knights declared unanimously, that a more noble companion they could never have, and swore to Arthur, to spend a whole year in quest of him, and not to return 'till they had found and seen him installed a Knight of the Round-table. A messenger was dispatched by Queen Genievre to Tristan's tent, where they found only the lady in tears; for Tristan, lest he should be known, had left her and disappeared.
The lady was brought to court, and owned to the Queen, that the Knight who had gained the double victory was Tristan. Genievre, suspecting that she had been sent by Yseult, made several enquiries concerning her, and praising the Queen of Cornwall for her constant attachment to Tristan. Alas! said the Lady, "Your Majesty lives in all comfort and happiness, whilst my noble mistress is wretched and forsaken." As she spoke these words she cast a significant glance on Genievre and Lancelot. The Queen smiled; —"never shall I rest contented, said she, till I bring together the two most constant couple (meaning herself and Lancelot, Tristan and Yseult) that ever were celebrated in the annals of love. You may now return to Cornwall, my good damsel, and tell your royal mistress that Genievre preserves for her the most sincere friendship.
Some of the Knights of the Round-table who were in quest of Tristan, not knowing that he had been banished by his uncle, thought that the kingdom of Cornwall was the best place to seek for him. Yvain, Gahereit, and Treu, the Seneschal, set out for Cintageul. Their arrival struck terror into the dastardly minds of the Cornish Knights. Those of the Round-table discovering their mistake, and seeing that their search would be fruitless, staid only a few days to plague Marcus; and, as they heard that he was obliged to go to Sanson's island to celebrate the anniversary of Tristan's victory over Morehoult, they followed and challenged him there. In vain did Marcus endeavour to rouse the courage of his Knights, by putting himself at their head; they were all thrown from their horses at the first onset.
Dinas, Seneschal of Cornwall, the good and complaisant friend of Tristan and Yseult, was so delighted to hear the foreign Knights so loud in Tristan's praise, that he gave them every day the most splendid entertainments. The good Seneschal, who was so ready to promote the pleasures of his friends, did not neglect his own. He had a most magnificent country seat inhabited by one of the handsomest women that any country could boast of. Dinas thought her as true to him as she was beautiful; but the Knights of Cornwall were not by fate decreed to enjoy such happiness. One morning, going to the house, he found all the gates and doors opened, and no-body there but an old servant, who told him that his lady had eloped with a stranger, and carried away with her his two favourite pointers. Dinas being informed which way they were gone, set off after them, full speed, and, having overtaken them on the plain, assailed his rival, and was about to sacrifice him to his jealousy, when the Knight represented to him, that it was folly in them to expose their lives in a quarrel, the decision of which should be left to the lady, whose constancy or fickleness must determine the matter. Dinas thought there was no danger in submitting to her choice, but he had too good an opinion of her and himself, for she no sooner was left to her option, than she took the other Knight by the hand, and bid Dinas farewell. Meanwhile the pointers knowing their master, staid by him, and the lady missing them, obliged her new lover to go back and demand them in her name. The Seneschal was surprized at her impudence, but only resented it by shewing the greatest contempt for her and her paramour. "Thou mayest have them, said he coolly, if they are not more faithful than the wretch who sends thee; call the pointers, if they follow they are thine." The Knight called them in vain; they wagged their tails at their master, and snarled at the other.13
The three Knights having no further business in Cornwall returned to England, and by the way called on an old acquaintance of theirs, the Lord of Aras. He acknowledged to them that Dinadam, Palamedes, and Tristan were his prisoners; the latter was very ill, and had no hopes of ever being set at liberty by the Lord of Aras, two of whose sons he had killed in the last tournament. But generosity was ever the badge of ancient chivalry; the Lord of Aras went to Tristan's bed-side, and said to him; —"You have embittered my old age by depriving me of my two eldest sons, but your crime, if it may be so called, was involuntary, and I will no longer detain, in an inglorious confinement, one of the best Knights the world ever produced; and who will, perhaps, condescend to be the protector of the only son I now have: from this moment you are free, my Lord, go where glory and conquest await you."
Tristan was moved at this extraordinary instance of magnanimity, and mingling his tears with those of his noble host, he promised to cherish young d'Aras as if he were his own son; then, taking to his horse, he left the castle that very night, and thus gave the slip to the three companions of the Round-table. He took his way towards North-Wales, and opportunely came to the rescue of Palamedes, who was set up by ten ruffians. Tristan, as soon as he had released his rival, challenged him to deadly combat, "God and honour forbid, said the Saracen Prince, that I should accept of such challenge on the very instant that you have exposed your life to preserve mine; yet I feel, but too well, that our quarrels can never end but by the death of either of us; therefore, name the day and spot where we may meet with our seconds." Tristan agreed, and the rendezvous was given for that day seven-night, near Merlin's cave. Our hero failed not to be the first at the appointed place, where seeing a Knight in complete armour coming towards him, concluded that it was Palamedes; with couched lance he made up to him, and was received with equal vigour and bravery. They struck each other with such force, that they fell both to the ground as well as their horses. Tristan, in the full persuasion that this was Palamedes, took to his sword and renewed the combat on foot. It was bloody and obstinate, and after a full hour's engagement they retreated a few paces in order to take breath, and wipe off the blood that flew in purple streams from their numerous wounds. Before they engaged for the second time, Tristan found out his mistake; for the other addressing him in these words, "Sir Knight, you are the bravest champion I ever met with; but since you seem determined to fight it out to the last, I think we should know each others name, that the conqueror, whoever he be, may lose no part of the glory that awaits him." Our hero knew by the sound of the Knights voice that it was not Palamedes: "Sir, says he to him, the courage you have shewn makes me alter the resolution I had taken of keeping my name a secret; I am ready to tell it you, provided you oblige me with yours." "You perhaps may have heard, answered the other, of one Lancelot of the Lake, he stands before you." "Ah! Sir Lancelot, exclaimed Tristan, I should have known you by your prowess and intrepidity; you are the very man whose friendship and esteem I most desire: I am Tristan of Leonois, and here I give you up a sword which never will be drawn but in your service." Lancelot, at these words, presented his own by the hilt; they both fell on their knees, then raising each other they embraced, and maintained for some time the generous strife who should yield to the other; till Lancelot insisted upon Tristan's exchanging swords with him. They sat down, and began to converse about their loves; but with that discretion which formerly was accounted honourable and praiseworthy. Alas! Sir Lancelot, said Tristan, well may you boast of love's kindness to you, since the favourable god has strewed your way with myrtle and the choicest flowers, whilst I am outrageous Fortune's wretched sport, far from her I adore." It seems that men could blush in that golden age, for Lancelot, sensible that his friend alluded to Queen Genievre's avowed penchant for the Lord of the Lake, crimsoned at the thought, and lest Tristan should farther wound his delicacy, said to him, "Ah, worthy friend; the rose for its being encompassed with thorns loses nothing of its bloom and perfume; the thorn you now feel. May love grant that you soon gather the rose:" —then changing discourse, Lancelot acquainted Tristan with the desire of Arthur and his royal consort to have him at their court, and the oath that bound the Knights of the Round-table to employ a whole year in quest of him. Our hero's modesty would have made him stand out, but his friendship for Lancelot determined him to set out in his company for Lramalot; they met in their way with several Knights of the Round-table, who, religious observers of their oath, would not enter the city, not having completed the time of their voluntary banishment. These were amazed to see the other two travelling in seeming harmony whilst their armour was died all over with blood, but they had soon the best reason to rejoice, for Lancelot discovering himself, told them, "Good Sirs, the quest is over, behold Tristan of Leonois." They paid him their respects, and went on together to court; where Lancelot taking off his helmet, said to the King, who advanced to embrace him; (for Kings in those days knew the value of a brave soldier) "My Liege, here is Tristan, who comes to release our companions from the oath they had taken:" at these words the presence chamber echoed with repeated applause. Queen Genievre entering, Tristan would have prostrated himself at her feet, but Arthur prevented it by clasping him in his arms.
All the Knights companions surrounded them, and Arthur required a boon of Tristan; the latter hesitated, as he dreaded every sort of engagement lest it should protract his separation from his adored Yseult. But at last, unable to withstand the pressing solicitations of the fair Genievre and of his friend Lancelot, he granted the King his request; which was, to remain at the British court as one of the household, and a companion of the Round-table, which Tristan promised to do. Great was the joy of all the British worthies. The three noble brothers, Gauvain, Yvain and Gaheret, nephews to King Arthur, were foremost in testifying their satisfaction; and loudly exclaimed, that Arthur could now boast of having the two worthiest and most renowned Knights that ever graced the royal board. The King ordered the holy relicks to be brought, and on them Tristan was sworn a Knight of the Round-table, and conducted by his companions to the place where it stood.
The great and skilfull Merlin had exhausted all the secrets of his art in the constructing of that table. Thirteen seats were placed round it in honour of the thirteen apostles. Twelve only of these could be filled up, and only by the bravest and truest Knights. The thirteenth represented that of the execrable traitor Judas. It was called the perilous chair, ever since a rash and presumptuous Saracen had dared to set himself on it; when, on a sudden, the floor gave way, and the miscreant was swallowed up and consumed by devouring flames.
By means of the spell, an invisible hand traced on the back of the seat, the name of the candidate who deserved to fill it, and who must have proved himself superior, in every respect, to the companion whom he was to succeed; otherwise, whoever presented himself was instantly repelled by an unknown force. This was the trial those brave champions underwent whenever an election was become necessary by the decease of any of the worthies.
Of the twelve honourable seats, that of Morehoult of Ireland had remained vacant ever since his death; which had happened ten years before in the manner it has been already related: nor had his name been erased from the time of his being overcome by Tristan. Arthur, taking the latter by the hand, led him to the empty seat. A celestial harmony was heard as he advanced, and the ambient air sweetened by the most fragrant perfumes. The name of Morehoult disappeared, and that of Tristan was seen most resplendent and conspicuous. Now it was that our hero's modesty was put to a hard trial; being obliged, when once seated, to give a detail of all his atchievements, which as usual was taken down by the clerks.
Whilst Tristan filled up so gloriously his brilliant destiny at the court of King Arthur, the Cornish monarch was torn by all the furies of torturing jealousy at Citangeul. He could not look on his Queen without recollecting that Tristan alone was the object of her love. This thought drove him to madness; he meditated the blackest revenge: and as a villain never puts any great interval between the plan and the execution of a crime, Marcus resolved to go in disguise to England. Having assembled his Barons, he told them that he had vowed a pilgrimage which would last some months, and made them swear allegiance to the treacherous Andret, a friend and counsellor after his own heart. Not willing, however, to leave Yseult behind, he appointed two young ladies and Brangien to wait on the Queen, and with her set off upon his expedition, having only retained in his train two Knights of his household. On his arrival in England, he entrusted one of the latter, named Perthelay, with his intentions, which he declared were to watch an opportunity of way-laying Tristan, in order to surprize him unawares, and murder him; requesting the Knight to bind himself, by an oath, to give him what assistance he might require to effect the bloody purpose. Perthelay, not only rejected the proposal with becoming indignation, but loaded the King with the bitterest reproaches, for having laid down a plan big with so much complicated villainy. Marcus, dreading lest Perthelay should expose him, and thus defeat his designs, drew his sword, and killed the virtuous Knight on the spot. Amans, brother to the deceased, furiously assailed the murderer; but Yseult, with her ladies, arriving at this juncture, parted the combatants. Amans, charging the King with foul treachery, summoned him to appear and answer for the same before Arthur, his Lord Paramount. Marcus, rather than run the risk of being discovered, promised to meet Amans at Lramalot within six days, provided he would engage not to make him known at court; to this the Knight consented, and instantly left the King; who having this disagreeable business upon his hands, left Yseult and Brangien in a nunnery, recommending them to the care of the Lady Abbess, and went off alone; making in his way several enquiries concerning Tristan.
Marcus had hardly lost sight of the abbey, when he met with a Knight, and knowing that the custom was in England for Knights to tilt whenever they met, prepared himself to receive the other; but Dinadam, (for this was no other than that bantering Knight of the Round-table) though always ready to take a challenge, never gave one: this Marcus construed into a proof of pusillanimity, and Dinadam, seeing him dressed after the manner of the Cornish Knights, took still a worse opinion of him. As they were travelling the same way, they bowed to each other, and joined company. The British worthy gave the King an account of the brilliant reception of Tristan among the noble companions of the Round-table, and by praising his friend, wounded the envious Marcus to the quick. Dinadam asked him some questions in his turn; "On my word, Sir Knight, says he, long had I given up all hopes of seeing a Cornish Knight come to this kingdom; it is not a fit place for them, unless they are blessed with sufficient patience to put up with being the butt of every one's taunts and raillery: you seem to me well qualified for the purpose; and pray, brave Sir, could you tell me any news concerning the most contemptible and dastardly monarch; how fares the cowardly King Marcus? No doubt he lives in better cheer since the banishment of his nephew Tristan."
The Cornish monarch, who was no less passive than cautious, did not seem to pay much attention to the Knights sudden attack; prudence suggested to him, that, by resenting the abuse, he must either fight, or make himself known; two things which he dreaded equally: he resolved, therefore, to put up calmly with the affront, and Dinadam, seeing that he was so resigned, spared him not. One morning as they came to a retired part of the forest, Dinadam saw at a little distance a few tents and armours suspended to a tree; these he knew instantly to belong to six of his Knight-companions of the Round-table. —"Ah, Sir Knight! exclaimed he, addressing himself to Marcus, woe is me, if you do not assist a wretch who is now exposed to all the furies of his bitterest foes! The arms that you see hanging on yon tree, belong to six of the most valiant Knights, my sworn enemies; but I so firmly rely on your approved valour and courtesy, that I am resolved to attack them without loss of time. —Heaven forbid you should be so rash, Sir! consider the danger that awaits us if we dare to challenge such champions—I have said it before, and I know them to be as brave as any of the British Knights; but I repeat it, with such a second as you, I bid them all defiance. " So saying, he galloped towards the tree, and with his lance, beat down some of the shields: the noise it occasioned brought out the six Knights, and Marcus, seeing that the match was by no means equal, put spurs to his horse, who, as if partaking of his master's fear, soon carried him out of sight. Dinadam made himself known to the six champions, and told them his adventure with the Cornish Knight, and they all promised themselves great sport with the pusillanimous wretch.
Dinadam set out with them, and, as chance would have it, took the same road through which Marcus had scoured away in his fright. Towards the evening, they saw coming towards them, a page of King Arthur's and Daguenet, who, though a Knight, was looked upon only as the King's jester. They learnt from the page, that he had just met a foreign Knight, who proposed to lie at a neighbouring monastery; and by the description, Dinadam concluded it could be no other than the Cornish worthy, and desired Daguenet to slip on the armour of Bliomberis, one of the six Knights mentioned above, who being wounded, was forced to travel on unarmed. Daguenet, though weak of body, was bold and courageous: he remembered with exultation, that he had once led to the feet of King Arthur two Cornish Knights, whom he had overcome in single combat, and scorned to decline the proposed encounter. Dinadam, after having given his companions their cue, and desired them to wait in a cross road which he pointed out, galloped full speed after Marcus, whom he overtook, just as the King was entering the Abbey gates. The monarch was rather vexed and disconcerted at the re-appearance of Dinadam: the more so, as he was in hopes that the six Knights had rid him for ever of so troublesome a companion: and was very inquisitive to know how he had been able to escape from his enemies. Dinadam answered, that, deceived by the armours, he had mistaken the owners, who proved to be his most intimate friends and acquaintances: but that he had taken so great a liking to him and his company, that he had left the other gentlemen abruptly to follow after him. Being master of a most impenetrable dissimulation, Marcus received this compliment with seeming gratitude. They supped together and went to bed. The next morning, the King of Cornwall would have set out alone for Lramalot: but not knowing his way, he was obliged, very much against his inclination, to accept of Dinadam's company, who offered to put him in the right road.
Our readers will easily guess, that the malicious Knight took care to lead his victim to the spot where his friends were in waiting, to have their share of the sport. As Dinadam went along, he reviled his companion for his want of courage, in the adventure of the preceeding day. Marcus, stung to the very heart with the cutting railleries, plucked up spirits enough to challenge Dinadam, who positively refused to engage a Cornish Knight who had betrayed so much cowardice. As he said these words, Daguenet made his appearance in an offensive posture, challenging the Knights to single combat. Marcus shewed great good manners and civility, by insisting that Dinadam should break the first lance. But he declined it on the same principle, alledging, that Marcus being a stranger, had a right to claim the honour, adding it was the more desirable, as he knew by the armour, that this was the renowned and formidable Lancelot of the Lake. The very name sounded like the dead warrant to the ear of the affrighted King, who, seeing Daguenet making towards him, and crying out to him and Dinadam, cowardly Knights to the joust! to the joust! Strongly influenced by the principle of self-preservation, galloped away as fast as horse could carry him. Meanwhile, the six Knights and their 'Squires made their appearance, hissing and hooting after the run-away Knight, calling out to him, O vile coward, wretched, dastardly Cornish fool!
Marcus running away from one danger fell into another; for the Amoral of Wales meeting him as he fled with his lance couched, thought he was prepared to tilt with him, and received the woeful King so warmly, that he flung him at several yards from his horse, and continuing his way, returned to his companions, who made very merry on the Cornish Knight's discomfiture. Unfortunately, the story had reached the capital, and Marcus, at his entering Lramalot was saluted with the hisses, groans, and hooting of the populace.
Amans arrived the same day, and true to his promise, he accused the Cornish Knight, without disclosing his name, of wilful murther. He was supported in the charge by two ladies his relations. Arthur ordered the duel for the next day. According to the usual custom at those kind of trials, Amans swore to the truth of his accusation: but Marcus refused to take any oath, and had the good fortune to kill his accuser. The two ladies, as practiced on such occasions, must have been burnt alive: but one of the judges, recollecting that the conqueror had refused to take his oath, the decision of the matter was referred to the great and wise King Arthur. Marcus and the two ladies were carried before him. The former, conscious of his guilt, and awed by the presence of his Sovereign, confessed that he really had committed the murther that had been laid to his charge. Arthur could not contain his indignation: yet, considering that Marcus was a King, he contented himself with confining him to the palace, ordering that Amans should be interred with great pomp, and the two ladies retained in the train of Queen Genievre, as maids of honour.
We cannot help pausing here a while, before we speak of Yseult, in order to observe how careful our author is in bringing about incidents to excuse the weakness of the fair Queen, which might otherwise cast an odium on his heroine. He not only represents her as being under the irresistible influence of the magic draught, a circumstance that must plead strongly in her favour with the most rigid censors: but he describes the King her consort, as a cruel, perfidious, and cowardly Knight, and above all very ridiculous, so that all who wish well to Tristan and Yseult, may, if not approve, at least be reconciled to the latter's revenge.
The beauteous Queen continued in the nunnery with her faithful Brangien, waiting for her savage Lord's commands, and wishing still more to hear from Tristan. Her favourite occupation was to walk out in the forest, and there, seated by a cool crystalline stream, to accompany herself upon the harp. As love inspired the lay, Tristan was the burthen of each song. One day, as she was thus entertaining herself, she was overheard by Breus the Merciless, whose name we have already had occasion to mention. This was one of those Knights, a disgrace to their order, and to human nature: as his abandoned morals and wickedness fully justified the surname of Merciless: being equally formidable to his own sex, by his superior strength of body, and to the fair by his incontinent brutality. He heard the melting accents, hid himself, and soon distinguished the two ladies. At such a sight his flinted heart was moved, not to soft desire; he was not calculated to enjoy that bliss. It was a blood-thirsty vulture viewing a gentle dove, on which he hopes to prey. Yseult soon took up the monster's whole attention, who meditated on the means of getting her into his power, whilst the Queen sung the following couplets.
"Whate'er I hear, I think or view,Breus was on horseback; but, fired with lustful transports, quick as the darting kite, he alighted to fall on his prey. Yseult and Brangien took themselves to flight: but the former was the chief of his pursuit, he seized and dragged her along, and, as she fainted, carried her off in his arms towards the place where he had left his horse: but the poor animal frightened at their noise had run away. A Knight, covered with a very plain armour, passed by, while Brangien was rending the air with most piteous screams. In vain did the inquisitive Knight endeavour to get some information through her means, she was too full of her grief to find the power of utterance. Yet the stranger seeing a woman lying motionless at a small distance, compassion filled his breast, and he ran to the spot, in order to see whether he could give her any assistance. This was Yseult; for Breus having dropped his precious burthen, had gone in quest of his horse whom he had overtaken, and now was returning in full confidence. Brangien renewed her shrieks at his approach; and the stranger, out of mere humanity, flew to the fair damsel's rescue. Breus, who saw him coming towards him in a threatening posture, conceited that this would soon fall a victim to his own impudence. Fortune however forsook him, and he was beat from his horse at the first onset. For fear of worse consequence, he feigned to be dead, and, whilst the Knight with Brangien were endeavouring to raise Yseult from the ground, Breus got up again, and taking to his steed disappeared in an instant.
Recalls my Tristan to my mind:
And nature, to my wishes true,
Each moment with attention kind
Portrays, in colours gay and bright,
The image of my faithful Knight. —
Thou lovely man!14
My dear Tristan!
Like a mild lamb, the shepherd's care,
Near me he throbs with gentle fears:
But when honour bids to warfare,
Fierce as a lion he appears.
What hardy Knight, or haughty fair,
Could stand his bold or winning air?
Now, like some timid dove he lies;
And mildly bears the lovers chain.
Now, like the bird of Jove he flies,
To snatch the laurel from the bloody plain.
Let love or glory lead the way,
Tristan, thou'rt sure to get the day!
As, with spring's genial influence fraught,
The beauteous lilies deck the plain:
So in my heart, as yet untaught,
Of love he rais'd the pleasing pain:
On me then joy and pleasure smil'd,
When first his looks my soul beguil'd.
The burning heat of summer skies,
Portrays in sight his glowing breast;
Yet one soft glance from beauty's eyes
Can calm the storm and peace impart.
Oh may'st thou still unconqueror'd prove,
In war triumphant as in love."
Meanwhile, Yseult's deliverer gently raised her head, and put by the loose hair that hung about her face. He stared at her for some time, screamed, and fell senseless by her side. Brangien, who returned at this instant, gave her first care to her mistress, whom she, after much trouble, recalled to life again. The first object that struct Yseult's wondering eyes, was the Knight in complete armour lying by her. She was told by Brangien, that this was her deliverer. Thinking him dead and killed in her cause, she gave a loose to the tears of pity and gratitude. Upon a closer inspection, they found that the stranger was still alive: assisted by her trusty companion she unlaced the helmet. Readers! and ye who feel, or have felt the power of mighty love! ye alone, can judge of her situation, when she discovered the well-known, the admired features of her adored Tristan. Words would be too faint to describe such scenes.
The received custom of the Round-table was, for a younger companion to seek adventures during ten days after his reception. The other Knights had leave to follow him in disguised armours, and provoke him to the joust, but not to a serious combat. This law had prevented Tristan from being present at his uncle's duel with Amans. Our hero had met with, and overcome the best champions of the Round-table. His friend Lancelot of the Lake went in quest of him, armed with a light and brittle lance, in order to yield him out of compliment, an easy victory. Lancelot came on the very spot where the two lovers were felicitating each other on their recovery. Seeing Tristan pressing to his breast the hand of a stranger, he suspected his fidelity to the Queen of Cornwall, and told him, half in joke and half in earnest: —"So so, sweet Knight, it seems you delight in soft encounters, and I heartily give you joy." —As Lancelot spoke in a feigned voice, Tristan did not know him at first, and rising hastily from the ground, whilst Yseult and Brangien returned towards the nunnery. —"This interruption, Sir Knight, says he, is neither seasonable nor courteous. We shall soon see who you are, and whether you are as brave as you would appear to be witty and smart." So saying, he grasped his lance, and mounted his horse. Lancelot could very well disguise his voice, but not his exquisite shape, noble mien, and the manly graces with which he wielded a lance, and managed a horse: so that at the first vaulting Tristan found whom he had to cope with.
The two Knights approached each other. Our hero seeing the lance of his adversary broke at the first stroke into a thousand pieces, instead of pushing at him, lifted up his own. —"How, says Lancelot, do you despise me so far as not to push your lance against me." —"Dearest Sir, replied Tristan, the blow aimed at a friend recoils upon the giver. Now that you are unarmed, come with me, and pay your respects to Queen Yseult." Lancelot was doubly happy in that his friend knew him again, and was blessed with the company of the fair Yseult. The two heroes alighted and flew into each other's arms. Tristan led him to the Queen, whose hand Lancelot offered to kiss on his knees, but she raised and embraced him as Tristan's most valuable friend.
They went on together to the nunnery, where our author hints that they passed the evening very chearfully, relating their respective adventures, and talking of the beautiful Genievre. On the morrow, Lancelot took leave of Yseult, who desired much to be remembered to Arthur's fair consort, and tell her how much she longed to visit her at Lramalot. Tristan had three days more to spend in his search; but can one think of seeking for any thing more, after what he had found? And is there a reader who will not absolve our hero for giving to love and Yseult three days, which could add very little to the glory he had already acquired? Yet, how swift the hours when spent in such a company! Yseult and Tristan had only valued the three days at a few minutes; but Brangien who had not the same reason to forget how the time went, prudently admonished Tristan, that the ten days being out, he must go to give an account of his exploits, and that, in order to avoid suspicion, it would be proper to wait on Marcus, who was then a prisoner at large at Lramalot. Our hero could start no reasonable objection. Yseult embraced him tenderly, gave him his sword, stooped even to buckle on his spurs, and, had it not been for the remonstrances of Brangien, would have been obliged to do the same over again.
Tristan, towards the dusk of the evening, reached the capital, and saw no one that night but Arthur and Lancelot. The Knight gave an account of what had happened to him, not forgetting his encounter with Lancelot; and the latter gave him a malicious and significant smile at hearing him talk of no other exploits than those of chivalry. Early the next morning, the King having concealed Tristan in his closet, had Marcus brought before him: "King of Cornwall, said he, I will not upbraid you with your crime; let that be the work of your own conscience: but here in the presence of these noble Knights, I request a boon." What could Marcus refuse to his paramount who forgave him so generously his doubly forfeited life; both as a murtherer, and as having infringed all the laws of honour and chivalry by fighting against Amans, and refusing to take the usual oath? He readily granted the request; "Then, says Arthur, I require you to bury in oblivion all your animosity against your nephew, Tristan of Leonois; and to hold him henceforth for a deserving kinsman, and the best Knight in Christendom." This he solemnly promised, and Arthur, having caused the grand relicks to be brought in, had him sworn upon them: then calling Tristan out of the closet, presented him to Marcus: they embraced; but our hero, says the author, did not renounce from his heart to deserve a little more of his uncle's ill humour; and the latter was even with him, by not giving up the thoughts of being revenged on him in a manner equally consonant with his cowardice and jealousy.
All the Knights of the Round-table, who were acquainted with the character of Marcus, trembled at the consequence of so hasty a reconciliation; an ominous foreboding gave Lancelot the most alarming anxiety. He took the King of Cornwall apart; and, with that superiority which virtue and courage give over a groveling wretch, denounced the most exemplary vengeance against him, if he ever offered to deprive his noble friend of life or liberty. The fair Genievre had a conference with Tristan, in which she gave him to understand, that his love for Yseult was no secret to her, and she made none of her attachment to Lancelot. She at the same time put a letter into his hands for the Queen of Cornwall, by which she desired her to repair to Lramalot, in case Marcus should attempt to renew his persecutions. On the other hand, King Arthur said to our hero; "My dear Tristan, you are now of my household, and one of the companions of the Round-table; your uncle is so unworthy of having you at his court, that it really grieves me to see you leave my kingdom: but on the first complaint you have to exhibit against him, come back to your friends; and be assured, my brave and beloved Knight, that Arthur will ever glory in making one among them."
Marcus and his brave kinsman set out the next morning early: the merit of the latter forced a tear from every eye. The horror which seized each generous mind at the bare mention of the former's name, and the love which Tristan had so well deserved, made the ladies of Genievre's court wish secretly that the handsome Knight might long and with impunity continue to wrong his detested uncle. The two travellers arrived that very evening at the nunnery, where the tender and wretched Yseult was forced to bely her sentiments, by giving to the husband a reception which the lover alone could claim from her heart.
Jealousy, it is said, drives away sleep. Marcus had no rest, and was up before the sun. As he was sauntering about the dormitories, he met with an ancient nun, who had been rather too inquisitive about Tristan, during his first stay with Yseult. This Nun is represented in the true character of those female anchorets, very talkative and mischievous. Through motives of envy or malice, or perhaps both, she told the whole affair to the King of Cornwall, and was so particular, and dwelled so long on her story, that Marcus left her abruptly, to revolve, in his treacherous mind, some means of being effectually revenged; yet fear prevailed even upon his jealous rage: he dared not attempt any thing against his nephew whilst he remained in King Arthur's dominions; but promised himself to give a free scope to his hatred when he had him once in his own kingdom. The very thought was ecstacy to him, and smoothed his contracted brow; so that he appeared before Yseult and Tristan with unruffled countenance, and carried dissimulation so far as to treat our hero, for some time after his arrival in Cornwall, with the greatest, and, to all appearance, most sincere friendship. Time and opportunity shewed him soon in his proper colours; for by means of Andret having surprized Tristan, he had him confined in a dungeon, loaded with heavy and disgraceful irons. In vain did all the Cornish Barons unite in one request to obtain his liberty: the perfidious King, for once, was resolute, as are all weak and despotic princes in a bad cause.
Gouvernail, that grave and faithful mentor of Tristan, spoke, but to no purpose, in favour of his pupil; by representing to the King how impious it was in him to infringe the solemn oath he had taken at Lramalot. Convinced that whatever he could urge would be in vain, he set off for Leonois, in order to inform Tristan's subjects of their King's captivity, and return at their head to his rescue. A few days after his departure there arrived at Cintageul, a young Knight of the Round-table, named Perceval. He was no sooner apprised of the confinement of his noble companion, and heard of the oath taken by Marcus whilst in England, than he forced his way into the presence-chamber, and addressed himself to the Monarch: "Felon and forsworn Prince, says he, why hast thou confined thy Queen, and put they nephew in irons?" Marcus answered in a manner suitable to his haughtiness and usual brutality. The Knight, fired with resentment, assailed the King; flung out of the window Andret, who attempted to take his master's part, and having brought Marcus to the ground, held him down till he had given up the keys of Tristan's dungeon; then running to the prison set him free, and they together went to deliver Yseult from the tower, where she had been confined, and set her at liberty.
The King, whom Perceval had locked up in his apartment, was not sufficiently beloved by his subjects; nor were these brave enough to be induced either by the insult offered to him, or the groans of Andret, who had been much hurt, to oppose the British Knight. The Barons of Cornwall were called together, and required to oblige their monarch to keep more religiously the oath by which he had bound himself in regard to Tristan. Perceval, after having obtained a solemn promise from the Cornish Lords to support the Queen and our hero against their own Sovereign, threatened them with the most exemplary vengeance from King Arthur and his worthies, if they should fail in giving Tristan all the support he might want against his uncle's barbarity; he then kissed the hand of the fair Yseult, swore an everlasting friendship to her lover, and set out in quest of those adventures which have rendered his name so famous in the annals of the Round-table.
Tristan and Yseult lived for some months unmolested in the greatest harmony. They often took the diversion of stag-hunting, and their halt was constantly at the pleasant and commodious seat of Dinas. Meanwhile Andret had recovered from the bruises he had received by his fall, and this severe correction only served to increase his animosity against Tristan; but the house of Dinas was so artfully contrived, that he long toiled in vain to surprize our lovers. One day, as he was reconnoitring the place with all the care and attention his malice and the hopes of being revenged could suggest, he saw a lofty pine-tree, from whose top he could command the whole prospect of the gardens. Armed with a bow and arrows he climbed it up, in order to be there concealed, and watch his two victims, who he doubted not would come back after the hunt. Fortune seconded but too well his treacherous views. Yseult and Tristan, after a turn or two in the garden, retired to a delicious bower, which hid them from every eye but those of their most inveterate foe. Without suspecting the least treachery, Tristan, taking Yseult round her lovely waist, was about to sip the ambrosial perfume of her coral lips, when Andret let fly an arrow with so true an aim, that the sharp weapon pierced through Tristan's shoulder, and slightly wounded that of Yseult. Our hero felt no pain but that which was occasioned by the Queen's wound. Not doubting but that they were discovered, they retreated to a subterraneous passage which led to Yseult's apartments; and, as they retired, a second arrow grazed our hero's throat. After this narrow escape he got safe to Dinas; who, being informed of the accident, removed his noble friend to the house of one of his tenants in the forest, on whose unshaken fidelity he could safely depend.
Andret's malice was not fully satisfied by this cowardly attempt; his next care was to acquaint the King with the transaction. Marcus, as jealous as ever, but not daring to shew openly his resentment against the Queen, contented himself with speaking to her of her wound with all the bitterness of sarcastic irony. Perhaps he would have done worse against Tristan, but all his enquiries proved fruitless; nor could he, by the most seducing offers of reward, discover the place of his retreat. He had soon after a far different cause for being vexed at his nephew's disappearance. A powerful King, named Helias, having heard that Tristan had been banished the kingdom of Cornwall, and not knowing that he was since returned, thought this was a favourable opportunity to attack Marcus, whom he hated, and had long wished to have in his power; and setting himself at the head of a numerous army, laid waste the country, and fought his way as far as the capital, where the cowardly Cornish men, whom he drove before him, soon gave the alarm. Marcus assembling together as many of his subjects as were at hand, resolved to make head against his enemy. Dinas, equally fit for the field of Venus and Mars, fought with the utmost bravery at the head of the van; but being ill supported was obliged to give way and shut himself up with the King in Cintageul, which was instantly besieged by Helias.
Thus situated, Marcus and Dinas disposed every thing for a vigorous defence; but the former, judging that his resistance would avail him little, soon fell into a state of despondency. Dinas recalled to the monarch's mind all the services he had received from Tristan, and what he might expect from his valiant nephew in this critical juncture. The King begged Dinas, if he knew where Tristan was, to acquaint him with his situation, and entreat his assistance. This was all the Seneschal wished for; a trusty messenger was dispatched, and easily prevailed on our hero to comply with the King's request: but, as his wound was not entirely healed, and he could not bear his armour, he wrote to his uncle, desiring him to hold out, and expect to see him within six days. Ten of the best warriors of Cornwall, who had refused to take part in the quarrel of their contemptible Sovereign, hearing that Tristan intended to go to his assistance, joined him; and our hero, at the head of them, falling on the enemies rear, fought his way to Helias's quarters, unhorsed him twice in the action, and after having slain all that opposed him, entered triumphant into Cintageul.
The next day, Tristan sent a herald to Helias, to challenge him to single combat. The condition was, that the latter, if conquered, should evacuate the kingdom of Cornwall with his troops; and, if conqueror, the Cornish King to become his tributary. Helias was too valiant a Knight to reject such a proposal; but he further required, that Marcus, together with Yseult and the Cornish Barons, should be present on the spot where the duel was to be fought, to remain entirely at his direction, in case he should overcome Tristan. This being agreed to, the champions met at the appointed place of rendezvous on the next morning.
Tristan's natural bravery was increased by the consideration of his fighting to prevent Yseult's captivity. After a long and obstinate contest, fortune declared for our hero, who thus saved a second time his uncle's dominions from subjection and disgrace: but Marcus had a soul impervious to the feelings of friendship and gratitude. A few days after Tristan had brought him triumphant into Cintageul, he was by him deprived of liberty, and his victorious hands felt once more the weight of the galling chain: fortunately, his deliverer was at hand. Gouvernail had easily persuaded the people of Leonois to take up arms in defence of their King. The old warriors who had served under his father Meliadus, were the first to summon their liegemen; and Gouvernail at their head, invaded the kingdom of Cornwall. Dinas refused to repair to the King's standard. The Barons and the people rose all in a body against a Prince, whose perfidious conduct had brought this new calamity upon his subjects. They surrounded the palace and seized on the King's person; whilst a party of them flew to Tristan's prison. Now was the time that Providence had marked for the punishment of the Cornish King, and his prime minister Andret. The latter was torn in pieces by the enraged populace, and the former cast into the dungeon where he had confined his nephew; then entreating Tristan and Yseult to lead them, the Barons went to meet Gouvernail and his army, who greatly rejoiced at seeing their beloved King. Our hero thought it would be ungenerous in him to return to Cintageul, and having called the Barons together he begged them to entrust Dinas with the government of the kingdom during his uncle's imprisonment, which was to last at their discretion; binding them by an oath not to attempt any thing against the life of Marcus.
Our author, before he proceeds further, takes care to repeat in this place the many apologies which Yseult might urge in her defence; we shall only beg our readers to recollect them, and especially the uncontroulable effect of the enchanted draught. The Queen followed Tristan into his kingdom of Leonois, from whence they soon after set off for England, resolved for the sake of decency to live there very retired, and acquaint no one with their arrival, except their noble and trusty friend Lancelot of the Lake. Before he left Leonois, Tristan amply rewarded the care and services of Gouvernail. Our hero had long observed that something more than mere friendship subsisted between Brangien and Gouvernail. The loss which the former had sustained on Yseult's wedding night, seemed to be the only obstacle that prevented their union; but Gouvernail, who had given the advice, and had even admired this heroic mark of her attachment to her mistress, found it an easy matter to over-rule Brangien's scruples, and set her above those niceties. Yseult and Tristan called the two faithful servants, joined their hands, and assembling together his Barons, he made a pathetic speech, in which he highly commended the birth, wisdom, and courage of Gouvernail; dwelled on the personal services he had received from him; and, as a reward, charged his Barons to swear allegiance to Gouvernail, and henceforth acknowledge him for their Sovereign. After having given this extraordinary proof of gratitude, Tristan with the fair Yseult embarked and landed safe in England.
They travelled on towards Joyeuse-Garde castle, a seat belonging to their friend Lancelot. As their minds were at ease, their hearts content, and having no fear nor anxiety, they sat down, and Tristan sung the following lines addressed to his fair companion:
I.As they entered the forest that led to Lancelot's seat, Tristan learnt, with some surprize, that King Arthur had stayed there a few days, and intended in his way back to Lramalot to entertain himself with the jousting of his Knights. Yseult would fain have persuaded Tristan to leave the forest; but it was too late, for they had been seen, and Arthur sent Treu, his Seneschal, to enquire who the two strangers were. Dinadam, in hopes of having an opportunity of indulging his sarcastic humour, followed the Seneschal, and as he came near enough to be heard, said to the stranger; "What ho! Sir Knight, are you frightened at a little tilting? But tilt you must, or give up your lady to a better Knight." Tristan knew Dinadam at once, and could not help smiling under his helmet at the mistake; but in order to humour the joke, he affected to appear intimidated; and to the Seneschal's enquiries he answered, "That he was a poor Knight, bereft of all but his horse and armour, and that the lady was his sister, going, much against his will, to take the veil in the neighbouring nunnery." To this Treu replied, "Are you then ignorant of the laws of chivalry in this kingdom?—No stranger, if in armour, is suffered to pass without being called to the joust; therefore prepare to meet me." Dinadam did not lose this occasion of bantering the strange Knight by jocosely insisting that he had a right to begin, as he had spoke first. Tristan seemed very unwilling to engage; but at last he said to them: "Knights of King Arthur, it would be very discourteous in you to force me to leave my sister by herself; however, since you will insist upon it, I shall conform with the laws, provided you solemnly engage to guard her courteously in case I should come off conqueror, and be obliged to encounter any more of your companions; for well I know, that English Knights are ever ready to joke, and noble maids to conquer." This request being readily granted, they prepared for the joust.
How happy must his moments prove,
Who travels on with thee and love;
How sweetly glides the live-long day,
While love and Yseult lead the way:
Devoted to thy charms divine,
With thee my days unclouded shine.
Whene'er thy image I behold,
A painful pleasure fills my breast,
And in my heart this truth's imprest,
(By love in gentle whisper told:)
'Twas thus that first, with looks benign,
Fair Yseult's eyes gave life to mine.
Thou leftst me with the morning light.
Dost thou not long for sleep's kind power?
Lo! these soft banks to joy invite,
(Thou leftst me with the morning light;)
Wer't but t'enjoy sleep's calm delight,
Oh, join me in yon shady bow'r.
The better to carry on the farce, Tristan handled his arms with all the awkwardness of a novice. When they engaged he received the lance of Treu on his buckler; it was thrust with such force, that the Seneschal's lance went to pieces, and himself to the ground. Tristan alighting took him by the hand, and presenting him to Yseult; "Fair and dearest sister, says he, behold! this conquered Knight shall watch over you." Then taking his career once more to encounter Dinadam, he received his lance as he had done with Treu, dropped his own, and, taking up Dinadam from the saddle, with his right arm laid him on his horse's neck, and vaulting quickly, set him down by Yseult, telling him: "Well, Sir Knight, what think you of this manner of tilting? Now be true to your word, and keep my sister safe; for I see your companions making this way."
This joust proved an agreeable pastime to King Arthur and his beauteous consort, and they laughed heartily at the manner in which Dinadam had been taken up; but more so when they saw him with Treu, holding the reins of the lady's horse. Several of the Knights had advanced to the spot, among them was the renowned tilter Bliomberis. "How comes it, Sir Knight, says he to Tristan, that you have not attempted to strike with your lance." "Sir, replied Tristan, I foresaw that I should have greater occasion for it, against so powerful an assailant as you are; stand on your defence for I challenge you." Bliomberis promised himself to make him soon repent of his rashness; and, for that purpose, made a thrust at him with a force that must have unhorsed any man but Tristan. The latter returned the compliment to better purpose, for he brought him to the ground without breaking his lance. "Go you, Sir, says he, to guard my sister; for such is the condition of this joust." Arthur's three nephews and ten other Knights met with the same fate, and the good King seeing that he was nearly left alone, entreated Lancelot to vindicate the honour of the Round-table. "My Liege, whispered Lancelot to the King, none but my worthy friend Tristan is capable of these exploits; but this I shall soon know, for he loves me too well to offer to fight me in earnest; therefore please to observe us well:" then, coming up to Tristan, "Sir Knight, says he, I shall soon know who you are, it is Lancelot who calls to you; " "So much the better, returned the other, I cannot provide a better guardian for my sister." They took their career, and ran at each other. As they came close they feigned to have missed the thrust: but by chance Lancelot's horse stumbled over the broken spears that strewed the place, fell under his rider, who, according to the laws of tournament, was by this accident obliged to yield. Tristan, tendering his hand to Lancelot, whispered to him, "DEAR LANCELOT, 'TIS FOR YSEULT THY TRISTAN BIDS THEE YIELD,15" and then leading him to Yseult: "Gentle Knights, says he to the rest, you now are free, commend me to your King. This last gentleman, and the second I have conquered, will do to go a day's journey with my sister and me.
Dinadam, who was the Knight whom Tristan had chosen to follow him along with Lancelot, grumbled about the last tilting, saying that it had not been fair: "Peace, said Lancelot; I own myself fairly conquered by the stranger, and if thou darest deny it; know that he has strength enough to run away with thee under his arm." Dinadam had not a word to say, but he entertained some doubts about this affair; knowing full-well that Lancelot would have asked for the sword, and not have given up the point so easily, without some cogent and secret reasons for it.
Tristan and his company took their way to Joyeuse-guarde castle, where Yseult and Tristan made themselves known to the great joy of Dinadam, who falling at Yseult's feet: "Fair Lady, says he, well may I be permitted to kiss the hand of that sister whom I have so well guarded." Lancelot tarried two days with his friend, and then set out with Dinadam, leaving the happy couple in full possession of the house.
Palamedes having been informed that his rival had left Leonois, and set off for England, followed Tristan there; and, having changed his armour so as not to be known, met him at last within a few yards of Lancelot's seat. The most furious combat ensued; it lasted several hours, and was so obstinately supported on both sides, that the two rivals armours were covered with the blood that gushed out of their respective wounds. Yseult being apprised of the danger her Tristan was in, ran out to part them. They no sooner saw her, than the two combatants retreated from each other; ran to lay their swords at her feet, and instantly fainted away; their blood still continuing to flow. Yseult's first care was for Tristan, who recovering his senses, refused to be attended to if Palamedes was not so: Yseult had them both carried to the castle where they soon recovered. The Queen of Cornwall, who had obtained from Palamedes a promise not to appear before her except in England, easily wrought upon that faithful and obedient lover to receive Tristan into the number of his friends, and effected a sincere reconciliation between the two generous rivals. The Saracen Prince spent a few days at the castle, but the trial was too hard, and he could not bear to be a daily witness of their happiness, nor think of disturbing of it, after he had sworn everlasting friendship to Tristan. "Happy man, said he to him one day, you justly deserve the brilliant destiny you enjoy: May I soon end my wretched life, and may you and the fair Yseult honour my memory with the tears of friendship:" having thus said he took leave, and went in quest of the most perilous adventures. Yet though he courted death with wishful eagerness, he lived long and ever constant to his first amours.
Arthur and Queen Genievre longed to enjoy the company of Tristan and Yseult, and resolved to pay them a visit at Lancelot's seat. One evening Dinadam, who had often been rallied by the Queen, and wished to be revenged, came running in hastily and panting for breath to tell her, that two strange Knights had surprised Tristan unarmed, and seized him; that he must have shared the same fate, had he not fled with all speed to apprise her of the danger she must think herself in now that Tristan was far from her. This intelligence greatly alarmed the Queen, whose dread was increased by the appearance of two strangers completely armed. Dinadam ran hastily, as if in a fright, and hid himself behind the Queen's chair; but what was her joy when the two Knights had taken off their helmets, to see in one of them King Arthur, and her Tristan's friend Lancelot in the other: Queen Genievre followed soon after, and these noble guests spent a few days at the castle in the greatest festivity. The author gives some hints of private suppers between Tristan and Yseult, Genievre and Lancelot; but we shall pass over this little piece of scandal, to talk of the pious and truly commendable undertaking which King Arthur had planned a long time before.
We have already said that the holy greal was supposed to be the cup made use of by the Lord at his last Supper. Joseph of Arimathea had brought it into Europe, together with the lance which Longinus had thrust into our Saviour's side on the cross. These relicks, for many generations, had remained in the keeping of Joseph's descendants. Whoever was entrusted with them was obliged to live in a state of continence and celibacy, and the least trespass against chastity would have exposed the guilty to the most imminent danger. A King surnamed Pécheur, lineally descended from Joseph, was then in possession of the precious and sacred treasure: but, having had one day the imprudence to look rather wishfully at a handsome woman who was come to prostrate herself before the holy relicks; the lance fell on his arm, and occasioned a wound which kept bleeding for the space of fifty years without intermission. Merlin had foretold this accident; adding that the King's wound was never to be healed; and that the virtues inherent to those sacred remains would become beneficial to all christians without exception, when there should come a true and loyal Knight more strictly chaste than King Pécheur, and who could approach the sanctuary, and lay hold of the hallowed relicks, without being struck dead at the very instant that he would attempt to carry them off. The descendant of Joseph and the neighbouring princes were afraid of losing the holy greal, and though it was a difficult matter, as it has since been, to find a Knight who could unite in his person the gift of unspotted continence, and the renown of a brave warrior: yet such a one might start at last; in dread, therefore, of this phenomenon making its appearance, those princes constantly kept on foot a formidable army for the defence of the holy relicks and the royal keeper.
Our valiant hero was very little calculated to atchieve this grand undertaking, he must have paid with his life for so rash an attempt; but the enrolling himself under King Arthur's banner, and fighting against the allies of King Pécheur was one way of atoning for his sins: he therefore partly resolved within himself to engage in this religious enterprise, which Arthur had determined upon on account of the following adventure happening to him in Darnantes forest. Having strayed a great way from his guards, he stopped at the place where Merlin was entombed, and whose voice nevertheless continued to deliver oracles: the good enchanter spoke to the King in these words. —"King Arthur, thou hast been from thy childhood and shalt ever be dear to me; the time is now come to go in quest of the holy greal; King Arthur hear me! The man who will perform the mighty deed is born: nay, he has received from thy royal hands the order of knighthood." The British King treasured up in his mind the words of Merlin; but could not recollect who this extraordinary mortal might be: nevertheless, giving an implicit faith to the infallibility of the prophecy, he from that hour began to prepare for the grand expedition. Tristan, in compliance to the King's request, and considering the vow he had made of leading henceforth a life of repentance, put his hands between those of Arthur, and took the usual oath; but alas! the most disastrous misfortunes, the recital of which must wound every compassionate reader, put it out of his power to ever perform the solemn vow. It is natural to suppose that the first step to be taken was to break every connection with Yseult; an effort which cost many bitter tears to him and his fair mistress: But as it was a duty incumbent upon him in consequence of the oath which he had taken, Tristan acted with his usual honour and magnanimity. King Arthur dispatched instantly a messenger to the court of Cornwall, with a letter to Dinas, requesting Marcus to recall his Queen. This circumstance leads the author to give an account of what had passed at Cintageul since the revolution that had taken place in the kingdom.
Dinas, the Seneschal, who had never swerved from the duties of a true Knight and faithful subject, had accepted the regency in hopes that Marcus, humbled by his late misfortunes, would repent himself, and at last become worthy of the crown which he had disgraced by his past conduct; judging that the wished-for time was come, Dinas called the Barons together and requested them to grant him a boon; this they could not refuse to a man who had won their hearts by his wisdom and affability: he was desired to name it, and the regent asked that the King might be set at liberty and restored to his pristine dignity. Marcus, who still preserved for Yseult the tenderest affection, was easily prevailed upon to comply with this part of Arthur's request; but refused to see his nephew, giving the British King to understand that the presence of Tristan would only serve to renew that hatred and animosity, which he wished to bury in oblivion, and expose him once more to relapse into his former errors. This was a reason of which Yseult and Tristan felt the whole force as well as Arthur; who ordered a ship to be prepared, appointing Dinadam to go with the Queen to Cornwall. The parting of those two faithful lovers was affecting beyond the power of words to express. Tristan, seeing that nothing at the court of Arthur could bring either comfort or peace to his distracted mind, and that the necessary preparations for the quest of the holy greal went on but slowly; resolved to leave Lramalot and embark for Lower Britanny, where, as our readers may remember, he had left the other Yseult his lawful and beauteous consort. He arrived at the court of Houel his father-in-law, who then was ill of a disorder which in a few days brought him to his grave. Tristan was welcomed by Yseult with all the tenderness of conjugal affection; he received her caresses and returned them with gratitude: he had for her the greatest esteem and most sincere friendship, but his love was all for the fair Queen of Cornwall; and the maiden-wife rose from Tristan's side as chaste and innocent as ever. "Alas, exclaims the author, it was the other Yseult who had shared with Tristan the fatal draught."
Some hours before his death, King Houel called all his family together, and entreated Tristan by the love which he at one time bore to Pheredin his eldest son, to take under his protection the young prince Runalen who was to succeed him. This was a useful precaution, for the old King had hardly closed his eyes for ever, when some of his vassals, and, at their head, Urnois Earl of Nantes, potent in arms but equally famous for his perfidy, refused to acknowledge Runalen for their lawful lord and sovereign. The young King and his valiant brother-in-law assembled an army, and having routed that of Urnois, laid siege to his capital; where the Earl defended himself vigorously, but was at last killed by Runalen, and Nantes taken by storm. A strong and well fortified tower was the only place that held out against the King's victorious arms. Tristan, who thought nothing could resist a cool and deliberate intrepidity, attempted to scale the wall; but Lestoc, the bravest Knight of Lower Britanny, who commanded the garrison in the tower, standing on the battlement, hurled down a massy stone, which, falling on Tristan's head, wounded him desperately, and felled our hero to the ground. Runalen arrived at that instant on the spot, and calling to Lestoc, "Urnois is no more, said he, wilt though acknowledge me for thy King." Lestoc, coming instantly down, presented his sword by the hilt, and swore allegiance to Runalen. The latter knowing the value of the worthy Knight, gave him the command of his army and flew to the assistance of Tristan.
The wound which he had received was deep, and had occasioned a great effusion of blood; but Yseult's skill in surgery made Runalen hope that the life of his friend might be saved. His fair consort would let no one approach her dear Tristan. The latter was all gratitude for the care she took of him, and began to feel for Yseult of Britanny those tender emotions which he had never experienced before but in the company of the fair Queen of Cornwall. One day as she was reflecting with inward satisfaction on the progress she had made in the cure of Tristan, she leaned her head over his, and kissed the wound on his cheek; a balmy heat thrilled through his veins and reached his heart. This instant completed the triumph of Yseult of Britanny, but was fatal to her Lord: the wound festered and threatened to baffle the skill of his desponding consort. In this alarming condition, Tristan was reminded by an old servant that Yseult of Cornwall had cured him in Ireland when his case was still more desperate. Tristan called his lady to him and informed her of the first cure effected by Yseult at a time when he was intirely given over; adding that with her Permission he would send for her, not doubting but she would come to his assistance: she readily consented, and Tristan sending for a celebrated navigator whose name was Gesnes gave him his ring. —"My friend, said he, shew this ring to the Queen of Cornwall; tell her how I am situated, and that I humbly request her assistance: if thou can'st prevail on her to come, let thy sails be made of snowy canvas; if Yseult should refuse, let them be black, for then Tristan must die."
The author tells us that Yseult of Cornwall had, during the interval, listened to the advice of a pious personage, and was no more the slave to that over-ruling passion which had consumed her breast. We are also informed that Tristan, being at the point of death, had confessed his sins, repented for his youthful errors, and was become a perfect convert, so that what they now felt for each other was a most tender friendship, whose sweets are equal if not superior to the delusive pleasures of love, and will often produce similar effects. This was here the case, for Marcus being absent when she received Tristan's message, she instantly embarked with Gesnes for Lower Britanny.
Meanwhile Tristan's wound grew worse every day, and as he could not be carried to the sea shore, as he had been for some days after the departure of his messenger, he desired a young lady, god-daughter to Yseult of Britanny, who had been brought up under his care, to go every morning on the mole, look towards the coast of Cornwall, take notice of the first ship bound from that place, and let him know the colour of her sails. But alas! what an alteration a little knowledge made in the disposition of Yseult of Britanny; she thought it was now her interest not to suffer her Lord to lie under any fresh obligation to the Queen of Cornwall, by whom she had been so materially injured: she therefore directed the young lady to tell Tristan that she had seen one with black sails.
A favourable gale brought at last in sight the ship from Cornwall, and although the whiteness of her sails dazzled the eyes of Yseult's god-daughter; yet, cruelly obedient to her commands, she reported to Tristan that they were black. The heavy tidings went to his very heart: —"Ah sweet Lady of Cornwall, exclaimed he in all the agony of grief, to God I commend me; never more shall we meet: Heaven protect you—adieu," he said, smote his breast, and died.
It was a received custom at the death of a Knight to have it instantly proclaimed by a herald in all the principal streets. The Queen of Cornwall was just landed when she heard these grating sounds: The brave, the most illustrious Knight and flower of chivalry, the mighty Lord TRISTAN is no more! Unable to support herself, she desired to be carried to his apartments; but how sorry the sight! His lifeless corpse laid out on planks was the first object that struck her affrighted eye. She falls on the cold remains of her beloved Knight: she clasps her hand to his breast, and wishes to feel the palpitation of that faithful heart that never beat but for Yseult the fair; but she wishes in vain! His noble spirit is for ever fled. Yseult at this fatal discovery, imprints a tender parting kiss on his pale lips, and sighs her soul away. "Oh ye whose blessed fate it is to love and be loved, with wreaths of flowers deck their tomb: As for ye who are strangers to the blissful pain that lovers feel: ye who may be said to have but half the existence that is enjoyed at full by the feeling part of mankind, avaunt! Your cool and unconcerned look is too prophane to gaze on so moving a picture."
Two letters were found fixed to the hilt of Tristan's sword; one directed to the Bishop, the other to King Marcus: in the former he gave a full confession of his past errors, expressed in the most humble and penitent terms: it contained also a request to the prelate, by which Tristan desired his body might be sent to Marcus with the sword and letter. The good bishop resolved to fulfill in person the last will of the deceased prince, and had the bodies conveyed on two magnificent state-beds, and put on board a ship wherein he embarked and sailed for Cornwall.
Marcus who, as we have observed before, was from court when Yseult his Queen set out for Lower Britanny, was so enraged at his return to hear of what he thought another elopement, that he was ready to sail for Britanny at the head of a numerous army, when news was brought of the ship's arrival from that kingdom, with the two dead bodies on board. At first the King of Cornwall gave orders for the boat to sail back instantly, and leave the port of Cintageul; saying that he would never suffer the body of Tristan to be buried in any part of his dominions. The prelate only begged that he would permit a servant of his deceased nephew to present his Majesty with the sword and a letter directed for him by his late master. The Cornish King felt some emotion at the sight of that tremendous weapon which had freed his kingdom from the Irish yoke; but the letter completely disarmed him: it was couched in terms so submissive and contrite for his past offences, and disclosing the mystery of the magick draught, that Marcus exclaimed with all the expression of heart-felt grief;—"Alas the day! Oh cruel, cruel nephew, why didst thou not disclose to me the fatal secret?" He then ordered the bodies to be carried to his chapel, and there to be interred with all the funeral pomp and honour due to their remains. They were put into two rich coffins, and deposited in the tombs which had been prepared for them.
Gouvernail, who heard of this fatal catastrophe, came from Leonois to drop a tear of friendship and gratitude on the monument of his pupil and benefactor. It is reported that there grew a beautiful hawthorn ever-green from Tristan's tomb; it ran along the chapel wall, and entered deep into the place where Yseult was buried. Marcus had it cut three times, but wonderful to tell, it was the next day as fine and blooming as before. Gouvernail, to perpetuate his regret for so irreparable a loss, with trembling hand and aching heart, traced on their tombs an epitaph, the sense of which is nearly as follows:
Within this tomb, two royal lovers laid,
Whose tender souls with purest fires did glow;
Receive the rites a faithful servant paid:
For them his tears shall never ceasing flow!
'Gainst their virtue the magick powers combin’d.
But Heav'n, in pity to their luckless flame,
By death's cold hand the powerful spell o'ercame,
Chang'd not their hearts; but their passion refin'd.