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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature

§ 8. The Awntyrs of Arthure

Lastly, we come to the question of what Wyntoun meant by the Anteris of Gawane. Among the numerous Gawain poems the choice seems to be limited to either The Awntyrs of Arthure or Golagros and Gawane. There is, at this point, a further difficulty, for Dunbar tells us that, among the “makaris,” death has carried away another writer on this subject:

  • Clerk of Tranent eik he has tane
  • That maid the anteris of Gawane.
  • Of Clerk (or, it may be, the clerk) of Tranent we know nothing but what Dunbar tells us, so that we are not aware whether it was one of the existing poems or a lost poem of which he was the author. It is equally possible to contend that the poem referred to by Wyntoun is lost. There is no certain criterion; but, on the whole, the probability is greater that the Awntyrs of Arthure is the older of the two works and may, therefore, be more reasonably assigned to the poet who is, presumably, the elder.

    Arthur and his court go from Carlisle to Tarn Wadling to hunt. Queen Gaynour (Guinevere) is entrusted to Gawain; and, while they are in shelter from a storm, a ghost appears to them. Gawain goes forth with drawn sword to meet the phantom, which desires to speak with the queen, and, being permitted, tells her to take warning, for this is the lost soul of her own mother, who in life had broken a vow known only to herself and Guinevere. If masses are said for her soul she may yet be saved. In reply to Gawain, the spirit forecasts that, after a victory over the Romans, his doom will fall upon Arthur—the story of Morte Arthure. The figure disappears, the storm is over and all return and are told of the portent. They go to Randolf’s Hall to supper, and there, during supper, a lady richly arrayed brings in a knight riding on horseback. It is Galeron of Galloway, who claims to fight for his lands, which have been given to Gawain. Arthur says they have no weapons now; but, on the morrow, Galeron shall have his claim to fight allowed. There is a long combat, in which both are wounded; but, ultimately, Galeron is defeated. The king interferes, Galeron receives back his lands and Gawain receives lands in Wales instead. When they have gone back to Carlisle and the combatants have been cured of their wounds, Galeron is made a knight of the Round Table and marries the lady who brought him into the Hall. Obviously, the adventures much more properly belong to Gawain than to Arthur. The story is in two scenes, which are connected in order of time, but not otherwise. It is told in fifty-five stanzas of thirteen lines each, constructed on a complicated system of rime, as the following example will show, and retaining the old alliterative form.

    There are three manuscripts which differ very widely in their forms. The best is the Thornton MS. at Lincoln. The Ireland MS., preserved at Hale in Lancashire, is in a very uncouth dialect, probably that of northern Lancashire. The Douce MS. in the Bodleian Library is, clearly, the work of an Englishman of the Midlands copying northern forms. Neilson, the champion of Huchoun, has not been slow to observe that the lands of Galeron (418 ff.) are situated where Sir Hew of Eglintoun had his estates. The story of the Morte Arthure is summed up in the following stanza (XXIII):

  • A knyghte salle kenly closene the crowne,
  • And at Carelyone be crownede for kynge;
  • That sege salle be sesede at a sesone,
  • That mekille bak and barete tille Ynglande sall brynge.
  • Ther salle in Tuskayne be tallde of that tresone,
  • Ane torne home a-[char]ayne for that tydynge;
  • And ther salle the Rownde Tabille losse the renowne,
  • Be-syde Ramessaye fulle ryghte at a rydynge;
  • And at Dorsett salle dy the doghetyeste of alle.
  • Gette the, sir Gawayne,
  • The baldeste of Bretayne;
  • For in a slake thou salle be slayne,
  • Swylke ferly salle falle.