The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XII. The Arthurian Legend

§ 4. The Mabinogion

The Mabinogion, as a whole, are the most artistic and delightful expression of the early Celtic genius which we possess. Nowhere else do we come into such close touch with the real “Celtic magic,” with the true enchanted land, where “the eternal illusion clothes itself in the most seductive hues.” Composed though they were in all probability by a professional literary class, these stories are distinguished by a naive charm which suggests anything but an artificial literary craftsmanship. The supernatural is treated in them as the most natural thing in the world, and the personages who possess magic gifts are made to move about and speak and behave as perfectly normal human creatures. The simple grace of their narrative, their delicacy and tenderness of sentiment and, above all, their feeling for nature, distinguish these tales altogether from the elaborate productions of the French romantic schools; while in its lucid precision of form, and in its admirable adaptation to the matter with which it deals, no medieval prose surpasses that of the Welsh of the Mabinogion. These traits are what make it impossible to regard even the later Welsh Arthurian stories as mere imitations of Chrétien’s poems. Their characters and incidents may be, substantially, the same; but the tone, the atmosphere, the entire artistic setting of the Welsh tales are altogether different; and “neither Chrétien nor Marie de France, nor any other French writer of the time, whether in France or England, can for one moment compare with the Welshmen as story-tellers pure and simple.”